First, I would like to throw caution out to you regarding the disappointing reviews here.
#1, Without any doubt Warren surely was the greatest baritone of his own time, and figuratively right on through today, as many would attest to. And, sadly, nobody has written of or about him until Phillips-Matz, herewith; sort of "again" reflecting the sad state of affairs as to why this great singer seemed never to be brought completely "out into the light" if you will, for all he was, and for what he achieved and gave.
#2, Considering the vast number of friends, cohorts, fellow artists, family members, etc., who actually "knew" him, who have passed away, I think that some of the "griping" in these accompanying reviews is unwarranted, for sure.
Warren was a private, and very low-key individual when off the stages of the Met and other great opera houses that he sang in...few ever got to spend time with him and get to know him closely other than his immediate family and his wife, a few colleagues and some of his teachers and coaches, and a few conductors, and, of course, his priest(s) from the churches that he attended regularly. So, with all this said, I feel that the level of damning this attempt to present Warren to us for our enlightenment as to "who" he was, and "why" and "how" he became who he was is totally unwarranted. Without this book, we, very sadly, would know very little of this great artist today, who has few recordings still in the catalogue, etc., and considering how long ago his story ended (tragically) he would be even more deeply "unknown" today.
Phillips-Matz has done her homework and presents many wonderful and heartwarming peeks into Warren's parents and grandparents, and other family members, here from Russia at before the turn of the past century. Wonderful to get to hear how his ancestors were, and how they lived and what they did here in New York and the outlaying burroughs. His formative years, how he grew into being the unselfish, loving and giving person that he became...always there for family and friends, yes, for colleagues also, with an open heart and hand. We find that Leonard was like a child in many ways, especially in those of the heart, and in his loves and wishes--and, what was valuable and worthwhile for him. How high his standards were for himself, and for what he aspired to, and gave, to his profession...."good", and "great" were not where he wanted to be..."perfection" was his goal, and every day of his life was spent in that direction.
We hear of the heartbreak of his mother when his father and her separated and later divorced. The joy in his life when he met Agatha, and what she meant to him through their years. His conversion from the Jewish faith to Catholicism and how he was shunned and damned by his lifelong colleagues and friends who were Jews. The easy means used to hold him back by those in position to do so, keeping him back from advancement, during his earlier years at the Met, and also before that, at Radio City, etc.
Through the Bing years at the Met, and finally his recognition by this rigid man, and others, and their help in getting him the exposure and in many cases the tutoring and coaching that he needed to become the great artist and singer that he was destined to become. His problems with many people that he had to work with, and under, and the altercations, etc., that happened when others were unwilling to listen, or to understand, what this man was trying to impress on them, to not give in his ground and to stand for his values, etc. Like all great artists, Warren surely had problems after he became powerful in the Met, and could hold sway over how he thought things should be, or be done, etc. We are given glimpses of his triumphs, at the Met, and abroad, and also of some of his darkest days, and trials, and the results of these pieces of his history.
And, of course, we come to his greatest achievement, that of being finally recognized as the greatest Verdi baritone of his time (and beyond), and his interpretations of Simon Boccanegra, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Iago, Scarpia, Barnaba, and Amonasro, along with Valentine in Faust, etc. Within two years of this recognition, and of his finally being given first tier performances, and opening night productions, special new productions being created for him, and of his absolutely triumphant Soviet Union tour, the man was to tragically drop dead of a heart attack on the stage that he called "his home", during a performance of one of his favorite works, "La Forza del Destino" ....the only night that a performance "did not go on" one way or another to its conclusion.
Sadly, few of this great man's recordings are available, and trust me, they were magnificent, some of the best, and of course "few" chances we have to hear this great man sing these great roles. One of the saddest things is knowing how desperately Warren begged RCA to let him record Simon Boccanegra, surely one of his finest roles/interpretations after Rigoletto and Macbeth. How much poorer the world of singing/opera is for the fact that we do not have documentation, today, of this great man's interpretation of the Doge of Venice.
Even though I knew of many things of Warren's life/career before reading this great book about him, including the tragedy of his literally dropping dead onstage, I did not come to the end of this fascinating account of his life, times, and trials without being moved to tears at the end of that last great, but somber, chapter.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in opera, and to singers of opera, and particularly to those wishing to know more about Warren, his times, and the workings at the Met before and during the Bing years when Leonard finally was given full recognition for who he was and his accomplishments, vocally, and also interpretively of his characters through his great study and work on creating these characters as fully fleshed-out human beings, as no other singer before him (and quite a few since him have not) done.
A fitting biography of a great artist. Thank you Phillips-Matz for this book, allowing us to get to know this extremely private, and quiet, singer. His likes are rarely seen, for the greatness he gave to us from the stages of the Met and other houses, but also for what he gave to so very many others over the course of his life. How truly heartwarming it is to see or know about all the "wonderful things" that many were given by this generous and deeply loving and soft hearted humanitarian.
Many wonderful photos, including Warren in costume, are included in this book. How delightful it is to be able to see "Leonard" himself, and also "Leonard as...", etc.