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Cinderella & Company: Backstage at the Opera With Cecilia Bartoli Hardcover – Sep 1998

3 out of 5 stars 1 customer review

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Hardcover, Sep 1998

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Product details

  • 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)

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Format: Hardcover
This is not what I expected. You get rather spare information of Miss Bartoli, both as a singer and as a private person. Well, some information is there, but the book could better be titled: "The life and career of Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu". They seem to pop up in almost every chapter. Or: "Anecdotes of Luciano Pavarotti", here called " Mr. P". All these three singers and especially the first two are rather heavily criticized. Still I have given this book three stars because it's well written and easy to read. It also give you some information on the life behind the curtains.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x94a53a20) out of 5 stars 21 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x949ff90c) out of 5 stars Opera 101 27 Nov. 2001
By Matthew Spady - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book belongs in the library of everyone with a passing interest in the world of opera, not so much for what it reveals about Ms. Bartoli (which is precious little except that she is perpetually in the midst of a family crisis), but because of Manuela Hoelterhoff's deliciously wicked, slightly skewed view of the art form that brings together the best, and worst, aspects of drama and music. Ms. Hoelterhoff's several years honing her word craft as opera reviewer for the Wall Street Journal were not wasted. She is masterful with a well-turned phrase, as shown in her description of a famous operatic manager, "a motor-mouthed, bullet-headed, forever-tan egomaniac who is adored and loathed in about equal proportions among those who've had the joy of doing business with him." And her knowledge of opera and singers is encyclopedic. Sometimes she is laugh-out-loud funny-her one run-on sentence synopsis of Bellini's La Straniera is a knee-slapper-other times, she elicits an internal smile, but always, she offers insightful commentary on the world of opera. (Her insider's view of Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, for example, clarifies why they are the operatic couple everyone loves to hate.) Buy this book for your permanent library-and mark the passages that tickle your funny-bone so that you can find them quickly if you need to brighten your day. (If this book is had an index so that one can easily find his or her favorite parts, I would have given it five stars.)
17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94a5cba0) out of 5 stars A witty and insightful look at the "opera racket" today 10 Aug. 1999
By james s. calvert, jr. - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Judging from other customer comments, Manuela Hoelterhoff and her new book certainly have ticked off a lot of people. Not me. This is the most entertaining book on the opera business that I have read in some time. It is also one of the most revealing and insightful. As those who read (past tense) Ms. Hoelterhoff's music criticism in the Wall Street Journal know, she writes with pungency, wit, and a genuine flair for turning a phrase - literary talents which often, though not always, compensate for a lack of real critical insight or profound musical understanding of the works or performances under review. It follows that the weakest parts of this book are when the author is writing about music itself. (Do we really need all those silly little thumbnail plot summaries of operas?) Hoelterhoff's greatest strengths are as a reporter, observer and chronicler, and as that is mostly what she does here, it is enough. Some may find Hoelterhoff's humor catty. Perhaps it is, but it is also very funny. I laughed out loud often while reading this book. I, too, could have done with fewer fat jokes, but I also think a singer's size is a legitimate subject for commentary. He or she is, after all, a performer, and grossly excess weight can detract from the artistic impression on stage. (Can one imagine Jane Eaglen singing Madama Butterfly?)
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.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94b488d0) out of 5 stars Mildly Amusing but not Really About Bartoli 18 Jan. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Readers should be aware, at least, that this book is not a biography of, or even mainly about, Cecilia Bartoli. What the book should be called is "Backstage at the Opera With Manuela Hoelterhoff" and it should have a big picture of Hoelterhoff on the cover. There's nothing wrong with that. I read through it with some pleasure nevertheless. But Hoelterhoff concedes that Bartoli was not tremendously forthcoming about herself or anything else.
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94bf0510) out of 5 stars Sourballs shouldn't read this 26 Nov. 2005
By Carter Jefferson - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book amused me no end, and, as one who likes opera but knows little about the opera world, I found it quite informative. I wrote this in 1999, after reading the earlier reviews, but wanted to get my name on it, so it's on top even though it belongs chronologically near the bottom.

