Tales of a Tenacious Tenor by Robert P. Mitchell

With the sweeping scale of an epic and the intimacy of a memoir, Robert P. Mitchell’s autobiographical novel, Tales of a Tenacious Tenor, gifts us the true story of the author’s ardent pursuit of a career singing opera. Spanning several decades, Tales guides us through Bob’s journey from the moment he comes to terms with his musical interest as an adolescent in rural Pennsylvania, across years of formal education and personal maturation, and deep into his induction into the glitz of the New York City region’s operatic scene. Along the way, Bob experiences intense pushback from family, teachers, fate, and even his own breath – but also staggering personal successes and the power of music to elate and unite.

The alliteration of Tales’ title foretells the charisma of Mitchell’s storytelling; Bob’s first-person narration throws us immediately into the action – and into his head. His voice is casual enough to engage the reader directly, and never fails to sound sincere. We are accompanied on our journey through the years by interjected internal thought, wryly wrought European accents, and imagined dialogue with Bob’s father, all of which lends a unique voice to the writing. Cultural references and historic events give the tales a sense of time and flavor, and temporal leaps that peep into the future tinge the story with a charming melancholy, nostalgia, and sentimentality. Sometimes, these jumps are disorienting, and it can be difficult to track the multitude of referenced personages – agents, friends, singers, teachers – who slide in and out of focus as the narrative progresses. Bob’s extensive reminiscing can also feel too garrulous, the frequent asides too miscalculated, and the innumerable anecdotes meaningful only to the speaker; an onslaught of detail ironically leaves a lack of information on Bob’s life outside of opera that creates gaps in our ability to appreciate our hero’s position within the greater fabric his life. This is redeemed by the romantic taste of the colorful world of opera, both on and behind the stage, that Tales offers us. It is a world, however, that might be befuddle readers not familiar with musical terminologies and histories, and may not always be sufficiently compelling for those who are not already aficionados. Fortunately, by the end of the memoir, the narrative shortcomings have done little to diminish the overall thrill of growing with Bob; we find ourselves breathless with the exhilaration of having experienced a real lifetime, and are left with a poignant meditation on fame, fortune, success, and artistry.

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