B0055. J. B. STEANE. Voices, Singers & Critics. Portland, OR, Amadeus, 1992. 294pp. Indices; Photos; DJ. Chapters incl. Schumann, Rethberg, Ponselle, Muzio, Callas, Schwarzkopf, Schipa, Martinelli, Tauber & Battistini. - 9780931340543 0-931340-54-3
“All Steane's books on opera reward purchase, he remains the finest critic of recorded singing going. This book, published in 1992, is a hybrid filled with essays written for magazines such as Opera Now, Opera News, Musical Times, Opera, Recorded Sound, notes to EMI CDs and LPs, BBC Radio 3 broadcasts, and, thrown in for good measure, a lecture to the Dante Alighieri Society on Martinelli.
The book is divided into three sections - The first a discussion of voice types, from leggiero and soubrette sopranos all the way down the scale to Basso Profondo. Steane flits back and forth in this section like a hummingbird, darting first to a singer, then to an aria as he carves out a final definition for each voice type. It is giddy stuff, and the more you know about singing and especially singing on record, the more rewarding and thought-provoking are his arguments.
Part two of the book is a series of short studies of famous singers; of these seven spent most of their careers between the two World Wars (For the record the ten singers are: Elisabeth Schumann, Elisabeth Rethberg, Rosa Ponselle, Claudia Muzio, Maria Callas, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. Tito Schipa, Giovanni Martinelli, Richard Tauber, Mattia Battistini.) For me the best of these essays was the one talking about Mattia Battistini - doubly valuable as so little of note is written of the great Italian baritone, especially in English. All the essays offer the considered opinions and ruminations of a master at capturing in words the particular qualities distinquishing these remarkable singing artists.
The last section, ‘Critics at the Opera’, discusses a number of critics writing between the wars. Steane seems most comfortable writing about this era, a time encompassing the great age of Wagner singing, when Leider and Melchior and Lehmann and Flagstad dominated the boards. Steane's long examination of the opera reviews of Ernest Newman (of performances, not recordings) is a marvel, capturing for us the essence of Newman as he writes SUNDAY TIMES articles on the entirety of the London operatic scene. Newman's harsh words for the Italians and his contrariness, often detesting performances wildly applauded, remind me of certain performances today.
Lovers of opera recordings of the past should find this a fascinating work. Anyone desirous of following up on the names mentioned should be happy to know - the ten featured singers all are available on CD, and sometimes, as with Maria Callas, excessively so!
The book has an excellent General Index - an absolute ‘must’ in a book such as this, and often the best part, allowing you to quickly compare your thoughts on a singer you have just heard or read about with those of Steane.”
- Ned Ludd