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From the Score to the Stage

An Illustrated History of Continental Opera Production and Staging

Without scenery, costumes, and stage action, an opera would be little more than a concert. But in the audience, we know little (and think less) about the enormous efforts of those involved in bringing an opera to life—by the stagehands who shift scenery, the scenic artists who create beautiful backdrops, the electricians who focus the spotlights, and the stage manager who calls them and the singers to their places during the performance. The first comprehensive history of the behind-the-scenes world of opera production and staging, From the Score to the Stage follows the evolution of visual style and set design in continental Europe from its birth in the seventeenth century up to today.
In clear, witty prose, Evan Baker covers all the major players and pieces involved in getting an opera onto the stage, from the stage director who creates the artistic concept for the production and guides the singers’ interpretation of their roles to the blocking of singers and placement of scenery. He concentrates on the people—composers, librettists, designers, and technicians—as well as the theaters and events that generated developments in opera production. Additional topics include the many difficulties in performing an opera, the functions of impresarios, and the business of music publishing. Delving into the absorbing and often neglected history of stage directing, theater architecture and technology, and scenic and lighting design, Baker nimbly links these technical aspects of opera to actual performances and performers, and the social context in which they appeared. Out of these details arise illuminating discussions of individual productions that cast new light on the operas of Wagner, Verdi, and others.
Packed with nearly two hundred color illustrations, From the Score to the Stage is a revealing, always entertaining look at what happens before the curtain goes up on opening night at the opera house.

464 pages | 189 color plates, 2 tables | 10 x 12 | © 2013

History: European History

Media Studies

Music: General Music


“Engaging and lavishly illustrated.” 

New York Times

“To write the history of opera production, not only must one know the repertory well, but one needs to understand the extraordinary work of the many people involved backstage who make an operatic spectacle function. Few people are as capable of writing such a history as Evan Baker, who has worked as a dramaturge and stage director for decades. Baker understands the changes that have accompanied operatic spectacles in modern times, as nonmusical influences have become an increasingly prominent aspect of the performance. In his new book, From the Score to the Stage, he follows these changes from the seventeenth century to the present. For the history of directing, stagecraft, and lighting in particular, Baker is superb.”

New York Review of Books

“Baker covers all the major players and pieces involved in getting an opera onto the stage, from the stage director who creates the artistic concept for the production and guides the singers’ interpretation of their roles to the blocking of singers and placement of scenery.  . . . Out of these details arise illuminating discussions of individual productions that cast new light on the operas of Wager, Verdi, and others.”

Opera America

“Fascinating. . . . To be sure, much of the operatic past is irrevocably lost. But From the Score to the Stage brings so much of it to life that an opera-lover can only be grateful.”

Opera News

“Anyone associated with the production and planning of opera, not to mention also audiences and students of theater and cinema, will want to own From the Score to the Stage, which, for its comprehensive scope and sheer panache, has no competitor. Whether read cover to cover or used as an easy-to-navigate reference on particular topics, it is the indispensable single-source guide to the opera stage.”

Rodney Punt | Huffington Post

“The illustrations are fascinating and occasionally quite humorous. . . . Baker’s accompanying text, which is never pedantic, will be enjoyable for both opera scholars and neophytes seeking more background on the genre. As a general overview of Continental opera stage production, this unequaled volume will be an important addition to any opera library. . . . Essential.”


From the Score to the Stage is the best study of its kind: scholarly, entertaining, and comprehensive in its grasp of this wonderful subject. . . . The book is a trove of insight for lovers of staged opera, and a mainstay of the library of any serious student of musical theatre as actually practiced.”

Wagner Blog

“Gives fascinating yet profound insights behind the scenes of opera production and staging from the 17th century up to today."


“Makes a major contribution—as well as a handsome addition to any coffee table.”


“Baker’s clear and engaging prose guides the reader through the captivating subject matter, providing appropriate grounding when dealing with technical matters. Never before has a book offered such a passionate, sweeping, well-documented,and illustrated survey of the history of opera production.”

Music and Letters

“Numerous books dedicated to different opera-related topics are published each year. This work by Evan Baker, however, fills a gap by covering the history of scenic interpretation. How did the very idea of staged productions appear in the first place, and how did it develop; what was the evolution of lyric imagery, stagings, and costumes; in what ways have operas been put on, and how have they been perceived by spectators; what has been the role of great personalities such as Jacques Salomé, Alfred Roller, Adolphe Appia, Wieland Wagner, Walter Felsenstein, or Patrice Chéreau; and what is the meaning of Regietheater? These are just some of the questions that this absorbingly written and extremely well-illustrated book tries to answer.”

