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The Opera Quarterly 18.3 (2002) 442-447

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Book Review

Manuel García (1775-1832):
Chronicle of the Life of a "Bel Canto" Tenor at the Dawn of Romanticism

Manuel García (1775-1832): Chronicle of the Life of a "Bel Canto" Tenor at the Dawn of Romanticism James Radomski Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000 367 pages, $80.00

When we speak about certain artists of the past as "titans" or the powerful aura that surrounds their image, we usually refer to their enormous energy that resulted in a great outpouring of creativity, often in a relatively short period of time. Michelangelo, Beethoven, and Picasso come to mind. With all three, a certain rough physicality seemed to surge through their work as they faced self-imposed challenges. Their greatest achievements resulted from trial and error rather than from a carefully constructed plan. In reading James Radomski's biography of the elder Manuel García, one is constantly struck by the titanic energy and the drive that took the tenor in so many different directions. García was often moved by impulse, and his unpredictability and originality must have helped make him an unforgettable performer. His children, Manuel Patricio García (1805-1906), Maria Felicia García Malibran-Bériot (1808-1836), and Michelle Ferdinande Pauline Viardot-García (1821-1910), were surely affected by this image of their father and teacher as they became operatic legends in their own right.

Manuel del Pópulo Vicente Rodríguez-García has been described as "the father of modern singing." 1 I believe that comment refers to his school of singing, which, with the passage of time, produced singers of such renown as Adolphe Nourrit, Jenny Lind, Catherine Hayes, Marianne Brandt, Nellie Melba, Emma Eames, Emma Calvé, Charles Santley, Anton von Rooy, Margarethe Siems, Felia Litvinne, and Joachim Tartakov. The international character of this brief list gives a sense of how widespread the García influence was. [End Page 442] His children, Manuel Jr. and Pauline, carried his concepts forward, adding their own insights to their numerous students, including the great teachers Mathilde Marchesi, Julius Stockhausen, Camille Everardi, and Aglaja Orgeni, who continued the tradition well into the twentieth century. The García method is still taught today, and the extraordinary accomplishments of the García family have not faded with time.

It is as if the phenomenal energy of the elder García expanded beyond his own lifetime. There is no question that García had genius. As a singer, he took Madrid, Paris, Naples, Rome, London, New York, and Mexico City by storm. As a composer, he had considerable success, although with all his activities he must have had little time to compose. As an entrepreneur, he organized his own opera companies in New York and Mexico City, being the first artist to bring Italian opera to the Americas. Finally, from fairly early in his career, he saw himself as a teacher, bringing not only vocal technique but a larger sense of musical culture to his students. He originally focused on his son, Manuel Jr., and his daughter, Maria, but soon was teaching Nourrit and Henriette Méric-Lalande among others. His youngest daughter Pauline (she was eleven when he died) accompanied these lessons and surely had some early training with her father, inheriting much of his musical genius.

While researching an article on the García vocal tradition a few years ago, I found it difficult to obtain much specific information about the elder Manuel García. 2 Outside of the fact that he performed Count Almaviva in the premiere of Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia on 5 February 1816 in Rome, one read of his romance with a young, beautiful novitiate that led to marriage or the legends about his cruelty to his daughter, Maria Malibran. There were few facts given as to both his personal and professional life. Professor Radomski, in a carefully researched, detailed biography of the great tenor, has managed to capture a sense...


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