Friday, May 16, 2008

Hi Diddle Dee Dee and then a high C

Like Wendy Lane, I have been a lifelong nose-in-a-book girl, with a special affection for autobiographies and biographies of adventurous women. I read about Isabella Bird, who travelled. About St. Teresa of Avila, who levitated. About Virginia Woolf and Colette, who wrote. And, to be perfectly honest, I was never convinced that Scarlett O'Hara wasn't real. For that matter, I knew Jo March was real, because she was me.

Several years ago, I was again ensorcelled by the artistry of Maria Callas, and read every biography of that great singer that I could find in print. She never wrote her own book, though, and I wished she had. Callas was a very controversial singer; some hated her voice, others worshiped her. I wish I knew what she thought, rather than what others think she thought.

RIght around that time I found The Diva's Mouth, subtitled Body, Voice, Prima Donna Politics, by Susan J. Leonardi and Rebecca A. Pope in a used-book store. The book itself was interesting; the bibliography was a treasure trove, and for about a year I went on a tear of reading books about and by the great prima donnas of opera. As I look back at the list of my favorite volumes, I realize that the subjects are all unusual even for their field and time. Rosa Ponselle began her meteoric career in vaudeville, Renée Fleming started in jazz. Gerry Farrar's path took her to Hollywood, where she starred in over a dozen silent films. Mary Garden presaged Madonna in her relentless self-promotion. Emma Calvé, considered one of the greatest of Carmens, prepared for the role by going to Spain to hang out at a cigarette factory like the one in the opera, to get a sense of the lives of the women who made the cigarettes, and to learn traditional Spanish dances. Lotte Lehmann was a prolific writer (eight books published in her lifetime) and recording artist (more than 500 recordings) who has a star on Hollywood Boulevard. And finally, Marian Anderson, one of the most beautiful singers we have ever known, the first African-American singer to be a regular company member at the Metropolitan Opera. It is wonderful to learn more about these inspiring women, and most particularly wonderful to read their own words. Here is a list of the autobiographies I love:

My Lord, What a Morning, by Marian Anderson

My Life, by Emma Calvé

Such Sweet Compulsion, by Geraldine Farrar

The Inner Voice, by Renée Fleming

Mary Garden's Story, by Mary Garden and Louis Biancolli

Midway in My Song, by Lotte Lehmann

Ponselle, A Singer's Life, by Rosa Ponselle and James A. Drake

I want to add one more book, though it is not technically an autobiography, and it is not written about or by a singer. For not very much money one can buy The Diary of Frida Kahlo, An Intimate Self-Portrait. It is diary and sketchbook, and one of the most fascinating books I have ever held in my hands.

Now that you have heard from Wendy Lane and from me, let us hear from you!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Artist's Life for Me

I have always preferred real life to fiction. Growing up the stories I would beg my mother to tell me over and over again were the ones about her family and growing up in the Deep South. Handsome princes and happily ever after were nothing compared to stories about Herman the rooster, and relatives named Titto, Junior, and Aunt (pronounced Aint) Minnie. This could be why I gravitate to biographies in my choice of reading material. As a teenager my favorites were Anne Edwards’ Vivien Leigh, Katherine Hepburn’s Me, and Lauren Bacall’s By Myself. At sixteen I dreamed of becoming a combination of these women. Odd that none of them could carry a tune in a bucket, but at the time I was planning to devote myself to being a “serious actress”. These were the books that helped to see what was possible. No one in my family was a performer, and I really didn't know anyone who made the arts their living, so these books and a few hundred others like them, gave me my first inklings of what it took to turn myself into a performer. I still have my original battered copies of these books. I don’t need them for the same reasons anymore, but I keep them like I keep the broken blue bowl that my mother served mashed potatoes in at every holiday because somehow they’ve become a part of me. Maybe not in the way I originally planned, but they’re there all the same.

I still find real life more fascinating that fiction and I still read more biographies than anything else. Some of my recent favorites are:

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin – I should say something along the lines of “A wonderful primer on building a career from the ground up”, which it certainly is, but more than that it’s just a great read!

Tallulah: the Life and Times of a Leading Lady by Joel Lobenthal: Tallulah Bankhead was one of the most fascinating theatrical divas EVER!!!

Foreskin’s Lament: A Memoir by Shalom Auslander: Not a performer’s bio, but a writer’s. It made me laugh out loud and cry, sometimes all at once.

So here’s the challenge for May…We want you to share your favorite artist biographies/autobiographies with us. Which ones have you loved? Why? Post it here on the blog in the comments section and you could be the one chosen at Random for this Month’s RedHead Award, a copy of Girls Like Us- Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon and the Journey of a Generation by Sheila Weller.

Monday, May 12, 2008

We Have a Winner

For her creative use of a hoop skirt to avoid on-stage catastrophe we are pleased to announce the winner of our first ever RedHead award is Joanne Schmoll. Joanne will receive a copy of Stop The Show: A History of Insane Incidents and Absurd Accidents in the Theatre by Brad Schreiber. Blame it on Miss. Scarlett, but your redheads are a sucker for a hoop skirt story!

Keep your eyes on this space because in just a little while we'll be announcing this month's topic and our next great giveaway!!!!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Extra! Extra!

The New Jersey paper the Daily Record paid a visit to our class last Monday evening, took some pictures, and chatted with us and several of our students. The result was a lovely article about our class. For a peek at what goes on in our workshops check it out. For the article visit , and for the complete pix go to .