And now that I am back and quite refreshed from my time away (I think just being back in a lower altitude with more oxygen is a great help . . .), I can finally start work on the backlog of reviews I have been holding off on for a while.

Starting with this book, to get back to the long-lost past of opera posts. This book I picked up in a below-ground bargain bookstore in Brisbane (the bargain bookstores used to litter Brisbane – I’m not sure how prominent they are now). I think it cost me less than $10. I can’t remember now.

Whatever it was worth, it was ridiculously cheap for the pleasure it has given me. Phil is not a musical expert at all, and from the looks of his photo was a septegenarian when he wrote the book. But what he does like is opera.

And so, in as friendly a manner as possible, he takes you right inside the world of opera, with information on its history, the different styles, etc. etc. But the highlight of the book is what he calls The Collection – a list of the 85 most performed operas by the New York Metropolitan Opera. The New York Met being renowned for their conservatism at opera program, you thus get a list of 85 of the most popular operas of all time. In fact, the top 25 are called The Warhorses, because they’re so famous in the opera world.

This book, which I got shortly after seeing the Madame Butterfly movie I posted about a while back, was great, because it gave me a list of operas to go try next. I must have spent the next two or three years (and a good deal of my disposable income, of which there was a lot more when I was living at home with the parents) tracking down CDs of all 25 (which I might review at some time in the future if I get some time to listen to entire operas) and also going to a few live performances, courtesy of the dirt cheap youth rates provided by the wonderful folks at Opera Queensland.

Goulding is so enthusiastic, and with a sense of humour a little bit like your story-telling old uncle, you’ll be willing to give anything a try (even Wagner). This would almost be the best opera book available for novices, if not for the king of all, which I shall review next . . .

But for this one, 4 1/2 out of 5.

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