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MUSIC BOOK ROUNDUPIt is simple to search for books of a particular subject by using your browser's "find" function. Click on your browser's "FIND" button or drop down the "EDIT" menu and choose "FIND." Type in an artist's name (example, "Mozart") or a key word (example, "Bel Canto" or "Ragtime"). This works equally well with author's names. The browser will skip to the topic you have indicated (if it is here).
by Bert Wechsler
THE LAST PRODIGY: A Biography of Erich Wolfgang Korngold by Brendan G. Carrol. Amadeus Press, 464 pps., $34.95.
Unfortunately known best, and unfairly belittled for, his sweeping, romantic movie music, Korngold was much more than that. He wasn't only the last prodigy, he was really the only prodigy on his level. This is not to put down Mozart or Mendelssohn, but from the beginning, Korngold wrote adult music and played the piano like nobody else. He was, all his life, totally music and also could turn a witty phrase but otherwise his wasn't really an interesting life.
Carrol has spent 25 years on Korngold and I guess there is very little about his subject that he doesn't know. He also knows his films of that time. He writes clearly and smoothly, he explains (if we didn't know) who extraordinary the early works are and Korngold's "invention" of Hollywood film music (he said he just had to follow Bette Davis' cadences in her films.).
It was, of course an intensely interesting period: Austria and Germany before WW II. Korngold was part of it certainly, a big part of it, but what his father didn't shield him from, he more or less did himself in his concentration on his music. He was freer in the Hollywood of during the war and seemingly more relaxed. He took musical problems and devised totally original solutions to them. All genres of music were synthesized through him. He rejected the "New Music," serial, codified 12-tone, and the like. He was actually the closing of the Romantic 19th century rather than a beacon for the more acerbic 20th.
He did marry and have children but outside of music, I can't think of much else except help his fellow man when he could. This does not negate the value of this book because he was an important figure and still is. We do not have to know "dirt" about a subject, especially if there is none. It is good to know him better and to be able to appreciate his music even more. It is not the author's fault that his subject was so "straight."
There is a valuable, exhaustive discography included in the volume. His most popular excerpt, more popular than "Robin Hood" or"Captain Blood" is Marietta's Lied from his opera "Die Tote Stadt." Just about everybody has recorded it over the years but a favorite of mine is Stella Roman at the Hollywood Bowl conducted by Artur Rodzinsky in 1950. This is included in a remarkable Roman disc from Eklipse (EKR 42). It is also included on Legato Classics 139-1: they say it dates from 1948.
The volume also contains many stodgy Biedermeier photographs.
BACH by Peter Washington; MOZART by Andrew Steptoe; THE PIANO by Jeremy Siepmann. Each volume includes a separate folder containing three CDs. All published by Alfred A. Knopf in association with EMI, $47.50 each.
These are three volumes in a new series published by Knopf. A clever idea all around and recommended for the tyro in music. Simple biographies (or in the case of the piano, a history), and descriptions of the music as illustrated on EMI's re-cycled recordings which are of high value. Photos. You can delve as deeply into the composers and the music as you wish, alone or guiding others.
CONTEMPORARY ANTHOLOGY OF MUSIC BY WOMEN by James R. Briscoe. Indiana University Press, 384 pps., $29.95.
If music had a gender, I might understand this more. A textbook, assisted in its publication by a grant from WISP (Women in Scholarly Publishing), it is meant to counter the study of music that is male composer oriented. (When you get out of school, you can study music that is music oriented.)
Anyway, here are the partituren of 32 works, all written by women, from Emma Lou Diemer to Judith Lang Zaimont, including Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton, Mary Lou Williams. Yes, Sofia Gubaidulina is here: not the lady whose name begins with "Zw."
THE ORCHESTRA ON RECORD, 1896-1926. An Encyclopedia of Orchestral Recordings Made by the Acoustical Process compiled by Claude Gravely Arnold, C.S.B. Greenwood Press, 695 pps., $125.
The title tells the tale. Immense research -- you'll be amazed how much Waldteufel there was recorded -- with all the forces, conductors, soloists and any reappearances through the ages. Even skimming is fascinating. In 1902 the Metropolitan Opera House String Orchestra under Nahan Franko recorded Wagner's Magic Fire Music for Leeds and Catlin.
Sometimes there is too much information. In a book such as this, the information on the literary source of Beethoven's "Fidelio" only smacks of academicism. But this is an invaluable source on recordings.
