Masters of Opera

Porgy and Bess

By George Gershwin

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In this legendary Gershwin opera set among the black residents of a fishing village in 1912 South Carolina, Bess - a woman with a disreputable history - tries to break free from her brutish lover Crown after he becomes wanted for murder. The only person willing to overlook her past and offer her shelter is the crippled Porgy. Their relationship is threatened by the disapproval of the townspeople, the presence of her old drug supplier Sportin' Life - and the threatened return of Crown.

Available on DVD and CD.

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Puccini: His International Art

By Michele Girardi

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Puccini's operas are among the most popular and widely performed in the world, yet few books have examined his body of work from an analytical perspective. This volume remedies that lack in lively prose accessible to scholars and opera enthusiasts alike. Although the emphasis is on the compositions there is a full examination of Puccini's life, family, musical influences and society.

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Puccini: His Life and Works

By Julian Budden

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Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) stood at the end of five generations of composers. A generous man who helped others when they needed a boost, he loved motorcars and boats for excitement but retreated to his beloved Tuscany's lakes to escape urban hubbub. Much to his jealous wife Elvira's distress, he had many paramours and confidantes. His sense of drama drove him to demand perfection from his librettists. With his third opera, Manon Lescaut, he established himself as a leading composer for the stage. Giulio Ricordi, scion of the music-publishing house, was impresario for productions of his operas, and Toscanini conducted most of their premiers.

Budden, president of the Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini in the composer's ancestral hometown, Lucca, Italy, looks closely at Puccini's music per se. He highlights events in the life but leaves out much in the way of conflict and incident, instead covering the operas' scenarios and music in detail. Because Puccini also wrote pieces for orchestra, band, piano, and chorus, Budden analyzes some of those as well. Puccini's operatic music embraces the use of leitmotifs and some of the harmonies that Wagner pioneered, and it demonstrates his ability to match dramatic and musical structures.

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Richard Wagner: The Man, His Mind, and His Music

By Robert W. Gutman

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The turbulent personal and professional life of the musical genius Richard Wagneris a subject that has intrigued many writers. In this biography, Robert W. Gutman has related Wagner's life and work to the history of ideas and the many currents of thought that converged in this fascinating man. Wagner's art reflected the finest and worse elements of the nineteenth century, many of which exercised a fateful influence on our own times. This book examines the darker regions of nationalism and racism from which Wagner drew his most powerful symbols.

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Rinaldo

By George Handel

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Set in 12th century crusade battle for Jerusalem, Goffredo and his brother Eustazio (the fine Daniel Taylor) go to a Christian magician and receive magic wands with which they destroy the castle and free Rinaldo and Almirena. Available in CD format.

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Rossini

By David Mountfield

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This small book has a companion compact disc recording of Rossini's most popular compositions. This is a good introduction to the composer of The Barber of Seville and William Tell. Included are a listing of Rossini's complete works and a list of recommended recordings.

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Tchaikovsky: His Life and Times

By Wilson Strutte

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Whether he cared to admit it or not, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky was a hypochondriac, a manic-depressive and a man who, until only a few months before his death, was quite unable to come to terms with his own nature. He was also, quite clearly, a genius: one of the greatest composers ever to have lived, and an artist whose music conveys the very spirit of 19th-century Russia.

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The Barber of Seville

By Gioacchini Rossini

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The setting is 17th-century Seville. This production of Barber is appropriately over-the-top; the costumes reflect, in a very concrete sense, the occupations of each character (Figaro in barber stripes, "Lindoro" the "student" with books attached all over his coat, Berta wearing various cleaning items in various places on her clothes), Rosina shatters a glass while singing her second-act aria (much to her delight, as she picks up a shard and shows it proudly to Almaviva prior to continuing), et cetera.

Seeing as how Barber is over-the-top in the first place, the way the cast and crew play with this production only makes it more delightful--it would be much worse if one were to take it seriously. Beverly Sills is an outstanding Rosina. This is a wonderful treat to view. A must see. Available in VHS format. Other Rossini operas in our CD collection include La Cenerentola, featuring Cecilia Bartoli, and L'Italiana in Algeri, featuring Teresa Berganza.

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The Lives and Times of the Great Composers

By Michael Steen

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A grand and panoramic biograhical history of the giants of classical music, The Lives and Times of Great Composers is a new, unique, and lovingly constructed modern reference--and a beguiling read which you will return to again and again. Interlinked yet self-contained, each chapter distills the life of one or more composers, set against the social, political, musical, and cultural background of the time. Read the story of Bach, the respectable burgher, much of whose vast output was composed amidst petty turf disputes in Luteran Leipzig; or the ugly, argumentative Beethoven, obsessed by his laundry; or Mozart, the over-exploited infant prodigy whose untimely death was shrouded in rumor; or the ghastly death of Donizetti and Smetana.

Read about Verdi, who composed against the background of the Italian Risorgimento, or about the family life of the Wagners; and Brahms, who rose from the slums of Hamburg to become a devotee of beer and coffee in fin-de-siecle Vienna, a cultural capital bent on destroying Mahler. Michael Steen paints a vivid portrait of the tumultuous times in which these brilliant, yet flawed, human beings labored--a tour of 350 years of European history.

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The Magic Flute

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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The tale of Prince Tamino's quest for love, truth and beauty is set in a mysterious forest and features wild, exotic beasts.
Sung in English
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