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Summary: another "must get" for opera fans
Review: As in the first volume (this is the second of a projected 3 volumes), Steane continues his format of brief biography and career analysis of 59 more singers. As with the first volume, there are omissions (many of which will, I'm sure, be corrected in the final volume) but the portraits given here are, as before, admirable in their concision and breadth. Such a collection of well- (and lovingly-) written brief biographies is most welcome since most of the singers in this slim volume have no biography, one is long unavailable, or untranslated into English. Highly recommedable.
Summary: A "must get" for vocal enthusiasts
Review: As with Steane's first volume, this is another collection of brief portraits of some of the greatest voices in history. Within his 1500 word framework, Steane gives not only the highlights of the artists' life and career but also manages to describe the voice so well that older collectors immediately call the voices to mind. A promised third volume is anxiously awaited to complement the present two. A highly recommended volume and indispensible for the opera lover on your list (or yourself).
Summary: Colourful and heart-warming vignettes of great singers
Review: Like its predecessor volumes, in this third (and final) instalment of this wonderful series, vocal connoisseur John B. Steane has once again managed to paint colourful and interesting vignettes for 63 notable singers of the 20th century. Restricting himself to around 1,500 words per chapter (there are altogether 50 of them arranged in random order), Steane goes straight into the heart of the matter and reveals with immense vividness and insight why the voices and images of those featured artistes are so dear to our hearts and why they occupy such exalted places in the annals of classical vocalism.
Given the limited space available, instead of charting the career of each singer in detail, Steane would highlight a few special recordings, performances or even musical phrases and gestures which, in his view, best embody the art, character and aura of these often larger-than-life personalities. These are buttressed by personal recollections and observations by the author himself throughout his many years of music appreciation. Indeed, given the wealth of Steane's experience, his views are often exceptionally illuminating, such as those in the discussion of the art of the French song (chapter for Gerard Souzay), the assessment of Alfredo Kraus's Werther, the almost phrase-by-phrase comparison between the Macbeths of Renato Bruson and Sherrill Milnes, the revelation of the "magic" of Maggie Teyte, the explanation Plancon's greatness and expressivity as a singer (as illustrated by the aria "Vi raviso, o luoghi amen"), the delineation of "Ich" by Ian Bostridge in Schubert's Winterreise, the outlining of the various strengths and weaknesses of Cecilia Bartoli, and the touching re-appraisal of Enrico Caruso, whose chapter brings the entire series to an end.
The actual style of writing is witty, warm and stylish. While an air of authority does seep into every phrase, there is also a sense of charm and intimacy throughout that makes the book hugely readable. Steane also quotes quite a lot from other eminent critics, some in support and some to contradict (e.g. those in the chapter on Claudia Muzio). Nevertheless, whether one agrees with Steane's assessments or not, the voices and images of these featured singers will immediately spring to one's mind when reading these delightful portraits, making one eager to reach for those records which have given one so much pleasure in the past to admire them with renewed interest or from a different (and perhaps more enlightened) perspective.
In the Foreword, Steane once again reiterates that the choice of singers in this series has been personal. Nevertheless, taking the 3 volumes of "Singers of the Century" as a whole, Steane does seem to favour those who possess a more traditionally beautiful voice (or a smoother vocal production) and those who have recorded well in the studio. And there are many glaring omissions: Astrid Varnay, Fritz Wunderlich, Gwyneth Jones, Jose van Dam, Anja Silja, Wolfgang Windgassen, Fedora Barbieri, Alessandro Bonci, Ebe Stignani, Piero Cappuccilli, Giulietta Simionato, Pierre Bernac, Helen Traubel, James King, Claire Croiza, Leo Nucci, Johanna Gadski, Mark Reizan, Agnes Baltsa, Cesare Siepi, Fiorenza Cossotto, Ramon Vinay, Ileana Cotrubas, Charles Santley, Teresa Berganza, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Anna Moffo, Geraint Evans, Beverly Sills, Leo Slezak, Magda Olivero, Ludwig Weber, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Maria Reining, Julius Patzak, Suzanne Danco, Gottlob Frick, Bidu Sayao, Maurice Renaud, Teresa Stratas, Erich Kunz, Lisa Della Casa, Leopold Simoneau, Rita Streich, Walter Berry, Leonie Rysanek, Kurt Bohme, Maria Muller, Paul Schoffler, Lilian Nordica etc.. Even when restricted to singers of the older generation, this reviewer can still easily name 50 other celebrated artistes which have not been featured in this three-volume series.
Can we have some more, please?
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