The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic offers a vastly entertaining peek behind the scenes at the world of contemporary opera....


CINDERELLA AND COMPANY: Backstage at the Opera with Cecilia Bartoli

The Pulitzer Prize-winning critic offers a vastly entertaining peek behind the scenes at the world of contemporary opera. Although the period between mezzo-soprano Cecilia Bartoli's performances of Cenerentola at the Houston Grand Opera in 1995 and at the Metropolitan Opera two years later provides the chronology and the excuse for Hoelterhoff's smart, sassy chronicle, it is in fact something rather more ambitious than a simple case study of a single singer. Shrewd snapshots of opera's brightest stars; intriguing conversations with agents, directors, managers, and designers; and scads of well-informed, just-catty-enough gossip add up to a vivid, intelligent portrait of the financial, artistic, and personal pressures that bedevil the artists and those who employ or serve them. Some are as time-honored as the tendency of divas (and divos) to cancel performances at the last minute; some are as up-to-date as the impact of jet travel on vocal cords. Hoelterhoff considers these and other issues in prose so snappy that opera seems as with-it as MTV. Her opinions are forceful--Met artistic director James Levine (one of the few movers and shakers in opera who apparently didn't give her an interview) is dissed as a bland, press-shy egomaniac who leaves the dirty work to others; rising superstar tenor Roberto Alagna and his equally glittery wife, soprano Angela Gheorghiu, are mercilessly caricatured as ""the Love Couple,"" throwing tantrums in between nuzzles--but generally seem justified. (We hear a few times too often, however, that unionized musicians are lazy and overpaid; Hoelterhoff should save those diatribes for her gig on the Wall Street Journal's editorial board.) The affectionate profiles--down-to-earth soprano Renee Fleming, overbearing but knowledgeable artist manager Herbert Breslin, among them--are as punchy as the nasty ones; only Bartoli, oddly enough, doesn't register all that strongly. The text's general vivacity mostly disguises this absence at the center. It's hard to imagine a better guide to opera than Hoelterhoff, who captures its beauties and absurdities with equal zest.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 1998

ISBN: 0375707123

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998