Puccini wins the prize for most-maligned great composer. In a fit of depressive self-deprecation, Puccini himself called his own music ""sugary,""and the persistent popularity of his mature operas at box-offices around the world for nearly a century has too often provoked critical condescension, as if art so well-loved could not possibly be worth much. But that situation, thankfully, is changing, and this much-needed essay collection on Puccini by leading scholars of 19th- and 20th-century Italian opera is worth a good deal more than several new biographies. The volume ranges from a lengthy piece on Puccini's family by his granddaughter (one of the editors) to chapters devoted to Puccini's ""musical world"" and each of his operas by luminaries such as William Weaver, Harvey Sachs, Fedele D'Amico, Verdi heavyweights Mary Jane Phillips-Matz and Julian Budden, and William Ashbrook. A favorite: David Hamilton's expert investigation of the early Tosca recordings, especially the legendary ""Mapelson cylinders"" of live Metropolitan Opera performances from 1902-03, to see what light they shed on Puccini's original interpreters. The editors, perhaps hoping to attract non-musicologist admirers of the Luccan master, issue the disclaimer that ""this is not a work of scholarship"" (even though two of the chapters make a start on an accessible Puccini bibliography). They needn't have worried. Lovers of Puccini and Italian opera at every level of interest and knowledge will want this book.