Viewpoint: Dear Friend

by F. Paul Driscoll

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Barbara Cook as Cunegunde in Candide, 1956
Bob Golby Photograph/Opera News Archives

IT'S NO SECRET THAT BARBARA COOK WAS A GREAT OPERA-LOVER. This wondrous American singer frequently attended performances at the Met and other opera houses in North America and Europe, and she could talk with passion and erudition about her favorite singers and performances. In a 2001 interview with OPERA NEWS, Cook said, “Opera has fed me, in a way, and has made me want to take more risks in my own work. By that I mean that [opera] has given me courage. Emotion is so high in opera … it gives me courage to go farther in my own work, and to take off my emotional clothes more.” 

Cook never hid anything from her audience: she delivered total emotional truth in every song at every performance. She was a great artist, a singer whose extraordinary interpretive gifts inspired awe and admiration from musicians in every discipline, who attended Cook’s performances to listen and to learn. Her master classes were models of clarity and concision, but the core of what Cook did wasn’t really teachable, in the accepted sense of the word. She taught best by example, whether it was her crisp yet gentle incorporation of words into the rhythm of a melodic line—e.g. her first Carnegie Hall performance of “He Was Too Good to Me”—or the way she could allow descending notes to drop with the soft inevitability of petals falling from a flower, one reason her glorious performance of “Glitter and Be Gay” has never been equaled. Cook had the gift of intimacy; she was the rare performer whose performances were always perfectly scaled, no matter how vast the hall that held her audience. Barbara Cook, who would have celebrated her ninetieth birthday this month, never approached her audience as diva, but as a friend and an equal. It was why she was beloved, and always will be. spacer 

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F. PAUL DRISCOLL
Editor in Chief 


The opinions expressed in OPERA NEWS do not necessarily represent the views of The Metropolitan Opera Guild or The Metropolitan Opera.


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