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Challenges: A Memoir of My Life in Opera

In Challenges: A Memoir of My Life in Opera, Sarah Caldwell, the first woman to conduct the Metropolitan Opera, relates intimate stories about her experiences as a director and conductor of this dramatic art form. From a series of interviews planned and orchestrated by Caldwell, she and Rebecca Matlock have created an intimate, cozy memoir.

The passages written by Matlock include interesting personal details about Caldwell. For instance, her home has heated concrete floors and acoustic adaptations designed to allow her to listen to auditioned works at home. We also learn of Caldwell’s graduation from high school at age twelve.

The greater portion of the book features transcriptions of interviews with Caldwell who breezes through tales of opera house money woes and the sleights of hand performed to raise funds. When Caldwell speaks of challenges, she is referring to the challenge of creating dynamic performances. We learn about her devotion to an art form where the question of how to enhance even a reliable classic such as Aida involves the love of the process of creating, as much as the final result.

Opera fans who have not yet come across this book will enjoy the conversational tone that is not overly weighed down by details of production dates, plot explanations, or the dreary “facts” found in some memoirs. For those with an interest in the theatre, this is a rich exploration into the mindset of a bright, motivated expert in her field. Even those are put off by opera will enjoy Sarah dishing the dirt the world over from Boston to Mexico to the Philippines.

This is worthy opportunity to hear great stories from someone who has excelled in her chosen and beloved field.

Written by: Cheryl Ellis, March 8th 2009
Tags: memoir, opera

(A Memoir of Making the Most of What Comes Our Way)