Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Black Opera” as Want to Read:
The Black Opera
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Black Opera

3.32 of 5 stars 3.32  ·  rating details  ·  278 ratings  ·  82 reviews
Conrad Scalese is a writer of librettos for operas in a world where music has immense power. In the Church, the sung mass can bring about actual miracles like healing the sick. Opera is musicodrama, the highest form of music combined with human emotion, and the results of the passion it engenders can be nothing short of magical.
Hardcover, 688 pages
Published August 16th 2012 by Orion (first published May 1st 2012)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Black Opera, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Black Opera

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 928)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Having recently finished Scott Lynch's 'Lies of Locke Lamora', I was in the mood for Italian-setting historical fantasies, and happy to chance upon Black Opera which filled that craving fabulously!

Black Opera is an alternate history novel set in the operatic circles of 19th century Naples - I say 'alternate history' rather than 'fantasy' based on the general feel of the book, its unrelenting effort to immerse you into the politics and passions of the operatic world, even as it sneaks little hin

INTRODUCTION: Mary Gentle has written a couple of the most memorable sffnal novels I've read, namely the two alt-history novels A Sundial in the Grave: 1610 and Ilario, both deserving a place on my all time "more favorites list". She also has written the somewhat (in)famous Orthe duology of which the final volume Ancient Light courageously follows the logic of the story to its more natural conclusion, rather than the more standard "it'll be alright in the end" that even last year's Embass
It is 1835-ish, Naples, with a twist: the Church has miracles down to a science. Or a reliable consequence of the Sung Mass, anyhow; their choristers can cure disease and reshape metal, praise God for His blessings. Only it's not just them. Any opera-goer will tell you that, just occasionally, the *secular* music of the opera-house will *also* invoke a supernatural result -- albeit without the control and direction that the priests can muster.

The Church probably isn't happy about that, but, hey,
Such a fantastic read! This is a book that sets such a tone, such a time and place, that you feel you have taken a trip to another world and only just returned when you close the cover. I will be looking for more books by this author.
This book is full of texture. That's the only way I can describe it. The historical setting, the depth of detail where opera is concerned, the truly Italian feel of it all. I don't know much (nothing) about Opera, at least I didn't before reading this, and now I am very interested. I found myself watching and enjoying PBS broadcasts of opera and coming to appreciate an art form I had never enjoyed. That said, this is primarily a fantasy novel built around a premise that is exceptionally unique. ...more
Jodi Lamm
I loved this book, and I have no idea how to make my review reflect that. You'll just have to trust me. There was something about it, some incredible potential that wasn't so much squandered as buried. I loved uncovering it. I just wish I was a faster reader.

1. Was the story fun to read? Truthfully, it was a chore. I had to force myself to finish. The pacing was far too slow for me. There were chapters and chapters of strategic conversation, chapters and chapters of the work that goes into art:
Althea Ann
Read this for book club... well, that and because I really like Mary Gentle.
Here, in an alternate 19th-century Italy, we encounter Conrad Scalese - a professional opera librettist. Unfortunately, right now, he's being unexpectedly pursued by the Inquisition. You see, last night the hall where his latest opera was being performed was struck by lightning, burned to the ground - and the Inquisition blames his music. Because, as it's well known, religious music can often cause miracles to occur - an
Matt Brady
Naples, in the 1820’s. Conrad Scalese is an up and coming opera librettist, and a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars (which, in this version of Europe, ended in a negotiated peace after Waterloo which allowed Napoleon to keep his throne) He wants nothing more than to write opera, and one day be free of the staggering debts left him by his rakehell father. Conrad is also an atheist, despite the apparent miracles performed by the Catholic Church during their Sung Mass, which include raising ghosts and ...more
I have heard good things about Mary Gentle's writing for years now, though this is the first book of hers that I've read. And I have to say, if she is consistently this good, I will definitely be reading more. I was very impressed.

It's Naples in the alt-history 1800s, and magic is real. Not just any magic -- music is magic. A Mass can raise the dead, and, on the more secular side of things, an opera can bring the house down. Literally. As the novel opens, our hero, librettist Conrad Scalese, has
Naples, 1822. The opening night of Conrad Scalese's latest opera is a huge success and things finally seem to be looking up for the impoverished librettist. The next morning he wakes up to discover the cast, crew, director and musicians have fled or gone into hiding, the opera house has been struck by lightning and burned to the ground and the Holy Inquisition are pounding on his door. In this version of history, music can cause miracles, including bringing the dead back, but such miracles are s ...more
Oh dear, oh dear. Such a great premise (especially if you enjoy music), such poor execution. The pacing is all wrong, and the action so jumbled in places I constantly wondered whether I'd missed something. The love triangle makes no sense. The inner monologue is excrutiating. (I'm sorry, but "I am feeling....bewildered by this!" is NOT how anyone thinks.)

I tried and tried to stay with it, because I was enjoying the detailed (and I mean DETAILED) exploration of how opera is made and the physical
Brenda Clough
This fastmoving novel has a mouthwatering premise -- combat opera! -- and lots of expertly-handled twists and turns. I think that it fails at the end, however. It feels like she wrote it on a wing and a prayer, hoping to light upon the exact right conclusion to the plot, and failed to stick the landing. Also, unless you are totally a fan of opera minutiae, you're going to bog down in the middle, when the ardors of composition and staging come to the fore. Still a fascinating work, with its balan ...more
3.5 stars. For a full review please see my blog:
The concept drew me in immediately. I'm a huge fan of opera, and the alt history and supernatural aspects of the story made it sound like something I would enjoy immensely. The writing style was facile and amusing, and for the first couple hundred pages the book had me riveted.
I did, however, put it away once a love triangle barged into the story like a battering ram of unsubtlety. I personally enjoy a certain romance in my books, but love triangles I more often than not find a cheap and easy w
Sarah Boshear
This was a very strange book to read. So well researched and so well written on a technical level, yet brought down by enormous plot holes, pacing issues, and quite possibly the WORST ending I have ever encountered in a book in my life.

In this world, music has actual magical powers to build and to destroy. Sung masses heal the sick and raise the dead and our erstwhile hero, librettist Conrad, has just burned down a major theater with his latest work. Conrad is freed from the Inquisition on the c
Tyrannosaurus regina
I bought this book a couple of years ago and kept thinking I would make time to read it, but the couple of times I picked it up I ended up getting about a dozen pages in and putting it down again. I don't know what was different this time, but I picked it up and pretty much didn't stop until I was done, foregoing meals and sleep in my quest to know what happens next. I think, in the end, once I settled into the characters and the historical setting, it turned out to be just my kind of thing, com ...more
This review originally posted on my blog, drey's library.

Want a story set in Renaissance Italy featuring Opera, the Catholic Church, and the (potential) Apocalypse? Then The Black Opera is the book for you. Featuring prominently are one librettist hiding from the rioting masses, one secret society bent on bringing about a new world order, and one King who’ll do anything to keep his country safe from harm. Including hiring an atheist to write an opera…

Conrad Scalese finds himself facing the Inqui
Fascinating, despite its flaws.

A novel about 19th century Italian opera, court intrigues, prima donna behavior, atheism and religion was probably never an easy sell yet I think Mary Gentle pulled it off.

Perhaps I should start by saying that I love opera so this novel might be more suited to me than to people with no interest in this art form or in classical music. But if you like to read something new and different in fantasy, I hope you'll consider it.

It is certainly a high concept: an atheist
Hannah Cobb
In a world where music has power, an opera can become a dangerous weapon. Conrad Scalese is on his way up as a librettist in the turbulent world of Italian opera. Then lightning strikes the theater that had housed the performance of his first hugely successful opera, and the Inquisition comes down on him like a ton of bricks. When Conrad is rescued by the king of Two Sicilies, he finds himself agreeing to undergo a series of impossible tasks--including writing an opera in six weeks--to save the ...more
4/5 Enjoyable, engrossing novel. Nicely written, though uneven pacing and missed opportunities pull it downl. It isn’t the equal of her 1999 novel “Ash: A Secret History” but it is well worth reading.

Atheist opera librettist Conrad has to write and stage an opera in six weeks! It better be good enough to save the world or Italy is toast! As usual, Mary Gentle delivers meticulous, living historical detail, lovely prose, a strongly humanist outlook and loads of great transvestites.

(view spoiler)
K. Bird
Mary Gentle has created an alternate 19th Century Naples afrenzy with the power of Bel Canto opera and the debate between natural philosophy and religion.

We have the King of the Two Sicilies, King Ferdinand facing French and Italian intrigues; the inquisition, Darwin's theories, and of course the magical melodies of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini slowly giving way to Wagner and Verdi.

