Magazine article Gramophone

The Magic of Beverly Sills

Magazine article Gramophone

The Magic of Beverly Sills

Article excerpt

The Magic of Beverly Sills

By Nancy Guy

University of Illinois Press, HB, 272pp. 22.99 [pound sterling]

ISBN 978-0-252-03973-7

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Nancy Guy's The Magic of Beverly Sills looks like any other diva biography: it has I an ebullient title, a gallery of glossy black-and-white photographs documenting the American diva's career from the early 1950s and a glamorous dust-jacket image of the red-haired soprano dressed as Massenet's Manon and clutching a bouquet of roses. But the author devotes a scant and workmanlike three chapters to Sills's career, with only a few paragraphs given to her myriad accomplishments as a formidable fundraiser and arts executive after she left the stage in 1980. The bulk of the book is devoted to analysing 'the magic', through online testimonials and personal correspondence with Sills's fans, close listening to her recordings, exploration of Sills's hand-annotated piano vocal scores and a cumbersome clutter of sociology, ethnography, psychology and theory.

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Guy is an associate professor of music at the University of California, San Diego, and among her publications is Peking Opera and Politics in Taiwan. She acknowledges from the start that she was drawn to Sills as a subject because she, too, is a fan. But she was also determined to write what she says 'is the first scholarly book' on the subject. Unfortunately, that means a lot of leaden prose and the reflexive citation of other people's ideas, even when they are not particularly relevant. Immediately after acknowledging that academics are discouraged from admitting they may share the 'irrationally exuberant' feelings of being a fan, Guy writes: 'Joli Jensen's survey of popular and scholarly literature finds that the concept of fan often involves images of social and psychological pathology.' Or, after quoting from Sills's own account of her Metropolitan Opera debut--long delayed by the snobbery of the irascible Met General Manager Rudolf Bing--Guy turns to the Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's theory of flow: 'Flow denotes the holistic sensation present when we act with total involvement.'

So caveat emptor to anyone who enjoyed the frothy fun of Sills's own autobiographies, including the 1976 Bubbles: A Self Portrait, or any of the other highlights of diva literature, especially Galina Vishnevskaya's Galina: A Russian Story. …

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