by BRIAN KELLOW and TRISTAN KRAFT
Vickers as Otello
© Beth Bergman 2012
Essential Thomas Adès Primer:
The Tempest on EMI. Those in search of something to prepare for the October Met premiere of The Tempest will find themselves listening to this anyway, inasmuch as no other Tempest recording exists — so far. As a piece, The Tempest shows off Adès’s writing for the voice — something we believe he does better than any other living opera composer. Adès scores some irrefutable vocal pyrotechnics for his singers, but he also gives them real tunes to sing. The character Caliban (Ian Bostridge) gets the humanizing Act II aria “Friends, don’t fear.” Miranda (Kate Royal) gets the urgent “What you have told me” in Act I. Ariel (Cyndia Sieden) sings so many erratic, recurring high notes that we can’t help but laugh at the perversity of the relentless vocal demands. (Yet when you walk down the street humming her crazy aria, “Five fathoms deep,” you start to think that it’s Adès who has had the last laugh.) Adès conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and a cast that also includes Simon Keenlyside, Toby Spence and the late Philip Langridge. All in all, it’s complex, rewarding music — which is something you may find to be true about the rest of Adès’s works. William R. Braun dissects Adès’s The Tempest in "Its Charms Crack Not."
Essential Anne Jeffreys Performance:
Dearest Enemy. Thanks to the archaeological efforts of Video Artists International, this tab version of the 1925 Rodgers and Hart musical is now available for the first time since it was telecast live over NBC in 1955. Appearing opposite Jeffreys is her real-life husband, Robert Sterling, not long after they finished a successful run in the Emmy-nominated sitcom Topper. Jeffreys does a lovely turn as Betsy Winthrop, the high-spirited lass who throws a roadblock in the path of the British Army during the Revolutionary War. Best song: “Here in My Arms,” which Jeffreys puts over with unforced charm and grace. She seems utterly unfazed by the demands of doing a complicated production on live television. (The same cannot be said for her costar, Cornelia Otis Skinner, who drops words left and right.) See our Reunion with Anne Jeffreys.
Essential Interpreter of
Otello: Jon Vickers. There has always been intense debate over who was the greatest Otello of the twentieth century. But it’s questionable whether any Otello has ever quite matched the harrowing intensity of Jon Vickers. In Roger Benamou’s 1973 film of the opera, with Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, the Canadian tenor gives us a staggering study in torment that is Shakespearean in scale. Perhaps Vickers’s is not the most robustly Italianate reading of the role, but time and again he works magic with the text. After the murder of Desdemona (Mirella Freni), as he sings of reaching his journey’s end, he endows “Oh! Gloria!” with a depth of sorrow that is also ecstatic. This Otello, available on DVD from Deutsche Grammophon, remains one of the most emotionally naked characterizations committed to film. (Vickers’s Otello, opposite the superb Desdemona of Renata Scotto in 1978, can also be experienced on a Metropolitan Opera DVD.) For information on this month’s Live in HD presentation ofOtello, see p. 37.
Essential Elsa Maxwell Introduction: A November 1957 interview with Mike Wallace, available on the website of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. Watching it, we can’t help feeling a bit of vicarious exhaustion on Maxwell’s behalf. The columnist/party planner has a quip for every question (many of which she interjects before Wallace can complete a sentence), even the brass-tacks variety Wallace dishes out — questions such as why she never married and whether or not she’s truly happy. “I always speak the truth, Mike, that’s my great fault,” is one such comeback, but despite Maxwell’s calculations it seems not to be true. She’s on surer footing talking in broader terms: “All great drinkers are dangerous” and “Divorce is ruining America” are among the myriad humdingers. About the prospect of inviting Elvis to a party, she deadpans, “Elvis Presley would never speak, he’d just move his pelvis around. I’m not interested in pelvises. Or their movements.” Watch the interview at the Ransom Center archives. Read an excerpt from Sam Staggs’s biography of Maxwell in "Tropic of Callas."
BRIAN KELLOW, TRISTAN KRAFT
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