Twenty years (1880-1900) of indispensable letters between Italy's greatest opera composer and his last, most accomplished librettist. In a lengthy, fully annotated, and excellent introduction to this first English edition of the correspondence between the internationally celebrated Verdi and his much younger collaborator Arrigo Boito (himself a composer of note), Conati, an Italian Verdi scholar, lays out the peculiar geography of their professional relationship and ultimate friendship. The meeting of two fiercely independent spirits began badly in 1863, when Verdi took offense at remarks Boito and his friends had aimed at the ``old guard,'' of whom Verdi was the most prominent figure. Fortunately for the world's music lovers, things went uphill from there, helped along by the publisher Giulio Ricordi, who knew a match made in heaven when he saw it. Verdi, who had previously considered librettists good only for translating into verse dramatic outlines he had already created, learned to work with an equal; Boito was a superb poet, passionately devoted to the renewal of the musical theater, who had to be treated as a peer, not a subordinate. The letters, stuffed with fascinating detail, catch the two titans in the process of creating the revised Simon Boccanegra, then Otello and Falstaff; sections of text, structural and musical ideas, even production concepts fly back and forth between Milan and Sant'Agata. Before the premiere of Falstaff, Boito writes, ``In the costumes of our characters we must avoid the too beautiful, because too beautiful is so rarely associated with the picturesque.'' Verdi, who knew that his wordsmith was a real man of letters rather than a hack, shows warmth and respect; Boito's tone increasingly approaches veneration mixed with delight. The letters are linked by editorial passages to create an intelligible historical narrative. A must-have for every music lover's shelf.