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Subject: Re: Favorite Opera Books
From: Peter Hammond <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:[log in to unmask]
Date:Sat, 10 Feb 2018 17:12:53 -0500

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Just caught up with this thread today and have noted many useful suggestions. I don't think anyone has mentioned the two charming books by Robert Lawrence, "The World of Opera" and "A Rage for Opera." These are both easy reads but full of good information and informed opinion. They are dated, of course -- "A Rage for Opera" came out in 1971 and lumps Pavarotti in with those other "new arrivals" Helge Brilioth and  Giacomo Aragall. But Lawrence is especially good on singers from the 1930s through '60s. The singers he discusses he ultimately classifies into the categories With Love (Gertrude Kappel and Ezio Pinza being cited as special past favorites and Christa Ludwig explicitly as his "favorite singer"); With Affection (Lotte Lehmann and numerous others); With Admiration (Flagstad, Ponselle, and Nilsson -- see the commonality?); With Esteem (Milanov, Warren, L. Price, the commonality apparently being superior vocalism that ultimately failed to reach him except in certain roles); With Reflection (Tebaldi, Horne, Corelli, Merrill, the commonality here seeming to be singers he found remarkable who in some way bugged or frustrated him, Corelli's "appalling mannerisms" being an example); and finally, With Empathy, containing as its sole occupant Maria Callas (not, as one might guess, because she's a special favorite but because for all the great qualities he finds in her, he finds her approach "didactic rather than spontaneous" and thus having the power to "illuminate" but rarely to "transport").

The earlier "A World of Opera" is only somewhat less frankly opinionated. Notable in this book is a satirical chapter that purports to be the absurdly narcissistic autobiography of famed New Zealand soprano Gemma Jellinek. This was written of course before there was a world-famous New Zealand soprano. The name, it is hard to avoid surmising, is an affectionate nod to George Jellinek.

Robert Lawrence was a particular champion of French opera, but he did not care much for either "Carmen" or "Faust." It is regrettable that his manuscript for a book to be called "The Great French Operas - and the Famous" was left unfinished upon his death. That's not my satirical invention; it's from his 1981 NY Times obituary.

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