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Thursday, February 16, 2006

TOUCHSTONE PERFORMANCES

My cyber buddy Steve up in Cleveland-never met him-trades CDs with me of favorite broadcast performances. Recently he sent me a 1937 broadcast of "Lohengrin" from the Met in New York, with Kirsten Flagstad and the Belgian tenor Rene Maison. We were both trying to come up with performances we heard live or on record that really stayed with us.

My love for opera was nurtured by the Met broadcasts, so my earliest memories were heard not seen. Chief among them was the Norma broadcast in 1970 with Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne and Carlo Bergonzi (my favorite tenor).
I have this on CD and need to be in the right mood, but thirty six years later I can still kvell to those voices. Yes, I'd like a firmer conductor, and yes I'd like a bit more bite in the attacks, but if you want it "like buttah" this is it.
I will never forget -at 13!-hearing this broadcast live and am grateful to still be able to enjoy it.

The March 30, 1940 broadcast of "Die Walkure", with Marjorie Lawrence, Lotte Lehmann and Lauritz Melchior was way even before my time, but to me the excitement leaps through the speakers two generations later. All of the artists are completly "into" their roles. Lehmann's ecstasy in Act I and her fear and hysteria throughout the opera are riveting...nearly X rated. Melchior sings the music with a wonderful, arrongant disdain for the composer's markings, but he is immensely moving in the Todesverkundingen scene. Marjorie Lawrence was 31 for this broadcast. A few months later she would contract polio and spend the rest of her life, she died in 1979 in a wheelchair. She is a fearless, radiant Valkyre.

I did hear a Rigoletto broadcast in 1968, with Robert Merrill, Carlo Bergonzi and Anna Moffo. This was my first Met broadcast. Bergonzi is the prince among tenors.
Merrill made me cry. Still does, God rest his soul.

Also broadcast, a Tristan und Isolde with Birgit Nilsson and Jess Thomas, back in 1971. My first Wagner.
The recent (2005) boradcat of Wozzeck was another high point for me. I listened to it on a five mile walk thorugh my neighborhood. Beethoven and Brhams strolled the Prater listneing to the birds. Me, I'm hoofing thorugh Columbus Ohio listening to Wozzeck. Go figure.

On stage, Sarah Caldwell's 1972 production of Prokofiev's War and Peace was a miracle; all of Russia on a postage stamp sized stage. Had there been a greater
orchestra and conductor it might have been too much to bear. Sarah is elderly and retired now. A book needs to be written about her astonishing productions. Beverly Sills as Violetta convinced you that this big hearty lady really was dying of consumption. Birgit Nilsson's Met comeback in 1979, all Wagner. I got the last standing room place. The guy took my $2(!) and slammed the box office window shut.
Nilsson began with Dich teure Halle-it twenty minutes for the audience to calm down BEFORE she began to sing-what is it A flat at 'du, teure HAL-le' faltered a bit then recovered and shook the walls.

Peter Sellars's moving production of Handel's Giulio Ceasare' set in the Beirut Hilton, with Casesar a Ronald Reagan lookalike.

I'm excited about where we are with opera today.
The recent successes of Margaret Garner-deliberatley written in a populist style,off putting to some-and An Ameicna Tragedy are comforting. Peter Lieberson is writing magnificent arts songs. So would you if you were married
to Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and young tenor Juan Diego Florez has reminded us that singing should above all be a joyful act, for artists and audiences.

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