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Books 2000

Also see: New titles December 1999
Music Books Released in late September 1999
MORE Music Book Releases September 1999



"Tosca's Rome: The Play and the Opera in Historical
by Susan Vandiver Nicassio
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Starting from the premise that we can learn as much (and, in some ways, more) from bad history as from good history, this utterly fascinating book toggles between art and reality. Puccini's "Tosca" has long been established as one of the most popular operas in the repertory, overshadowing the original play by Victorien Sardou--itself once wildly popular--from which it is drawn. Historian Susan Vandiver Nicassio closely examines how both Sardou and Puccini (with his librettists) depart from the historical realities of Rome in 1800, when the story is very precisely set, creating a heightened dramatic situation emblematic of the 19th-century liberal imagination. Nicassio also includes deeply insightful scene-by-scene analyses of Puccini's work, noting significant departures from the Sardou original and offering musico-dramatic observations that enhance one's appreciation of the nature of Puccini's occasionally--and surprisingly--underrated achievement.

"Concerto Conversations"
by Joseph Kerman
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Joseph Kerman numbers among the most perceptive and lucid commentators on music, and his latest book makes for a highly personal companion. "Concerto Conversations"--originally a series of concise lectures conceived for the Norton series at Harvard--is really more a collection of highly individual observations about specific concertos. Kerman touches on some works lightly and deftly while giving others a fuller treatment. Everywhere we find the author's love of language, while he tosses off many provocative ideas along the way.

"Companion to Medieval and Renaissance Music"
edited by Tess Knighton and David Fallows
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This isn't an introduction to the medieval and Renaissance repertoire, but rather a collection of essays, each covering some aspect of early music and its modern-day performance, to which a listener (or performer) can refer as topics of interest arise. Editors Tess Knighton and David Fallows have foregone the chronological approach that might seem obvious for a book of this sort in favor of essays grouped around particular issues such as genre, use of historical evidence, pre-performance decisions, and performance techniques. There is quite a range of contributors--academic musicologists, performers, critics, and combinations thereof--and the level on which the essays are written varies widely. Almost all of them are instructive; some will be immediately accessible to casual listeners, while others go into some detail about compositional techniques and theory.

"Opera: The Undoing of Women"
by Catherine Clement
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This is a book with an emphatic point of view. Clement, a French feminist philosopher, has written an intensely subjective meditation on the unhappy fate of women in opera. The result is often infuriating, sometimes enlightening. Clement is an enthusiast whose passion for opera struggles with revulsion at much of its content. Here she examines texts with an awareness not "dimmed by beauty and the sublime," an exercise that has a cumulative effect. She highlights the social framework of plots otherwise exalted by music. Her readings entertain without always persuading--or even involving--the reader.

"Berlioz: Servitude and Greatness"
by David Cairns
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The conclusion to David Cairns's epic biography of Hector Berlioz has been eagerly awaited ever since the first volume appeared in 1989. With an achievement as massive as that highly praised work, part of the tension of waiting for the follow-up involves wondering whether Cairns can capture again the sweep, the vividness, and the power of his first book. But he has managed to do exactly that. Cairns picks up the story at the time of Berlioz's marriage to Harriet Smithson in 1833. He convincingly demonstrates just how far ahead of his time Berlioz was, and his biography follows the tragedies and the triumphs of this larger-than-life individual with a narrative force as gripping as a good novel.

If you read Susan Vandiver Nicassio's fascinating research in "Tosca's Rome," you'll probably enjoy becoming reacquainted with the opera through Maria Callas's landmark recording under Victor de Sabata. Indeed, something in Puccini's heroines inspired Callas to her highest artistic pitch. Check out our list of great recordings of the music of Puccini made by Callas. On Sale here!

What's playing this season in leading U.S. concert halls and opera houses?'s classical music experts have updated our overview of noteworthy concerts and operas for the remainder of the season in venues around the country. The list also includes recommended recordings of works being performed. On Sale here!