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The key attribute that sets Christopher Gillett’s autobiographical book apart from the large majority of ‘humorous’ works by those in the biz (which are normally to be avoided like the plague) is that this man can really write. The result is a genuinely funny and original take on the pushes and pulls of an opera singer’s life.

Over Gillett’s 30-year career the role of Flute in Midsummer Night’s Dream has loomed large for him in countless productions around the world – thus the title of the book – and on top of the usual staple of repertoire for a tenor, he has also been involved in several major new works of the more wacky variety, such as Tan Dun’s Tea and the Peter Greenaway-devised

Rosa, A Horse Opera. This makes for a worldly, multi-faceted story, which Gillett relates in his own particular no-holds- barred style, coupled with a descriptively inventive turn of phrase which will actually have you laughing out loud.

Singers will immediately relate to the tales of rehearsal humiliations, dingy digs and those first-night, on-stage introductions, all bound within the itinerant, parallel-universe existence that is the opera singer’s way of life. However, Gillett is not just writing for his own kind, but also to a wider audience – which is why it works so well: he explains where necessary, but doesn’t overdo it.

The narrative jumps back and forth from the start of his career to more recent jobs, which helps to highlight the unusual course a career can take. He doesn’t fall into the trap so common with singers of harping on about the uselessness of directors and conductors, but instead provides a balanced account, and he is discreet enough to keep names out of any particularly bad experiences, favouring instead the use of nicknames that you just know were in general use among the casts at the time.

All in all, Gillett’s frank, easy narrative tells it like it is, managing to strike a readable balance between wonder and incredulity without dropping into the bitchy. And although he is a little too self-deprecating at times, (and despite one or two unforgivable errors that a good editor/ proofer would have caught – ‘Birgit Neilsson’, ‘Entshuldigung’), Gillett has given us everything we could ask for: dramatic pacing, humour, insight, thematic threads and a big ending.

ANTONIA COULING Read the full review on Agora Classica


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