8 years ago

Volume 13 - Issue 7- April 2008

Book Shelfby Pamela

Book Shelfby Pamela MarglesStranger than truth: Life as Opera% en the tenor Roberto Alagna was booed during his performance in Aida at La Scala last year, he threwdown his headpiece and stormed off-stage, refusing to finish his performance. But even the notoriously hotheadedAlagna can't match tenor Franco Corelli for outrageous behaviour. %en Corelli was booed in Naplesduring a curtain call for II Trovatore in 1960, he jumped ojfthe stage, ran up to the third balcony wavingManrico 's shield, pulled out his sword and attacked the heckler. That's just one of many instances of operaticbehaviour detailed by Rene Seghers in Franco Corelli: Prince of Tenors.As detailed by Jonathan Carr in The Wagner Clan, the lives of Richard Wagner and his family are evenmore outrageous than what happens during his operas. Wagner set the pace with his revolutionary activities,exile, royal patronage, seductions, and empire building. His family members outdo even Wotan 'sin the RingCycle for betraying and disowning each other, and keeping bad company. The conflicts continues today, withthe ongoing revelations about the family's war-time activities and squabbles over the control of the familybusiness, the Bayreuth Festival.E. N. Wilson's novel Winnie and Wolf imagines a scenario more outrageous than anything in opera, byfictionalizing the relationship between Winifred Wagner and Adolf Hitler. %at if Hitler and Winifred had hada baby? Unfortunately it doesn't stop the inevitable: he doesn't give give up politics and settle down to familylife and a job directing Wagner's operas at the Bayreuth Festival. Instead he becomes what Wilson describesas 'a.figure in his own opera, no longer a person'.Franco Corelli: Prince of Tenorsby Rene SeghersAmadeus Press544 pages, photos; .95 USFranco Corelliwas certainly thebest-looking tenorof his day, withthe most thrillingvoice. He couldhold a note forever-anddid, to theannoyance of hison-stage partners.Audiences adoredhim.So why did hego to such outrageouslengths to always be the centre ofattention, on stage and off? The instances ofhis bad behaviour, as documented by ReneSeghers in this exhaustive biography, areastounding, if amusing. He stomped off thestage when Louis Quilico got more enthusiasticapplause than he at a Met curtain call.He attacked a conductor for making the orchestraplay too loud and fast , and cuttingoff his applause. He grabbed the throat of achorus master who had said Bergonzi's Trovatorewas better than Corelli's. He worehigh heels so that he could be taller thanJerome Hines on stage - even though he wasalready over six feet tall.As Birgit Nilsson told Seghers, he wasnot difficult to sing with 'if you let him haveeverything his way'. His nervousness andhypochondria made him pathetically dependenton his wife, Loretta, who often had topush him onstage. She kept him on a tightleash-although he did manage at least a fewlove affairs, according to evidence uncoveredby Seghers. But mostly he seemed to havelived his life in sacrifice to his art.Seghers did talk to Corelli, who died in2003. He interviewed former co-stars andtracked down family members in Corell i' sItalian hometown of Ancona. He has meticu-60lously unearthed and documented recordings,films and photos.Seghers admires Corelli, and appreciates hi sartistry. But he is not uncritical, which isjust one reason why this book goes far beyongthe standard fan biography. Seghersprovides valuable insight into the operatictradition Corelli represented so splendidly,when singers ruled the stage, and directorsdid their bidding.The Wagner