Dominique Meyer, Director, Vienna State Opera

“I took deep enjoyment and enrichment from Evan Baker’s rigorous and intensive history of opera production. This important view of what we do every day in the serious work of our companies is often lost in a haze of trifle about diva fits, egos, and other dull social clichés about the arts. I admire how aligned this book is with what is lasting and true about these great works we are so privileged to perform: their lasting ability to be interpreted, reinterpreted, and loved.” 

Patrick Summers, Artistic Director, Houston Grand Opera

 “Evan Baker retells the history of opera from a most unusual angle—not, like earlier histories, from the point of view of the music or the libretto, but rather as the evolving story of how operas have been staged from the form’s beginnings to the current vogue of Regieoper. This new history is also the story of how new technologies—for example, the introduction of gaslight and, soon after, of electricity—enabled new ways of creating theatrical illusion. Presenting his considerable learning in a thoroughly readable style, Baker has shaped a book that will appeal to scholars and opera fans alike.”

Herbert Lindenberger, author of Situating Opera: Period, Genre, Reception

“There can be few people in the world capable of writing a book such as the present one, which deals with the staging of opera from its beginnings until the present day. Not only must one know the repertory well, but even more one needs to understand from a personal perspective, as well as from a historical one, the extraordinary work of so many persons involved backstage in making an operatic spectacle function. For the history of directing, stagecraft, and lighting in particular, Baker is superb. He understands the profound changes that have accompanied operatic spectacles in modern times as nonmusical influences have been increasingly felt, and treats them sympathetically, although not unreservedly so. For anyone wishing to learn more about how operas function onstage, there is no better place to start than with Evan Baker’s book.”

