With its vast bulk and incredible costliness, Budden's three-volume chronological study of Verdi's operas had better deliver an exceptionally high level of scholarship, style, and insight. That it does, and while most opera followers will be more than satisfied by the compact but thorough coverage in Charles Osborne's splendid Complete Operas of Verdi (1970), serious buffs, musicians, and students will glory in Budden's deeper, rangier examinations. Rarely pedantic, occasionally a bit prissy, but usually keen and vigorous and irreverent, Budden tackles only seven operas in Volume II. (1973's Volume I covered 17, leaving just the Big Last Four to fill Volume III.) Each opera receives its own three-part chapter: first a full and often amusing history of the creation and the premiere, then a scene-by-scene musico-dramatic analysis rich in extended musical examples, and finally a reflection on the opera's fate--its place in the Verdi canon. Budden's emphasis (as made clear by two immensely detailed essays that precede the opera chapters) is on Verdi's relationship to the dying Rossinian tradition--""half vulture, half phoenix,"" he fed on the old formulas to nourish the ""mature style"" of La Traviata, Ballo in Maschera, and Simon Boccanegra (""a pearl of immeasurable price"" whose two versions receive intensive cross-analysis). Lovers of Verdi's operas as theater may find Budden slightly too music-oriented--he is relatively unconcerned with stagecraft--but he does make use of recent researches at Parma's Institute of Verdi Studies to clarify the theatrical realities of the original productions. Budden at his best, however, emulates Verdi himself, sweeping away the line between music and drama in the pursuit of genuine illumination.