Teresa Berganza: "Master Classes"
Films by Dominique Lucie Brard. Mélisande films MEL 001, 56 mins. (Le Nozze di Figaro), 59 mins. (Don Giovanni), subtitled
The master-class format is not automatically conducive to teaching and learning, but these classes are an instance in which things go right. One reason is that the music performed is all by Mozart, and instead of a grab-bag of arias, the material consists of large scenes and ensembles from only two operas. Another reason is that Teresa Berganza consistently takes the focus off of herself and keeps it on the characters created by da Ponte and Mozart. A young soprano singing "Porgi, amor" is reminded by Berganza that "when you are the Countess you are still Rosina," referring back to the previous Beaumarchais play. To get more specificity into a performance of "Non so più," she suggests to the singer that "later Cherubino has a child with the Countess, so he is already preparing." She tells her singers, "We do theater, we don't just sing." It's a platitude in itself, but when Berganza demonstrates we realize what she truly means. And she is specific when she praises her pupils. As "Porgi, amor" gets better, she fairly squeals in delight. "Yes! I saw the Countess who trembled before she sang it."
In these two French-language films, one devoted to Figaro and the other to Don Giovanni, Berganza enforces Mozart's many piano markings. To get a real piano at one point, Berganza asks a student to sing directly into her ear without hurting it. In another aria, she notes, "The silences are sighs." (In an extremely interesting aside, she remarks that she was stunned to come for a Figaro rehearsal with Karajan and see a gigantic orchestra. But Karajan told her, "The larger the orchestra, the more beautiful the piano," and when she sang she could hardly hear the players.) To a Don Giovanni who hammers out his rhythms insistently, she observes, "A great lord does not sing like that." She makes an awful face when a singer tries a bit of ornamentation in Barbarina's aria. Her reasoning (perhaps musicologically unsound) is that when Mozart wanted to write fioritura, as in the Count's aria, he knew how to do it.
Ultimately there are things that can't be put into words, and Berganza expands her students' horizons most effectively when she reverts to her old role of Cherubino, silently acting as she listens to Figaro's "Non più andrai" and Susanna's dressing aria. She also has a knack for finding exactly the right kind of encouragement. Enticing a soprano to take an endless phrase in one breath, she remarks, "Don't think you can't do it. Singers have a voice inside that says, 'You'll never make it.' So you say, 'But I can.'" The desired effect is achieved, twice. Berganza is a positive force. Perhaps this is because, as she observes, "I had three children, I wanted them, I brought them up. I've been able to do it all, and I'm very happy."
WILLIAM R. BRAUN