ROSA PONSELLE: A CENTENARY BIOGRAPHY by James A. Drake. Amadeus Press 494pps. $39.95.
Rosa Ponselle, the Legend. Ponselle, unquestionably one of the world's greatest singers. Ponselle, who retired from singing perhaps at the height of her career, still a young woman.
Now it can be told. Drake's previous "Ponselle: A Singer's Life" for Doubleday was the soprano's authorized and rosy autobiography: this book is as close to the truth as possible. It is based, not only on myriad interviews with her, but interviews with others, press reports, archives. There are her opinions of other singers and theirs of her but no real "dirt." The main revelation is the explanation of her heretofore mysterious retirement. She had worked hard and was waiting for Hollywood. Hollywood never happened.
She was married, she built a house, she lived her legend. She was also capricious, selfish, and had all the usual traits of people who do not happen also to be geniuses living in public adoration.
While not a real "page turner" this book holds interest and fills in a previous void in the knowledge of all opera lovers. Only 353 pages are text, the rest of the volume is devoted to endnotes, a chronology of performances by Thomas G. Kaufman, a bibliography by Andrew Farkas and an important discography by Bill Park.
She was phenomenal. CDs abound and explore them. Nimbus Prima Voce has three volumes, Cantabile has a 2 CD set, there is Romophone, RCA, Legato, The Radio Years, and Memoir Classics has a disc of Ponselle and Martinelli (with a little Pinza) sing Verdi.
"Rosa Ponselle: A Centenary Biography" is part of Amadeus' ongoing series of singers' biographies which include Andrew Farkas' "Jussi," the necessary biography of Jussi Bjorling, And "Dear Rogue: The Biography of the American baritone Lawrence Tibbett" by Hertzel Weinstat and this writer.
SINGERS OF ITALIAN OPERA: The History of a Profession by John Rosselli. 1995, Cambridge University Press, 272 pps., $17.95 (paper).
Anybody interested in the history of opera should read this book. Rosselli presents a kaleidoscopic - in every sense of the word - view of the profession of opera from the beginning up to today. He presents his material, his research, as a prestidigitator, flashing it where it best should be. He presents subjects it never occurred to one to present, and it all fits. Arcane singers, well-known singers, composers, impresarios, Mussolini: anyone and anything connected with the business of opera appears at his fingertips.
Opera practice of yesterday leads directly to the present day business of international opera and ballet. Rosselli makes it all so simple.
I noted only one mistake: the chorus does not sing "Suoni la tromba" in Bellini's I Puritani. It is a baritone/bass duet. I was thrilled at such completeness that he talks about the Italo-American impresario Alfredo Salmaggi. I believe that I was Salmaggi's last stage director. We parted over a $5 dispute, directly in line with the history and tradition of opera.
I am sending this book to the man who was and again will be the head of the Oslo opera. He'll love it as will you.
NOTABLE TWENTIETH-CENTURY PIANISTS by John Gillespie and Anna Gillespie. 1995, Greenwood Press, 2 Vols. 1024 pps.
Beginning with d'Albert and ending with Krystian Zimerman, here is a mighty work combining brief but to the point biographies, discographies, and critical opinions. Press comments are extensively utilized, plus selected references. This can be an invaluable tool for many: all I find missing is a table of contents. You can refer to the Index and the pianists listed in bold type are the ones, a sort of backward method. And you may disagree (even violently) with the pianists left out or even with the ones included.
A GUIDE TO THE SOLO SONGS OF JOHANNES BRAHMS by Lucien Stark. 1995, Indiana University Press, 392 pps.
Everything you might have wanted to know about Brahms' Lieder, including translations, sources, revisions, whatever.
THE WISDOM OF JERRY GARCIA. 1995. Wolf Valley Book, 96 pps. $8.95, paper.
Even with a cover blurb from "President Bill Clinton," come now! Even a dedicated Deadhead must rankle at the revealed enrichment of, and framed alone on a page, "I try not to be an asshole." Gracia, Garcia.
MASSINE: A Biography by Vincente García-Márquez. 1995, Alfred A. Knopf, 446 pps., $35.
HPR does not make a point of reviewing books on dance, but this biography of the dancer-choreographer Léonide Massine incorporates the arts of the 20s and 30s: dance, yes, but also music, literature, and visual artists such as Piccaso and Derain. Because he was "brought in the world" by Diagilev, Massine moved easily in those circles and continued to after the break with the older man.
