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The King & I: The Uncensored Tale of Luciano Pavarotti's Rise to Fame by His Manager, Friend, and Sometime Adversary

by Herbert Breslin and Anne Midgette

Doubleday, 308 pp., $25.95

"Whore." "Pimp." "People creamed in their pants." Folks skimming pages of The King & I might think they're reading about Lenny Bruce instead of Luciano Pavarotti. True to its verbose title, Pavarotti's former manager offers a brutally frank account of opera's biggest star. Beginning with his 1968 Met debut, Pavarotti has climbed the operatic ranks and beyond, including the renowned Three Tenors franchise. In his 70th year, Pavarotti recently announced his farewell tour, and Breslin is well-positioned to present a detailed yarn of the singer. With Opera Times and New York Times music writer Anne Midgette, Breslin imparts a looping chronology of the singer's ascent, with background added sporadically. The narrative is peppered with anecdotes by relevant characters, yet given Pavarotti's spot in the vox pantheon, The King & I cries for more cameos. While celebrating Lucky Luciano's gifts, Breslin is equally critical of Pavarotti's budgeting skills, self-assessment, diet, lyrical memory, ad nauseam. Even the tired Italian trope is applied: short temper, overt emotionality, etc. Some critiques are probably valid, but for a manager who works with other fickle artists, Breslin comes across as sour, even stating "a woman will change her mind 500 times." It's likely Pavarotti hasn't read the tome, yet he closes it: Throughout their 36-year relationship he and Breslin "were synchronized," Breslin being his "wife in the opera." Notwithstanding its appeal to opera mavens who subscribe to Us, The King & I is a bouncy read about a singer whose vocal cords were, according to famed conductor Herbert von Karajan, "kissed by God."

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