From Kirkus Reviews
A meticulously researched history of operatic music as performed in San Francisco from the Gold Rush to the Civil War. The subtitle saves this admirable volume from a truth-in- advertising charge. Martin (Aspects of Verdi, 1988, etc.) sees the Bay City's growing acclaim for Verdi's music as a paradigm for the development of musical taste in a town that grew from frontier outpost to cosmopolitan bastion in little more than a decade--but this argument seems beside the point. The author's more substantial--and more interesting--story is how 19th-century European opera became a local mania in a city built by roughnecks and miners on the other side of the world from Milan and London. As Martin notes, if today's New Yorkers shared the same enthusiasm for opera as San Franciscans in the years 1851-60, the demand would require 20 additional Met-sized opera houses, all playing every night. Against this background of frenzied enthusiasm, Martin presents a detailed, scholarly history of the singers who came to San Francisco (many of them from South American opera troupes), what they sang, where they sang, and how they were received. In doing so, he provides a potent look at American cultural history: the audiences who spat and filled the theater with cigar smoke, who broke into cheers before the music ended, and who engaged in fistfights and duels, bringing the grand gestures of romantic opera into real life. The time and place championed democratic populism, but also saw itself as ``larger than life''--and opera, with its appeal to the emotions, was ideal entertainment. New operas, hot off the presses of European music publishers, were received with the same intense, lively interest that today greets Hollywood movies. A genuine contribution to the history of art and society during the tumultuous years of this country's adolescence. Its primary appeal, though, is to students of operatic history and those who have permanently left their hearts in you-know-where. (Illustrations) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
"The book gripped me from the start, and held me: an exploration into eventful decades of American musical history that had been for too long uncharted." -- Andrew Porter, music critic, The Observer