Ever since its invention in Florence around 1600, opera has exerted a peculiar fascination for creative artists and audiences alike. A "Western" genre with a global reach, it is often regarded as the pinnacle of high art, where music and drama come together in unique ways, supported by stellar singers and spectacular staging. Yet it is also patently absurd-why should anyone sing on the stage?-and shrouded in mystique. In this engaging and entertaining guide, renowned music scholar Tim Carter unravels its many layers to offer a thorough introduction to Italian opera from the seventeenth to the early-twentieth century. Eschewing the technical music detail that all too often dominates writing on opera, Carter begins instead where the composers themselves did: with the text. Walking readers through the relationship between music and words that lies at the heart of any opera, Carter then offers explorations of five of the most enduring, emblematic, and often performed Italian operas: Monteverdi's The Coronation of Poppaea; Handel's Julius Caesar in Egypt; Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro; Verdi's Rigoletto; and Pucini's La Boheme. Shedding light on the creative collusions and collisions involved in bringing opera to the stage, the various, and varying, demands of its text and music, and the nature of its musical drama, Carter shows how Italian opera has developed over the course of music history. Complete with synopses, cast lists, and suggested further reading for each opera discussed, Understanding Italian Opera is a must-read for anyone with an interest in and love for opera.