The publisher John Calder began the Opera Guides series under the editorship of the late Nicholas John in association with English National Opera in 1980. It ran until 1994 and eventually included forty-eight titles, covering fifty-eight operas. The books in the series were intended to be companions to the works that make up the core of the operatic repertory. They contained articles, illustrations, musical examples and a complete libretto and singing translation of each opera in the series, as well as bibliographies and discographies.
The aim of the present relaunched series is to make available again the guides already published in a redesigned format with new illustrations, updated reference sections and a literal translation of the libretto that will enable the reader to get closer to the meaning of the original. New guides of operas not already covered will be published alongside the redesigned ones from the old series.
If you really need an opera guide...
Rupert Christiansen - The Daily Telegraph
I'm always a little worried by opera guides - even though I've written one myself - because they can so easily feed the prejudice that opera is impossible to enjoy unless you have done some homework. It certainly bothers me when I see people in foyers anxiously staring at a synopsis, instead of trusting the performances (with the help of subtitles, for which many thanks) to do the job of telling the story on stage.
But I'd like to recommend warmly a new enterprise called Overture Opera Guides, published in association with ENO. Edited by Gary Kahn, it is a radical revamp of an excellent but long out-of-print series run in the 1980 by Nicholas John and Henrietta Bredin. These new volumes, each devoted to a single opera, are beautifully produced and designed, with colour photographs, critical essays, an original and translated libretto, plus an extensive apparatus of production history, Bibliography, discography and websites. At £12, they are terrific value.