THE PURSUIT OF PERFECTION: A Life of Maggie Teyte by Garry O'Connor


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Maggie Teyte (1888-1976) knew a good many famous music men in her celebrity-career as England's most famous, beautiful opera singer and interpreter of French song--which is a good thing, because cool, tiny, egotistical Maggie herself soon loses sympathy and interest in this heavily detailed, less-than-flattering biography by her great-nephew. Born a Scots-Irish, middle-class Tate, Maggie got away from Family as quickly as possible and never looked back: discovered singing for a charity concert at 15, she was instantly transported by patrons to Paris, where she studied with legendary singer Jean de Reszke and emerged three years later ""precociously capable of technical and interpretative miracles."" And, meticulously coached by Debussy, she triumphed at the Op‚ra Comique in Pell‚as et M‚lisande, nearly blotting out memories of the original M‚lisande, Mary Garden. Then--ten years of U.S./Europe touring, one fatherly husband discarded, affairs (""while not being exactly promiscuous, she decisively followed her inclinations""), and suddenly. . . virtual retirement at 32 to a country manse, as wife to the very young, very disturbed heir of the Sherwin-Williams paint empire; but this idyll led to ""three years of hell"" (Sherwin's alcoholism, infidelity) and divorce. So: back to work, more radio and concert than opera now--and, frankly selfish onstage and off (""Men had become male meat""), she dallied with Sir ""Tommy"" Beecham, alienated friends, and ended up alone, even as her ageless voice (she sang M‚lisande at 60) made her a legendary, much-recorded New York/London heroine. ""Maggie would have given up everything for love,"" writes O'Connor, but he doesn't manage to convey the loving creature beneath the snobbish, snappy exterior; nor is he musically expert enough to give the singing its due. So this is a thick, chatty portrait for Teyte fans only, but worth a glance from music-lovers for its glimpses of Debussy, Enesco, Beecham, Flagstad, and other opera/concert immortals.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1979
Publisher: Atheneum