If I’ve managed to interest you in the general subject of opera singers (and I certainly hope I have) the following books are well worth looking at. Many are out of print and even the ones still around aren’t likely to be found in local shops. I suggest either of the following:
http://www.amazon.com or http://www.abebooks.co.uk
The Last Prima Donnas by Lanfranco Rasponi – 1983
Rasponi set himself the daunting task of locating as many surviving opera prima donnas of the old school as possible and as many current prima donnas as would talk to him. He found 55 and their stories and reminiscences and occasional bitchy comments about the then-current state of opera make wonderful reading.
The Grand Tradition by J. B. Steane – Seventy Years of Singing on the Record – 1971
A survey of the great singers and their recordings with biographical information and highly informed criticism of what they sang and how they sang it. You may occasionally disagree with Steane’s judgements, but they are well reasoned and fascinating to read.
NOTE: Steane also wrote Singers of the Century, a three volume set of short critical essays about the major singers of the 20th Century. I would have wished for longer essays but they are all excellent.
The American Opera Singer by Peter G. Davis – 1997
Filled with great stories and witty criticisms, the book is a history of opera singers in America (beginning in 1825 when the first European opera company arrived in New York.) For every story you find dull, there will be another that is absolutely riveting.
And two other that are slightly off-subject but are well worth looking at:
A Matter of Records by Jerrold Northrop Moore – 1976
Remember Fred Gaisberg? The fella who made the first recordings of Caruso, Patti, Chaliapin, and so many more? This is his biography – almost an autobiography since much use is made of the extensive diaries that Gaisberg kept throughout his life.
The Record Shelf Guide to Classical CD’s and Cassettes by Jim Svedja (pronounced Schveda)
(1996) 5th Edition revised and expanded.
I love Jim Svedja. For years he had the best classical music program (The Record Shelf) on FM public radio and his knowledge is as complete and unbelievably catholic (small “c”) as his opinions are passionate and irreverent. Unlike so many other “Best” lists, Jim gives specific reasons why he likes what he likes and also why he hates what he doesn’t like. Opera and classical music are both included in this huge (880 pages) work. Find it!