He choreographed full symphonies (Brahms' Fourth, Beethoven's Seventh, for instance) with results still being debated today; commissioned realizations of discovered music by Cimarosa and was not above Offenbach (Gaité Parisienne), and was at all times sensitive to extra-dance values.
Márquez writes vividly - this is also a great travel book - and clearly about all he touches. He does not idolize his subject but tries to place him in his historical and artistic perspective. As a dance book, Massine is on a level with Nijinska's Memoires, Suzanne Shelton's biography of Ruth St. Denis, and Agnes de Mille's book on Martha Graham. For all audiences.
KURT WEILL: An Illustrated Life by Jürgen Schebera, translated by Caroline Murphy. 1995, Yale University Press, 381 pps., $35.
Weill's importance to 20th century music is becoming more and more apparent. He invented, he synthesized (not electronically), he expanded. His success as a Broadway composer is no longer being held against him. He moved in many worlds.
The text of this book, translated fluently, is clear and straightforward. His life flows before us more easily than it did for him. There are précis of his stage work plots and basic analyses of all his music. The research is up to date and prodigious.
And yes, it is illustrated. Too much. While most of the photographs are valuable, how many envelopes of letters he sent do you actually want to see? The captions often mirror the text so we read the same thing twice, a hindering activity.
Weill's is a fascinating story, cut tragically short. He does live on, in his music and in this book.
OPERA IN AMERICA: A Cultural History by Jon Dizikes. 1993, Yale University Press, 612 pps., $35.
Sorry that we have gotten to this late but a combination of circumstances kept us from reviewing it when first published. Now, during a convalescence, it was picked up and here we are.
This is a big, highly valuable book but, alas, flawed to close to uselessness. It is panoramic, taking opera itself from its beginnings in Florence and up to, god help us, Philip Glass and Peter Sellars. It's research is voluminous (I can imagine the author's pile of 5x7 cards) but is it all believable? He even quotes the discredited Adriana Stassinopoulos, at length, on Callas.
We have every opera, musical entertainment, every tour, every theatre that housed opera, these with their dimensions and seating capacities, in the country - not, however, Horace Tabor's Opera House, both real and featured in the opera The Ballad of Baby Doe, which would have been of interest. We have the singers, the impresarios, the composers, and their biographies. We are made aware of America's strengths and prejudices, and the role the country played in fostering great singers beginning with the childhoods of Malibran and Patti. We see almost the whole picture, and that is more than admirable. The importance of concert opera in New York, especially in the 1960's, for instance the operas that Thomas Scherman introduced with his Little Orchestra Society, is not touched upon.
But what do you make of a book about opera which, in it's very first paragraph, gets the stage business of Act One of The Barber of Seville wrong? The fact is that Santa Cruz professor Dizikes does not know opera. He can read but he doesn't know. He can describe Wagner and Bayreuth but has "The Song to the Evening Star" sung by the tenor. Michael Bohnen, otherwise well delineated, was not a tenor and Roland Hayes was (first called a baritone, Hayes does become a tenor later on). If Salome dances her dance with the head of John, why is she dancing? The caption on the illustration of Nordica with a spear says it is "as Isolde." There are many more howlers.
Who edited this book for Yale, a Harvard mole?
Scott Joplin's lost first opera is The Guest of Honor, not Guard of Honor.. Some sequels to his stories are more interesting than the stories themselves. Does Dizikes know them? The too often displayed ignorance of his subject does not keep him from strong opinions. "Great", "the most." He bad-mouths Caruso. Can you believe him? His judgments are not knowledgeable and so, by extension, can you believe his research? His coverage of the American operas that Gatti-Cazazza presented at the Met with and for Lawrence Tibbett is unacceptable.
In an obvious effort to be populist, egalitarian, and everybody-brow (the same thing?) he does stop short of calling Hair an opera, but Annie Get Your Gun? Broadway musicals are Broadway musicals, a legitimate art form of their own. What's wrong with that? And you don't have to translate the name of every foreign opera, every time, either to or from English. We know them.
Yes, read Opera In America for its big picture, but check out the facts.
PRIEST OF MUSIC: The Life of Dimitri Mitropoulos by William R. Trotter. 1995, Amadeus Press, 495 pps.; 29.95.
If this is a monster review, I apologize, but this is a monster book. Oliver Daniel did the research but died before he could write it: Trotter wrote it. Daniel did write the elephantine Stokowski which, however, was mostly about himself. Trotter is a novelist who lives in North Carolina and who wrote a very good war novel wherein Sibelius and Sibelius' symphonies have a major role. He collects records.
