Recommended videos and books

VIDEOS The Australian Opera production of Puccini's La Bohme is a terrific live taping with convincing performances. Conscientiously updated to 1950s Paris, it's fun, lively, and accessible, yet completely true to Puccini's romanticism.

Another approach is the filmed opera, which blurs the lines between a realistic movie and the artifice of a theatrical presentation. Operas are usually shortened, and spoken dialogue moves the action along, which purists bemoan but the novice may appreciate.

After 25 years, Ingmar Bergman's film of Mozart's comic The Magic Flute is still the classic example, taking us in the director's wryly charming way all about the opera house - onstage, backstage, and in the audience.

Francesco Rosi's dramatic version of Bizet's Carmen goes to the other extreme, shot with cinematic grandeur in warm, sunny Andalusia.

And Franco Zeffirelli's darkly atmospheric and highly stylized film of Verdi's tragic masterpiece La Traviata is definitely worth a listen and look.

Meet the Met (Metropolitan Opera) goes in yet another direction. It offers a collection of scenes from nine different operas offering a chance to sample some of the most acclaimed singers of our time performing some of the most memorable arias. It obviously doesn't have the full impact of watching an entire opera, but it may serve to whet your appetite.

VIDEO CATALOGS Opera World is perhaps the best with lots of recommendations and information (800-99-OPERA). Its phone consultants are extremely helpful.

Two other good outlets are Home Vision Cinema (800-826-3456) and Kultur (800-4-KULTUR).

BOOKS

Opera for Dummies, by David Pogue and Scott Speck (IDG). A lively introduction that not only touches all the basics, but also gives good advice on the operagoing experience. It includes a multimedia CD with a "guided tour" of 13 excerpts from popular operas.

Opera: A New Way of Listening, by Alexander Waugh (DeAgostini). A terrific introduction to the basics. This book also includes a CD featuring dozens of opera extracts.

Who's Afraid of Opera? by Michael Walsh (Fireside). Breezy and highly opinionated, but very insightful.

Opera: A Crash Course, by Stephen Pettitt (Watson-Guptill). A short, irreverent little tome that still manages to pack a lot of helpful information.

The Da Capo Opera Manual, by Nicholas Ivor Martin (Da Capo). A manual, as opposed to an introduction, this book includes entries on more than 550 operas, providing key information such as plot summaries, famous arias, and a good deal of technical background as well.

The A-Z of Opera, by Mary Hamilton (Facts on File). A small, accessible, and informative dictionary on every facet of opera.

The New Kobbe's Opera Book, edited by the Earl of Harewood and Antony Peattie (G.P. Putnam's Sons). The opera-lover's bible, this newly revised book has been around since 1919 and is the single reference source on opera, but perhaps best for the already converted.

Opera: A Listener's Guide, by Jack Schirmer (Schirmer). Fairly thorough examinations, including musical examples, of 11 of the most frequently performed operas. A bit more sophisticated than the novice would appreciate, but good for those wanting to go more in-depth.

New Grove Book of Operas, edited by Stanley Sadie (St. Martin's). Another scholarly, handy one-volume work, this is a condensation of the classic four-volume original that presents 250 operas in dictionary form, with synopses, production history, and lots of photographs and illustrations.

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