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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I would be interested in knowing which books you think really stand out and are essentila reading for the keen fan.

I'm not thinking about Kobbe's guide which is probably a given but maybe someone should sugggest that?

But I would like to know more about why you are recommending a volume, so rather than just pasting a list perhaps select one book per post and your reasoning?
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
I'll make a suggestion.

For Verdi the most comprehensive life is by Philllips-Matz but it is 100's of pages long and you (and the author) often get lost in the detail. She did find lots of new stuff, some of it controversial and I'm glad I have read it, twice.

But the one that gives the best flavour of this remarkable man was written in his spare time by a post office employee at a time when there was no internet and it was difficult to travel to Italy to do research during your summer holiday. Despite the information that has since come to light

Frank Walker in The Man Verdi

captures the essential facts and gives us a rich and rewarding character study. He understands Verdi and gives a rounded portrait of the man and time he lived in. This is the book that brings him to life.

Once upon a time this was a rare volume indeed, but I see there's been a paperback University reprint and now even First Editions can be purchased for a fraction of what they went for 25 years ago - if you could find a copy.

http://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/SearchResults?an=frank+walker&sts=t&tn=the+man+verdi
 

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I had an ancient copy of Kobbe's years ago which, as I remember, always fell open on the picture of Jean de Reszke in thigh boots. :) I think such books with their synopses of operas have been thoroughly superseded by Wikipedia now. The only opera books I have are singer biographies and memoirs of others involved in the business, a handful of books on singing, and histories of various French opera houses, as well as discographical material such as Bauer's and an almost-complete run of The Record Collector. If anyone can suggest any general opera books which go deeper then what is available to read for free on the internet, I would be all ears. One internet resource I have found extremely useful for periodicals such as the Cambridge Opera Journal and Nineteenth Century Music is JSTOR, for those with a subscription via their library or alma mater.
 

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The late Joseph Kerman's Opera as Drama from 1956 is one of the most influential critical books ever written on the subject. While not the best first book for someone looking for a general overview, I consider it essential reading for critical literacy. Surveying operas from Monteverdi to Berg, Kerman is unabashedly opinionated (don't take it personally if you're a Tosca fan). While this makes for often entertaining reading, bear in mind that this is a compendium of critical essays, and in no way an impartial reference book.

What makes this an invaluable book is that it explicitly discusses Kerman's approach to opera - "how" he analyzes the works, rather than simply the results of that analysis. You may not agree with his methodology (and likely will not agree with all of his conclusions), but it is a great book to get you thinking about opera in different ways.

You can read the opening pages here to get a sense of Kerman's style.

For a general historical survey, I would recommend a couple other books, but I'll stick to the one per post rule. :)



P.S. I echo Figleaf's view that the internet has largely made Kobbe's obsolete. It is still nice to have for the occasional browse through. My suggestion is to keep your eyes open for one at a used book sale - they can be found regularly for pocket change in my area.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
The Complete Operas of Verdi, Charles Osborne. Firstly, he has a great ability to weave biography, performance details, plot and musical analysis into a chapter per opera format. Secondly, it is accessible even to a newcomer, as I was when I first read it. Thirdly, he's so damn partisan on this subject.
Agree it's a good read and very useful to people like me who's memory is non existent and heading downhill fast. By linking the life and the work you can just refresh yourself on what he was upto when you are going to see a particular Opera. Charles Osborne used to give annual talks in London for The Amici di Verdi and it was clear that a) he knew his stuff, b) was a real fan and c) a really decent cove with time for even the most idiotic of questioners! An unusual combination in a learned man.

I really should have searched first, there is an a good old thread here

http://www.talkclassical.com/27063-favorite-books-opera.html

unusually there was only one suggestion for ....Callas. Is she the most written about singer ever? Which are the essential two books about her?
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
My final word on Verdi

There is an acclaimed three volume guide to each Opera that manages to be both scholarly and yet fairly accessible to those of us who can't read music. Some years ago I made a point of listen to all of his Operas in sequence whilst reading the book. It gave me a real feeling for how Verdi moved the art form on and how he overcame the standards of the days during which he started, to become a real artist who enjoyed a 54 year career where he was most fresh and innovative at the very end. There are few in history who achieved that.

Julian Budden The Operas of Verdi, 3 volumes.
http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780198162612.do

Look for s/h copies as they've been available for several years. Frustratingly I have 2 hardback and one paperback as I gave up waiting in the days before the internet! I also heard him talk. He was in charge of Opera for Radio 3 (I bet there's no such position now) A slightly shy reserved man who lacked airs and graces and had time for anyone interested in the subject.
 

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Agree it's a good read and very useful to people like me who's memory is non existent and heading downhill fast. By linking the life and the work you can just refresh yourself on what he was upto when you are going to see a particular Opera. Charles Osborne used to give annual talks in London for The Amici di Verdi and it was clear that a) he knew his stuff, b) was a real fan and c) a really decent cove with time for even the most idiotic of questioners! An unusual combination in a learned man.

I really should have searched first, there is an a good old thread here

http://www.talkclassical.com/27063-favorite-books-opera.html

unusually there was only one suggestion for ....Callas. Is she the most written about singer ever? Which are the essential two books about her?
Haha, I see I made substantially the same post on that earlier thread as I just made here- and I still haven't found my copy of Kobbe's. Hope I didn't throw it away by mistake. Anyone looking for book recommendations could do worse than look at that thread, and at Schigolch's scholarly contributions in particular. I actually wonder if it would be worth having separate threads for separate aspects of opera, e.g. one thread for books on opera repertoire and/or opera as an art form, one for books by and about singers and books on singing, and one on the opera business and opera in society. More knowledgeable posters may be able to suggest better categories of opera books than I have just done. I know there are several books I would like to recommend which are likely to be of marginal or no interest to most people casually perusing this thread, so a more specialized thread where they would be more on-topic might be the way to go.

Callas books deserve their own thread, since whenever that singer is mentioned, the resulting tsunami of enthusiasm tends to swamp whatever else the thread was meant to be about. I don't know if the number of Callas books yet equals the number of Caruso books, yet Caruso can safely be discussed on a general thread since public interest in him seems to have diminished to sensible proportions.
 
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