August 17th, 2009

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 20

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  1. Dodge, Jim — Fup (121 pages)
  2. Bauby, Jean-Dominique — The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly (114 pages)
  3. Fleming, Ian — Casino Royale (219 pages)
  4. Blake, Quentin — Clown (30 pages)
  5. Weigel, George — The Courage To Be Catholic (249 pages)
  6. Ishiguro, Kazuo — The Remains of the Day (255 pages)
  7. Orwell, George — Animal Farm (125 pages)
  8. Garner, James Finn — Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (81 pages)
  9. Robinson, Marilynne — Home (339 pages)
  10. Opera Magazine — Basses in Opera: Profiles of thirteen great basses (96 pages)

Page count: 4758.

This special-edition booklet wasn't exactly what I expected when I ordered it. I thought it would be a contemporary look back at thirteen great basses. Instead, each profile is an article previously published in Opera Magazine. As such, a lot of the information is dated—no, so-and-so isn't singing such-and-such role next month!—and there is no sense of coherence or stylistic unity amongst the pieces. I wanted something more long the lines of: here are some great basses, these are the qualities or criteria that made them great, and here maybe are some examples of their influence on the artform and possibly certain signature roles or defining moments.

The thirteen profiled basses are: Norman Bailey, Boris Christoff, Gottlob Frick, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Hans Hotter, Donald McIntyre, Ruggero Raimondi, Samuel Ramey, Cesare Siepi, Bryn Terfel, John Tomlinson, José van Dam, and Willard White. Those of you who know singers will no doubt notice that several of these names—hello, Bryn, Sam, and José—aren't true basses, rather bass-baritones. You'll also wonder about certain inclusions and exclusions. I mean, who the hell is Donald McIntyre??? And does he or Bailey really belong on that list? How can any list of great basses exclude Alexander Kipnis, Pol Plançon, Fyodor Shaliapin, or Martti Talvela, some of the greatest basses of all time??? And strong arguments can certainly be made for the inclusion of Fernando Corena, Jerome Hines, Robert Lloyd, Kurt Moll, René Pape, Paul Plishka, Mark Reizen, Paul Robeson, Matti Salminen, and Richard Van Allen. This booklet suffers greatly for these omissions.

That said, there are still nuggets in this book, and I feel better equipped to converse about basses for having read it. Plus, it helped give me ideas about roles I might be singing at some point, either soon or many years down the road. It's not a bad book; it's just dated and incomplete.