In the midst of this hot mess we meet Conrad Scalese, atheist librettist celebrating his first (he's not popular
I'm classifying The Black Opera as fantasy, but it's not as fantasy-driven as one might expect. Essentially, a king hires an atheist librettist whose (supposedly) lightening-inducing opera skills might combat the sinister Black Opera that will summon The Prince (Satan) to rule the world. As an atheist, Conrad offers a skeptical-but-heartfelt perspective on this entire endeavor, fully committing to the opera regardless of his questions of faith.

I nearly suffered reader failure in the beginning of
Set in 19th-century Italy, 'The Black Opera' is a fantasy/alternate history piece in which a lyricist is tasked with a creating an opera that will produce enough magical power to counteract the sinister spells of a cult out to spread destruction.

Told from the point of view of a person steeped in the opera world, the book is lush with musical terminology, an enjoyable story 'staging' if you will that may appeal to anyone who's passionate about music. Music's inherent ability to affect things is
Conrad Scalese’s latest opera was a great success. Unfortunately the theatre in which it was performed has just been stuck by lightening. And since the composer and many of the performers have fled Naples the church decides to blame him. As the librettist his words caused God’s wrath to strike down the building.

But, as the Inquisition come calling, King Ferdinand II has other plans for him. The King of the two Sicilies has heard reports that a secret society are planning to use the miracle of th
Barbara Deer
I picked The Black Opera up after a seeing a recent rec in a friend's blog, mainly on the strength of my memory of reading Mary Gentle's Golden Witchbreed when I was in high school.

As it turned out, I didn't have a clear memory of Gentle's style, and this book is more AU history/fantasy than science fiction. And apparently I am a lot older now, because it just wasn't what I wanted it to be.

Don't get me wrong, it's a GREAT concept - an atheist librettist is hired - no, make that conscripted - to
I have loved Mary Gentle's Ash series and liked her Sundial in the Grave as well. I had high hopes for this one, but I think I'm going to put it aside in frustration for now. Maybe I'll go back to it when my book club book isn't calling to me.

The problem I had with this book was that it just didn't seem to generate much tension. Our POV character is an atheist librettist who seems to have accidentally caused a miracle with an opera. There are a bunch of Satan worshippers who are planning to put
Catherine Siemann
I was really in the mood to read something that was alternate history, 19th century, and *not* steampunk, and this totally fit the bill. Set in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies during Napoleon's first exile, it's the story of two competing operas, one meant to raise the devil and bring down a purification of the earth (a black opera, as opposed to a black mass), and the other, libretto by an atheist, which is meant to counteract it.

I like Mary Gentle's books enough that I keep reading them, despi
About 400 pages into this 500 page tome, I finally figured out who this book was written for: undergraduate philosophy students who are convinced, CONVINCED that their skills at debating metaphysical matters could save the world.
Okay, it was also written for opera fans, but we'll get to that in a minute.
Back to the philosophy students, didn't we all know one of those guys in school? I was a philosophy minor so I know whereof I speak: bucketloads of guys who could not stop debating, no matter the
Jim Smith
I am a big fan of Mary Gentle's work, despite being alternately dazzled and frustrated by some of the ideas she throws around. We all know that music can influence mood. Gentle takes this a stage further, setting out the main premise of a mid-1830's world where music (specifically the Sung Mass and opera) has the power to change the physical world through either miracle or natural disaster. An extremely dangerous and secretive esoteric society is looking to trigger a major volcanic event across ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 30 31 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Quintessence
  • Obsidian and Blood
  • The Dragon Waiting
  • Purple and Black
  • The Great Game (The Bookman Histories, #3)
  • Alamut (Alamut, #1)
  • The Alchemist of Souls (Night's Masque, #1)
  • Redemption in Indigo
  • Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon (Burton & Swinburne, #3)
  • Stray Souls (Magicals Anonymous, #1)
  • The Porcelain Dove
  • The Malacia Tapestry
  • In War Times
  • In the Mouth of the Whale (The Quiet War, #3)
  • Harmony
  • Something Red (Something Red, #1)
  • Cracklescape
  • The King's Peace (Tir Tanagiri, #1)
Writes erotica under the pseudonym Roxanne Morgan.

Excerpted from Wikipedia:
Mary Gentle's first published novel was Hawk in Silver (1977), a young-adult fantasy. She came to prominence with the Orthe duology, which consists of Golden Witchbreed (1983) and Ancient Light (1987).

The novels Rats and Gargoyles (1990), The Architecture of Desire (1991), and Left to His Own Devices (1994), together with s
More about Mary Gentle...
Grunts Golden Witchbreed Ash: A Secret History (Book of Ash, #1-4) A Secret History (Book of Ash,  #1) Rats and Gargoyles

Share This Book