Maureen Forrester:
Out of Character

by Maureen Forrester, Marry McDonald
326 pages,
ISBN: 0771032277

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On Stage
by Janet Windeler

In Maureen Forrester's recurring dream she is figure-skating on a vast field of white, then suddenly finds herself airborne, floating free in the sky like a figure in a Chagall painting, soaring above whatever obstacles she finds in her way. This wonderful, inspiring image is consistent with how Forrester looks back on her life and the way she has lived it.
In her memoirs, which should have been called No Time For Temperament, the foremost contralto of our time and chairman of the Canada Council (she prefers "Big Mama of the arts' megabucks") speaks freely about her past and its many obstacles: her marriage to violinist Eugene Kash and its eventual breakup; the childhood spent on Montreal's rue Fabre in a "cave-Ilke" rowhouse, her over-emotional, chronically out of control mother; her father's illness and death; and her own quitting school at the age of 13 to support the family with a string of lour paying clerical jobs. The history of Forrester's singing career is the tale of a fearless spirit from the other side of the tracks who was determined to make herself some cash: "The secret of what makes Maureen Forrester run has always been the next cheque."
The book, like the woman, is a delight. It's as unpretentious, straight-shooting account of an extraordinary life, containing more than a small amount of wisdom, a number of funny, quirky stories about musical superstars, and a surprisingly convincing theory to explain why altos' personalities are more palatable than sopranos'. The story of Forrester's fairytale discovery in 1956 by the legendary conductor and Mahler protege Bruno Walter may appeal specially to those who already have an appreciation for the music. But I can't imagine anyone not enjoying reading this book: you won't have to love Mahler to like Maureen.

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