Clanby Jonathan CarrFaber and Faber436 pages, photos;.00American journalistJonathan Carrclaims that thisbook is the firstserious attempt totell the story of theWagner family. ButWagner familymembers alone, from Richard and Cosima onthrough to their great-grandchildren Nike andGottfried, have produced more autobiographies,diaries and histories than any otherfamily I can think of. Add the many booksabout the dynasty, including Brigitte Hamann'srecent book on Winifred, which Carrcites, and you have a full library.Carr has had access to some newly releaseddocuments, such as the files of theanti-Nazi grand-daughter Friedelind. But hismain contribution is to set this family saga,with its colourful characters and their infighting,in its proper context. His premise in thisfascinating book is that 'the state of the Wagnerclan reflects the state of the country'.With his thorough understanding of Germanculture and politics, Carr is able to showhow the outrageous family goings-on reflectWagner's operas themselves. He sheds lighton Hitler's passion for the music of Wagner,and his crucial support for the Bayreuth Festival. He makes the point that, whereas Rich-WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COMard Wagner was as virulent an anti-Semite asHitler, Wagner wanted to assimilate theJews, whereas Hitler, of course, set out toeradicate them. Carr's main concern today isthe future of the festival, which Wagner'selderly grandson Wolfgang continues tocontrol.Carr annotates meticulously and providesa superbly detailed index. Unfortunately herefers to original German texts, even whentranslations exist, which is a dead end fornon-German reading readers - especiallywith no bibliography to help track down thesources.Winnie and Wolfby A.N. WilsonHutchinson364 pages;.95This novel takesthe form of amanuscript narratedby a man livingin East Germanyin the1960s. The wornanhe is addressi\.N.WILSONing is his adopted daughter, a musician whohas escaped the GDR to live in Seattle,Washington. He wants her to know the circumstancesof her birth, and that her birthparents were Winifred Wagner and Hitler.At the beginning of British writer A.N.Wilson's tale, the narrator is working as anassistant to Siegfried Wagner, Richard's son,who is running the Bayreuth Festival. Thenarrator is infatuated with Siegfried's wifeWinifred. But he is not fond of their frequentguest Adolf Hitler, known to the family asWolf, who he describes as an 'overbearing,flatulent bully'. When the narrator marries,Winifred encourages him to adopt a little girl.Wilson links his fiction to the all-too-realevents of the Holocaust, the war, and theSoviet takeover of East Germany. For eachchapter he uses a Wagnerian opera as thetheme, with the final chapter being calledGiitterdammerung.Wilson's writing is so elegant and clearthat we never feel emotionally manipulated.His scenarios resonate vividly, such as whenthe residents of the town of Bayreuth wanderaround in shock, wearing costumes from thefestival production of Die Meistersingerbecause their own clothes have been destroyed inbombing raids.The characters are credible - and that leads toadilemna. By presenting a Hitler who feels lovefor a woman, plays with her children and fathershis own child, Wilson humanizes him. I, for one,need to think of Hitler as an evil monster, removedfrom the human sphere, so that he can beheld directly responsible for what happened. Butif there is discomfort involved, it is not, as thenarrator at one point suggests, because 'thesepages contain a story that should be left untold ' .It is because the author has done his work toowell.APRIL 1 - M AY 7 2008

