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Luciano Pavarotti: The Myth of the Tenor

Luciano Pavarotti: The Myth of the Tenor

by Jurgen Kesting, Susan H. Ray (Translator)

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is a peculiar hybrid of a book that starts out by suggesting that it is going to reveal the great tenor as a schlock cultural phenomenon, much as Joseph Horowitz did to Arturo in Understanding Toscanini. One could hardly make a book out of such a slender and obvious premise, however, and after a couple of chapters in which Kesting notes that these days Pavarotti is "famous chiefly for being famous," and pours scorn on the singer's professed belief that his sellout bellowing matches with the Three Tenors helps bring more people to opera, Kesting settles down into something much more interesting. This is a history of the role of the operatic tenor in the popular imagination (a comparatively recent development, barely a century old) and the way in which a hitherto little-used voice has become central to the traditional opera experience. Kesting, a German cultural journalist, is fantastically knowledgeable about niceties of performance, and traces his hero's (or villain's) rise, through ever more limited displays of his real abilities, to his present meaningless eminence. In the process he offers many acute observations on the ways in which performance standards have coarsened, particularly in the past 50 years. There is a careful critical evaluation of Pavarotti's more presentable recordings, and a discography that includes them all, even the dross. It's no book for fans, but for a serious opera lover, it offers much to think about. (Sept.) The Painted Photograph, 1839-1914:
Library Journal
Head of Stern magazine's cultural department and author of a respected book on the career and recordings of Maria Callas, Kesting here updates a work published in Germany in 1991. He examines the tenor voice, its evolution, and the changing demands placed on it by major composers. More enticingly, he posits that "Pavarotti is no longer famous because of the quality of his singing, but simply because he is so incredibly famous," and he goes on to consider the conflicts between fame and art. He disputes Pavarotti's claim that his appearances outside the opera house are meant to attract a new audience to the theater. In fact, the tenor has become an industry and as a result is no longer judged by any standard musical or aesthetic criteria. Throughout, Kesting demonstrates an exhaustive knowledge of vocal techniques and repertoire and is able to support his opinions with specific examples. Pavarotti's fans will find much to disagree with, but this is a welcome balance to the many flattering books about Pavarotti. Recommended for most collections.Kate McCaffrey, Onondaga Cty. P.L., Syracuse, N.Y.
An English translation of a controversial German work critically assessing Pavarotti's singing career, his stardom, the myth of the tenor, and the commercialization of art. Kesting analyzes the singer's early training, debuts, recordings, and concerts demonstrating how Pavarotti defines the idolization of the tenor<-->a tradition that originated with Enrico Caruso. Though the discussion centers on opera, the author raises serious questions regarding the price of such fame and its consequences on art. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
Kesting, the editor of the German magazine Stern's cultural department, offers a grim indictment of Pavarotti, accusing the tenor "of no longer being a singer in an artistic world that functions according to strict rules, but rather a cult figure in a faceless amusement industry."

Pavarotti, the author asserts, is guilty of surrendering to (and even embodying) the evils of modern "mass entertainment," having long ago "given up any pretense of high quality" while in desperate pursuit of a mass audience. It's his personality, not the music, that is being marketed. But while an interesting argument about such matters might be made, it isn't offered here. Approximately a third of the text traces Pavarotti's career; another third offers Kesting's equally declamatory opinions of other tenors (from Nourrit and Duprez to Caruso and Björling). The remainder is an unsurprising review of Pavarotti's recordings. Who, finally, is this intended for? Music lovers who have collected Pavarotti's recordings over the years, as well as heard him in live performance, have read dozens of similar reviews in magazines and newspapers over the years, and Kesting's often snide opinions are neither fresh nor convincing. There is no shortage of biographical material on Pavarotti. The larger number of likely readers, who know Pavarotti from such events as the "Three Tenor" spectaculars, are fans and would be bored by the steady theoretical repetitiousness surrounding the nuggets of criticism.

The uncomfortable mix of classical music, money, and modern marketing techniques is a troubling issue. But Kesting doesn't so much anatomize it here as offer a series of assertions, insufficiently worked out, that sound both cranky and shallow.

Product Details

Northeastern University Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.25(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.91(d)

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