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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 6, No. 10

Lectures d’été / Summer Readings

July 1, 2001

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Ah, l’été… en n.! La frénésie du quotidien semble s’estomper et le temps peut même s’arrêter, au moins pendant quelques pages savourées au soleil d’été. La Scena Musicale a donc pensé à vous et consacre ce mois-ci un dossier spécial qui associe plaisir littéraire et musical.

Summertime… the living is easy as time seems to slow down to let us enjoy reading a few books while basking in the sun. La Scena Musicale has decided to dedicate this section to musical reads.

  • Opera Viva.: the Canadian Opera Company.
    the first fifty years. Ezra Schabas & Carl Morey. Toronto.
    Dundurn Press (2000).

An indicator of the success of an opera company is the publication of glossy coffee-table tomes documenting its history. If one accepts such a criterion of success, however idiosyncratic, then the Canadian Opera Company (COC) has finally “arrived.” Targeted for the Company’s 50th anniversary celebrations in April 2000, this volume must be considered the most comprehensive and definitive work on the COC.

The co-authors are well-known figures in Canadian music. Their wealth of knowledge concerning the COC and the social history of the performing arts in Canada is impressive. Particularly useful are the chapters detailing the early history of the Company, including many black-and-white photos of long-forgotten productions. These artifacts were preserved thanks to the efforts of the late Joan Baillie, the first archivist of the Company, to whom this volume is dedicated.

The book is written in a straightforward narrative style, with frequent quotes from the more than forty individuals interviewed, and occasional media reviews of performances. Writings of this kind can make for dull reading, but the intrigue in the early travails of the fledgling company holds the readers’ interest. Also entertaining is the documenting of the twists and turns in the road towards an opera house, which is still only a dream. On balance, the authors are remarkably even-handed in their comments on the successes and failures of the COC, pulling no punches when it comes to the assessment of the Brian Dickie regime. However comprehensive in its documentation, the book could have benefited from more detailed performance dates for the COC tours in Appendix 3, and performance counts of mainstage productions in Appendix 1. A must-read for fans of the COC. Joseph So

  • Covent Garden, The Untold Story.
    Dispatches from the English Culture War 1945–2000.
    Norman Lebrecht

This book traces the history of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden theatre in London, England. It gives a brief history of the theatres that previously stood on the site, but concentrates on the life of the present theatre, and those who have been part of its existence since, and just prior to, 1945.

The book starts with the state of performing arts at the beginning of the war. Neville Chamberlain viewed the arts as necessary to keeping the nation’s morale. The British government, with the help of economist John Maynard Keynes, set about creating a national theatre of opera and ballet reaching all walks of life. As a result, the Arts Council, the BBC 3rd programme (devoted to the arts), and the Royal Opera House were set up.

Mr. Lebrecht says from the beginning “it was a self-centred enterprise that demanded a diet of undiluted praise.” Throughout the book we learn of the internal scandals and rivalries between the ballet and opera companies, and their obvious distrust of each other while competing for money and rehearsal time, among other things. The Untold Story also explores the highly confidential hiring and firing practices of both companies.

The book full of stories, scandals and anecdotes, is written in a light and easy manner making for a very enjoyable reading, albeit sometimes to be taken with a grain of salt.!Renée Rouleau


Books for voice lovers

  • Can’t Help Singing.:
    the Life of Eileen Farrell. Eileen Farrell and Brian Kellow. Boston.:
    Northeastern University Press (1999).
    ISBN 1-55553-406-6.
    $29.95 US
  • In My Own Voice. Christa Ludwig, Regina Domeraski (tr.). New York.
    Limelight Editions (1999).
    ISBN 0-87910-281-0.
    $30.00 US
  • Leonard Warren. American Baritone.
    Mary Jane Phillips-Matz. Portland, Oregon.
    Amadeus Press (2000).
    ISBN 1-57467-053-0.
    $39.95 US
  • Jon Vickers. A Hero’s Life.
    Jeannie Williams. Boston.
    Northeastern University Press (1999).
    ISBN 1-55553-408-2.
    $29.95 US

Here’s a potpourri of titles from awhile back that you might have missed. The books have one thing in common.: they are all superbly written singers’ biographies. Unlike many others that are often puff pieces of divaspeak, the Ludwig and Farrell autobiographies are honest assessments of their own unique lives and careers. Ludwig comes across as intelligent and disarmingly honest, speaking freely about her vocal crisis in the 1970’s, her self-admitted foolish attachment to a psychic, and her difficult relationship with her aging mother. Farrell’s bio is infused with her irrepressible personality. Known for her salty language, she nevertheless set the record straight—pun intended—in denying having made a controversial statement to a gay conductor, the late Thomas Schippers.

