What Others Say About this Book

Because the designations below are somewhat arbitrary (designed mainly to break up the page for the eye), they tend to overlap. For instance, it is immediately apparent that some of “Those Who Knew Zinka Personally” were also great “Experts on the Art of Singing and the Human Voice” and were certainly “Musicians.” And, as it has become necessary to say these days, in the interests of “full disclosure,” it must be stated that everyone falls into the unlisted category of “Those Who Have Known the Author.” This fact should not imply any lack of objectivity (believe me, no one on this list was or has ever been shy about expressing his or her constructive criticism), only that each person was willing to be available, to take the time to read, digest, and comment on a project that all realized was closer to the author’s heart than almost anything else.

Though some of the statements seem to be composed with the others in mind, that’s only because everyone was sent the section that could be predicted to interest/concern/draw him or her in most readily. The request that comments be in third-person format and not addressed to the author directly was mainly but not uniformly fulfilled. Obviously, this exercise has taken place over quite a long time period, and more remarks will be added in the future.

Without further ado, here is what some folks who absolutely knew whereof they spoke wrote, phoned, or e-mailed about their experiences of dealing with various (usually large) sections of the work in progress called Zinka: The Life of Zinka Milanov:

THOSE WHO KNEW ZINKA PERSONALLY

Rose Bampton Pelletier (Leading mezzo-soprano, then soprano, Metropolitan Opera, 1932–50; distinguished voice teacher): “Thank you so much for sending the selections, which I found to be truly interesting and so very well-written. Thank you also for quoting me so completely and accurately. By this, I know that everything else is also correct and accurate. You certainly did a fine job in describing the Met of the thirties and forties. The personalities of the singers and conductors, all known to me, jump right off the page. And Zinka herself, what a personage she was. She was right to choose you as her biographer. I am sorry she could not live to see the book, though perhaps she would not approve of quite all of your revelations!”

Margaret Carson (Publicist; former head of publicity department, Metropolitan Opera): “I just couldn’t put it down. I didn’t want to eat or sleep until I had finished the whole long excerpt. It’s very unusual for me to sit at it until more than one hundred pages have been read in one sitting. This is as much a tribute to the writer (brilliant) as to the subject (fascinating and entertaining). The two make an unbeatable combination. I knew Zinka well and I hear her speaking voice throughout. This is something I could publicize in good conscience with the greatest of ease!”

Vlasta Dryak Kankel (Former leading actress, National Theater, Zagreb): “I knew Zinka from early childhood, starting 1914 in Zagreb. I know how accurate is this depiction of her family and her beginning in life and career. And I know also how impossible it is to get this information correctly and completely because it is a so complex story. It is inspirational to see such a success by an American author at the task. I take it very seriously that Zinka preferred this to a Croatian. I can tell you honestly that she was very right in this choice. Even if I knew Zinka and her family very well for many years, still I could learn here so much information not known by me before. And author is without motive except to give the truth. This is why she was right. I am happy that I could share so many memories and contribute so much to this important work.”

Frank Guarrera (Leading baritone, Metropolitan Opera, 1948–76): “‘Don’t throw me down too hard, Frank. Make a big gesture but just push a little and then let me fall.’ That was Zinka’s instruction to me before we did the Nile scene in Aida. I feel as though she made the same request of her biographer. He makes plenty of big gestures but just lets her be herself in his intriguing pages. She comes alive just beautifully in the excerpt I was privileged to read. So do all the other artists who are in those pages. The facts of life at the Met in the fifties have never been explained this well.”

Margaret Harshaw (Leading mezzo-soprano, then soprano, Metropolitan Opera, 1942–64; distinguished voice teacher): “This book is going to be a barnburner! I never read anything in my life as fascinating as the account of Zinka’s return to Yugoslavia after the war and what happened at her first performance there. I sang with her scores of times, had meals with her, and taught on the same faculty with her, and on every page you’ve written, Bruce, there is so much that I never knew or even imagined! We all wondered what on earth had happened to her, and now I know all about those ‘lost years.’ There’s plenty to learn about all the times I thought I knew about, too. Any foolish person who thinks Zinka had an ordinary life of just standing still on a stage and singing will be swept away by this. Thank you for all of it and best of luck.”

Aurora Mauro-Cottone (Pianist): “I was wondering how Zinka’s personal life could be treated tactfully, because hers was so much more eventful than most people’s. The most delicate matters are handled, how can I say, in such a literary way, yet no amount of the fascination or interest is drained from them. The details of her marriages, the scandals in Yugoslavia, the affairs, everything is gripping to read. Certainly people who want to read it because of their love for her voice will be glued to those personal pages! I even found out things I never knew, and I thought over so many years that she and I had gotten it all out in the open in our ‘girl talk’! That was a surprise! Other singers are just plain dull beside our Zinka, who really loved life and knew how to live. That part of her is conveyed perfectly.”

