Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Tenor by Peter Danish

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: March 31, 2014

The Tenor is a sweeping tale of historical fiction in the style of Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” and De Burniere’s “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.” It swiftly moves from Pino Vaggi’s youth in pre-war Italy, to his coming of age as a soldier in war-torn Greece, before ending in a shattering surprise finale at Maria Callas’ historic final performance ever on the stage of New York’s Metropolitan Opera House in 1965. It is based loosely on the stories and anecdotes that I learned from several of Maria Callas’ personal friends and from nearly a dozen trips to Italy and Greece to research the subject. Pino Vaggi is not like the other children in Italy in 1930. While they play soccer, he listens to opera. By age ten, he is already a child prodigy, an opera singing sensation on the fast track to a major international career. On the eve of his debut, WWII breaks out. The theater is closed. The season is cancelled. Pino is drafted. He is stationed in war-torn Athens, where he hears and ultimately falls in love with another child prodigy, the young Maria Callas. There is one major problem: she is the enemy. However, as famine devastates Athens, (a famine created by the diversion of humanitarian aid meant for the Greeks to the Russian front to feed the German Army) the artist in Pino can’t fathom the thought of the greatest singer the world will ever know perishing, especially if he is in a position to prevent it. With a firing squad in the balance, he repeatedly risks his own life to protect and feed the young girl and her family. In the process, his love for her deepens, until something tragic happens – something with devastating consequences that blows the young lovers apart.

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Maria Callas as Violetta in La traviata, 1958
I love World War II fiction, so it should come as no surprise that I jumped when offered the chance to read Peter Danish's The Tenor. The political content and the fact that story took place in Italy held great appeal for me and I was eager to see how those elements would factor into the larger story.

Ultimately neither played much of a role, but that doesn't mean I was disappointed. Pino, for one, is a fabulous protagonist. He is talented and ambitious despite his humble upbringing, but he has a tendency to be somewhat indecisive, overly sensitive and smug. In short, he's a very believable and well-balanced character, someone the reader can both root for and relate to. I was similarly struck by Maestro Franco Ivaldi, whose supporting role is memorable despite its brevity. 

Also of note, the operatic themes that are woven throughout the story. Strictly speaking, Danish doesn't offer a lot of explicit exposition for those unfamiliar with the material, but his obvious affinity for the subject matter and deft manipulation of the content make the patterns and motifs easy to interpret. 

Ideally I would have liked closure with characters like Allesandro, Captain Biaggi and Captain Adamo and I personally found the shifting point of views distracting, especially when Danish turned to characters like Mr. Vaggi and Gia. Certain scenes, like the incident with the veal chops and Maria's infatuation with The Beatles seemed out of place and awkward within Pino's story and I think the ending might have been stronger if Maria Callas had enjoyed a more prominent role or served as a second narrator over the course of the book.

All told, The Tenor is an interesting piece that brings to light a fascinating story and though I felt it a bit rough in places, I can honestly say I enjoyed the time I spent with it.

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It was not real and he was not pining for her. It was the dreamy illusion of an inexperienced heart. Nevertheless, he cursed her and he cursed Captain Adamo. He cried, “Maladicione!” like Rigoletto before him, but he knew it would be equally fruitless. Why didn’t curses ever work out in real life like they did in the opera?
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Check out all the stops on Peter Danish's The Tenor Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, March 24
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes
Tuesday, March 25
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Friday, March 28
Review at A Rose in the City
Monday, March 31
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story
Spotlight & Giveaway at Susan Heim on Writing
Tuesday, April 1
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, April 2
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, April 3
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Review & Giveaway at She is Too Fond of Books
Friday, April 4
Review at Closed the Cover
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at Kelsey’s Book Corner
Review at Princess of Eboli

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