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Puccini without Excuses: A Refreshing Reassessment of the World's Most Popular Composer Paperback – 1 Nov 2005
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About the Author
William Berger was born in California and studied Romance languages and music at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He worked for five years at the San Francisco Opera Company, where he acquired for the company's recorded music collection. He is the author of Wagner Without Fear: Learning to Love-and Even Enjoy-Opera's Most Demanding Genius and Verdi With a Vengeance: An Energetic Guide to the Life and Complete Works of the King of Opera. He is a frequent lecturer and radio commentator and has recently been a regular host for New York Public Radio's Overnight Music. He has written libretti, performance pieces, and articles on a wide variety of topics including architecture, religion, and, of course, music. He is a music host for WNYC radio and lives in New York.
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The book has several sections. After a somewhat tendentious introduction, we get a chatty yet informative life and times chapter which also includes a description of what was going on in the wider world of opera and classical music during Puccini's life. There are fascinating comments about, say, the relationship between Puccini and Toscanini in this section.
Then we get a chapter by chapter discussion of each of the mature operas, beginning with Manon Lescaut and ending with Turandot. Each opera's chapter has an exhaustive discussion of each scene of the stage action, followed by really quite wonderful ruminations on the musical and production issues of each scene. Berger's comments are generally witty and almost always spot on. He also manages to include some of the gossip extant about various productions, singers, stage directors and conductors.
Then comes a section called 'The Puccini Code' which focuses on the myth of Tosca (one of the weaker chapters in my opinion), 'what one might expect to see' in various productions, and a little coda called 'Puccinian Permutations' which comments on influences the various operas (and the Puccini style) have had on popular culture; think of 'Rent' and 'Moonstruck', for instance.
Finally, there is a section in which Berger discusses recordings of the major operas, with comments about various singers, conductors (and he pulls no punches here) as well as some mention of DVDs and videotapes. He ends this section with a listing and comments about important books on his subject. The book ends with a glossary of terms (helpful for the neophyte, certainly, but without a pronunciation guide, which he had earlier supplied for the names of the operas; that might have been helpful. Can you pronounce 'morbidezza' or 'Regietheater'?). The book contains a fairly full index. Editing and production values are quite good (although I suspect director Jean-Pierre Ponnelle and baritone Simon Keenlyside might have preferred their names be spelled correctly). The paperback's cover features a blow-up of a photo of the young Puccini taken from a 'musical celebrities cigarette card series.' (!)
I would recommend this book not only to the newcomer to opera but also to grizzled opera veterans who think they already know everything there is to know about Puccini.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Very good goes over each opera and has made a better listener of me.