Cinderella & Company: Backstage at the Opera with Cecilia Bartoli

Cinderella & Company: Backstage at the Opera with Cecilia Bartoli

by Manuela Hoelterhoff


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679444794
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/14/1998
Pages: 259
Product dimensions: 6.55(w) x 9.54(h) x 1.09(d)

About the Author

Manuela Hoelterhoff received a Pulitzer Prize for cultural criticism at the Wall Street Journal, where she has served as arts and books editor and is now a member of the editorial board; she is also senior consulting editor for SmartMoney and a contributing editor to Condé Nast Traveler. In addition, Ms. Hoelterhoff is the author of the libretto for Modern Painters, an opera by David Lang based on the life of John Ruskin, which had its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in 1995. She lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

The stylishly downtrodden outfit of the cinders girl is one she would like to wear again, and the Houston Grand Opera has imported the Bologna production just for her. The company's general director, David Gockley, can make his stomach turn humming the overture. He's more interested in unusual directors and cutting-edge shows like John Adams's Nixon in China. But Bartoli sells tickets and he's a savvy businessman. There was not a ticket to be had for the opening on October 27, 1995.
Now he was waiting for her train to arrive from Ann Arbor, where she was giving a recital.
Bartoli flies only under duress and once pondered the logistics of driving to Japan--from Rome. Earlier in the year, Decca arranged for a private rail car to be attached to the Amtrak train leaving New York for California. She learned some new songs and enjoyed the scenery. "I need to feel the ground under my feet," is how she explains it, and while this creates advanced logistical nightmares for her manager, it might extend her singing days. Singers invariably step off airplanes with their vocal cords dried up and incubating their sniffling seatmate's germs. But basically, it's just that she's scared to fly.
It does no good to point out that remarkably few singers have failed to arrive at their destination. The last opera star to crash was Grace Moore in 1947, though I suppose a plane could also be implicated in the death of Lina Cavalieri, another beautiful if excessively materialistic singer. On her way to the safety of an air shelter during a World War II bombing attack, Cavalieri remembered her jewels, turned around, and traipsed back to her villa.
At least flying phobia (which I also suffer)has saved us both a lot of money. "I can't possibly leave you," I would say to my dogs, feeling my back go out as I stared in dismay at a steerage ticket marked Tokyo or São Paulo. Fortunately refundable. An epigastric hernia kept Bartoli out of Japan in January of 1995; chicken pox deflected her from South America in the summer of that year.
Even so, Bartoli and I saw quite a bit of the world together and separately during the two seasons that passed between Cenerentola in Houston in 1995 and Cenerentola at the Metropolitan Opera in 1997. We had no formal arrangement. I wanted to write about the life of an opera singer in the fast-moving, high-pressure opera world of today, and she consented to make herself available when she felt like it, once asking her manager with alarm if I was planning to spend my vacation with her. In return, she got to read what I wrote with no pressure on either of us. I'd describe our relationship as cordial.
As we rolled along, Bartoli's story became intertwined with others, most inescapably that of Pavarotti, the crumbling monument on this tour d'horizon. The sight of the great tenor, the embodiment of opera for millions, drifting reluctantly toward the last curtain call everyone eventually must take was painful to witness. The panicky search for a star successor, however, was pretty amusing. Opera's ancient heart needs new voices to keep thumping. Many step forth to take their curtain calls; few are called back again and again. The singers who become adored, and ultimately the stuff of legend, are those who project more than the correct notes (though often we're grateful just for that). I saw a soprano I first encountered in Omaha, Nebraska, finally step center stage; I followed an ex-waiter to Paris and a dieting diva into cyberspace. Another detour took me backstage to the Metropolitan Opera for one of the strangest galas in music history.
In opera, we see writ large the extremes of human emotion and the workings of fate carried to the greatest heights of absurdity and soul-stirring tragedy. Some of the people who live in this world travel pretty close to the rim. Is there another art form that attracts so many sublime sufferers and so many nuts? Just before starting Cinderella & Company, I quit writing criticism for the Wall Street Journal after sitting in aisle seats for nearly twenty years, and I worried that backstage might not be as diverting as the shows I saw onstage. What could I have been thinking?

Table of Contents

PRELUDE: Rags to Riches3
I Golden Wings12
II Diva Dienst27
III The Long Goodbye39
IV Cenerentola Visits Cinderella55
V Queen of the Met65
VI Where's the Maid?75
VII Despina's Here90
VIII Paris Prince102
IX Get a Muffler116
X Endless Night128
XI Bartoli for Italy142
XII Cooked Pigeons148
XIII Giants in the Stadium161
XIV Old Tunes168
XV Renee to the Rescue178
XVI Senior Songbird190
XVII Micaela's Picnic198
XVIII Hat Hair204
XIX Wiener Schnitzel210
XX Where's the Maid?220
XXI Clean Plate Club229
XXII Monumental Concert240
XXIII Midnight248

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