Since the last publication of an English-language Letters of Richard Wagner (Altmann, 1927), hundreds more have been published in small-scale, mostly German collections; thousands more await publication in the projected 30-volume Samtliche Briefe (Complete Letters). And from these vast archives (10,000 letters in all) British scholars Spencer and Millington have chosen 500 letters--most printed in full, most juicy and fascinating--to allow Wagner ""to speak freely in all his contradictory roles."" Here, then, is Wagner the obsequious supplicant: briefly courting future enemy Meyerbeer (""in you I behold the perfect embodiment of the task that confronts the German artist""); for a decade or two worshipping Liszt--""my creator!""--while begging for support (""Send me the money, even if it is from the most Jewish of Jews""); and ultimately, through years of near-comical psychodrama, slavering over King Ludwig II. (""My sole reason for living is the wondrous love which descends upon me like drops of dew from the heart of my royal friend."") Here is Wagner the wildly emotional womanizer, self-celebrator, and self-pitying genius forever in bliss or ""torment."" And here too, of course, are Wagner the hater--of Jews, Italians, Frenchmen, all men (""philistines"")--and Wagner the hypocrite. (The editors drily point out many of the lies and contradictions.) But here also, in finely judged balance, is the genuinely impressive, charismatic artist/ visionary. There are exquisitely detailed instructions on how to stage Lohengrin, how to sing Tannhauser; there are week-by-week bulletins on the ecstatic composition of the Ring. To Mathilde Wesendonck, Wagner writes of his flirtations with Schopenhauer and Buddhism. To often-estranged wife Minna and future wife Cosima, he broods on guilt, God, and politics. The editors provide lucid introductions to their six chronological sections, a useful glossary of names, and scrupulous annotations throughout. So the overall result is a huge (1030 pp.), shrewd, essential addition to the groaning Wagner shelf--with plenty of enlightenment and ammunition for both the Bayreuth faithful and the anti-Wagnerite contingent.