Since the appearance of the first edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera in 1964, much has changed in the world which it sought to chart. Not least, new composers and artists have emerged, new opera-houses have been opened, and new works have been staged. However, the changes which have come about in the operatic world go far beyond this natural process of rejuvenation.
First and foremost, perhaps as important as any new composition, have been the rediscovery and representation of masterpieces from earlier centuries, sometimes as fully staged performances, more frequently by means of recordings. Underpinning this phenomenon has been an ever-burgeoning mass of critical scholarship, dealing not only with the works themselves but also with their relationship to other arts as well as to social, literary, and theatrical history generally. Advances in recording techniques have given new life to the voices of the past, while at the same time ensuring that those of the present are preserved for posterity in greater profusion and across a wider repertory. Finally, composers have increasingly sought to redefine the boundaries of the genre itself, for example by taking it in the direction of musical theatre, or by drawing consciously upon nonWestern dramatic forms for inspiration. Above all, opera has now achieved a far wider breadth of appeal than at any point in its history, from musicological research and the application of critical disciplines of varying degrees of value to the staging and relaying of spectacular mass events. The publication of many more operatic reference books is itself a reflection of this growth of interest.
Some of these changes were already apparent in 1979, when an enlarged second edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera was issued. However, it was not until the publication of the much larger Oxford Dictionary of Opera in 1992 that any real possibility for full-scale reassessment and expansion of the book was provided. Now, over thirty years since The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera first appeared, a further opportunity for revision presents itself.
In preparing this third edition, we have been very conscious of the existence of its larger stable-mate. Consequently, rather than merely updating the second edition, we have drawn upon The Oxford Dictionary of Opera as our primary text. The coexistence of these two works has allowed us to differentiate not only by length, but by character too. While the two dictionaries follow the same essential format, in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera we have, in addition to some inevitable contraction, dropped a number of the secondary features of the larger book (such as bibliographies, worklists, lists of works dealing with mythological characters or treating particular literary works) in order not to have to truncate unduly entries more relevant to the current repertory of the opera-house and those who perform in it.
The question of what to include or exclude faces the authors of every reference book, though it is particularly acute for a work which claims conciseness rather than completeness. We are well aware, particularly where artists are concerned, that other authors would doubtless make a different selection. Our primary concern has been to strike a balance between chronicling the current repertory and its executants and painting something of its colourful and many-faceted history, in a manner which is intended to be helpful both to the reader new to opera, and to the seasoned opera-goer or student in search of information in a handy format.