American Aria: From Farm Boy to Opera Star

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9780028647395: American Aria: From Farm Boy to Opera Star

What's it like to grow up on a small farm in Illinois only to find yourself, some 20 years later, performing on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House? And then to travel the world, singing in historic theaters from La Scala in Milan to Vienna, Paris, London, and beyond? What does it take to be hailed as one of the great operatic baritones of all times, heir to a tradition of Verdi baritones that stretches back for generations? And how does it feel to face losing your voice and your livelihood and the sometimes mean-spirited nature of the operatic world? Sherrill Milnes' story is a true American saga. This book tells the entire story in warm, engaging prose. For anyone interested in the mystique of opera - and what really goes on behind and in front of the scenes - it makes fascinating reading. In "American Aria," Sherrill Milnes opens his artistic and personal life with great candor and considerable heart, revealing himself to everyone.

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Review:

A funny thing happened to Sherrill Milnes along his way to becoming one of the best American Verdi baritones of the 1960s and '70s. In fact, dozens of funny things happened; he took careful note of them and poured them into an autobiography that will appeal to his many fans and anyone who relishes backstage opera gossip. The anecdotes are the best part of this book: they are abundant, sometimes mildly malicious, and often very funny--at least to those readers who are familiar with operatic plots, personalities, and music. For casual readers, Milnes explains why the story is funny--for example, why a tenor should have been executed after making a mistake in Puccini's Turandot. Milnes must be read skeptically when he calls himself shy--his ego is healthier than his voice--but he writes well of the anxieties of an opera star's life, particularly in discussing the vocal problems that hit him in the 1980s and that (whatever he may think) were never entirely cured. He is indignant about the Metropolitan Opera's failure to renew his contract in 1997. They could have been more sensitive, but he should have known that he had stopped singing reliably at the Metropolitan Opera level years before. The book has a useful discography and a list of his most notable performances. --Joe McLellan

From Kirkus Reviews:

Autobiographical fluff for opera aficionados interested in knowing a bitbut not too muchabout the life of one of America's popular baritones. Just as baritones never win the woman in operas, they rarely get the attention afforded tenors. Who has ever heard of a Three Baritones concert? Milnes's autobiography attempts to right that wrong regarding his own life. He begins with his experiences as a farm boy outside Chicago. Milnes was a relative latecomer to serious vocal music study. He began in high school, although hed been studying violin and singing in his mother's church choir since elementary school. By his college years, it was clear that music also lay in Milnes's future. He auditioned for parts in regional opera groups, such as Boris Goldovsky's Opera Theatre, and gradually made his way to the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang regularly for just over 30 years. During that period, which included appearances in operas around the world and an extensive recital schedule, Milnes sang with many of the best, including Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Placido Domingo, and Beverly Sills. Unfortunately, though, this meandering book is rather short on details. Meandering how? A page about the teenage Milnes heading off to a brothel is followed by several paragraphs on the trials of having a ``girl's'' first name. As for the absent details, his two failed marriages are dismissed in a we-grew-apart sentence or two. Comments on colleagues are fairly superficial and do little to shed light on the world behind the opera curtain. The author has included a performance chronology of his debuts and key performances, as well as a discography. What could have been Wagnerian in scope ends up instead as the literary equivalent of a Top 40 tune. (50 illustrations) -- Copyright 1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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