Trotter had a major problem, to write someone else's research. I faced the same problem although my collaborator, happily, is still alive. How I solved the problem is still to be judged (publication in August), but Trotter didn't solve his although I don't think he is aware of it. He just doesn't have the knowledge necessary to proclaim in a musical biography. With opinions flying around almost every page, are they his or are they Daniel's? This question makes them all suspect and afloat in the air. Musical or political, the judgments don't seem to be well-considered, just related.
And what opinions! Only the downtrodden are worthy, all the rest are vilified. Do you really think that David Diamond and Morton Gould are major world composers? A performance of Copland's El Salon Mexico, a minor work at most, is one of two described as of "drop dead brilliance." Come now. And it is unthinkable that someone would refuse to perform a work by Copland. The Metropolitan Opera's orchestra was never mediocre and Mitropoulos did not revive it any more than James Levine has. With a good conductor, it was always a good band: with a bad conductor it still is a bad band.
Trotter is also unknowing. The Great Northern Hotel was not a block and a half from Carnegie Hall, it was on the same block. Karol Rathaus' was not a 'touch-up of the Rimsky-Korsakoff orchestration" of Boris Godunov, it was an edition of Mussorgsky's original. Mitropoulos had conducted a great hunk of the opera with the New York Philharmonic before he conducted it at the Met, so it was not "unexplored territory" there. "Eleanor Steber's revival [at the Met] of Manon Lescaut? That an opera orchestra (in Italy) had to play three operas under three different conductors in one week is neither unusual nor terrible. Neither are Sunday concerts slavery dure.
The book is full of confusion, contradictions and infuriating repetition. I am reading the book and know what it said, didn't Trotter read it? Was there no editor?
We do learn a lot about Mitropoulos: his concert programs, his "priestly calling," the important and trivial letters he wrote and received, his reviews, his saintliness, his proselytizing for contemporary music, his "betrayal" by the Philharmonic, what he ate, that he was a (mostly) non-practicing homosexual, what his apartments looked like: all that is left out are his bathroom productions and his lovers.
Leonard Bernstein, whom the older man befriended when the younger was still in college, is the unalloyed villain of this life and an altogether slimy character, which may in fact be true.
Mitropoulos certainly deserved a biography, but a spare, vibrant, to-the -point one as the man was. After all these words we still don't know the man because Trotter didn't and Daniel was too busy collecting research. And both men were far too busy opinionating.
I heard Mitropoulos often. After great study, I concluded that, no matter where the arms windmilled, the beat was in his elbows (I used to imitate him). With the Philharmonic I remember especially the first electrifying Electra, a dull Boris where George London must share the responsibility, and a first act of Die Walküre. This last named had the alliterative cast, an alliteration that would make the librettist Wagner proud, of Varnay, Vinay, and Vishy, and is remembered for its excitement and that the conductor cut off Vinay's mighty second "Wälse!".
Mitropoulos was an exciting Wagnerian. His recording of hunks of Walküre for the Met Record Club should be re-issued (by whom?). A negative review of his last act Götterdämmerung with the Philharmonic is reprinted. It has been released on AS Disc 549 and I put it on. It is very good.
At the Met he was not an idiomatic Italian opera conductor although he led much of that repertoire. He also had a lot of trouble with a ballet he was forced to conduct, stating that he had never conducted a ballet before. He didn't throw cues to the singers, either. The Met orchestra loved him as a man but not particularly as a conductor.
Mitropoulos was unquestionably a great conductor and a great man: it is this biography that is mediocre.
MY PARABOLA: The Autobiography of Titta Ruffo. Translated by Connie Mandracchia DeCaro. 1995, Baskerville Publishers; 544pps.; $38. CD included.
TEBALDI: The Voice of an Angel by Carlamaria Casanova. Translated by Connie Mandracchia De Caro. 1995, Baskerville Publishers; 360pps.; $35. CD included.
These two volumes are the first in a Baskerville series called Great Voices. The Ruffo is a real book: the Tebaldi is by a gushing fan.
