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Book 20

  1. Grossmith, George & Weedon — The Diary of a Nobody (166 pages)
  2. McCarthy, Cormac — Blood Meridian (334 pages)
  3. Moore, Alan & Dave Gibbons — Watchmen (399 pages)
  4. Moore, Christopher — Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (507 pages)
  5. Murger, Henri — The Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (381 pages)
  6. Walk with Me: A Lenten Journey of Prayer for 2009 (98 pages)
  7. Douglas, Lloyd C. — The Robe (438 pages)
  8. Robinson, Marilynne — Gilead (281 pages)
  9. Jerome, Jerome K. — Three Men in a Boat (182 pages)
  10. Satrapi, Marjane — Persepolis (343 pages)
  11. Dodge, Jim — Fup (121 pages)
  12. Bauby, Jean-Dominique — The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly (114 pages)
  13. Fleming, Ian — Casino Royale (219 pages)
  14. Blake, Quentin — Clown (30 pages)
  15. Weigel, George — The Courage To Be Catholic (249 pages)
  16. Ishiguro, Kazuo — The Remains of the Day (255 pages)
  17. Orwell, George — Animal Farm (125 pages)
  18. Garner, James Finn — Politically Correct Bedtime Stories (81 pages)
  19. Robinson, Marilynne — Home (339 pages)
  20. 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.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 17th, 2009 10:42 pm (UTC)
Actually it seems to me that quite a few of those guys are baritones -- I know I've heard/seen both Raimondi and Siepi sing the role of Don Giovanni, for example. And, given who is on both their list and your supplement, where's James Morris?
Aug. 17th, 2009 11:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, I should have included Morris. Just an oversight.

Although often sung by a baritone, Giovanni is a bass-baritone role. Certainly, many basses have sung it. Giovanni probably was Raimondi's most famous role, perhaps even Siepi's (who is a bass for sure), but I consider Raimondi more of a bass-bari. But then, Ghiaurov, a true bass, and Terfel also sang Giovanni to great acclaim. Giovanni goes up to a G, right? That's within reach of most decent basses, and the great singers rarely keep to one fach. All the guys on that list who sang Giovanni also sang Leporello.

I dunno, perhaps it is correct to lump the bass-baritones in with the basses. Even though lyric bass and dramatic baritone fachs both belong to the bass-baritone range, it feels to me more akin to basses than baris. I'm singing both bass and bass-bari rep right now, as do most of the famous basses. I couldn't ever imagine Talvela as Escamillo or Van Dam as Osmin, but those seem to be among the exceptions in big-name bassi. There seems to be more affinity between those two voices and other basses and bass-baris than between any of them and a Merrill, Milnes, or any other true baritone. Voice classification is such an inexact science!
Aug. 17th, 2009 11:39 pm (UTC)
Giovanni goes up to a G, right?

Actually, as scored, I think his highest note is E. A few brave baritones (or maybe just one, i.e., Fischer-Dieskau) have been known to sing his final "No!" on a high A (it's scored an octave lower). I don't think the part goes below B flat, either (the Count in Figaro goes both higher and lower).

I've always thought of it as a baritone role, but I know there have been bass-baritone pairs that have switched between Giovanni and Leporello on sucessive nights.

I couldn't ever imagine Talvela as Escamillo

Ack! No, indeed.

Voice classification is such an inexact science!

Aug. 18th, 2009 12:26 am (UTC)
E is definitely the highest note in his arias, but if that were the highest note in the entire part that wouldn't be much of a baritone role. Most bass roles go up to an F at some point, don't they? I think Mozart envisioned it as a bass role but it's the tessitura that accounts to it usually being sung by a bass-bari or bari. Anyway, I know it's been a few years since I sang Giovanni in one of those NEC scenes (did you attend when I sang Giovanni or when I sang Belcore?), but I'm pretty sure I struggled to sing a G in that. I could be wrong, of course. I don't have a score to double-check.
Aug. 18th, 2009 03:53 am (UTC)
The distinction, vague as it generally is, has more to do (in my mind, anyway) with tessitura than the actual extreme notes (although no baritone in his right mind would attempt, say, Osmin).

I don't think I heard you sing Giovanni. My score isn't readily accessible at the moment (wrong house), but a G would surprise me.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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