January 17, 2009

Where I Dwell

Perhaps, like me, you could do with some moments of solace, and peace. Here are a few stations that help me along that path.

The duet from Bizet's Pearl Fishers, with Jussi Bjorling and Robert Merrill. Every time I listen to this piece, and especially to this performance, I realize I had forgotten just how beautiful it is.

Leontyne Price singing one of the arias most associated with her, "Doretta's Song" from Puccini's La Rondine. Price had made a very famous studio recording of this aria just a few years earlier, and it is truly exquisite, but this live performance carries a different kind of excitement. (Here's the wonderful studio recital.) The same year of this performance (1965) or the following one (I can't now remember), I heard Price perform this aria as an encore after a full recital. Several thousand people, me included, hollered, yelled, clapped and thundered their approval. It went on and on and on. So she sang it again. Once upon a time, we were all young.

And in a somewhat different vein, here is Eileen Farrell singing Gershwin, "But Not For Me." Birgit Nilsson, a legendary singer of the second half of the twentieth century and not precisely deficient herself in the voice department, once sat down to a joint interview with Farrell. In her delightfully no-nonsense, forthright manner, Nilsson declared to Farrell at the outset (recalled quite accurately, I think): "But you, my dear! I heard you do a Gioconda in Philadelphia, and I said, 'That is The Voice!'"

And what a glorious voice it was. Farrell was also one of the very, very few opera singers who fully mastered the popular style, and her recordings of the American Songbook are marvels of the art. (Here's a genuinely superlative one.) And she makes the Gershwin song sound so easy. I assure you: what Farrell does in this performance is not easy. You can get a sense of what Farrell was like in opera from this unfortunately truncated performance (truncated at both ends) of the Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, originally seen on commercial broadcast television (honest). Farrell performed a fair amount of lengthy opera excerpts in concert (often with Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic), but she didn't have much of a career on the opera stage, mainly because she didn't want one. She sang what she liked, where and when she liked. What she has left us is great cause for celebration.

I have more like these. I'll save them for the next time we need a respite of this kind. Looking at the news, I think that will probably be Wednesday or Thursday of next week.

In the meantime, enjoy. I highly recommend listening to all of them two or three times each. They'll take you to a better place.