Self-educated, lungs strengthened by early work in iron foundries, egalitarian manqué, prude, implacable enemy of fascism, vocal "miracle," universally acknowledged as the greatest baritone in history, Ruffo writes awfully well and sustains continuous interest. As fluently translated by De Caro, he describes the arc ("parabola") of his life. He adored his mother, was at times quite spiky in his professional dealings, insisting always that he was humbled by his gift and his honors, he was the toast of the operatic world. Other great singers revered him as did audiences. The Metropolitan Opera and his wife (what happened to her?) get short shrift here, however.
The endnotes are not academic op. cit.s but an integral part of the narration, describing personalities mentioned and otherwise clarifying the text. They are by the singer's son, the translator, and a most knowledgeable Giorgio Gualerzi. Ruffo's 55 roles and his discography are listed. Every fan of opera should read this book.
The Tebaldi volume is only for uncritical fans. A striking looking woman, the soprano's popularity was just about boundless. But she owned an imperfect technique, not singing pure vowels and bearing down on her voice which hurt it prematurely. If it was Toscanini who suggested she learn Aida, he was wrong.
Casanova compiles Tebaldi's performances and accompanying casts (also listed in an appendix), and otherwise just strings along travels, awards, the Tebaldi Rose, and myriad glowing tributes. She does mention the diva's loves, of which perhaps only one is admitted (demurely) to have been consummated. Casanova is no writer, employing scattershot adjectives at which one winces, and has limited knowledge of the milieu. The old Met had no cafeteria, for instance. Tebaldi's roles, and commercial recordings, mostly for Decca (London), are listed. Tracking down her "pirate" releases would have been more fun.
This is a terrible book, really no book at all, but if you are a Tebaldi groupie . . .
The welcome CDs, bound in the front cover of each volume, are the wave of the future, most generous and representative of the artists' art.
THE CALLAS LEGACY: The Complete Guide to Her Recordings on Compact Disc, Fourth Edition by John Ardoin. 1995, Amadeus Press, 236 pps., $19.95, paper.
An update of the reference book on Callas recordings. You might disagree violently with Ardoin's judgments on other cast members as well as on the soprano, but they must be referred to before reviewing or even just listening. All taped interviews and scraps of film are also listed.
ETHNIC AND VERNACULAR MUSIC, 1898-1960: A Resource Guide to Recordings by Paul Vernon. 1995, Greenwood Publishing Group, 368 pps., $75.
The world's music, on 78s, and extensive it is. A listing for those who need this information. There is also an important lexicon, alone worth the book.
DELIUS AS I KNEW HIM by Eric Fenby. Dover Press. 265pps. $7.95 (paper).
As is Dover's habit, this is an exact reprint of the 1981 edition of Fenby's book, at a very low price, also Dover's habit.
Fenby, of course, is the man who gave the word "amanuensis" its definition with his work with the blind, paralysed Frederick Delius. He took that composer's last works down by dictation and became a member of the household in Grez, outside of Paris. But Fenby was not only a musician, he obviously was a poet. This is a beautiful book, full of felicitious phrases, ideas, descriptions. His writing about nature is as good as his writing about music.
His conversations with Delius, covering many matters including the older man's anti-Christian beliefs which disgusted Fenby, Delius' opinions on other musician, on almost everything, are clearly delivered. Thomas Beecham appears. Delius' illness and ultimate death is palpible.
No, this is not a new book and you might have already read it. If not, do so, it is a classic.
Unicorn-Kanchana released a 2-LP set of The Fenby Legacy, the compositions he worked on with Delius, conducted by Fenby. I do not know if it was transferred to CD. Its number was DKP 9008/9.
THE FURTWÄNGLER RECORD by John Ardoin. Amadeus Press, 376 pps., $32.95.
As he did with that invaluable research tool, The Callas Legacy (Scribners), Ardoin has taken all the available Furtwängler recordings, including the "pirates" that are achieving legitimacy, listened, and passed judgment on them. Whether you agree or not, as with the Callas, here is the measuring stick and the history. This must be in your library.
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF PERCUSSION edited by John H. Beck. Garland Press. 436 pps. $75.
Here is a neat volume that tells those who wish to know everything they would want to know. The first 11 pages are an alphabetical explanation, from a bambagia (Ital.), padded, to zymbel (Ger.), Paul Hindemith's own term for use in his opera Cardillac (1926) to indicate a small cymbal with a clear, metallic sound.
There follows 47 photo illustrations of single and multiple percussion instruments, listed first for easy finding. A series of clear essays on individual subjects such as Brazil: percussion instruments, janissary music, and the plastic drumhead: its history and development, is followed by selections from Lang and Spivack's The Dictionary of Percussion Terms and a table of instruments and terms in four languages. Before the full index is a list of published writings on methods for percussion.
