PERFORMING ARTS

The New Book of Opera Anecdotes

Oxford Univ. May 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780190877682. pap. $19.95. MUSIC
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Mordden (On Streisand) follows up 1988’s Opera Anecdotes with a collection of new and older stories that didn’t make it in the first time around, highlighting many of the genre’s greats then (Richard Wagner, Arcangelo Corelli) and now (Renée Fleming). The author’s dry wit is the reason to read these accounts—that, and his sometimes amusing, sometimes affecting perspective on opera’s personalities and institutions—Arturo Toscanini’s tantrums were always ripe fodder for an entertaining tale. (There’s an entire chapter on New York’s Metropolitan Opera, unsurprisingly.) Those not already reasonably well versed in opera, however, will find themselves a bit at sea, despite the brief historical and cultural context provided; on the other hand, the humorous entries have a humanizing effect on a genre that can intimidate amateurs.
VERDICT Entertaining, if esoteric at times. Opera fans, longtime and neophyte alike, will appreciate having an exciting tale or two to trot out while waiting on line at the bar during intermission.

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