The Leonard Warren and Jon Vickers biographies are in a more serious vein altogether. A celebrity writer for USA Today, Jeannie Williams did a superb job in evaluating Vickers the man and the artist. The tenor refused to cooperate, but enough people werey´willing to talk, which resulted in a meticulously documented and remarkably even-handed treatment. But the prize for detailed documentation goes to Phillips-Matz’s book on Leonard Warren. With the help of Vivien Warren, the baritone’s younger sister, Phillips-Matz traced Warren’s career from the time he was accepted into the Radio City Music Hall Glee Club as an untrained 23-year old on the basis of his sheer talent, to a careful recounting of his last hours and minutes leading to his death on the stage of the Met during a performance of La Forza del Destino. A drier read to be sure, but a definitive work and a must for fans of this great American baritone.Joseph So


For string players

  • Fiddling with life. The unusual journey of Steven Staryk.
    Thane Lewis with Steven Staryk.
    Mosaic Press, 2000.

Fiddling with life is very different from Yehudi Menuhin’s magnificent books, which contain poetic and philosophical outbursts written in a rather lofty style. A very down-to-earth text, filled with anecdotes about the music underworld, useful technical information and pertinent observations regarding orchestra playing, this book will be of interest to violinists and other orchestra musicians.

However, the world described here may seem rather bleak to young students considering making a living from music. Mr. Staryk is an excellent violinist who deserved a solo career and who seems disappointed about not having had one. Several times in the book, we sense his level of dissatisfaction (for example, on p. 198, where it says that “there were individuals in Staryk’s career who hindered his progress in the short term and made advancement seem impossible.”). The work leaves one with a rather bitter aftertaste but could be useful to those who can put up with a big dose of realism. Carole Meneghel


Desert island reads

Although identifying a book that changed my life is a rather tall order, two books I found extremely interesting, inspiring and enjoyable were The New Music (1971), and Boulez, Composer Conductor Enigma (1976), both by the American author Joan Peyser. Although these two books are presently out of print, they have been reworked and updated to become To Boulez and Beyond. Music in Europe Since The Rite of Spring (New York.: Billboard Books, 1999). Peyser’s focus is not on musical analysis, but on the people and personal interactions behind developments in European music, which are often overlooked and minimized in academia, yet are an essential element that has engendered many of the concepts and realizations of modern art.

For a third choice, I suggest Le Grand Tango, The Life and Music of Astor Piazzolla by Maria Susana Azzi (Oxford University Press, 2000). Here is a book on the revolutionary tango master whose genius integrated the native dance of Argentina with the developments of modern classical music and jazz. A man who lived a restless, exploratory, and creative life, Piazzolla was also a fascinating personality, someone who kept a photo of Béla Bartók over his bed, who relaxed by shark-fishing, and whose modest roots on the Lower East Side of Manhattan were followed by international celebrity status and an influence which has continued to grow since his death in 1992.
John Winiarz, composer, professor


Ouvrages généraux

  • La vie musicale au Québec. Art lyrique, musique classique et contemporaine.
    Odette Vincent. Éditions de l’IQRC,
    159 pages.