This is a all-encompassing and important book.
TANTALIZING TINGLES: A Discography of Early Ragtime, Jazz, and Novelty Syncopated Piano Recordings, 1889-1934 by Ross Laird. 1995, Greenwood Press, 296 pps., $65.
Just what it says it is, and it looks extremely well researched. If these recordings are your bag, this is your bag.
BERLINER GRAMMOPHONE RECORDS: American Issues, 1892-1900 compiled by Paul Charosh. 1995, Greenwood Press, 336pps., $75.
Emile Berliner, as opposed to Edison and others, made his gramophone records on flat discs, not cylinders. He also recorded the culture of the day so this unique research resource is valuable on several levels. His releases are listed in order of number, by artist, title, and recording date. There is also a listing of the few Berliner recordings that have found their way onto LP and CD. If you need this information, here it is for you.
SOPRANOS, MEZZOS, TENORS, BASSOS, AND OTHER FRIENDS by Schuyler Chapin, with photographs and captions by James-Daniel Radiches. 1995, Crown Publishers, 272 pps., $50.
A fanatic follower of Leonard Bernstein and well-connected by birthright and marriage, Chapin has occupied a number of high positions in the Arts. This new recollection of dinner parties, sailings, and musicians is in the style of his other writings. Colleagues are unfailingly wonderful, although he does vent some minor spleen on troubles he encountered as General Manager manqué of the Metropolitan Opera.
The book is innocuous and chatty, but is bothersome in what he is either unaware of or doesn't know. I pondered a long time over the thought that roles the likes of Gioconda, Alcestes, and Abigaille (Nabucco) "made no demands on [Eileen Farrell's] formidable abilities." They're not a snap for anyone, and I would assume that Farrell would be the first to agree. I have blanked out other gaffes, and I have no intention of looking for them again.
Little mention is made of Rafael Kubelik, at the time the Met's Music Director and none or his perhaps apocryphal answer to the Met's telex "We have no Tristan, we have no Isolde. What should we do?" "Tosca."
A sort of necropolis, Radiches' photographs are of the still living artists today.
OPERA IN ITALY TODAY: A Guide by Nick Rossi. 1995, 420pps., Amadeus Press, 24.95 (paper).
It is a pity that this book is subtitled "A Guide" because one tends to think that a "guide" grows outdated. Travel books of the Old World do not become outdated (read a 1893 Baedeker of Sicily, for instance) and this is a terrific travel book. Rossi's loving descriptions of cities and opera houses, with their histories, is a masterpiece. An example is his treatment of Bergamo, Donizetti's birthplace: a gem and I want to go there as soon as possible. His entranced wonder at the La Scala Museum mirrors mine - until he just copies lists from the guidebook.
His penchant for lists is one of his drawbacks. Interminable indiscriminate lists of names of who appeared in a particular opera house - and he does this for most of them - have the effect of giving equal importance to, for instance, Toscanini and a hack.
There are other big problems with Rossi's writing. The Baths of Caraculla (Rome) has had outdoor opera "since 1913" and the first performance of an opera there was in 1937 (?). A six week period had 19 days. Early on, page 16, I began to doubt when he states that a big subject of conversation all over Italy was the time Pavarotti cracked on a high note "during an appearance at a gala at New York's Lincoln Center." The tenor's talked-about misfortune actually happened at a first night of Don Carlo at La Scala.
Rossi's lists of casts are suspect: Gina Cigna, a great Norma and Aida, appearing as Lucia? Not bloody likely. How's this howler: "Honorius, fearful of a Barbarian invasion, moved the capital of the Western Empire from Milan to Ravenna in 402 AD, and just in time, for Alaric's sack of Rome followed only eight years later." And the value of these words: ". . . the fate of the lyric theatre in Rome, an art form ever popular here but eternally at the mercy of the theologian and politician, of popes and kings and presidents and even of Il Duce himself." Even, himself? Il Duce?
I did laugh at the perspicacity of Hans Werner Henze's founding of a festival (Montepulciano) where no one gets paid. I could do that! Rossi also loves Gian Carlo Menotti (Spoletto). There is also repetition as sections of even one chapter seem written years from another (from 1988 on) and never integrated.
