Music: The Prima Donna

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Once upon a time a prima donna was opera's indispensable lady, an unearthly creature who fed on acclaim, dressed in kudos and walked a path strewn with money, jewels and lovers. For her the real world was only an extension of the unlikely world of opera, a world of passionate hate, tempestuous love and outrageous gesture. The prima donna was larger than life, and a law only to her own towering talent. One composer did not dream of objecting when Maria Malibran (1808-36) regally replaced one whole act he had written with music by another composer. Adelina Patti (1843-1919) traveled...

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