Phillip Gossett, author of Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations  
Chapter One / 1637–1700: The Beginnings  
     Competition among Theaters  
     The First Public Opera House and Andromeda  
     An Early Theater Technician’s Handbook  
     A Revolution in Opera Production: Giacomo Torelli, grand sorcier  
     A Treatise on Stage Machinery  
     The Opera Impresario: Marco Faustini and Theatrical Competition  
     German Lands  
     Lodovico Burnacini: Il Pomo d’oro  
     France: Jean-Baptiste Lully and the Establishment of the Académie royale de musique  
Chapter Two / 1700–1750: Perspectives with a New View  
     Opera seria: Its Rules and Reforms  
     Pietro Metastasio, Librettist and Stage Director  
     New Theaters and Audiences  
     Stage Design and Production Practices before Galli-Bibiena  
     The Vanishing Point  
     Ferdinando Galli-Bibiena, the “Paul Veronese of the Theater”  
     A New Method of “Viewing Theatrical Scenes at an Angle”  
     The Spectacle Builds: Jean-Philippe Rameau, Giovanni Niccolò Servandoni, and the Paris Opéra
     Lighting the Stage
     Gestures and Acting
     Directing the Singers
Chapter Three / 1750–1800: Theater for the Greater Public  
     The Great Reform Operas of Christoph Willibald von Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste  
     Directing and Rehearsing the Opera  
     Idomeneo, re di Creta  
     Onstage Movements  
     Spectacle and New Technology  
     Stage Lighting  
     Revolutionary New Light  
     National Theater in Vienna: The Burgtheater  
     Private, For-Profit Theaters in Suburban Vienna: The “Freihaus” Theater  
Chapter Four / 1800–1850: Romanticism in Germany  
     German Romanticism  
     German Theaters: Construction, Personnel, and Production Styles  
     Performance Conditions  
     Count Karl von Brühl and Karl Friedrich Schinkel: “Make This the Best Theater in Germany!”  
     Brühl’s Designer: Schinkel and Die Zauberflöte  
     Publication of German Stage Designs  
     Schinkel’s New Theater: A Lost Opportunity  
     Carl Maria von Weber: “I Won’t Stand for That Schnickschnack!”  
     The Greatest Romantic Opera: Der Freischütz  
     Continuing the Change in Theater Architecture: Gottfried Semper and the Dresden Opera House  
Chapter Five / 1800–1850: French Grand Opera  
     L’état, C’est Grand Opéra  
     The Temple of French Grand Opera  
     “Coup de Théâtre”: The Boulevard Theaters and Popular Entertainments Challenge the Opéra  
     Aladin, ou la Lampe merveilleuse: The Opéra and New Technology  
     The First True Opera Stage Director: Jacques Solomé  
     The livret de mise-en-scène  
     A Volcanic Explosion: La Muette de Portici  
     The Middle-Class Ascendant at the Opéra  
     The Claque
     Romanticism, Robert le Diable, and Grand Opera: “These Are Impossible Things; One Has to See It to Believe It. It’s Prodigious! It’s Prodigious!”  
     “Nonnes, M’entendez-Vous?” / “Nuns, Do You Hear Me?”  
     The Phenomenon of Robert le Diable  
Chapter Six / 1800–1850: Italy  
     The Italian Operagoing Public  
     The Opera House: Center of the Community  
     Music Publishing in Italy  
     The Evolution of the Italian Stage Director  
     Stage Design and Theater Architecture: Polemics and Theory  
     Alessandro Sanquirico  
     The Impresarios: “This Infamous Profession”  
     Domenico Barbaja: “The Prince of Impresarios”  
     Bartolomeo Merelli: The “Napoleon” of Impresarios  
     Alessandro Lanari: “Dedicated to Serving the Public”  
     Lanari, Verdi, and Macbeth  
     “For God’s Sake, We’ve Already Rehearsed It a Hundred and Fifty Times!”  
Chapter Seven / 1850–1900: Two Giants, a Devil, and a Gypsy  
     The Growth of Music Publishing  
     Grand Opera Houses and New Theater Technology  
     A New Position: The Technical Director  
     The Search for Quality: Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi  
     Wagner and Polemics of the Theater  
     Staging an Opera from Afar: Lohengrin  
     Wagner’s Ideal Theatrical Space  
     Wagner and the Bayreuth Festspielhaus  
     The First Production in the Festspielhaus: Der Ring des Nibelungen  
     Icons of Opera Production: Faust and Carmen  
     Staging Act 1 of Carmen: The Habañera  
     Verdi and the Fight for Artistic Integrity  
     The Italian Stage Director and the disposizione scenica  
     Verdi Stages Aida  
     The Grand March: “The March Is Very, Very, Very Long. . . . But Don’t Be Terrified”  
Chapter Eight / 1900–1945: Clearing the Stage  
     Theater Architecture and Technology  
     The Visionary: Adolphe Appia and the Aesthetics of Stage Lighting  
     Gustav Mahler at the Vienna Hofoper: “For God’s Sake, Why Haven’t the Sets Crashed?”  
     Mahler and the “Old Order”: The Struggle for Quality  
     A New Iconoclasm: The Secession and the Theatrical Arts  
     Mahler’s Artistic Soul Mate: Alfred Roller and Tristan und Isolde  
     Tristan und Isolde: Public Reaction  
     A Break in the Scenic Traditions: Don Giovanni and the “Roller Towers”  
     The Premiere and a Tumultuous Reception of Roller’s Don Giovanni: “They Insult the Eyes”  
     Giacomo Puccini: “Incidents Clear and Brilliant to the Eye Rather Than the Ear”  
     The Russians Arrive in Paris: Sergei Diaghilev and Boris Godunov  
     Fyodor Chaliapin: “He Communicates the Life of the Character He Portrays through Singing”  
     Boris Godunov and Chaliapin’s Techniques  
     “Also Rosenkavalier! The Devil Take Him!”  
     The Weimar Republic: A Volatile Mixture of Opera and Politics  
     A New Style of Production: Die neue Sachlichkeit  
     Wozzeck: The Staging of a Masterpiece  
     The Final Iconoclasms before the Deluge  
     “Kulturbolschevismus”: The Krolloper  
Chapter Nine / 1945–1976: Postwar Revolution  
     Postwar Reconstruction and Politics in Opera Production  
     New Figures of Influence: The Technical Consultant and the Lighting Designer  
     The Return of the Festivals: Salzburg and Bayreuth  
     The Stage Director as a New Star: Innovation or Detriment?  
     Operatic Acting: Maria Callas  
     Walter Felsenstein and the Komische Oper  
     Werkstatt Bayreuth and the Richard Wagner Festival  
     The 1970s: The Advent of Regietheater  
Epilogue / Whither the Future?  
     Supertitles: A Better Understanding  
     New Ideas, New Challenges: Innovative Regietheater, or Eurotrash?  
     Whither the Future?  


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

Association of American Publishers: PROSE Book Award

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