He ends each theatre description with advice on how to obtain tickets. He is ironic - no, realistic - about Italy's culturally ingrained efficiency. Then there is a list of recordings made at the theatres, tunnel-visioned, leaving out one series from La Scala on Angel (Callas) and another now from Sony (Muti). The Trieste Opera's fantastic Werther with Gencer and Tagliavini and a Thaïs with Bastianini, are both on Melodram and both evidently unknown to Rossi.
The writer, a music critic, has lived in Italy a long time and perhaps this book is Italy. You take the wonderful with the inexplicable and love it anyway, however it maddens.
PAVAROTTI: My World by Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright. 1995, Crown Publishers, 333 pps., $25.
This second volume of the big tenor's "memoirs" begins with an introduction fraught with the international experience of the ages by collaborator Wright, saying Peking Opera performers "squealed and grunted" and referring to Pavarotti as the One True God.
Pavarotti modestly denies that appellation in his Preface but in his following narration he is certainly the center of the universe. We have nice enough anecdotes of things that happened in his life and career wherein performances and colleagues are all, of course, "wonderful."
Tragedy - or at least not triumph - touched him when he lip-synched at a Pop concert, cracked on a note (not a high note) at La Scala, and his daughter suffered from myasthemia gravis, in that order. He also thought his exploitive film "Yes, Giorgio" wasn't particularly good because a food fight really isn't him.
Actually, this is a wonderful book, full of wonderful warm stories created by god's wonderful gift to the tenor world. Yes, he worked hard and earned his renown, and I agree with him that his best roles are in Boheme, Ballo, and Elisir. But I read 180 pages on a flight from New York to Paris - a captive audience so to speak - and had no desire to pick it up again. I got a sugar reaction.
OPERA ODYSSEY: Toward the History of Opera in Nineteenth-Century America by June C. Ottenberg. Greenwood Press, 203 pps., &49.95.
It is hard to believe, but there was much more opera in emerging America than there is today. It was part of life, not only in the big cities, but because of extensive touring groups combing the young nation. Except in New Orleans, when French opera was ensconced, the performances tended to be English or English translations, often of cobbled together works. da Ponte, Mozart's librettist, tried to give "real," artful opera and went bankrupt, a common occurrence for impresarios which seldom daunted them. It was Garcia's troupe, with his daughter Maria, to become Malibran, that led the way. Luigi Arditti and Clara Louise Kellogg were important, leading up to Mapelson, Leopold Damrosch, and the Met.
There was the civil War, fires, opposition from the church, and Wagner was heard here early on, even before German music took over. It is all a fascinating story which Ottenberg tells swiftly and without being academic. We do not need, however, the plot of Lucia, English translations of titles such as I Puritani, or a description (or explanation) of Wagner. Also, the composer Cilèa was Italian, not French.
Another book on the subject, fancier, from Yale, and with photos, has come down the pike. It is Opera in America by John Dizikes, and we shall report on it in a later issue.
THE BEL CANTO OPERAS by Charles Osborne. Amadeus Press, 378 pps., $29.95.
By Bel Canto operas, Osborne means those of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini who were, of course, the most successful composers of that style and era. He has researched the output of those three composers, Rossini's 39, Donizetti's 69, and Bellini's 10, many unknown to us today. Where else will you find the plot of Torvaldo e Dorliska when you get a new pirate recording?
But, alas, plots are the only value of this book. That, and a tad of biography. How do you like this description, Don Pasquale opens with a "tuneful overture"? Or about William Tell: "The opening chorus is charming" and that the finale of that act "shows Rossini at his most vigorous." Have we learned anything at all?
Born in Australia, Osborne now lives in England. I don't know where he heard his opera, but he says Edgardo's death scene in Lucia was generally cut before the advent of Joan Sutherland. I never knew it to be, Big Joan or no. He does say that Lucias cannot avoid the temptation of ending the Mad Scene on a high E flat, but doesn't mention that Lily Pons sang it in F, or that Monserrat Caballé recorded the role as written, without high coloratura adornments.
The book is dedicated to Sutherland and Richard Bonynge which does not keep Osborne from describing Bellini's Norma as a two act opera when, at the Met at least, the soprano demanded all three intermissions for R & R between the four acts.
