- Hardcover: 259 pages
- Publisher: Alfred a Knopf; Stated First Edition edition (Sept. 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679444793
- ISBN-13: 978-0679444794
- Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 16.5 x 24.8 cm
- Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,674,962 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Cinderella & Company: Backstage at the Opera With Cecilia Bartoli Hardcover – Sep 1998
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Although nominally about mezzo-soprano superstar Cecilia Bartoli, "Cinderella and Company" is more about the Company than about Cinderella. Bartoli's fans may be disappointed, but this focus suits me fine. Bartoli is a fine artist, but she does not sound like a particularly interesting person, and she certainly has not had a career that in length, variety or artistic significance would warrant an entire book about her, except in her manager's dreams. (In fact, I had no interest in reading this book until I heard that it was about much more than C.B.) Instead, Hoelterhoff has written an inside look at the music business itself, and at the creators (manufacturers?) of superstardom in the world of opera today - the agents, promoters, publicists, record companies and opera administrators who shape public perception of opera singers and who actually get the show/singer "on the road," or on stage. Bartoli and her career are not so much the central subject of the book as they are the recurring theme in a rondo. The main characters here are the "supporting cast" behind the scenes: Herbert Breslin, the Big P.'s manager; Matthew Epstein, promoter/concert organizer extraordinare; Jack Mastroianni, Bartoli's manager; and Met director Joseph Volpe.
The "opera racket," as Virgil Thomson might have called it, has changed significantly in the past thirty years. Time was, in Ze Oldt Days, when an opera singer's reputation was actually made on the opera stage - in performance. Recordings were important to a big career, but they generally followed success in the opera house rather than preceded it. Now, "superstars" are packaged, promoted, marketed, videoed, digitized, mega-concertized (viz. the Three Tenors), and sold to a generally ignorant opera public who think that if they have seen the singer on TV, they must be hearing a great performance by a great singer. Lusty, cheering standing ovations are now common for mediocre singing. Who, we are asked breathlessly, will be the "fourth tenor?" Could it be Roberto Alagna? or is it Andrea Bocelli with his pea-sized voice that couldn't project to the back of Marie Antoinette's tiny theatre at Versailles? Are we supposed to care about this or think it is important? Lots of people with lots of money at stake would like us to think it is.
Cecilia Bartoli represents the modern opera superstar redux: a singer whose phenomenal success and fame is based largely on promotion, recordings and hype, rather than performance. To be sure, the lady has talent and a lovely, if tiny, voice, considerable charm and appeal, and a nice smile. But do the contents of the package really justify all the hoopla and hysteria? There is something out of whack, almost grotesque, about a singer receiving a roaring, standing ovation for a performance as Despina, of all roles. Underneath all the anecdotes, the witty (yes, I found them so) comments, and dishy gossip (some of it mean, but then gossip usually is), Hoelterhoff is examining how this happens, and who makes it happen. The resulting picture, though entertaining, is not a pretty one and calls to mind the old saw about how political policy is like sausage: it is best not to watch how it is made. The same could be said for much of what goes on in opera today. (Speaking of sausage, it is much to Ms. Bartoli's credit, as recounted here, that she apparently drew the line at the "Today Show" wanting to film her buying one - presumably to show that opera singers are "just folks" too.)
The most telling chapter in the book is the one entitled, "Queen of the Met." No, not Bartoli (at best, only a lady-in-waiting), but Renata Tebaldi, a real, larger-than-life diva from the past. Well over twenty years after her last appearance in New York, we see hundreds of devoted fans standing in line for hours to greet her and get her autograph. The outpouring of genuine love and devotion for Tebaldi, a truly great singer, is deeply moving and stands as a sharp rebuke to the crass, slick, shallow PR apparatus that manufactures opera celebrities today. Would Tebaldi have looked good enough on TV to have made a big career in the 1990's? After reading this book, one wonders. One thing is certain: no one would have dared ask to film her buying a sausage.
Reading the descriptions of Hoelterhoff's encounters with Bartoli and family, one could get the sense that they didn't much like having this journalist around. Maybe they loved her, who knows? But you wouldn't know it. The encounters total perhaps seven. I could be wrong on the exact number but it was far from a long, intimate association.
Personally, I also found that the much-advertised "wit" wore. Hoelterhoff's brand of catty glibness is not often actually funny in the 'this will make you laugh' sense of the word, if you're into that. I'd say there are about three little "witticisms" per page and maybe there are ten laughs in the book. That's a lot of non-funny jokes to get through. You won't be urging her to try to get on staff at Letterman anyway. I suspect her catty, punchy style is more congenial in a short space, such as a magazine article.
I decided to write this note after reading all the nasty reviews by the sourballs above. If you are a sourball, don't read this book. If you aren't, you'll find that the five-star reviews are correct.