Editor's Desk

Patricia Racette’s It Gets Better Video

(Observations, Oussama Zahr, Advice, It Gets Better) Permanent link

Soprano Patricia Racette, who appears this month and next in Il Trovatore at the Met, has contributed a video to the It Gets Better Project, which was launched in response to the rash of gay teen suicides that have appeared in the news.

In the video, Racette and her partner, mezzo Beth Clayton, speak touchingly about the personal significance of Racette's "coming out" cover story in OPERA NEWS in 2002.

The video is available on the Metropolitan Opera's YouTube channel. spacer 

OUSSAMA ZAHR

Indelible Impressions

(Observations, Louise Guinther) Permanent link

I have always considered myself very lucky that my first two Broadway experiences, as a small child, were of two truly iconic performances — Yul Brynner's King in The King and I and Carol Channing's Dolly in Hello, Dolly! Both were, of course, late-career nostalgic revivals for their stars, but the dazzling charisma that had made their earlier portrayals famous was undimmed, and though I had nothing to compare these greats to at the time, the bar was set very high: I came to expect something special from a night at the theater, and to recognize and appreciate it when it did.

My operagoing life began in much the same way. Back in elementary school, I used to join eagerly in the annual class trips to the Met — sometimes a rehearsal, sometimes a student performance — led by my kindergarten teacher, herself a one-time Met chorister. Though I am sure at the time a large part of the draw was getting out of school for the day, I can recall several occasions on which my young ears were permanently imprinted with a level of vocal brilliance that I took for granted in my innocence but have valued more and more in retrospect. There was, for example, a student performance of La Traviata with Robert Merrill as Germont — the only time I heard the Great American Baritone live (with the exception of numerous Star-Spangled Banners at Yankee games) but more than enough to form my lasting impression of what a Verdi baritone should be.

Another memorable trip was a 1975 Puritani — a work that, needless to say, I had never heard of at the time, with a plot that, despite Mrs. Harris's best efforts, I was able to follow only in a vague, childish way. (I'm still not entirely sure I know what it is all about.) I remember a greater than usual sense of occasion — my parents were opera fans, so the names of Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland and Sherrill Milnes were familiar to my fledgling ears even before Mrs. Harris had given us a glowing idea of what to expect. In the event, I am ashamed to confess that what remains of my first impression of the great Pavarotti is that the combination of his physique with the long cloak that hung over his long sword rendered his profile indistinguishable from that of a large duck, and that for all the ballyhoo I preferred the voice of Mr. Gross, the admirable tenor soloist in our church choir at the time.

Joan Sutherland, though, was a different matter. I remember thinking her appearance ideal — that great, imposing jaw seemed just right for an operatic heroine — but I remember most of all the astonishing accuracy of her coloratura, the awesome scale of her voice, and the sense that she was singing all her lines not because someone happened to have written some pretty music for them but because there were things she needed to express that could be communicated in no other way. Thanks to Sutherland, no one ever had to explain to me what the big deal about a "mad scene" was: the concept of music as a conveyer and enhancer of dramatic/emotional truth was unmistakable even to the merest novice. Sutherland knew how to achieve that strange operatic alchemy by which pain and suffering can be transformed through sound into transcendent beauty that touches the soul.

Her death this week was a reminder to me of how incredibly fortunate I'd been to have the privilege of hearing such once-in-a-lifetime artistry in the flesh. Much as I love listening to her recordings, I cherish much more that memory of having been there in real time. spacer 

LOUISE T. GUINTHER

 

The Music of My Life

(Observations, Louise Guinther, Listening, Soundtracks) Permanent link

After a very trying week that has included watching over an aging parent in the hospital, waiting for the insurance inspectors to arrive in the tornado-torn streets of my hometown and enduring a plumbing crisis that will deprive me of my accustomed morning shower for weeks and cost half a year's salary to fix, I found myself trying to fend off insanity by contemplating my personal woes in terms of an operatic soundtrack that might distill immortal beauty from temporal madness as only the lyric art can do.

If I were to choose a composer to orchestrate the more tempestuous events of my life of late, it would have be Verdi, whose storm scenes so brilliantly capture the fascinating and humbling combination of terror and natural splendor evoked in the human breast by what the law and the insurance companies quaintly refer to as "Acts of God." Of course, the start of Wagner's Walküre belongs high on the list of torrential depictions, as does the wonderful Wolf's Crag scene in Lucia ("Orrida e questa notte," indeed!), not to mention Peter Grimes's hurricane-force seacoast monsoon. And no one but Verdi himself could have topped the magnificent tempest that precipitates Gilda's demise in Rigoletto. But given my druthers, I would go with Otello's electrifying opening as aural backdrop to the wild weather that overturned ancient oaks and sent trees crashing onto rooftops in my erstwhile shady and sheltered New York City neighborhood.

Verdi again takes the laurels for music that expresses the exquisite and lingering anguish of watching a loved one in failing health. Could one ask for a more moving accompaniment for gnawing filial worry than the finale of Simon Boccanegra, with poor Amelia murmuring in that inimitably melodious fashion of Verdi's, "No, non morrai, l'amore vinca di morte il gelo. Risponderà dal cielo pietade al mio dolor" .

As for something to help conquer the horror of the water pouring relentlessly through our kitchen ceiling for hours on end, well, do not Tamino and Pamina brave their watery trials with fortitude and even joy under the wondrous musical umbrella that issues from his magic flute, which transforms the deluge to a sparkling waterfall and stretches a kind of existential rainbow over their heads even in the face of disaster .

In the end, though, what one really needs to pull one through such a disheartening stretch is a sense of humor. So I think, really, the most appropriate soundtrack for my life at present would be found here — at Fawlty Towers. spacer 

LOUISE T. GUINTHER

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Current Issue: April 2014 — VOL. 78, NO. 10