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Who's My Bottom?
Christopher Gillett

Published in UK by Lulu
RRP £6.99 (at Amazon from £3.81; Kindel Edition £3.27

- - to take the lid off the real world of the jobbing (albeit successful) opera performer - this is the book

- - everything we could ask for: dramatic pacing, humour, insight, thematic threads and a big ending. Classical Music Magazine

- - the tenor Christopher Gillett is a good enough singer (Prom, 2006) - -

This is an important, well written and absurdly inexpensive short book about vicissitudes in the life of a "jobbing opera singer" - marketed as "very funny" - q.v. the deplorable cover !

It offers real insight into a working opera singer's life [Nicholas Hytner].

Christopher Gillett's career has over the years had him appearing internationally in Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream - in Peter Pears' transvestite role, Thisbe in the Mechanicals' entertainment for the Duke [pp. 6 - 13].

The core of the book, for me, is to be found though in Gillett's account [pp. 34 - 63] of Tan Dun's weird and sometimes wonderful opera Tea - A Mirror of Soul, premiered in Tokyo and put out on a DVD which I bought as background for this review [L, Christopher Gillett with Nancy Allen Lundy].

Who's My Bottom? ends with a series of short and often bitter vignettes, similar to those Gillett puts on his blog (see No Plan in Milan 14 April 2012, a devastating account of a wasted day in Milan, hanging around La Scala):

The most prestigious opera house in the world is also most chaotically disorganised " this place has about a gazillion people working in it, and you would think that among all those people, they could find just one whose task it was to discuss rehearsal planning and produce a schedule that matched cast members with the scenes they are in. But apparently not.".

Some readers may not know that opera singers are expected to appear for rehearsals having completely learnt their parts, and that singers are not paid for rehearsals; not one penny (for one production they lasted eight weeks !). They arrive to rehearse a production with the success or failure of the venture pre-determined, with no idea what the design concept will be and, least of all, singers have no say in it.

For the Director's introduction "you have to wear your bravest smiles". "So-called conductors" (pp. 78-85) come in for withering scorn; only 10% know what they're on about; immensely famous conductors can't beat their way out of a paper-bag... Kleiber excepted, verily adored, but Solti less than admired for cheating at ping-pong on a social event he hosted... Some have nothing to do with the stage - leave all that to the prompter...

Directors "used to be called stage managers - now they've become as, if not more, important than anyone else for selling opera"; Gillett elaborates on "the Traditionalist who only does Opera; Designer Directors; the Film or Theatre Director Who Thinks He Or She Can Do Opera" - scathing stuff... Small fees wither and all but vanish with rip-offs at lodgings; no phone and "extras" on top of exorbitant charges... It really is not a fun book.

Like Pagliacci, the tragic clown, Gillett seems to be the life and soul of sociability and fun with his mates, on their regular periods abroad out of contact with families and young children, but inevitable destruction of personal life and key relationships is the other side of the coin, as suffered by Gillett and all too many more of his profession.

A glimmer of hope is to be found in his discreet dedication of his great book to Lucy, Tessa and Adam.

Decently produced in paperback with large print, but regrettably no index.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See also Classical Source

My small son
appeared in Zauberflöteat Covent Garden as 2nd Boy and later 1st Boy - the three boys suspended perilously with a terrified Margaret Price in a flying boat above the stage.

He promised himself to come back there as an adult opera singer.

Thankfully, he didn't make it...