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Subject: Re: favorite opera books
From: Dennis Ryan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Dennis Ryan <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 9 Feb 2018 19:37:23 -0500
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Hi, Y'all!  
    Most of the recent posts on this subject have already identified my favorite books about opera, and explained their contents in varying degrees of detail.  So I'd like mention a few of my favorites that have NOT already been covered in this thread and explain why I like them.  I am not holding these selections up as "the greatest books ever" about anything.  I am just mentioning several that I highly respect that have not already been discussed.  
    First of all, I'd like to mention four beautifully written and thought-provoking books by M. Owen Lee.  His work, collectively, forms a significant chapter in opera criticism of the late 20th century.  Father Lee is probably best known to opera lovers through the many intermission features on which he gave analyses of "today's opera" on various Met broadcasts.  Many of these talks became the basis for "First Intermissions."  For those who might not know this book, Father Lee offers often startling views about works many of us "thought" we knew well, and he does so in considerable depth.  His views on each opera are cogent, refreshingly "different," thoroughly researched, and easily accessible.  His "Wagner's Ring:  Turning the Sky Round" presents his view of the "Ring," with a plausible thesis, and mountains of detail that support and provide context for his view.  Although his view is not mine, I have found that coming to grips with his view has been a major aid in forming my own.  His "Wagner:  The Terrible Man and His Truthful Art" formed the basis for a lengthy thread on this list I-have-forgotten-how-many-years-ago.  Much of that discussion should be in the annals, but I have not looked for it there.  And his "Wagner and the Wonder of Art" is mostly about "Die Meistersinger," an opera I always found relentlessly boring until I read this book.  I seldom agree with Father Lee's theses in these books.  What I love about them is the way he loves opera and the way he thinks about opera--the way he finds meaning (that is, some idea that matters TO ME) in almost every word and in almost every note.  I think about opera differently because of him, and I reread his books periodically in order to stay on track.  
    Second of all, hardly a day goes by in which I do not consult Charles Osborne's  "The Bel Canto Operas."  This book presents a brief discussion of ABSOLUTELY EVERY opera by Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini.  The inspiration and origin of each opera is clearly discussed.  Sometimes brief evaluations of an opera's significance or a particular passage's influence are included.  No "stories of the opera," here.  This book's chief virtues are the thoroughness of its research, its conciseness, and its easy accessibility. Think of it as an equivalent of Budden's three-volume work on Verdi, with the discussion of each opera condensed down to 4-5 pages but including the entire canon of all three composers.  
    Third of all is the work that served as my "Wagner primer":  "Richard Wagner," by Robert Raphael.  The copyright date is 1969, but the book was out of print by 1977 when I was headed for Bayreuth and was "reading up."  Luckily, I found a used copy.  Raphael offers one basic premise about the central theme of Wagner's entire output, and analyses each opera in terms thereof.  It is heavy reading:  in 1977 I found myself reading almost every sentence twice, and I still find that I must every time I go back to it.  It is worth the work.  The gist of Raphael's thesis is found in a quote he presents early-on from Morse Peckham:  "To symbolize that isolation and alienation and simultaneously to assert the Self as the source of order, meaning, value, and identity, became one task of the Romantic personality.  To find a ground for value, identity, meaning, order, became the other task."  So I went to Bayreuth with this quote ringing in my ears as a cogent summary of what Wagner was "about."  The first thing I learned from this book was the absolute necessity for me to do for myself what Raphael himself had done: to come to grips with Wagner's Ring and with his total output in some clear, over-arching way.  The second thing I learned was one method for defending such a thesis once I had managed to form it.  Forty years later, I have accomplished at least a small part of that work.  But I have also learned that I am FAR too lazy to go to the trouble of writing a book that would never sell and that no one would ever read.  (I take out this frustration periodically on the list.) 
    All best wishes, 
    Dennis Ryan






-----Original Message-----
From: Stephen Charitan <[log in to unmask]>
To: OPERA-L <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Fri, Feb 9, 2018 4:34 pm
Subject: Re: favorite opera books

I couldn't agree more with Idia about Mawrdew Czgowchwz.  My favorite bit
among many is the "throw away" reference to Christine Radcliffe and
Holllenius.- characters played by Bette Davis and the glorious Claude
Raines (arguably his best performance?) in "Deception."  I remember
laughing out loud when I first read it.

Also in terms of fiction I would list Anne Rice's "Cry to Heaven"- she
captures the world of Baroque Opera and the Castrati in a compelling and
convincing way.

About Singers:  Michael Scott's peerless "Record of Singing 1 & 2" and John
Steane's indespensible "The Grand Tradition" Rasponi's "Last of the Prima
Donnas goes without saying

Singer Biographies:  "La Nilsson," Hermann Klein's "The Reign of Patti,"
"Joan Sutherland" the first bio by Russell Brandon describing the real
obstacles she faced before becoming "La Stupenda:, George Jellineck's
"Callas - Portrait of a Prima Donna" perceptively written while the career
was still in progress

Composers:  Weinstock's Bellini & Rossini, Winton Dean's "Handel's Operas 1
& 2,"  and of course, Charles Osborne's "Complete Operas of Verdi"

Wagner:  He is just as interesting seen through the eyes of his family
coping with the legacy:  "Heritage of Fire" by Friedlind Wagner and her
biography by Eva Rieger;  Oliver Hilmes "Cosima Wagner," and Brigitte
Hamann's "Winifred Wagner" - you have to constantly slap yourself to not be
completely charmed while still feeling horrified.

On Fri, Feb 9, 2018 at 12:59 PM, Idia Legray <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

> The Verdi-Boito Correspondence
> Callas (Ardoin/Fitzgerald)
> Mawrdew Czgowchwz
>
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