The Black Opera
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Black Opera

3.28 of 5 stars 3.28  ·  rating details  ·  208 ratings  ·  66 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. In this world of miracles, Conrad is an athe...more
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.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 763)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.

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...more
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,...more
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...more
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...more
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
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
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...more
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)...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
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
This was a five star book for me, right up until the end. I'll only talk about the ending in very general terms to avoid spoilers, but I'm still not sure whether I liked the ending or not. On one level, I can see why Mary Gentle wrote it that way. It fit with the structure of the operas within the novel, mirroring first one and then the other. It fits in with the main character's assessment of how an ending has to work.

And yet...

Okay, this is opera. Okay, we can have melodrama and weird stuff,...more
This is a totally unique book about the power of opera to destroy or save the world. As one group, The Prince's Men, write and rehearse a black opera to raise the devil, their opponents frantically write an opera that will do the opposite – cause love and goodness to overcome all destruction. Written in an alternate history, where the dead live again and ghosts give unsolicited advice, Gentle has provided a richly detailed world of opera, love, and sacrifice. While the concept of this book deser...more
♡ Half Blood  Prince ♡
Jan 17, 2013 ♡ Half Blood Prince ♡ marked it as girl-hold-my-purse
have this on hold... it's interesting enough, but for some reason i'm finding it hard to keep my attention on it.

it's only been a couple days but i'm finding events are already slipping from memory. so just as a reminder for myself for when (or if) i do pick it up again in the future, i am up to the point where (view spoiler)

the characters are actually enjoyable, so fo...more
Katie Montgomery
Mar 27, 2012 Katie Montgomery marked it as i-might-read-you
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
First off, the end was pretty much crap. I almost would lower it a star, but this wasn't really a two star book, so it gets off light. Like the whole last 150 pages were just not very good. At all. Actually, the book is REALLY slow like other people have said. Uneventful. Full of huge swathes of rambling dialogue.
To be fair, I liked some of the dialogue until it started to go into the fifteen page territory. I liked a few of the characters too. For being as slow as it is, it's still well-writte...more
John D.
Reading Mary Gentle’s amazing alternate-history fantasy Black Opera has been huge fun. Now I am not an opera fan, I will make no bones about that. The moment an operatic soprano voice impinges on my eardrums, I am either heading for the door, looking for my earplugs or for the mute button. But Mary G’s tale of early nineteenth century conspiracy theories involving Neapolitan opera and strange goings on involving volcanoes, the Returned Dead and a whole host of larger than life characters is such...more
Initially, I was intrigued by the concept. An alternate history with magical operas? Awesome. Unfortunately, some structural problems kept me from enjoying this book as much as I would have liked.
The book opens slowly, with lots of tell don’t show. I did not find the religion vs science debate(s) compelling. And as the book continues, the discussion becomes more polemicized & repetitious. I was reminded of Heinlein, and his characters being obvious mouthpieces for the author, giving long spe...more
TJ Radcliffe
An acquaintance described this book, in analogy with "horse opera" and "space opera" as "opera opera", and that's a pretty good description. Conrad Scalese is strong-armed into writing the libretto of an opera under an impossibly tight deadline, working with a composer he has reason to hate (and not just because Conrad is the librettist and Roberto is the composer, which is usually sufficient...)

Volcanoes, secret societies, Napoleonic politics, personal intrigue, betrayal, lust, love, hatred......more
John James
Another fantastic tale set in Mary Gentle's alternate history universe... this time about the power of music to, literally, cause miracles to happen.

Like her other recent novels, the reason I like Black Opera so much is the characters - these are people you enjoy being with... they become your friends, and you care about them deeply.

On top of that is a story about an opera, the magical power of music, the returned dead, and the role of Gods in the society of this world...

Maybe not quite as good...more
Jul 25, 2013 dverghest rated it 1 of 5 stars Recommends it for: None
Shelves: abandoned
An incredibly tedious read, long-winded and dull. It's not a bad idea, per se (the magic of music, the shared joy of attending, singing or playing a particularly successful concert etc.), but the book is in dire need of an editor, preferably one with a heavy hand. The poor opera singers are all clichees, and I pity any orchestra with one single second violin, the poor sod. I just could not care less about the plot and only a small handful of the characters are interesting. By page 300-and-someth...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 25 26 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Dragon Waiting
  • Quintessence
  • Purple and Black
  • Obsidian and Blood
  • The Great Game (The Bookman Histories, #3)
  • Worldsoul (Worldsoul Trilogy, #1)
  • Alamut (Alamut, #1)
  • Bride of the Rat God
  • The Lion of Cairo
  • The Moon and the Sun
  • Fudoki
  • Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon (Burton & Swinburne, #3)
  • Redemption in Indigo
  • The Alchemist of Souls (Night's Masque, #1)
  • Trial of Flowers  (City #1)
  • In War Times
  • Stray Souls (Magicals Anonymous, #1)
  • Jack Glass
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
More about Mary Gentle...
Grunts Ash: A Secret History (Book of Ash, #1-4) Golden Witchbreed A Secret History (Book of Ash,  #1) Rats and Gargoyles

Share This Book