Professor Bokina’s book is warmly felt, studiously researched, and sedulously written. It is also almost perfectly useless. Anyone who cares enough about opera to buy and read a book about it knows that politics enters into quite a few operas. So do eating, drinking, and hunting. But do we need volumes about them? An amusing and concise essay about any of them could hold its place in an anthology. For whom, however, is such a tome intended? Perhaps for less musically alert fellow political scientists; or, more likely, for oneself, as an attempt to wed one’s vocation to one’s avocation.

Bokina offers seven deadly earnest chapters starting with “The Prince as Deity, Beast, and Tyrant: Monteverdi’s Orfeo, Ulisse, and Poppea,” where the title pretty much tells it all. Next, “The Dialectic of Operatic Civilization: Mozart’s Don Giovanni,” about the...


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