Gerald Sinstadt's Reviews > The Maestro's Voice

The Maestro's Voice by Roland  Vernon
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Aug 30, 10

bookshelves: fiction-general
Read from August 25 to 29, 2010

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Gerald Sinstadt Rocco Campobello, the world's greatest tenor, has a voice on the verge of ruin. He returns to Naples, the city of his boyhood, seeking to exorcise his guilt over the betrayal of a close friend. Naples can scarcely exist in fiction without the intervention of the Mafia, and so the ingredients are all present. The time is the first half of the 20th Century. At the point of transition to electronic recording, Campobello can be the vehicle to riches. If his vocal chords will survive long enough to cut a few three-minute discs ...

Roland Vernon once had aspirations as a tenor himself, has written about opera, and has worked in the recording industry; he can draw on personal experience for his story. Where necessary - in the novel's locale - he proves a diligent researcher. Put together, this should result in a gripping exploration of the collision between culture and crime. Superficially, it succeeds, as reviewers have testified. Other readers may have reason to regret a lost opportunity.

There are many inconsistencies and improbabilities. Overlook the bizarre out-of-body experience in the opening pages; it is still hard to believe the singer's wife being able to burst into the operating theatre where surgeons are carving open Campobello. For the sake of fiction, allow for Milan having other opera venues besides La Scala, concede that one is nearing the first night of a production of La Traviata, accept the Hollywood cliché that the leading tenor has fallen sick - it remains simply too much to swallow Campobello, with eight days' notice, making his stage debut as Alfredo at the age of nineteen! Years later, Mafia manipulation sets up the ailing singer to make one final appearance on the Naples stage. The opera is to be Boito's Mefistofele - important for the mechanics of the book's finale. Now, it is true that celebrated tenors have sung the part of Faust (who has the stage to himself as the curtain falls) but Mefistofele is still the bass's opera.

Perhaps none of this will matter to many readers, but enjoyment of The Maestro's Voice also entails acceptance of the author's style. Characters here do not laugh or cough, they "give out a laugh," or "give out a little cough." And there are the 'rathers.' One adopts "a rather elegant pose," one "stood there rather formally," another "smiled rather nervously," yet another assumed "a rather proprietorial air," and so on. Readers with rather long memories may be rather reminded of Daisy Ashford's The Young Visiters.


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