978-0-375-70712-4 / 0375707123

Cinderella and Company: Backstage at the Opera with Cecilia Bartoli

by Hoelterhoff, Manuela




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About the book:

The author defines her style at the beginning of this bright, gossipy book about one of opera's youngest superstars. Manuela Hoelterhoff starts off by discussing Rossini's Cinderella opera, La Cenerentola, which she then uses as a recurring metaphor throughout the book. Her description is accurate when she calls it "music that dances, whispers, charms and dazzles from beginning to end." But if one substitutes "prose" for "music" in that quote, she might well be writing about Cinderella & Company.

Hoelterhoff's style is deliciously appropriate for her chosen subject, the world of mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli. It is even more suited to the story's background: the larger-than-life style of the world's great opera houses and the colorful personalities of many people found there--onstage, backstage, and even in the audience. In terms of eccentricity, Bartoli does not stand out; she has a fair share of phobias (flying, computers, microphones), and she cancels performances more frequently than her fans would like, but her primary interest is musical: a voice, not very powerful but beautiful, which she uses with a fine sense of bel canto style, considerable acting skill, and a careful choice of the right music.

Much of the book's appeal lies in its descriptions of people, which tend to be short, pungent, and devastatingly on target: Maria Callas, "the queen of whatever opera company she wasn't feuding with"; conductor Herbert von Karajan, who "had a reputation, entirely deserved, as a voice killer"; baritone Bryn Terfel, "a guy with the body of Meat Loaf and an exuberant performing style"; agent-publicist Herbert Breslin, "a motor-mouthed, bullet-headed ... egomaniac ... I used to go through the obituary section of the Times looking for his"; Luciano Pavarotti, a "crumbling monument"; and lots more. --Joe McLellan

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