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Wagner Without Fear: Learning to Love--and Even Enjoy--Opera's Most Demanding Genius Paperback – September 29, 1998

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Wagner Without Fear:  Learning to Love--and Even Enjoy--Opera's Most Demanding Genius + Verdi With a Vengeance: An Energetic Guide to the Life and Complete Works of the King of Opera + Puccini Without Excuses: A Refreshing Reassessment of the World's Most Popular Composer
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (September 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375700544
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375700545
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #224,286 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this dumbed-down guide, Berger, a librettist and composer, attempts to make Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) operas accessible to the uninitiated. After a breezy summary of the composer's life, he devotes a chapter to each of his mature works, interspersing plot outlines with chatty commentary. There is a bit of performance history, as well as advice on how to pronounce names, get through the rough spots at the notoriously long performances and when to eat, drink and visit the restroom. He also touches on Wagner's "pseudo-philosophy," especially his anti-Semitism, but like everything else in this disappointing book, it's all oversimplified. There is little discussion of the music and too much cuteness: on Act 3 of Tristan, for example: "These monologues are ballbusters!" and "They're dropping like flies at Castle Kareol!" Some of the sections entitled "Lobby Talk" are thought-provoking?"Nuremberg as City and Concept" (Meistersinger) and the speculation about the power of a person's name (Lohengrin), for example. Chapters on Wagner CDs and the best books to read on the composer and his operas are useful. For the most part, however, Berger underestimates the reader and trivializes the works. Do we really need to be told that Magdalena, Eva's nurse in Meistersinger, is a "female companion," not a "medical attendant" and that The Flying Dutchman is "supposed to be, like, spooky?" It's easy to be facetious about Wagner, but Berger overdoes it. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From the Inside Flap

Do you cringe when your opera-loving friends start raving about the latest production of Tristan? Do you feel faint just thinking about the six-hour performance of Parsifal you were given tickets to? Does your mate accuse you of having a Tannhäuser complex? If you're baffled by the behavior of Wagner worshipers, if you've longed to fathom the mysteries of Wagner's ever-increasing popularity, or if you just want to better understand and enjoy the performances you're attending, you'll find this delightful book indispensable.

William Berger is the most helpful guide one could hope to find for navigating the strange and beautiful world of the most controversial artist who ever lived. He tells you all you need to know to become a true Wagnerite--from story lines to historical background; from when to visit the rest room to how to sound smart during intermission; from the Jewish legend that possibly inspired Lohengrin to the tragic death of the first Tristan. Funny, informative, and always a pleasure to read, Wagner Without Fear proves that the art of Wagner can be accessible to everyone.

- The strange life of Richard Wagner--German patriot (and exile), friend (and enemy) of Liszt and Nietzsche
- Essential opera lore and "lobby talk"
- A scene-by-scene analysis of each opera
- What to listen for to get the most from the music
- Recommended recordings, films, and sound tracks

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Dan Sherman VINE VOICE on January 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book should serve as an excellent and very readable guide for most readers who want information about Wagner's life, his operas, the staging of the operas, various recordings of the operas, etc. If it is not a deep book that goes into lots of detail about these topics (nor can it be, given its length) but certainly it provides satisfactory coverage. It is particularly useful in its plot summaries, along with a general discussion of the music of the operas. Although it is written in a very chatty and informal manner, it really covers a lot of ground and gives a reader good leads on how to follow up with additional reading and Cd listening. I don't think it will by itself convert anyone who hates Wagner, but it should help a lot of other people enjoy his operas more. It is a book that is both fun to read but one with a lot of substance too!
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Russel E. Higgins on August 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
It was with some reluctance and trepidation that I approached William Berger's book, "Wagner without Fear." From the title alone, I erroneously thought that this was another of the poorly written books flooding the market that reduce Wagner to generalities, and which ill-serve both newcomers to Wagner's music and seasoned Wagner enthusiasts, like me, who collect multiple recordings of his music and attend every possible performance of the operas. The book, however, is excellent; in fact, I found it one of the most useful and well-written books on Wagner that one could buy. Mr. Berger writes superlative pages on what opera is, and on the background of Wagner's life, with perceptive pages on the composer's time in Munich and Bayreuth. He writes a brilliant and witty summary - the best I have read - on each of the mature operas from "Der fliegende Holländer" to "Parsifal" Mr. Berger provides helpful pronunciation tips, backgrounds and analyses of characters, discussion of motifs, and comments, in italics, after each section of the summary. The book concludes with "Wagner Issues," a particularly useful discussion of Wagner's anti-Semitism, his bizarre beliefs, the Nazi abuse of his music, and various other material that is accurate and fascinating. Having been a pilgrim to Bayreuth, I was interested in what he had to say about the Wagnerian shrine and how to survive in the town during the annual Festspiele. Wagnerians constantly battle about the "best" CD performances of the operas, but it is difficult to find fault with Mr. Berger's recommendations. Finally, he includes a commendable discussion on The Ring Cycle, including engaging information on the problems of staging it. There is a helpful annotated bibliography and a lucid glossary.Read more ›
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Tina Morris on January 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book was truely needed. I enjoy Wagner, always have, but I know how difficult it is to initially get into his work without fear or prejudice. Berger's book is as entertaining as it is highly informative both for the Wagner novice and the seasoned afficionado. Like any good guide, the different chapters are independent and cross-readable, so you can pick up info on the different aspects of Wasgner and his music without having to go through the book chronologically. Berger has a very witty style and parts of the book are definitely written very tongue-in-cheek, which I personally appreciate. Very humorous for exmaple his observations on the different categories of Wagnerians to be observed attending an opera. Try picking them out during an intermission and you will be impressed with the authors perceptiveness! Beyond that, the book offers good, nuts-and-bolts advice (if there is such a thing in the area of music). Recently we had a staging of Parsifal here in Washington, featuring the great Placido Domingo. Parsifal is Wagner's last and longest opera, considered by many people to be the most complex, slow and boring. After reading Berger's summary and advice on tackling this piece, I had a thoroughly enjoyable time, and five hours melted down to nothing. With his help, we made the right choices about planning our intermission dinner and getting ready for the different aspects of the plot and the music. The book does not cover all of Wagner's work, but the omissions are well-chosen
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By dcreader VINE VOICE on November 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book delivers on its promise - it takes the fear out of listening to Wagner. Having used it to prepare for the Washington Opera's Parsifal, I found that the nearly five hour opera (which I had worried would be confusing and hence boring) flew by enjoyably. Esp. interesting is his discussion of the different ways these operas have been staged. Esp. USEFUL is his advice on when to eat, etc. and the other mechanics of actually attending these operas, which are among the longest. The book does not cover ALL of Wagner's operas, but the ones omitted (e.g. Rienzi) are minor and I prefer the book's approach to giving more space to the biggies. I'm sure that some die hard Wagnerians will find this too elementary, but for most of us, it's a great place to start.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Kersi Von Zerububbel VINE VOICE on February 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent book for someone like me - a total novice to Wagner and his music. I have always enjoyed Wagner's music and was desperately looking for some introductory material to his works. What I wanted was something that was not too simplistic and not too academic. Well, this is it.

The book contains a brief section on biography followed by a great introduction to each of Wagner's operas. I read each of the opera introductions at least twice and then watch the opera on DVD (The Met's version by Levine). What a treat!

I do understand how some of the more scholarly amongst us find this work shallow and demeaning. But friends, for someone like myself, who does not read music; and has no formal training in music, books such as these are a good first start. And who knows - this book may introduce some yet unknown kid to the joys of opera.

Excellent work. Thank you.
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