A year ago, the name Ryan Speedo Green might not be quite the household name that it has become. The bass, born on April 1, 1986, has had a whirlwind of a year. From his high-profile turn at the Metropolitan Opera in “La Bohème” to the release of “Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music and Family,” a biographical account of his formative years, the end of 2016 and start of 2017 have really brought Green great renown.
And while you should definitely take a look at what he has to offer on the operatic stage, “Sing For Your Life” is essential reading for anyone and everyone, regardless of your interest in opera. Here are six reasons to get your hands on it as soon as possible.
1. Full Immersion into the World of Opera
Author Daniel Bergner doesn’t assume anything about his audience and makes his description of the opera world accessible for those who know nothing about it and ever fascinating for those obsessed with it. Through the narrative, we get a glimpse at the rigorous training of singers, the behind-the-scenes on one of the biggest competitions in the vocal world, the Met Opera National Council Auditions, we learn about musical temperaments and we get looks into the artistic interpretation of basic arias. There are numerous history lessons along the way as well, including a look at the history of black opera singers. We get a chance to meet coaches, conductors and teachers, both inside the Met and outside, giving the world of opera great breadth.
2. Shed Light on Social Issues That Continue to Be Ignored
Did you know that a juvenile institution in the South was named after one of the biggest racists in history? Do you really have an understanding of what it is like to grow up in the projects and the kind of dangers the children face on a day to day basis? Bergner does not shy away from the ugly underbelly of America and the world Green had to fight constantly to get to where he is today.
Perhaps among the most touching moments in the book come at the end with the bass, now a grown and mature artist, returning to one of the places that most haunted and damaged him as a child. His intent? To help other children enduring similar situations and remind us that issues that must be addressed persist.
3. Thematic Relevance To Today’s World
While this could easily be lumped with #2, I grouped it alone because one major theme dominates this book – racism. Green’s life is explored through the lens of the racism around him. From Green’s formative years all the way to his rise in the opera world and how his color affects him in his professional endeavors, Bergner does not let the reader forget that our world still teams with the ugliest of emotions and that it creates roadblocks for even the most capable and well-meaning of people.
4. A Great Rags to Riches Story
For those who just want a good story, this is probably as good as they get. It essentially checks every single box in Joseph Campbell’s “Hero With a Thousand Faces” showcasing Green as a troubled child rising from a damaged home and childhood, overcoming racism and his own emotional problems and limitations to jump into a new world that no one ever gave him a chance in. And even when he arrives in the great American pantheon of opera, the Metropolitan Opera, we see him struggle with diction and even the simplest of musical technique, all while others look on which doubtful eyes. Eventually, he also overcomes these challenges. Hollywood couldn’t write a better script…
5. Complex Characters
This is perhaps the most powerful aspect of this book, bar none. Green is our hero, but he is as complex as they come, the reader bearing witness to his darkest impulses and even troublesome behavior. We see his difficult relationships with his family members, all damaged in their own ways. And even when he overcomes his challenges and rises to the top, the ghosts continue to haunt him. His relationship with his mother, which is the heart and soul of this story, is a troubled one from start to finish, the tension staying with the reader throughout and long after the book’s final pages have been turned.
6. Incredible Pacing & Language
The book kicks off with Green at the Met, preparing for one of his auditions. From there we race back in time to meet his parents. The jump between both time periods (which eventually come together somewhere in the middle of the narrative), gives the book a cinematic quality while maintaining the tension and making this an essential page turner. Just when we are about to hit a climax in one narrative, Bergner jumps back in time, forcing us to read on in hopes of finishing the previous loop. But he does the same in the new narrative timeline, thus repeatedly grabbing hold of the same impulse in the reader.
Throw in the fact that the language, even in his most descriptive passages, is friendly and you have something that is impossible to put down. Those 321 pages will go by in no time, leaving you emotionally satisfied and illuminated.