@fiO@~cordings reviewedEDITOR'S CORNER: April 2008As you will read in "Old Wine" (page 70), thismonth marks the centenary of one of the mostnotable conductors of the 20th century, Herbertvon Karajan, and every record companywith Karajan recordings in its archives is rushingto re-release them. We can only hope that thesame compliment will be paid to Olivier Messiaen( 1908-1992) and Elliott Carter (b. 1908),two of the most highly regarded composers ofour time, whose hundredth birthdays both fallin December this year. While the auspiciousdates (December 10 and 11 respectively) are stilleight months away, the Toronto SymphonyOrchestra will be among the first off the mark inhonouring the French master, including at leastone of his major works on each of its New CreationsFestival concerts this month. Messiaen'sTurangalfla Symphony, composed between1946 and 1948 is anexuberant, ecstaticwork for large orchchestrawith solo pianoand ondes Martenot, apioneering electronicinstrument with a distinctand haunting sounddeveloped in the 1930s.Pervaded with Messiaen's trademark birdsongmotifs and rhythmic structures, moments of contemplationand reverence frequently give wayto "joyful noises unto the Lord" creating whatis truly one of the composer's signature pieces.It was Seiji Ozawa's 1967 TSO recordingwith soloists Jeanne Loriod and Yvonne Loriod(Messiaen's wife and sister-in-law) that introducedme to this masterful work. l rememberthat it took three sides of a 2 LP set which alsoincluded Takemitsu's November Steps. In1994, I was thrilled to find that BMG had reissuedthat historic recording as part of its "NewBest 100" line on the RCA Gold Seal label. Butwhat a disappointment to find that it was onlyavailable in Japan! I am still grateful to ToshiAoyagi at the Japan Foundation here in Torontofor sneaking me a copy in his "diplomaticpouch" - which sti II takes pride of place in mycollection. So all this to say that you can 't buythat one for love nor money. But a quick visitto the newly revamped website of I' AtelierGrigorian ( tells me thatthere are 13 recordings of this masterwork readilyavailable, with 7 currently in stock, includingone on the Penta Tone label featuring the SaintLouis Symphony Orchestra under Hans Vonk'sdirection, with ondes soloist Jean Laurendeau(who will be featured in the TSO performanceswith Marc-Andre Hamelin on piano). At 77 minutesTurangalila could be construed as a fullprogram in and of itself but on April 16 & 17 theTSO will give us the added bonus of JacquesHetu 's Organ Concerto with Olivier Latry. PeterOundjian conducts.APRIL 1 - M AY 7 2008Under Oundjian's direction the orchestrahas embarked on a new recording era, theTSO Live line ofCDs and on-linedownloads( Thefirst imprint "Portraits"includes Elgar'sEnigma Variationsand Mussorgsky'sPictures at an Exhibition.Interestinglythis latter was alsofeatured on the TSO'sfirst CD recordingwith its previous conductorJukka-PekkaSaraste. Stay tunedfor next month's reviewof this newestTSO initiative when Bruce Surtees will alsolook at Simon Rattle's new recording of theMussorgsky with the Berlin Philharmonic.Naxos has already begun to celebrate ElliottCarter's centenary, with the release of the• Pacifica Quartet'srecording of StringQuartets Nos. 1 and"I• " hi·'·. I5 (8.559362). Composedin 1951 and1995 respectively,these two works spannearly half of Carter'sincredibly crea­tive career and give a surprisingly coherentsnapshot of his development over four decades.The still young, but very well establishedPacifica Quartet gives convincing and passionateperformances of these extremely difficultpieces which are among the most daunting butrewarding chamber works of our time. I lookforward to the companion CD which will completethe set of five string quartets. Otherreleases planned by Naxos for Carter's centenaryyear include Toronto's New Music Concertsperformances of his recent chamberconcertos Dialogues and Mosaic along with anumber of solo works for violin, cello, clarinetand flute . ( other discs I have been spending timewith this month differ radically, not only fromthose described above, but also from eachother. Patrick Godfrey, a Toronto native whonow makes his home on the West coast, firstcame to my attention as a record producerback in the 1980s with his Apparition label'srelease of piano music of Tim Brady perfonnedby Marc Widner. Godfrey, himself anaccomplished pianist and composer, has providedsoundtracks for a number of renownedanimated films, including The Big Snit, and forWWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COMthe acclaimed TV series Bob and Margaret.His solo releases tend toward a "new age"sensibility, but not in a saccharine way and 1must confess that his most recent, Still LifeStill - 8 Improvisations for solo piano(Apparition APP0013) provided a muchneeded grounding forme throughout arecent period of highstressgrant writingactivity. Pat's senseof melody and spaciousnessproduce anoverall feeling ofserenity, but there isplenty ofaction within the individual improvisationswhich vary in style from meanderingpastorals to Debussy-esque cakewalks andlilting escapades over jazz-based chord changes.( contrast, Shruti Project (ambiencesmagnetiques AM 173 CD), is a much moreabrasive set of improvisations featuring Montreal-basedGaneshAnandan and Torontonative John Gzowksi.These experimentalartists are both knownfor their interest inalternative tuning systemsand home-madeinstruments. They first L~~;;;:~~E.IL_worked together more than a decade ago whenGzowski invited Anandan to work with hismicro-tonal Critical Band at the Music Gallery.The current project grew out of Anandan 'sidea ofusing "original tunings" from India,Indonesia and contemporary composers as thebasis for a series of structured improvisations.The resulting collaboration truly needs to beheard to be imagined. Gzowski's " HarryPartch" and 19-tone guitars, electric dowel andukelin are matched in unusualness by Anandan's electric 12-string Shruti Stick (an instrumentwhich is struck, bowed and played withthe fingers), a variety of self-constructed metallophonesand his at times disturbing vocalincantations. Overall, this is a very dark voyagebut not unrelentingly so. Moments of calmand beauty shine through periodically and weare treated to a number of intriguing and previouslyunheard soundscapes along the way.( welcome your feedback and invite submissions.CDs and comments should be sent to:The WholeNote, 503 - 720 Bathurst St. TorontoON M5S 2R4.David OldsD/SCoveries Editordiscoveries@thewholenote.com61

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