There are music lovers --- and then there are opera fans. The two
species are not necessarily identical.
Opera fans oftentimes have zero interest in any other type of
classical music. Ask them about Beethoven sonatas or Stravinsky
ballets and they give you this blank look. Many of them, in fact,
are not even really interested in operatic music. All they really
care about is singers and their voices.
THE KING AND I is a book for that sort of opera fan. It is breezy,
irreverent, gossipy and titillating, full of juicy backstage and
offstage anecdotes and trivia, virtually unburdened with anything
so boring as discussion of music.
Now that Luciano Pavarotti's extraordinary career on the world's
opera stages is over, his longtime publicist and manager, Herbert
Breslin, has here told the story of their relationship. His
collaborator on this first-person narrative is Anne Midgette, a
well-respected member of the music reviewing corps at The New
Breslin is a well-known (and much-feared) figure in the New York
music business. He ends up looming almost as large in this book as
does Pavarotti himself. There is a lot of padding dealing with
Breslin's other clients (e.g. Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, Alice
DeLarrocha), a lot of space is devoted to his own hard-nosed
musings on the music business, and one of the appendices is a
three-page listing of all his clients. He keeps professing, no
doubt sincerely, his own deep love for music --- but he comes
across as a hard-nosed, unsentimental businessman who believes ---
and states here --- that classical music must be marketed the same
way you market soap flakes.
The Breslin/Midgette version of Pavarotti is a kind of overgrown
child, ignorant of anything musical except his own singing, hard to
please, endlessly demanding, vain, self-centered --- yet somehow
lovable. Breslin admits that Pavarotti was a ticket to immense
wealth for him, but insists that the relationship also worked in
the reverse direction.
This low-calorie quick-read of a book will be devoured on the
standee line at the Metropolitan Opera. You can read all about
Pavarotti's voracious appetite, his sexual escapades with a series
of "secretaries," his shrewd financial dealings, his interest in
horses, and his often unpleasant dealings with other singers. His
great rival, Placido Domingo, is treated with a dollop of grudging
respect balanced by a lot of sniping. The sad last few years of
Pavarotti's physical decline are detailed, along with Breslin's
eventual disillusionment and parting from his famous client. This
is the sort of extra-musical gossip that is meat and drink to many
opera fanatics, as distinct from mainstream music lovers.
And speaking of padding, the book is larded with little vignettes
from those who have known or worked with Pavarotti --- but they are
generally innocuous, adding little to the overall Breslin/Midgette
portrait. The same can be said for a final chapter, presented as
the work of Pavarotti himself. One suspects that the tenor was
invited to add his two cents worth without first being given the
chance to read the rest of the book.
So, if you want to know about Luciano Pavarotti's traveling
entourage, learn the names of his "secretaries" and find out what
wines are his favorites, this lightweight confection is for you. I
will offer here only one sample:
Once when Pavarotti was in Chicago, in a fit of operatic despair he
called Breslin in New York and told him he was about to end it all
by throwing himself out the window of his hotel room. Breslin
caught the next plane, raced to the hotel, woke up one of the
tenor's Praetorian Guard and told her what was happening.
Said the guardian, calmly: "How can he throw himself out of a
window? He wouldn't fit!"
Reviewed by Robert Finn (Robertfinn@aol.com) on January 22, 2011