The Discography is further disappointing. He lists only two Barber recordings, one of Callas to be sure. There is one Cenerentola; one Armida, not the Callas; one Moses, not with either Rossi-Lemeni or Ghiaurov; only the Semiramide of Sutherland; and only the EMI William Tell. Of Donizetti recordings, only the Elisir of Gedda and Pavarotti; of Lucia, Sutherland and one Callas, in that order; Daughter of the Regiment and Favorita, one each; and Pasquale, only the Tito Schipa and Muti. Bellini comes out no better: Sonnambula with Sutherland and Callas; Norma, Sutherland and only the EMI commercial Callas; but three of Puritani, the pirate on Legato with Sutherland and Gedda being one.
So the value of Charles Osborne's The Bel Canto Operas lies in a quick plot runthrough of Emilia di Liverpool. And so one must keep it on one's shelves.
DIRECTORY OF AMERICAN DISC RECORD BRANDS AND MANUFACTURERS, 1891-1943 by Allen Sutton. Greenwood Press, 282 pps., $65.
From Emil Berliner's disc Gramophone to the American Federation of Musicians' ban on recording, this book is a listing of labels under which American recordings were issued. Also noted is if the discs were lateral, vertical, or universal. Manufacturing companies are also listed. Its research - and trivia - value is limitless.
Meteor, "The Star of the Talking Machine World," came out of Piqua, Ohio, for less than two years. The Arrow Phonograph Corporation, successor of Liberty, had offices in Cleveland and a studio in Manhattan. Emerson had Eddie Cantor and Sissle & Blake. Opera Disc was Deutsche Grammophone's attempt to pirate Victors. And so it goes.
HIS MASTER'S VOICE/DIE STIMMEN SEINES HERRN: The German Catalogue, A Complete Numerical Catalogue of German Gramophone Recordings made from 1898 to 1929 in Germany, Austria, and elsewhere by the Gramophone Company, Ltd. compiled by Alan Kelly with the cooperation of EMI Music Archive, London. Greenwood Press. 1325 pps., $195.
The above says it all. What a book of scholarship and what a bonanza for researchers! From ocarinists to Fanny Rose to operatic scenes featuring Melanie Kurt with Karl Jörn, Ernst Kraus, Jacques Urlus and Paul Knüpfer (where are those now?), thousands of recordings are now documented. Who was Guido Thielscher, Elisabeth von Endert or Käte Heinemann: we know Claudio Arrau, Joseph Hofmann, Bachaus, Barbara Kemp, Margarethe Matzenauer. Do we have these recordings today? Search with this tome and perhaps thou canst learn. Karl Nebe, as himself or "as Victor Carlo?" Hans Blädel singing "Kalder Kaffee Couplet?" Oscar Sabo, "not used." It's quite a price but it's quite a book.
A GUIDE TO THE BLUES: History, Who's Who, Research Sources by Austin Sonnier, Jr. Greenwood Press. 287 pps. $49.95.
This book is all it says it is in the title and subtitle, and more. Yes, it's an encyclopedia of names with more information on each than you might expect and some recordings, but would you expect Voodoo explained? And its influence on Blues? Yes, the history of Blues is here, and diagrams of various scales such as African pentatonic. There is a gallery of photographs and a selected CD discography by label. I would think this is a must for serious Blues buffs, as is the Smithsonian collection of 4 CDs, starting with Blind Lemon Jefferson, information on him on page 147 of the Guide.
One puzzlement: the Guide doesn't seem to know when Alberta Hunter died, although it does list the VIEW (erroneously credited to Kultur)
Copyright © Bert Wechsler 1997
BERT WECHSLER was active in the performing arts as an actor, singer, director, coach and manager before he turned to full time writing. As editor of Music Journal for eight years, he wrote about all aspects of music and dance. He was a music and dance critic for the New York Daily News and New York Concert Review, dance critic and associate editor for Attitude, video critic for video Review, music editor of High Performance Review, dance critic for Der Tanz der Dinge (Switzerland), recordings critic for High Fidelity, correspondent for the music magazine Rondo in Finland and newspapers in Norway (regular column) and Denmark as well as other free-lance activities. He is co-author of "Dear Rogue," the biography Lawrence Tibbett, published by Amadeus Press. He was also associate Editor of Computer Buyers' Guide. He is a member of the Music Critics Association, the Outer Critics Circle, The Bohemians, an honorary life member of the New York Mahlerites, and a founder of the Manhattan Festival Ballet and the Center for Contemporary Opera. Although officially retired from performing, he retained his membership in four theatrical unons. At the time of his death on November 30, 1997, he was critic-at-large for The New York Theatre Wire.
Bert Wechsler reviews Broadway and Classical CDs
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