George Jellinek

George Jellinek: My Road to Radio and the Vocal Scene: Memoir of an Opera Commentator. McFarland and Co. Jefferson; 243 p.; 2007.

I’m sure Mr. Jellinek’s family and his many colleagues and friends will be extremely happy with this book. They are all and often in great detail mentioned and so are the many companions, subordinates and superiors of Jellinek’s army days, copyright firm days and radio days. Moreover, as there is an excellent index they can immediately look up their names and decide there and then if they want to purchase the book. Mr. Jellinek’s story after all is an interesting one. As a Hungarian Jew (which is not very clear at the beginning as Jellinek refrains from calling himself a Jew; much in the way Bing didn’t speak out clearly in his memoirs) he succeeded in leaving Hungary just in time while his parents would go to a horrible death in one of the German extermination camps. He found refuge in the US and thanks to his enlisting in the army he became a citizen and even an officer in the American occupation army in Germany. After the war he went into music business and became at last well known in New York thanks to his interviews with famous singers in ‘The Vocal Scene’.

Interesting though the story may be there are some problems with it. The story of the Jewish refugee who makes good in the States has been told many times and often far better than Jellinek does in his book. Understandably, this was a life shattering experience for the author but this is not what the title promises. It clearly states ‘my road to the Vocal Scene’ and vocal buffs will be somewhat disillusioned that only on page 132 we get to the heart of the matter. Moreover it is a very small heart as Mr.Jellinek is an expert in name dropping but apart from mentioning that such and so appeared in his show and telling us where and with whom he had a delicious lunch, there are almost no worthwhile stories to tell on the many singers he hosted. Nor is there a discussion of the art of the many singers in Jellinek’s collection. So don’t expect an American equivalent of Steane’s The Grand Tradition. And even the few chapters on Jellinek’s best known activity in life are cut rather short as once more we have to follow the author on his travels, dinner engagements and hotels worthwhile to stay in. Therefore, if you belong to Mr. Jellinek’s wide circle of friends and family this book is a treasure; otherwise stay far from it. And I don’t believe Mr. Jellinek was already in 1943 in Germany’s Darmstadt as the by-line of a photo tells us. By the way, the many photographs of the author with singers are the best part of the book.

Jan Neckers, Opera Nostalgia