A superb biography of the Tuscan master who is, to date, the last of Italy's impressive line of great opera composers, whose La Boheme, Tosca, Madame Butterfly and Manon reveal his own nature as well as his sure theatrical sense. This is a frank but affectionate portrait of the passionate, romantic, woman-dominated musician. From a childhood surrounded by women, he never outgrew either his dependence on nor his fascination for the opposite sex. One tragic outcome was his wife's unwarranted jealousy which precipitated the accused girl's suicide, a law suit, a disastrous break in the never fully resolved Girl of the Golden of the Here are clear pictures of Puccini's frugal student days in Milan -- the '90's, when his operas first achieved world fame, under the sponsoring of such conductors as Toscanini, musicians such as Caruso -- the early 20th century, which brought him to New York -- two failures about the time of World War I --the vindication with Turandot, despite its never being completed. Here are vignettes of his contemporaries, the aged but still great Verdi, the mercurial poet, D'Annunzio, Puccini's trio of long-suffering librettists, competing composers, and so on. This is a literate, well documented and beautifully written biography, by the critic who writes program notes for the Met- and conducts a column in Good Housekeeping. A fine contribution to music shelves.