Richard Mohr (Formerly producer, classical music recordings, RCA Victor, and producer, Texaco Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts): “I miss Zinka. She was one of the few prima donnas I worked with who had any sense. And she never lost it. In fact, I think she got more and more sensible the farther past retirement she got. The portrayals of our recording sessions in this manuscript are so real and true. The fact that the personal, artistic, and technical aspects of recording are covered without writing anything dull is quite something. I think the influence of the technical on any great singer in the studio is very important, and I’m sure no other biographer has bothered to go into that to this depth. Also, the antics of Milanov, Björling, Warren, and Barbieri in Rome make great reading, both very serious and very funny (I loved the part about Fedora attacking Bozidar’s bow ties). In retrospect, I can say I’m more proud than ever of my choice of Bruce to do Zinka’s memorial on a Met broadcast. Makes me think of the ‘great minds in the same channel’ idea: she chose him to write about her, I chose him to speak about her. We both made the right decision.”

MUSICIANS

Igor Kipnis (Harpsichordist; son of the great bass Alexander Kipnis): “I’m grateful for the great respect you showed my father when writing of his singing and career, and was delighted with what Miss Milanov said about him. Thank goodness you persevered and managed to find the wonderful quotes my father gave about her to an interviewer. I am still sorry I didn’t have them in my files and could not just provide them to you. I knew he admired her very much and that they did joint recitals. I appreciated very much your remarks of deep regret that their duets were not recorded. I feel the same way. Knowing what my father said about Toscanini and Walter, I was most interested in Milanov’s relationship with them. My father considered it the greatest possible honor to be asked to sing with them. I’m sure he would agree that it speaks incredibly well of Zinka Milanov that they both asked her so many times. They have no equivalents in our day and she doesn’t either.”

WRITERS AND SCHOLARS

John Ardoin (Critic and author): “The task of writing about the life of an admired singer is daunting, and I should know. To make it constantly absorbing, interesting, and entertaining is nothing less than a gift. Bruce Burroughs has that gift and then some. As soon as you read descriptive lines like, ‘Perhaps Zinka had been indolent or insolent—or both,’ about her attitude in one of her early lessons, you know you’re in the presence of a master.”

Byron Belt (Critic): “It’s a historical meeting of singer and writer. Having known Bruce Burroughs as a singer and musician, I was skeptical about his taking on another discipline. My doubts went out the window after reading about a page and a half. All the ingredients, the research, the detail, the writing itself: first class. When it is finished, this manuscript has the potential to become the best book ever written about an opera singer.”

Edward Downes (Quizmaster, Texaco Metropolitan Opera broadcast intermission quiz feature; writer; educator): “As you know, I’m a Ponselle man myself. Never found anyone after her to match her. However, my father [N.Y. Times chief music critic Olin Downes] was a great admirer of Milanov, felt she was quite the equal of Ponselle or anyone else. Certainly I appreciated her very much, especially her Desdemona at the end of her singing career. I enjoyed your coverage of her late assumption of that part, and inclusion of my Times review of it. In retirement, she was always a grand presence and great fun when she came to do a broadcast intermission feature. I’m sorry indeed for the obstacles you are finding in pursuit of writing her biography. It is ever the tale that to do something really right, suffering fools and incompetents is the cost. But I don’t hesitate to say I have complete faith in her choice of you—that is, complete faith in you that you will succeed and that your final result will be memorable, whenever you are able to complete it. Certainly what you sent me to read is so far above the slovenly current average that it will shine forth alone on its own plane. You have been a bright light and a beacon in this evil old world these recent years. I dare say your book will be, too, and not only because Milanov is so interesting. She pulls the right words out of you.”

E. Thomas Glasow (Former editor, The Opera Quarterly): “There’s some danger in praising a mentor to the skies. It is widely known that Bruce was responsible for my becoming his successor as editor of The Opera Quarterly, my all-time dream job. I’ve said it to him and behind his back: my goal is simply to be as good an editor as he was—an idealistic aspiration! I have to stop short of hoping to be as good a writer as he is. No one can come close. Over the years, his articles and reviews have been the most meticulously prepared and presented—never a factual error, never a misspelling, a typo maybe once in four submissions, ‘sticky’ notes attached to anything over which he anticipates a query could arise. He is a pure joy to ‘edit,’ if you can call just passing his work right along to the printer that. He has gifted the Quarterly with several lengthy excerpts from his proposed biography of Zinka Milanov. These were fascinating, superbly crafted pieces, and they provoked a good deal of positive correspondence from the readership. From the editor’s standpoint, these were the most wonderful gifts possible. Surely the finished book will be the same for the opera-loving public.”

