GALINA: A Russian Story by Galina Vishnevskaya
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GALINA: A Russian Story

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An awesome combination: the galvanic musical/theatrical memoirs of the greatest Russian soprano of our time--inextricably interwoven with the horrors of wartime Russia, the dreadful farces of Soviet bureaucracy, the outrage and frustration of government persecution. . .that led to Vishnevskaya's 1970s emigration West, with cellist/husband Rostropovich. Virtually abandoned by both her parents, Galina (b. 1926) was raised by her grandmother--who was fatally burned before Galina's eyes during the cold/famine ordeals of 1941. The starving teenager joined a civilian-labor unit, fixing sewers (""I was being fed!""), then ran off to Leningrad to pursue her singing ambitions. Untrained, she toured in operetta, married, lost her baby son, nearly died herself Of tuberculosis, became an Edith Piaf-ish soloist-known as a ""charming but 'voiceless' singer."" Then, thanks to a beloved 80-year-old teacher, her true soprano emerged--with a triumphant audition at the Bolshoi: she would soon star in the first Fidelio in Soviet history, along with Aids, Eugene Onegin, etc. But the politics of Bolshoi stardom were made crudely clear from the start: KGB recruits on all sides, demeaning state appearances, deceit and manipulation, plus--in Galina's case--the unwanted courtship of none other than Nikolai Bulganin. (Charming, farcical scenes galore--often with an exasperated Galina seated between the pathetic Bulganin and her bewildered new husband, ""Slava"" Rostropovich.) At first, then, feisty Galina was protected by Bulganin's adoration--free to travel, record. Under later regimes, however, there would be harassment, restrictions, artistic shriveling--especially after the couple made Solzhenitsyn their four-year house-guest. And this uniquely compelling account ends with a painful farewell to Russia--and the Bolshoi--forever. Throughout, Vishnevskaya is passionate, occasionally shrill but more often enthralling, as she rages at Soviet abominations, at colleague-Judases (Elena Obraztsova above all). Her portraits of Shostakovich and Britten--both of whom wrote pieces for her--are indelible. The evocation of backstage Bolshoi doings is comic, ghastly, while the artistic achievements are never slighted. And the grand portrait of impetuous Slava--weeping, drinking, suffering for his moral courage (greater than her own)--keeps this deservedly proud testimony from ever seeming too self-centered. A very Russian story indeed: wildly emotional, dipped in blood and vodka, funny and searing.

Pub Date: Sept. 7th, 1984
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich