Authors & Events
Oct 05, 1999
| ISBN 9780375707124
Dec 15, 2010
| ISBN 9780307773241
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Oct 05, 1999 | ISBN 9780375707124
Dec 15, 2010 | ISBN 9780307773241
A wickedly funny look at opera today–the feuds and deals, maestros and managers, divine voices and outsized egos–and a portrait of the opera world’s newest superstar at a formative point in her life and career. In Cinderella & Company, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Manuela Hoelterhoff takes us on a two-year trip on the circuit with Cecilia Bartoli, the young mezzo-soprano who has captured an adoring public around the world. Rossini’s Cenerentola is Bartoli’s signature role, and Cinderella & Company tells the fairy-tale story of her life, which started on a modest street in Rome where the Fiat was the coach of choice. The lucky break, the meteoric rise, the starlit nights and nail-chewing days are all part of a narrative that shows Bartoli rehearsing, playing, traveling, eating, and charming us with her vivacity and dazzling virtuosity. Along the way, Hoelterhoff gives us an unusually vivid, behind-the-scenes look at the opera world. The first stop is Houston, where Bartoli brightens a droopy Cenerentola production; later scenes follow her to Disney World and to the Metropolitan Opera, where a fidgety cast awaits the flight-phobic mezzo’s arrival for Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte. Traveling to Santa Fe, Paris, Rome, Venice, and London, Hoelterhoff drops in on opening nights and boardroom meetings, talks to managers and agents, describes where the money comes from, and survives one of the longest galas in history. Here too are tantalizing glimpses of divinities large and small: Kathleen Battle’s famously chilly limousine ride; Plácido Domingo flying through three time zones to step into the boots of an ailing Otello; Luciano Pavarotti aiming for high C in his twilight years. And we meet the present players in Bartoli’s world: Roberto Alagna and Angela Gheorghiu, a.k.a. the Love Couple; Jane Eaglen, the Wagnerian web potato monitoring her cyberspace fan mail; the appealing soprano Renée Fleming, finally on the brink of stardom. At once informed and accessible, Cinderella & Company brings the world of grand opera into sharp focus–right up to the last glimpse of Cecilia Bartoli waving triumphantly from Cinderella’s wedding cake.
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… More about Manuela Hoelterhoff
Q: Why a book on Cecilia Bartoli? Why now?A: Now thirty-two years of age, Bartoli has achieved the kind of success most singers only dream of. The stages of the world are open to her; her recordings hop out of the bins. She is wealthy and adored; immensely talented and lucky, too. Her timing couldn’t have been better. Twilight is falling on the Three Tenors; the ancient heart of opera needs new voices to keep thumping. Her creamy mezzo is the one people want to listen to more than any others right now. A typical opera album might sell 15,000 copies. For Bartoli, you can add a zero. Her "Mozart Portraits" has sold around 350,000 by now; "If You Love Me" has sold 320,000 copies. That’s good news to the recording industry, which is slumping badly these days, affected as much by a lack of new repertoire, pricey unions, and dimwitted managers. One of the stories in the book shows the making of a new and expensive Don Giovanni recording as a vanity showcase for a conductor whose albums invariably gather dust. But as the title suggests, Bartoli has some company. Cinderella & Company is as much a portrait of a singer at the top of a high-pressured career as it is a glimpse at the world in which she sparkles center stage. Q: Explain the title further. A: Not only is Rossini’s La Cenerentola Bartoli’s favorite role, but the rags-to-riches story is one not far from her own, which started in a modest neighborhood in Rome. But when the curtain drops on Cinderella, the singer must leave the world of myth for the complexities and uncertainties of life. When everything is available, choice can become a paralyzing gift in the way few normal mortals could possibly understand. Bartoli herself will have to write the Happy Ending to her story.Q: What was it like to travel for two years on the circuit with Bartoli? A: Not very expensive. For starters, she is frugal. She likes to feel the heft of the money belt she wears with most of her outfits, except the gala gowns. And then, since she is even more plane phobic than I am, my travel expenses ended up being not as exorbitant as they would have been if I had been traveling with, say, Placido Domingo, who almost never cancels and flies around so much he warms up for his next performance stretched out in first class.Also, you eat well. Bartoli is a girl who tucks in with enthusiasm. The Italians would call her a buon forchetta–their version of the "clean plate club." And you gain some weight. Singers usually eat large meals after a performance, and while a number of them exercise, the Bartoli routine includes digestive sleeping with modest amounts of walking. Q: What is it with divas and food?A: Though most opera singers are probably no fatter than the rest of us, the fat lady is opera’s fixture for a reason. Especially today, there are Quite a number of O-shaped girls. Their cheerleader is the Wagnerian web-potato, Jane Eaglen, a soprano who often takes to the Internet to defend habits of the calorie-challenged. Few singers I know actually order double portions in public. They are furtive eaters. Room service is to blame. They go home after a rehearsal feeling tired and lonely, and order up bacon cheeseburgers with extra fries and vanilla ice cream. Q: What is the most exquisite performance given by Bartoli that you have experienced?A: Probably "Cenerentola" at the Zurich Opera, in a lighthearted staging in which Bartoli and the rest of the cast brightened the first act’s ensemble by throwing spaghetti while singing gloriously. Q: Which sopranos, living or dead, do you particularly admire? A: The ones you heard first probably always keep a special place. For me, it was the great soprano of another era, Renata Tebaldi, a statuesque diva who was defiantly not the "girl next door." She was grand opera incarnate. Tebaldi often sang with the tenor Franco Corelli, who had a high C for which Placido Domingo would walk on his knees from La Scala to Lourdes. Q: Bartoli started singing at the age of sixteen. Now at age thirty-two, is she at the peak of her career? A: She is certainly at the crossroads. For anyone who has made it to the top of their profession, the question is always: How do they stay there? Bartoli’s repertoire is unusually small. The joke in the industry is that she made a career singing two roles and twenty-four songs. That’s not far from the truth. She will need to expand her repertoire beyond the handful of Mozart, Haydn, and Rossini pieces she sings now and eventually will probably have to learn German, a language she has so far resisted. Since her inclinations seem to run to Vivaldi, whose operas are largely forgotten, and other obscure eighteenth-century composers, the question will be whether she can actually make these pieces appealing to a broad audience. Let’s hope so. The opera repertoire has become ossified these last few decades, with very few entering the repertoire. Bartoli has shown no interest in commissioning new works for herself in the way that some of her contemporaries have started to do, picking up on old traditions. But by rediscovering the past, she can amplify the future in her own way. Q: You offer up many opinions on the characters in the book–from opera stars, managers, and agents–many opinions that are not favorable. How will you handle the backlash?A: As one of the managers says in this book about critics: "What you write isn’t worth a thimble full of rat’s piss." But really, I hope what I’ve written comes across more as a wryly affectionate look at the world that has given me excitement, glamour, pleasure. And laughs.Q: What is Bartoli’s reaction to Cinderella & Company?A: We often see ourselves differently from the way others see us. Bartoli is no different. No doubt she would have preferred a little more makeup.
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