Thursday, August 20, 2009

Re-evaluation time

You know the drill. Sometimes you dismiss an artist/singer as "not your cup of tea" for many years.

Curiously, you reinvestigate and suddenly, BAM, you totally get what they're trying to do. And you can't remember why exactly you didn't like so-and-so, even when you go back to what you had previously experienced when making your first evaluation.

That's happened big-time for me with Eleanor Steber and to a lesser extent Hildegard Behrens.

As you may know, Hildegard Behrens recently passed away in Japan. Obits and retrospectives and starting to sprout, and in the manner of hagiography, more people are speaking of her refulgent and glorious voice than I think were willing to do so while she was still alive (but not actively performing).

The best description I've read of her as an artist is "a true artist adroitly handling an indifferent voice" (JJ of parterre [I believe] when comparing Behrens to a singer who indifferently handled a marvelous voice). The minor revelation came when Nick Scholl posted clips of Behrens in a 1994 outing of Elektra at the Met.

For considerable stretches of the singing, there is a new body to the sound that I hadn't associated with her voice (certainly not present in the singing of the Farberin for Solti) which I always had thought rather washed out pastel in tone color. Slightly whiny and weak-sounding, even though the voice by all accounts had impressive thrust and cut.

These Elektra clips show a more balanced voice -- an upper register that, for the most part, feels anchored in one place rather than the unstable, moorless sound I first associated with her.

Here is an impressive Isolde from Behrens (comparatively early in '81 with Bernstein conducting). The connection is in place. It's certainly more consistent than even in the Elektra.

Weh, ganz allein!

This is in marked contrast with her Kaiserin (it's more dramatic in comparison to her Farberin, but that isn't on the interwebbbbssss)

(Also, why does lesbian sex come up when I do a google video search for "hildegard behrens mozart"?)

Speaking of this very "aria" -- this is the very aria that caused me to re-evaluate Eleanor Steber. I had listened early on to a couple clips -- I think the Ballatella from Pagliacci, a Spectre de la rose (which I thought very bruising after Crespin's, which might be an unfair comparison, since it irrevocably redefined modern conceptions of the piece away from what Maggie Teyte held), but it certainly wasn't this stunning Come scoglio (English) (bonus picture in the last couple minutes of young Steber looking like Renee Fleming).

Steber was famously always fighting what she thought was Met's management underutilization of her. Terribly undiplomatic is how I think people would put it if they were kind. In any event, she arranged a Carnegie Hall recital in which she trotted out an INSANE lineup. The Kaiserin's first act Aria, her Third Act monologue, Qui la voce from Puritani, and a whole crapton of others.

Listening to the below, it brings everything back to focus. I get her singing now.

Ist mein Liebster dahin?

Pace pace

(She has some freaky eye movements though, which makes me think she might have been kind of unbelievable whilst acting. No such worries about Behrens (and OMG, Crespin's performance demeanor is stunning. You can't take your eyes off her) -- while for me, she crosses over a bit into over-the-top flaily flail that Dessay does a lot (and I like not so much in her case either), I haven't ever seen her "singing" even when the camera is shoved in her face. Steber definitely is singing, however well, in the closeups of the Ballatella.)

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