978-1-57912-283-6 / 9781579122836

Maria Callas: A Musical Biography


Publisher:Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers



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About the book:

They called her "La Divina." Indeed Maria Callas transcended ordinary human limitations. A supreme singer and actress with a style all her own, she dominated the vocal and operatic world, exerting a deeply lasting influence on it, especially by single-handedly reviving the art and repertoire of bel canto. Volatile, iconoclastic, fearless, obstinately determined, extreme in both life and art, she stirred up endless controversy. The story of her tumultuous public and private life has aroused unceasing fascination, but Robert Levine's new book approaches it from a totally different perspective. This is no ordinary biography, though it includes an account of the major events of her tragically brief life and career. Though he leaves no doubt where his sympathy lies, Levine recounts all this with admirable--sometimes ironic--objectivity, skillfully interpolating hints of future events. Numerous quotes of Callas' judgment of herself and others, as well as their judgments of her, add depth and sharpness to the portrait. The heart of the book, however, is Levine's analytical evaluation of Callas' unique vocal, musical, and theatrical artistry, not merely by description, but by flesh-and-blood demonstration. Included with the book are two CDs of some of her best performances, as well as the texts (with translations) of the arias: an inspired idea, allowing Levine to dissect the performances word by word and note by note, within seconds of each track. Here, too, he preserves remarkable objectivity: despite his clearly boundless admiration, he is not oblivious to her vocal shortcomings. Along the way, he offers insights into the tradition that nurtured her gifts and displays an extraordinarily broad knowledge of opera, the art of singing, and singers past and present. The CDs are stunning, illustrating Callas' incredible vocal and stylistic versatility, her ability to literally inhabit the roles she portrayed, changing and adapting her voice with infinite gradations of color, nuance, and expression to project character and emotion. Her range was enormous, her coloratura impeccable; her best top notes were glorious, and she could break the heart with a downward slide or a carefully placed fermata. All this is amply documented on these records and meticulously analyzed in the text. Listeners must decide whether to read Levine's comments before or after hearing the records; they provide helpful guidance, but their very persuasiveness makes it difficult to preserve the spontaneous immediacy of one's own reactions. Copiously illustrated with wonderful photographs of Callas (and others) in private and on stage, the book is a feast for eye, ear, mind and heart. --Edith Eisler

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