Luciano Pavarotti: The Myth of the Tenor

Jurgen Kesting, Author, Susan H. Ray, Translator Northeastern University Press $29.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-55553-282-6
This is a peculiar hybrid of a book that starts out by suggesting that it is going to reveal the great tenor as a schlock cultural phenomenon, much as Joseph Horowitz did to Arturo in Understanding Toscanini. One could hardly make a book out of such a slender and obvious premise, however, and after a couple of chapters in which Kesting notes that these days Pavarotti is ""famous chiefly for being famous,"" and pours scorn on the singer's professed belief that his sellout bellowing matches with the Three Tenors helps bring more people to opera, Kesting settles down into something much more interesting. This is a history of the role of the operatic tenor in the popular imagination (a comparatively recent development, barely a century old) and the way in which a hitherto little-used voice has become central to the traditional opera experience. Kesting, a German cultural journalist, is fantastically knowledgeable about niceties of performance, and traces his hero's (or villain's) rise, through ever more limited displays of his real abilities, to his present meaningless eminence. In the process he offers many acute observations on the ways in which performance standards have coarsened, particularly in the past 50 years. There is a careful critical evaluation of Pavarotti's more presentable recordings, and a discography that includes them all, even the dross. It's no book for fans, but for a serious opera lover, it offers much to think about. (Sept.) The Painted Photograph, 1839-1914:
Reviewed on: 09/02/1996
Release date: 09/01/1996
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