> Lily Pons A Centennial Portrait [LKD]: Book Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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LILY PONS. A Centennial Portrait, edited by James A. Drake and Kristin Beall Ludecke. Amadeus Press ISBN 1-57467-047-6


  AmazonUK £22.50  AmazonUS $20.96



This is another handsome publication with some gorgeous photographs which ooze glamour. Did Lily Pons want to be a great opera singer or a glamour puss? There is very little that is glamorous about being an opera star. It has its enormous stresses and problems

The book is very unsatisfactory because it is a higgedly-piggedly collection of essays and comments from various people few of whom I have heard of and the book is a collection of writings without form or cohesion. The ordinary person wants to read about matters in chronological order not have to have a notepad and pencil by one’s side to make a chronological map to see what fits where. Imagine a Dickens novel with all the chapters in the wrong order and you will understand what I mean.

That Lily was a popular singer cannot be disputed but she was very limited in her repertoire. Being French she occasionally sang Debussy and Fauré and once bravely sang some Milhaud. But her operatic successes were mainly in Donizetti and Verdi. As far as I am aware she never sang a Wagner role clearly because it was too difficult for her. I stand to be corrected.

Her glamour climbing did mean that she starred in a few films, four in fact. I Dream too Much starred Henry Fonda and That Girl from Paris and Hitting a New High put her alongside Jack Oakie. His character names speak for themselves.. Whammo Lonsdale and Corny Davis. Her last film was Carnegie Hall which succeeded because they were excerpts of famous artists performing such as Piatigorsky, Heifetz and the great Fritz Reiner.

The book may not have set out to say so, but it is clear that Lily Pons wanted the best of all worlds. And we all know about Jacks of all Trades. She was walking a tightrope between being a professional and a mere entertainer and this is epitomised in her marriage to the conductor André Kostelanetz which marriage ended in divorce. Kostelanetz was not a good conductor. Listen to his ghastly performance of Walton’s Johannesburg Festival 0verture and how - he finishes it.

If you listen to Pons' recordings you will find a lot to admire but there are some awful mistakes. The Mad Scene in Lucia is excruciatingly bad. Notes are left out. Notes arc smudged and the top notes are wrong!

In the theatre her performances were sometimes marred by the same faults. Perhaps her efforts to be a coloratura were misguided! And, after all, she was an attractive woman and, as a result, was forgiven!

Linda Karen Dowson

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