Viewpoint: Page Turner
Diva reading: Anna Netrebko in Don Pasquale
© Johan Elbers 2014
When I was in grammar school, the students were given summer reading lists at the end of the school year in June, with the understanding that we were to have at least some of the books finished by the time school began again in September. Knocking off a substantial number of books during the summer holiday was not a hardship for me, or for my brother and sister: we were all voracious readers, and — thanks to our parents — there was no television in the house where we spent our summers, so evenings were spent with our noses in books. (I should mention here that our parents' plan was that we were supposed to be outside in the fresh air during the day, but I spent most days with my nose in a book, too. My father once said that the only part of my body that got regular exercise was the finger I used to turn pages.) Our town had a terrific public library, so we were spoiled for choice in the months of July and August and didn't so much read books as inhale them.
I still look forward to reading in the summer, although I have less leisure time than I did during the 1960s. Reading about opera can be somewhat exhausting, as what is on the page invariably makes me want to listen to opera. A dip into J. B. Steane's The Grand Tradition, a survey of recorded performances by a century's worth of great singers, sends me to iTunes at warp speed: I can't read about Claudia Muzio, for example, and suppress the urge to hear her sing. Steane writes of one of the soprano's late Columbia recordings, "Donaudy's 'O del mio amato ben' is lovely and deeply moving without mawkishness: [Muzio] encompassed the extremes of elaboration and simplicity, and was great in both." Who wouldn't want to stop reading to listen to that as soon as possible? I did.
I'm safer with books that don't have a "soundtrack," as it were. If you haven't read James McCourt's matchless novel Mawrdew Czgowchwz (pronounced "Mardu Gorgeous"), put it on your summer reading list for 2014. Published in 1975, Mawrdew Czgowchwz is a rapturous, exaltedly witty act of tribute to opera divas, to the men and women who operate in their orbit, and to mid-twentieth-century New York, the city where they all roamed wild. The title character is a diva who is part Callas, part de los Angeles and wholly extraordinary. McCourt's language is dense — there are quotable lines on literally every page — and should be savored slowly, as if one had all the time in the world. In other words, it's perfect summer reading.
This month, OPERA NEWS begins its seventy-ninth year of publication with a new logo, designed by our art director, Gregory Downer. Greg has also freshened the look of OPERA NEWS's editorial departments and regular columns — including this one.
You'll notice another change on the right-hand side of this page, at the top of the masthead. This month, OPERA NEWS welcomes Diane Silberstein as its new publisher. Diane brings a formidable range of professional experience to the task at hand, and all of the editors and staff of the magazine join me in celebrating her much-anticipated arrival at OPERA NEWS.
F. PAUL DRISCOLL
The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.
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