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.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94b48984) out of 5 stars Soap Opera, a Tabloid Version of the Opera World 16 Oct. 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Can you be disappointed as strongly as you can be thrilled out of your mind? I can. And if I rise spontaneously to thank a performer with a standing ovation for a rare transcendant experience, I should be allowed to throw tomatoes too to express disappointment or disapproval. If I had to qualify this book in a sentence I would say: TABLOID TALE. It does not discuss artistic achievement. Instead, the author focuses on the kind of gossip usually found in tabloid newspapers, but here expressed in a more stylistically elevated way. I have a passion for Cecilia Bartoli and in spite of Hoelterhoff's salacious stories and their catty, vicious little tidbits which are not my cup of tea, I have read the book from cover to cover. I must acknowledge that her journalistic style has incited me to read it. But what remains after the reading of this book? My first impression was being the victim of an incredible swindle. The reason: the title of the book is fallacious, it makes us believe that it is a book on Cecilia Bartoli and her generation of singers while, in reality, she is merely the center of a pinwheel, just a box-office name on which to hang as witty and bitchy a picture of this rarefied world as the most gossipy opera lover could ask for: Hoelterhoff blends hearsay, commentary and industrious observation to render in living color the world that swirls around Bartoli. In fact, Cecilia Bartoli has so much company in this book that she is swamped. She is just a "good excuse" (or a selling device?). She has little to do with the goal of the book- but as we know, Bartoli sells well! ''Cinderella & Company'' began as an attempt to write a book concentrating just on Ms. Bartoli, tracking her movements during two years for a year-in-the-life narrative: an attempt that failed. But the reason, after reading this book, seems to differ from the one Hoelterhoff gave - the author once said that she fell victim to Ms. Bartoli's cancellations "and that would have required that too much of the book be devoted to [Bartoli] staying at home, nursing a cold''. The world's most popular young opera singer is too normal and uninteresting in every venomous, bitchy, gossipy aspect, and therefore Hoelterhoff turns to dishing out the dirt on everyone from Herbert Breslin to the Alagnas. To her credit, Bartoli fares relatively well in this dish-fest. Strangely, considering that Bartoli is ostensibly the main subject of the book, Hoelterhoff mostly limits herself to reporting Bartoli events without drawing conclusions from them (or, for that matter, giving us an interesting perspective of her own). One exception is when she relates the singer's attitude after a 1997 Rome concert, implying that the diva's behavior has become less innocent and more diva-like over the years. Similarly, an anecdote from the Metropolitan Opera's rehearsals shows the singer using a passive-agressive approach to problems. Perhaps these rare bits of analysis could have been expanded, giving us insights, for example, into how family pressures and the cutthroat world of opera (which Hoelterhoff describes so vividly) might be related to this new diva-like behavior. But, the connection is never made. Page after page tells of family crises, and it comes across that, unlike many singers, the mezzo-soprano is at least as devoted to her family as to her career, even during hard times. However, we never get an opinion on how the singer copes with all the expectations placed on her, or how she will juggle these demands in the future. Now, I better understand why Hoelterhoff once stated that her book may provide a useful corrective to Kim Chernin's! Hers lacks the depth of Chernin's comprehensive and heartfelt analysis of both personality and artistic standards, and Hoelterhoff compensates with a gratuitous gossipy surface. Talking about artistic insight seems to be of no interest for Hoelterhoff, but offering juicy "observations" on a bunch of fairly unpleasant people is prime grist for comments. Most of all, in contrast to Hoelterhoff, Chernin's book is written to illuminate, NEVER to wound. If "Cecilia Bartoli - The Passion of Song" by Chernin (with Stendhal) has been wrongly called a clinical example of the hysteria surrounding Ms. Bartoli, Hoelterhoff's book "Cinderella and Company: Backstage at the Opera With Cecilia Bartoli", is a sad example of the fact that dumbing down, even in music coverage, is the slogan of our age and is becoming ever more pervasive. The appearance of this modishly prurient gossip sheet, however, would not be of special interest if it did not represent, in a curious way, the habits of the media at large. Major media love scandal and always gravitate toward stories about scandal that have nothing to do with artistic questions, but with gossip. The spicier, the better. Spicier SELLS better. This book is more a random sampling of juicy glimpses of celebrities than a comprehensive view of the opera world. Serious music lovers, particularly those with at least a familiarity with artistic achievement, will be disappointed. There are anecdotes told to shock. Hoelterhoff can be sweet, Hoelterhoff can be cruel, Hoelterhoff can be bitchy. Hoelterhoff can be funny (but it's based on nastiness instead of love). The author contrives a picture of the opera world that is unattractive in many ways. She could certaintly develop her view of this art form by deepening her skill and sensitivity. Even the tone of this book may bother serious opera lovers. On several occasions the author seems to reinforce prejudices which several detractors of Bartoli share: that if we love this singer it is because we know NOTHING about opera. Her endless but well-written synopses and thumbnail sketches of opera plots, all aimed at the lowest common denominator, may irritate a reader looking for serious insights. Personally, I cannot imagine who would want to spend $25 to find some dirt and gossip when you can get juicier stuff at a lower price at your news-stand. Perhaps, if you love a performer, you want to know ALL the gossip and rumours about his/her private life, even at the expense of sacrificing all information about his/her art? "If theater is an insane asylum, opera is the ward for incurables", Rudolf Bing, former general director of the Metropolitan Opera, once said. This might be a cogent comment about Hoelterhoff's too often acid-tinged, one- sentence descriptions of artists and her superficial view of the opera world.
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