Pros:Great insider insights into all aspects of opera. Easy to read
Cons:...well, somethings I don't agree with... but it's her book after all!
The Bottom Line: A good look at all aspects of opera from an ultimate insider. Very humorous at times, always perceptive. Take anecdotes with some salts tho.
Christa Ludwig: In My Own Voice
This 264 pages (plus indexes) hardback book is an English translation by Regina Domeraski of the great German mezzo soprano opera singer Christa Ludwig's autobiography. The original book was written in 1994 in German under the title ...und ich waere so gern Primadonna gewesen, there is another English translation of it with a literal translation of the German title called And I wanted to Be A Primadonna.
This book covers Frau Ludwigs private and professional life from the time of her birth in Berlin, Germany in 1928 to her retirement from singing in December of 1993. It is surprisingly very down to earth in style (she always seems friendly enough in DVDs of recitals and concerts, but, after all, this is a German from the pre-WW II generation who calls Vienna home!). She is very candid and discusses with frankness all aspects of her life, even when they aren't flattering; like how her father left his wife for her mother and how that affected her growing up or her distaste for the discomforts of many trouser roles (male opera roles that are sung by female singer, usually a mezzo soprano) despite her success in them (and how that made her popular in the gay community even though she is straight), etc.
I love all the details she includes and learn a lot about what the opera singers have to deal with in the course of their career (and by extension, what the management have to deal with in these singers!). However, there are some anecdotes of other opera singers conducts that I really didnt care reading about... especially since they are seen strictly from Frau Ludwigs sometimes very sensitive perspective. They are nothing earth-shattering, but some remarks are presented as examples of diva snides that I suspect may not have been made with that intention.
I would also take some of her accounts of some personalities like the conductors Karl Boehm or Herbert von Karajan with grains of salt. She appears to be one of the few who enjoyed great relations with them. Herr Karajan was one of the most notorious voice-killer of a conductor for good reasons. Many promising singers did not survive working with him and his mighty Vienna Philharmonics Orchestra without suffering career-shattering damages for it (he was known for conjuring up such a loud orchestra sound that singers were pushed to try to keep up with the volume, with bad consequences for their vocal cords). And while Frau Ludwig presents many examples of how he kept inviting her back after her having disappointed the maestro many times in cancelling performances of roles that she didnt think she could sing as evidence of his niceness, I think it actually is more evidence that her ability to say "No!" to that revered conductor was what saved her. Not many singers had the gut to say No to Karajan, and many of them did not survive to sing another day for it. So, if you are a young singer looking to enjoy this book, I say learn more from Frau Ludwigs description of her experiences than from what she actually wants to tell you. She is nice to a fault at times.
There are some good humors as well. Heres how Frau Ludwig describes her impression of the Musikverein concert hall in Vienna on her first visit there:
The Viennese dont call the Musikverein the Golden Hall without good reason, and the female figures were the last straw for me. I believe I counted 59 golden breasts from the stage that day, but then I paused and said, No, cant be. Has to be an even number. 58 or 60? There was just too much gold for my taste, and the whole style was foreign to me. (P.56)
If you find that the passage creates a nicely amusing image in your mind of the revered Viennese hall, you will be interested in what she has to say about the Paris opera and their centuries old toilets. The gal really has a knack for showing the changes she has seen in the opera world from the beginning of her career to the time she retired in 1993, and her perspectives without sounding patronizing or preachy.
I havent read the original German version of this book, but this English translation is very easy to read. Some prior understanding of opera or musical terms will be helpful but not really required. It is like having a conversation with a perceptive and good humored old acquaintance. And this is also the first autobiography of an opera diva Ive read that talks about some of her fans in some details. It really goes a long way into making opera stars less of icons and more like another human being to me (like other fans, I do need that reminder once in a while).
The style is quite unorthodox... very chatty in nature, which I enjoy very much. The book is organized into chapters about certain aspects of her career, lumping discussion of all the opera houses she had performed at in one chapter, all the roles she had sung in another, her experiences with different conductors, etc. She explains that she intended to cover her singing life from A to Z in a dictionary style, but in this English translation it doesnt really go in that order (I suspect it might have been in the original German, though). I like the arrangement, as it is easy to look up specific aspects of the opera work without having to wade through the whole book. There are some cool black and white photos of her on and off stage as well.
All in all, recommended for lovers of operas, all who are curious about what it is like to be an opera star, and especially the young opera singers. This offers many lessons and perspectives that will save you from a lot of heartaches if you are willing to learn from Frau Ludwig's mistakes. The best one of those, I think, is:
"I didn't escape into private life, but I realized that life goes on after singing, and it would be terrible for me to find myself in an empty room after I retired, without knowing how to go on living. Looking back, I have to say that my years of crisis were a positive experience. They helped me as a person to find myself, and to recognize what is really important." (P. 241)
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