light-voiced Spencer Lang find the key to success in the archetypal second-couple roles of Mi and Gustl respectively. It is hard to imagine Sou-Chong being in better vocal and dramatic hands than those of Piotr Beczała, whose matinee-idol looks combine with gloriously varied tone to give you everything required. Fabio Luisi conducts with a subtle consciousness of the requisite style and the orchestra sounds marvellous. george hall
Jarmila Novotná: My Life in Song Ed. William V. Madison. University Press of Kentucky. 290pp. $39.95. ISBN: 978-0-8131-7611-6
The Czech soprano Jarmila Novotná (1907-94) enjoyed an international career for several decades, taking in musicals, film stardom (in Czech, German and English) and later television work alongside opera appearances in major venues: a trajectory simply unthinkable today. A gorgeous, charming and cultured woman, she married early into the Czech aristocracy and had access both to a kind of European ‘society’ no longer extant (in this memoir, the Duke of Windsor features as a dance or song partner more than once) and to historical figures. Tomáš
■ Jarmila Novotná
Masaryk—the founder-president of Czechoslavakia—was a family friend, and his son Jan—foreign minister after the war, murdered on the orders of the Communist government—accompanied her on the piano at recitals and in the 1942 recording Songs of Lidice. Musically, she rubbed shoulders with everyone from Emmy Destinn and Janáček to the young (and still baritonal) James King—not to mention Bing Crosby and Tab Hunter.
More importantly, Novotná’s profound musicianship—her voice itself, first a coloratura and then a lyric soprano (with a limited extension after 1950 or so) was pleasant and characterful but not truly exceptional—brought her the chance to collaborate with some of the era’s greatest conductors, not least Klemperer, Toscanini and Walter. Reminiscences of work with the great producer Max Reinhardt (who forged her theatrical career) and Toscanini (instrumental in helping her and her immediate family escape to the US in 1939) provide some of the most revelatory pages of this volume. It is painstakingly edited, reworked and annotated by William V. Madison, who met the retired but still socially active soprano in 1990. It originally appeared in Czech as Byla jsem šťastná (‘I have been happy’); Novotná, whose image has graced her native land’s currency more than once, outlived both the Nazi and the Russian invaders to return an honoured guest of
Opera, December 2018