Last week I posted several music videos of Eileen Farrell, a crossover artists par-excellence from the past. And earlier this week my good friend David over at I’ll Think of Something Later posted several videos of Anita Rachvelishvili, the Georgian mezzo-soprano, who is well on her way to becoming one of today’s major opera stars. And if today’s MM is any indication a major crossover artist as well. They do say that Gershwin is a test of any singer and frankly in my mind she passes the test. And the work of pianist/conductor Nikoloz Rachveli and his crew is pretty damn fine on this and her other jazz recordings.
She first came to notice and notoriety in 2009 when as a 25 year old she opened the season at La Scala as Carmen along with tenor-heart throb Jonas Kaufmann in a controversial production by Emma Dante. I had thought of heading up to Milan but decided I really didn’t need to see another Carmen. More fool me – by the time I decided that maybe I should see what the buzz was about there wasn’t a ticket to be had! I had missed my chance to see two superstars of today’s opera world.
As David note she is a dramatic mezzo in the great tradition but rather than show the fireworks that she is capable of – and anyone who heard or saw her Amneris in Aida or the Princess in Adriana Lecouveur from the Met can tell you she has all the power and brilliance of a Roman Candle – I’d post a video that shows her in a more lyrical light. From a Bastille Day Concert in Paris she sing an aria from Sappho, a Gounod rarity.
Should I ever get another chance to see her on stage – and I never say never – I won’t be passing it up again.
Yesterday I spoke of Sappho’s Ode to Aphrodite (Stin Aphroditi) until 2004 the only complete poem by the Lesbian poet known to be in existence. An invocation to the Goddess of Love for assistance with unrequited love, it was a lyric poem meant to be recited to the plucking of the strings of a lyre. The text is Aeolic Greek and is written in what we know as Sapphic stanza: three long lines of identical metre followed by a shorter fourth.
There are seven stanzas: the first three invoke the Goddess in the appropriately flowery terms of a supplicant. In the next three Aphrodite appears to Sappho, hears her complaint against the woman she loves, and the Goddess assures her that things will soon change. The poem ends with the poet imploring the Goddess to always aid her in matters of love.
Unfortunately the récitante and lyre player on this recording are uncredited which is a shame as the music of both her voice and the instrument are true lyric poetry.
The best known translation of Sappho’s work is by the American classicist Elizabeth Vandiver. The following link with take you to her translation, notes and metrical explanation: Ode to Aphrodite .
No I’m not planning a change of orientation (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!*)
Back in the summer of 2008 the Greek courts entertained a request from three residents of the island of Lesbos. They wanted to ban the use of the word lesbian to describe gay women as they felt it compromised their identity as “true” Lesbians. During the hearing one resident, sporting a badge declaring “My name is Paul and I’m a Lesbian”, unfurled a banner declaring: If you are not from Lesbos, you are not a Lesbian. On the other side a defense witness, rather reasonably citing tradition and finance said, “The term has been used worldwide for centuries and has even helped the island, boosting tourism.” He further stated, “My daughter has no problem being called a Lesbian, even though she’s not a lesbian”. Which must have confused the court just a bit without benefit of the written differentiation.
Taking less than the two or three months they felt they might need the Court ruled the word did not define the identity of the residents of the island, and so it could be validly used by gay groups in Greece and abroad. Paul can proclaim his Lesbianism to the blue seas of the Aegean and no one should question his sexuality or his nationality.
So why this sudden interest in what is after all old news? Well to be honest it was the death the past week of the British actress Fanella Fielding. And? She was a Lesbian? Well no and neither to the best of my knowledge was she a lesbian. However I was reminded that Laurent saw her back in 2015 in a reading of Euripides’ Alexandros by the Actors of Dionysus (AOD). I recall being rather startled and amused by her being cast as Hekuba in a reconstruction of a play long thought lost that was written as part of a trilogy back in 415. My memories where of a smokey voiced vamp in the Doctor and Carry On movies and a bit of a cult figure of British theatre and cinema. Laurent assured me that her performance was a powerful one and I notice that almost every obituary referred to a performance she gave in Hedda Gabler as being one of the great moments in British theatre. She continued working until several weeks before she died at the age of 91 in early September.
That’s all very well and good but what has that to do with Lesbos? Beginning in 2012 she worked extensively with the AOD in their efforts to expand the knowledge and performance of ancient Greek drama. And that brings us to the Sapphic connection: one of the projects was a recording of 15 of the fragments of the Lesbian (note the capital L) poet’s works. It is thought that Sappho wrote over 10,000 lines of lyric poetry (meant to be sung to instrumental accompaniment); of those 10,000 only 600 to 700 have survived. Until recently the only complete poem was the Ode to Aphrodite which gives evidence that the poetess’s preference was for her own sex but that has been long a matter of debate. The little excerpt from the recording I was able to find appears to be a new translation of lines from what is called the Tithonus poem – the poet’s thoughts on old age discovered in 2004. Strangely this translation leaves out the central passage linking the advance of old age to the sad myth of Eos and Tithonus that gives the fragment its title.
There is a sweet almost mocking acceptance of aging in the words of the poet; and it is echoed in this performance by the 87 year old actress some 2500 years later.
And it was a search for information about Sappho and her poetry that turned up the story that began this whole ramble. Such is the wonder of the Internet and the vagaries of my own aging mind.
*Full points to anyone who get’s the reference.
**Concerning Famous Women is a collection of biographies of historical and mythological women written by Boccaccio in 1361-62. It is the first collection devoted exclusively to biographies of women in Western literature.
Telling the stories of the history of the port of Charlottetown and the marine heritage of Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown