THE WORLD OF THE CASTRATI

THE HISTORY OF AN EXTRAORDINARY OPERATIC PHENOMENON

A remarkable topic that, unfortunately, doesn't get the nuanced handling it deserves. In a society in which the outrageous garners maximum media attention, the Baroque-era castrati should be guaranteed to lure readers other than scholars and opera fanatics. What other history can discuss sex, forced genital mutilation, religious hypocrisy, and adultery, all in the name of historical research? Incredibly, Barbier manages to make this intriguing 16th19th century European phenomenon (which involved the castration of male children before puberty to preserve the purity of their singing voices) boring, even annoying. His style is, on the whole, plodding. Particularly bothersome is his overuse of exclamation marks and his habit of asking questions and then not answering them, this despite the fact that the inquiries often go to the essence of a particular section. The chapter on the almost hysterical appeal some women felt for castrati, for instance, asks: ``Was this merely the attraction of a circus phenomenon? Was it the search by the ladies for a love-life without danger? Or the exceptional power of a voice that numbed reason and led to `the delights of paradise'? The idealisation of a `supernatural' being who belonged to both sexes without knowing the limits of either?'' Intriguing ideas. Barbier's conclusion? ``We shall never really understand the intimate motivations of each spectator, man or woman, in their relationships with the castrati.'' Which is not to say that the book is totally without redeeming features. Barbier (Opera in Paris, 18001850: A Lively History, 1995) knows his opera and is fairly thorough in touching all the important bases. As such, the book is a decent overview for people needing the basics. A lesson in how to take a great story and dull it to death. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 1997

ISBN: 0-285-63309-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1997

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NUTCRACKER

This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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