They Just Keep Leaving Us

Last evening, just before going to bed, I did a bit of quick surfing and over at Parterre Box read the sad news of the death of the great American opera singer Shirley Verrett. She was a singer I loved but only saw twice on stage – once in I believe in 1969 at Covent Garden in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice conducted by Georg Solti and then in 1972 in San Fransisco in a rare revival of Meyerbeer’s L’Africaine with Placido Domingo. But I did have many of her recordings in my collection – including an album of duets with Montserrat Caballe which ranks as one of the great recordings of the late 20th century as does the La Scala recording of Macbeth which was one of her greatest triumphs – and heard her on Met broadcasts.

She was an artist much loved by both her audiences and her colleagues and once she had retired worked tirelessly with students to pass on her knowledge and experience. She was a diva but never a prima donna, her work was known, like the lady herself, for its honesty, integrity and passion.

Here she is in Che faro senza Euridice, Orfeo’s expression of grief at the loss, for the second time, of his beloved Euridice recorded a year or two after those Covent Garden performances.

Sadly they did not record the devastating recitative that leads into the aria as I recall her cries of Euridice! Respondmi! tearing at the heart. Another moment that I can still see in my mind’s eye if though it were yesterday was when Euridice (the lovely Spanish soprano Pilar Lorengar) placed her hand on Orfeo’s shoulder to be lead out of the Elysian Fields – Verrett’s whole body gave a shudder of joy and her face became alight with the happiness of being reunited.

No doubt yesterday she entered Elysium with the same joy and happiness.

06 novembre – San Leonardo di Noblac

Mercoledi Musciale

Last week one of the great singers of the late 20th century died, though sadly dementia had stilled her voice for the past 15 years. Maureen Forrester was an incredible talent and an incredible person. Larger than life on stage and off she had an wonderful sense of humour and inspired sense of the dramatic. She is a singer I grew up on – her’s was the first performances I saw – on television back in the days when CBC did classical without apologizing – of many of Mahler’s great pieces including this performance of the 4th movement (Urlicht) of his Resurrection Symphony (Symphony #2). I have heard others do it since but this one remains the benchmark. The rather strange conductor is the equally incredible Glenn Gould. Two great talents.

Primeval Light

O red rose!
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
How I would rather be in heaven.
There came I upon a broad path
when came a little angel and wanted to turn me away.
Ah no! I would not let myself be turned away!
I am from God and shall return to God!
The loving God will grant me a little light,
Which will light me into that eternal blissful life!

When she was head of the Canada Council I dealt with her often at Ottawa Airport – she was always warm, friendly and understanding – and often a little self-deprecating in her humour. One day I finally got up the nerve to remind her a party we were both at years before in Toronto. My friend Greg and his partner Robert threw a Canada Day fete at their apartment on Avenue Road. We use to have such silly piss-elegant affairs in those days. As I recall that one was an afternoon event with “hats for ladies” and “decorations to be worn” – and there were actually a few of our friends who could and did wear their medals. Maureen Forrester lived downstairs from them and came up to join us – wearing a hat and her Order of Canada. As I recalled the champagne flowed and at the climax of the party, Walter McNutt, a well known organist, choir master and composer, sat down at the baby grand – yes it was that sort of apartment – and struck up the first few chords of O Canada. We all began singing with this rich warm contralto voice leading us as we hymned our home and native land. Completely impromptu we let her solo on the second verse and then all came together for the refrain. I am ashamed to say none of us knew the third verse. We both had a chuckle – and when she chuckled you knew it – when I said I told my friends I had sung with Maureen Forrester.

She was a singer with a remarkable ability in a wide range of music – from Bach to Handel right up to Sullivan – of Gilbert and. Her comic timing was perfect and her sense of drama made her more serious roles some of the most intense portrayals I have ever seen. A combination of her and Jon Vickers in the Confrontation scene of Pique Dame still remains in my memory.

Here she is singing one of her first operatic roles – Gluck’s Orfeo. The grief stricken Orpheus, having lost his Euridice to death a second time, asks: Che faro senza Euridice – How can I live without my Euridice?

Sung the way it should be and the way she sang everything – perfect diction, clean style, perfect technique and heart … most of all she always sang from the heart.

23 giugno – Santi Martiri di Nicomedia

Another Great Leaves the Scene

In the only scene I remember from Mork and Mindy, Mork (Robin Williams in what I’m sure was one of his trademark ad libs) explains to Mindy that in Ork people “age backwards, sort of like Lena Horne.”

If anyone was ever ageless it was the divine Lena.

She was a fighter and lived to see much of that fight rewarded. Now she can rest.

10 maggio – San Cataldo

And Another Passing

Mercedes Sosa, a national treasure in Argentina and much loved throughout South and Latin America is the latest of what seems to be a passing parade of greats. She died today in Buenos Aires.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me two beams of light, that when opened,
Can perfectly distinguish black from white
And in the sky above, her starry backdrop,
And from within the multitude
The one that I love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me an ear that, in all of its width
Records— night and day—crickets and canaries,
Hammers and turbines and bricks and storms,
And the tender voice of my beloved.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me sound and the alphabet.
With them the words that I think and declare:
“Mother,” “Friend,” “Brother” and the light shining.
The route of the soul from which comes love.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me the ability to walk with my tired feet.
With them I have traversed cities and puddles
Valleys and deserts, mountains and plains.
And your house, your street and your patio.

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me a heart, that causes my frame to shudder,
When I see the fruit of the human brain,
When I see good so far from bad,
When I see within the clarity of your eyes…

Thanks to life, which has given me so much.
It gave me laughter and it gave me longing.
With them I distinguish happiness and pain—
The two materials from which my songs are formed,
And your song, as well, which is the same song.
And everyone’s song, which is my very song.

Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life
Thanks to life

Violeta Parra

It seems the world becomes a less brighter place to often these days.

Many thanks to Soror for posting this wonderful performance on YouTube.

05 ottobre – Santa Faustina Kowalska

Mercoledi Musicale

I’m a day late with this – which is why it has yesterday’s date at the bottom. The parade of passing greats just seems to go on and on. The renowned Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha died yesterday at the age of 86. She gave her last concert in 2003 at the age of 80, thus ending a 76 year career. Her first performance was at the age of 5. This performance of “La Campanella” is almost a brilliant as the woman herself.

I have many of her recordings and only wish I could have seen her live.

29 settembre – San Michele et angelli

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