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BOOK REVIEWS: MUSICAL ICONS

By Joel Kasow

Franco Corelli: Prince of Tenors, by René Seghers, Amadeus Press, New York 2008.

Zubin Mehta: The Score of My Life, by Zubin Mehta, Amadeus Press, New York 2009.

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: From Flower Maiden to Marschallin, by Kirsten Liese, Amadeus Press, New York 2009.

PARIS, 28 MAY 2009 - Alphabetical order is the only way three such outsize performers can be listed, each exceptional in his or her domain. The easiest of the three titles to evaluate is the book devoted to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, part of which was translated from German. In addition to the many photographs taken by the Fayer Studio in Vienna, there are snapshots which are more revealing in their casual nature. Kirsten Liese offers an interview with Lilian Fayer, a short essay, and after the 115 pages of black and white photographs, Charles Scribner III tells about his encounter-interview with the soprano at the age of 90. There is no hint of anything untoward during the war years, little mention is made of her impatience with singers who did not meet her standards, but we can enjoy the many photos as reminders of a remarkable career.

Zubin Mehta's autobiographical memoir is also translated from German and we quickly become aware that experienced copy editors are a thing of the past. Can one truly say that Toscanini made only a few recordings, or that there were no operas in Los Angeles (the San Francisco Opera toured their almost every year until the Los Angeles Opera began to function)? Someone confuses Turandot and Aida, and while it is interesting to read that Puccini would have gone further afield than his accomplishment in Fanciulla del West, he reverted to form in La Rondine, much of the Trittico and Turandot. Small factual errors also detract: Mozart did not use the basset horn in the Seraglio but Clemenza di Tito, Maria Callas did not make her Italian debut at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino but the Verona Arena, the stage director of the failed Vienna Ring was not Giuseppe Sangiust but presumably Filippo Sanjust. This of course is quibbling, but for many readers it detracts from the reader's enjoyment. Zubin Mehta is one of life's fortunate creatures, often in the right place at the right time, able to parlay his good fortune into a respected career in which he has been entrusted with some of the best positions in the musical world. We also see the foundations of his credentials as a humanist, a position he shares with his close friend Daniel Barenboim.

René Seghers hagiography of Franco Corelli suffers even more than the Mehta memoirs from lack of editorial work - you know you're in for a bumpy read when you come across an acknowledgement of Amadues Press, and so it continues through to the end. In addition to first he did this, then he did that, etc., we hear about Corelli the young man and his burgeoning career, his setbacks, his stage fright, all aspects that help us better understand the man behind the voice, and it was an exceptional voice, commanding the attention of the audience, alongside a virile male presence as attested by the photos in the book. We realize that Corelli's early years were filled with performances of operas unknown today as well as the standard repertoire, though it is hard to believe that any listener could find Corelli's French acceptable however appealing he might have been as Roméo or Werther or Don José.

A complete performance history and discography are available online as inclusion would have meant shortening the text, which might have led someone to discover that the recipes for Loretta's rice salad and Franco's version are virtually identical, and perhaps an informed reader might have imposed some consistency on the subject of song and opera titles so that we would read about Handel's Hercules and not Ercole, and Grieg's song "I love thee" would be given its Norwegian title. Nonetheless one reads through to the end, sometimes ploddingly, and appreciates the singer with all his flaws and frailties, and even understands the protectiveness of Loretta Corelli.

Franco Corelli: Prince of Tenors
By René Seghers
Foreword by Marco Corelli

Hardcover: 528 pages
Hal Leonard Corporation: Amadeus Press, New York, January 2008
ISBN-10: 1574671634
ISBN-13: 978-1574671636
$34.95

Zubin Mehta: The Score of My Life
By Zubin Mehta

Hardcover: 214 pages
Hal Leonard Corporation: Amadeus Press, New York, February 2009
ISBN-13: 9781574671742
$27.99

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: From Flower Maiden to Marschallin
By Kirsten Liese

Hardcover: 160 pages
Hal Leonard Corporation: Amadeus Press, New York, January 2009
ISBN-13: 9781574671759
$27.95

Joel Kasow is the Operanet editor at Culturekiosque.com. Please click here to access his archive of CD and DVD reviews.

Related Culturekiosque Archives

The Legacy of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Franco Corelli: The unknown recordings

DVD Review: Schwarzkopf - Seefried - Fischer-Dieskau



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