Opera and the Morbidity of Music

Alas, the title Opera and the Morbidity of Music is a dirty gyp. The cover photo of a bloodied and demented Joan Sutherland hides a book of sane intelligence. The ostensible catalyst for most of Joseph Kerman?s collected essays is the book review, but he ranges both widely and deeply, from William Byrd?s Catholicism and music inspired by labyrinths to a note on the program note and a somewhat more than half-hearted defense of Rach 3. Some topics rate only a few pages, but Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, and Wagner each generate substantial groups of essays. Unlike many critics, Kerman is at his best -- ­specific, passionate, attuned -- when he praises. His description of Charles Rosen?s work gives a sense of what he values: "his is criticism building on what we actually hear in music, even on what we feel about what we hear (though to my taste there is too little here about that)." This admirable attitude serves him well but perhaps makes him strangely sympathetic to political readings of nonverbal music, such as feminist interpretations of Beethoven?s Ninth Symphony as "horrifyingly violent" and a "sexual message." He writes, "What is so very awful about these interpretations? They draw attention­ -- violently, to be sure, and so what? -- ­to a cardinal feature of the first movement?s recapitulatory passage...." Kerman himself eschews trendy language and extreme judgments; his work over the past 30 years paves a critical via media through turbulent times. -

July 23: Jessica Mitford died on this day in 1996.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).