Music: From Rags to Rags

Everybody knows what ragtime is: piano players in striped shirts and sleeve garters sitting under Tiffany lamps and slapping battered upright pianos that sound as if they had been dipped in water and set out in the sun to bake. Grand opera it is not.

But wait. It is opera, or can be. Back in 1911, Scott Joplin, the self-styled King of Ragtime, composed an opera called Treemonisha. It was one of the few early attempts at an opera by an American black composer, and it drew intriguingly on the musical comedy styles of...

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