There have been many histories of opera. Most of them focus on the development of the genre from primarily a musicological perspective. In The Gilded Age: A Social History of Opera Daniel Snowman does something different. He looks at opera as a social and commercial phenomenon. Taking a broad sweep from late 16th century Florence to the Met’s “Live in HD” broadcasts, he looks at who attended the opera, how much they paid and what they expected from the experience. He looks at the always vexed question of who subsidised the opera; for ticket sales have very rarely covered costs. He analyses the entrepreneurs and bureaucrats who ran the opera houses. Of course, he looks at singers; where they came from, how much power they had and how much they were paid. It’s an intriguing and comprehensive analysis well worth slogging through over 400 pages plus apparatus.
Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker’s A History of Opera: The Last Four Hundred Years, published in 2010, is an interesting and, occasionally, perplexing read. It looks at developments largely from a musicological perspective only rarely straying into political context and even morer rarely dealing with sociological factors surrounding opera although there is an interesting short section on French grand opéra that deals with the extent to which French opera of various kinds was subsidised and how the odd social habits of the audience shaped the works themselves.