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Maria Callas

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The literature on opera singer Maria Callas grows larger still with these two books. Levine (The Story of the Orchestra) treats the diva's life, artistry, and performances in a breezy, enthusiastic style for the general reader, with little musical background assumed. A glossary, chronology, performance history, discography, and index round out the volume. Some of the most attractive features are Levine's explanations of bel canto and other singing styles, the production photographs, and the in-depth descriptions of each recorded selection, including texts in the original and English translation. The accompanying CDs include some of Callas's greatest interpretations, along with some lesser-known items. In some cases, these are extraordinary, while others leave much to be desired; it's hard to tell whether the reproduction process diminished the quality or Callas was just having an off day. The lack of documentation is distressing, especially as the Callas biography field is already crowded, and it is hard to say much new at this point. However, the combination of text and audio at a bargain price is a winning one, and Levine's title will be especially welcome in smaller collections with limited resources. Overlapping with Levine's book (they even share some photographs), Hanine-Roussel's coffee table book-like compilation of photographs of Callas and her milieu is a praiseworthy albeit not entirely successful effort. Writing in English, French, and Italian, he covers almost all of her roles in opera or concert and also features shots of her in social settings, with minimal captions allowing the photographs (credited to several persons) to speak for themselves. An introductory essay tracing her life sets the tone, as do a few reminiscences by singers and a Callas fan club organizer, which begin promisingly but soon turn into laudatory blurbs for the author. Other drawbacks include some poor translations into English and Hanine-Roussel's unfortunate insistence on using unflattering portraits of Callas to illustrate her weight fluctuations and other challenges. Even some photos from her more svelte periods depict her scowling or frowning; in addition, her compatriots are often not at their best-an effect perhaps intended to add to the candid nature of the enterprise but which is ultimately off-putting. The best parts are the performance photographs showing elaborate costumes and settings and those demonstrating the evolution of styles from the 1930s to the 1970s. Hanine-Roussel's volume is not an essential purchase, although photography, costume, or fashion/style collections and Callas completists will benefit.-Barry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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