Classical Legends: In Their Own Words

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

WORKS: Interviews and Performances from 13 EMI artists; Interviews by Jon Tolansky
PERFORMER: Angela Gheorghiu, Mirella Freni, Grace Bumbry, Jon Vickers, Nicolai Gedda, Giuseppe di Stefano, Roberto Alagna, Ruggero Raimondi, John Tomlinson, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Antonio Pappano, Evgeny Kissin, Mstislav Rostropovich
CATALOGUE NO: 608 9722


Jon Tolansky has a bottom drawer crammed with interviews with great performers and EMI has a back catalogue full of fine performances. When the interviewer met the archive, who could doubt that one plus one would make a brilliant marketing three? Alas, when you listen to the four CDs in this set the maths tells a different story and it’s almost a minus.

EMI serve up some of their greatest artists in bite-sized pieces with inelegant fades on a number of tracks to allow the singer to talk over their own performance; and it’s mostly singers, although the final CD has Antonio Pappano, Evgeny Kissin and Mstislav Rostropovich on the menu. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this radio documentary style except on a commercial disc there should surely be time for a complete aria or duet.

Then there are the interviews. Tolansky is unfailingly courteous, too courteous, perhaps, to get close to his interviewees. And each artist cooks up answers to the same two questions: ‘my early life and formative years’ and ‘approaches to opera performance’.


Sometimes there’s something to get your teeth into, such as Jon Vickers talking about beginning his career while working for Woolworth, and Rostropovich full of giggles as he remembers Benjamin Britten. But when discussing a role it’s the song not the singer you want to hear. Manrico, says Roberto Alagna ‘is a crazy guy’ who does everything ‘cos of love’. So that was how Verdi saw Il trovatore? Christopher Cook