Après avoir démystifié l’histoire de l’Outaouais et de l’Abitibi, l’historienne Odette Vincent consacre son plus récent ouvrage à la place unique qu’occupe la musique classique au Québec, des débuts de la colonie à nos jours. L’auteure y aborde la musique liturgique, le chant choral, les activités musicales des grands centres et des régions, l’art lyrique, l’enseignement de la musique, la formation du public et les musiques de création. Destiné à un large public qui ne possède pas nécessairement d’assises musicales complètes, le ton reste accessible, jamais pointu, et permet de découvrir des pans d’histoire musicale moins ou mal connue, par exemple la place qu’occupait la musique classique dans les années 1608 à 1868, période à laquelle l’auteure consacre son premier chapitre. Les illustrations choisies, de belle qualité, s’intègrent agréablement au texte, en allégeant la lecture. Le connaisseur, par contre, pourra à l’occasion se sentir frustré, certains sujets n’étant qu’effleurés mais, sinon, commeát condenser quatre siècles d’histoire musicale en à peine 150 pages.? Pour ceux qui veulent en savoir plus, une bibliographie assez complète des ouvrages récents sur le sujet permettra d’étancher leur soif de connaissances.Lucie Renaud


Coups de cœur de l’équipe

Pour les amateurs de chant, en particulier les chanteurs.: L’art du bel canto de Léopold Simoneau. Ouvrage très court, écrit avec simplicité, il redonne le goût de chanter à ceux et celles qui l’auraient perdu. Le grand ténor mozartien démystifie pour nous plusieurs dogmes ou idées reçues sur la technique du chant ou sur l’art lyrique en général.Jacques Desjardins

La résurrection de Mozart de Nina Berberova. Par sa simplicité, sa limpidité et la transparente fragilité humaine qui en ressort, ce livre peut bouleverser une vie. Profondément humain, profondément touchant, profondément Mozart.Claudio Pinto

Figures intérieures de Fernand Ouellette. Le huitième chapitre de cet essai autobiographique s’intitule « Une passion de la musique ». Ça vous persuade d’aller écouter toutes ses recommandations.Jacques Desjardins

Soie d’Alessandro Baricco, l’auteur de l’essai Hegel et les vaches au Wisconsin et de Novecento pianiste. Bien que le propos ne soit pas strictement musical, il devient presque une évidence que ce chef-d’œuvre n’a pu être écrit que par un musicien.Claudio Pinto

Nancy Huston, romancière canadienne qui habite Paris depuis plusieurs années, a toujours su marier ses deux grandes passions, la littérature et la musique (elle joue du piano tous les jours). Dans plusieurs de ses romans, la musique joue un rôle essentiel, dans Les Variations Goldberg ou Le prodige, par exemple. De façon plus subtile mais insidieuse, le thème se retrouve également dans L’empreinte de l’ange, où se côtoient passions amoureuses et musicales. L’héroïne est écartelée entre son mari, un flûtiste de grand renom, et le luthier qui s’occupe de l’instrument du mari, le tout sur fond de souvenirs de Deuxième Guerre mondiale.Lucie Renaud

Un amour de Swann de Marcel Proust, à cause du pianiste qui agrémente les dîners chez Madame Vedurin. Je recommande Proust aussi pour la merveilleuse musique de sa prose. Les mots et les phrases coulent comme des mélodies continues…Jacques Desjardins

Les nouveautés

On peut passer un après-midi complet à feuilleter les livres de la section musique classique de la librairie Archambault du centre-ville de Montréal. Parmi les plus récentes parutions, mentionnons pêle-mêle quelques titres qui sauront combler les attentes des mélomanes.:

  • La traduction française toute récente du livre sur Wagner de M. Owen Lee, publié en 1999, Wagner ou les difficiles rapports entre la morale et l’art, aux éditions Bellarmin (14,95 $).;
  • Les baroqueux ou le musicalement correct de Jean-Paul Penin, aux éditions Gründ (32,95 $).;
  • Un superbe album grand format à laisser traîner sur la table à café, La flûte enchantée de W.A. Mozart. Nouvelle traduction de Sylvie Durastanti, illustrations de Davide Pizzigoni, aux éditions Abbeville (69,95 $).;
  • Correspondance presque complète d’Erik Satie, réunie par Ornelle Volta, éditions Fayard (79,95 $).;
  • Mes 79 premières années, une autobiographie du violoniste Isaac Stern, aux éditions Nil (34,95 $).;
  • Verdi par Verdi, textes choisis et présentés par Gérard Gefen, éditions L’Archipel (29,95 $).;
  • Prima donna, opéra et inconscient, un essai de Michel Schneider, aux éditions Odile Jacob (42,95 $).


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