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Classical 101

Desert Island Musicians

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[AUDIO] If you were stranded on a desert island and could invite one classical musician to be stranded with you, whom would you choose? Though your luck might have run out for things like food and fresh water, you'd have an abundance of options for musicians with fascinating stories to tell, fascinating stories being exactly what you'd need in order to keep your mind off the food and fresh water you don't have. If you happen to be an opera fan, you've struck the mother lode. There can scarcely be a classical music demi-monde with more colorful characters - in every possible sense - than that of the operatic sphere. Backstabbing bass-baritones, conniving contraltos, spiteful sopranos all trapped together in a make-believe world of revenge, betrayal and unrequited love. Makes a desert island look better all the time, doesn't it? However unreal the operatic stage may be, the brilliantly talented, very real people in opera's upper echelon never cease to fascinate us. They're humans who sing like angels, flesh and blood whose rarefied lives have taken them all the way to the Emerald City. How did they come to discover their most distinctive calling? How do they approach their unusual line of work? How did they make it to the top? A new recording, Classical Legends in Their Own Words (EMI Classics, 2010), answers these questions about some of opera's most sparkling voices. Interspersed among recordings of great opera arias and scenes are excerpts from interviews broadcaster Jon Tolansky conducted with Angela Gheorghiu, Mirella Freni, Grace Bumbry, Jon Vickers, Nicolai Gedda, Giuseppe di Stefano, Roberto Alagna, Ruggero Raimondi, Sir John Tomlinson and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Beyond the opera world, the four-CD set also includes interviews with and samples of the work of conductor Antonio Pappano, pianist Evgeny Kissin and cellist/conductor Mstislav Rostropovich. But its preponderance of singers makes the recording a treasure trove of information about how the singers we all love came to be, well, the singers we all love. For instance, it is interesting to hear Jon Vickers tell why, while still a businessman in Canada exploring his vocal possibilities, he turned down a three-year contract to sing at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden: [audio:vickers.mp3] Mirella Freni's explanation of how she made Mimì, the consumptive title character of Puccini's La Bohème, one of Freni's signature roles: [audio:freni.mp3] Equally fascinating is what Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau says about singing Schubert's Winterreise as a 16-year-old: [audio:dieskau.mp3] . . . and listen to Roberto Alagna explain why he works so hard at his craft: [audio:alagna.mp3] What all the musicians on Classical Legends in Their Own Words demonstrate - if not through the spoken word, then through music itself - is their love of music. No, "love" is almost too trite a word. What makes these classical legends legendary is how each in his or her own way has fused sound with self, offering those who listen a total package of humanity and beauty. With this recording you'll hear the people behind the music. Who better to face on your desert island? - Jennifer Hambrick