George Jellinek (Critic; former music director of radio station WQXR, New York City; author of a biography of Maria Callas): “When Bruce was appointed to the editorship of The Opera Quarterly, I had been one of the journal’s record reviewers for some time. In one of the nicest letters I ever received from anybody, he asked me to continue in that capacity and invited me to join his editorial board as well. His appointment just happened to coincide with the time period in which his beloved Zinka Milanov died, and he asked that as my first act in my new honorary position I write a brief personal remembrance of her for a memorial in the journal. (All board members were asked.) This was cause for concern—perhaps. Though the lady certainly deserved every tribute, did we suddenly have a ‘diva fanatic’ on our hands? That would not be good for the journal. I telephoned for particulars and was reassured that although there would be a large section devoted to her memory, the new editor was not a fanatic and the ‘Milanov Quarterly’ would have much other wonderful material in it that had nothing to do with the great soprano. And so it did. That issue, indeed, is remembered as a glorious inauguration of his tenure. As time went on, the loveliest friendship developed between us. When Bruce wanted to tease me, he would say, ‘Zinka had a more fascinating life than Maria.’ Initially, I protested such an idea. What about wealthy or well-connected men? Yes, there were those (portions of book text were provided for proof). Ah, but no one ever rioted or demonstrated at a Milanov performance as at Callas’s famous walk-out in Rome in 1958, for instance. Yes, there was an even greater uproar at a particular Zinka performance and many in the audience were carted off to jail! (Again, supporting text was given.) But surely she was never gossiped about in the press as Callas was. Oh no? Actually, she was accused of being a spy for the Russians, of murdering her second husband, and of being a courtesan of Marshal Tito and entering into a ‘front’ third marriage arranged by him so he could have her close by. Very well (asked somewhat tongue-in-cheek), is there anything at all in which Callas exceeded her? Finally and triumphantly, ‘Yes. Zinka was never fired from any opera company.’ I raised the white flag of surrender. By the way, Bruce was wrong about himself. He is very much a fanatic: a fanatic for detail, for accuracy, for proper research and source citation, for good, interesting, entertaining writing. Teasing reciprocally, I tell him he is more scrupulous and accurate in his writing than the great Milanov ever was in her singing. From what I have read, it will be quite a book."

Shirley Windward (Poet, author, educator): “A wraith-thin, bespectacled seventeen-year-old with a fine, startlingly strong but initially reedy baritone voice walked into my husband’s voice studio decades ago and began the process of becoming a very fine singer indeed. Almost at once, we forged an independent friendship based on a love of reading and writing. It was a tribute to his self-confidence that he was an English major at UCLA, not a music major. At that early age he said, ‘If you’re not a musician already by now, you won’t be one. A performer, sure, but the music—the music, that you’ve got to get when you’re in the single digits. You can’t get it in school.’ He sang as a great singer, played as a great pianist, and writes as a great writer. In none of his endeavors has he ever left room for an observer to think that there must be something else he does better or should be doing. I’ve watched his process with joy for what he informs me is now forty-seven years (not joy over the great adversity that he has had to overcome, but over the overcoming itself!). Oh, yes, the book, the book. It is shaping up as a grand romantic novel, huge, thick, succulently wordy, and Zinka as a great literary heroine. That every word in it happens to be true rather than invented, there’s the wonder of it. This is exactly what you want biography to be.”

EXPERTS ON THE ART OF SINGING AND THE HUMAN VOICE

Aida Favia-Artsay (Vocal pedagogue; discographer; author of the first authoritative book on the recordings of Caruso): “In my childhood in St. Petersburg I heard Battistini and Tetrazzini. After our family’s post-revolution escape to New York, which took in fact several very difficult years, I heard Caruso, Gigli, Destinn, Ponselle, Muzio, Ruffo, Chaliapin. In later life, I heard Milanov, one of the last throwbacks to the great singing of earlier eras. To be able to command the full space of a house the size of the Metropolitan with a mere thread of tone, that is greatness. Her biographer, whom I have now called with delight for several years ‘My Editor,’ commands the literary spaces as his subject commanded the operatic ones. This is no mere rhetoric or apple-polishing on the part of a grateful writer. To treat such a grand subject one must have a grand command of the language, or a grand vocabulary if you will, and understand the grandeur of life itself. My editor, the author, has every asset necessary for this task.”

Norman Pellegrini (Former producer of the nationally syndicated broadcasts of Lyric Opera of Chicago and program director of radio station WFMT, Chicago): “The most elegant, wonderfully readable writing and most detailed research ever directed upon the life of a great singer. It will not only be a sad sign of our times but an artistic crime if this biography goes unpublished.”

© Bruce Burroughs 2017