Follow by Email

Thursday, November 02, 2006

INTERVIEW WITH DAME JOAN SUTHERLAND

I was lucky enough to snag an interview yesterday with Dame Joan Sutherland,
on the phone from Sydney. Dame Joan celebrates her 80th birthday on November 7th.
Certainly she was an astonishing artist, one I heard many times dating back to 1970, and one I shall never forget.










The kindly press office at Opera Australia told me to call Dame Joan on November 1st at 4 p.m. my time. They must have told Dame Joan something else. Here's our conversation:

CP: Hello, this is Christopher Purdy from Ohio for Dame Joan Suth--
JS: You're a day late!
CP: Late? Uh...I'm sorry, I was told November 1st my time
JS: And today's the 2nd isn't it...and here you are
CP: Yes. I'm sorry. Can we speak now?
JS: Well, its a day late but go ahead.

At this point my trusty engineer was having trouble securing the connection for recording this interview. So now I'm a "day late" AND keeping Dame Joan Sutherland waiting on the phone. We do not do much small talk.

CP: Thank you for waiting, Dame Joan. We can begin now.
JS: Good!

CP: It is one of the great honors of my life to speak with Dame Joan Sutherland who is on the phone from her home in Sydney-welcome, Dame Joan

JS: Thank you very much!

CP: I know you were influenced early in your singing life by your mother. I wonder if you could describe your mother's voice.

JS: Well mother was a mezzo soprano and her teacher wanted her to go abroad and study in Paris and so on, but she said she was too nervous and didn't want a career and she didn't want all that. She wanted to go to the cricket matches and be with her friends and so on.

CP: Did you listen to her from her earliest childdhood?
JS: Oh yes, I used to sit at her feet and listen to her practise from the time I was quite small.

CP: Did she think you would have a great career?
JS: I don't think she imagined the success I eventually had, but she knew the material was there and she knew that it would mean a lot of hard work.

CP: Did your voice always have that trill and that agility?
JS: The trill was always there, yes. I never sort of pursued the agility so much.
I followed my mother who was a lyric mezzo. So I sort of put a lid on my voice because I wanted to sound like her.

CP: And I know that Kirsten Flagstad was a singer you greatly admired
JS: Oh I adored the voice of Flagstad. That was really an incredible person. And with a wonderful appearance when she sang -she was totally involved.

CP: Recently here at the station we played a recording of Lucia made in London in 1959-that was the production that brought you international fame. What do you remember about those performances?

JS: I have the feeling there's something wrong with the second part of the mad scene there. There's something wrong with transferring the tape-it's pitched too high
But the production was wonderful. Zeffirelli was the producer and Serafin conducted.
I just saw Lucia in Brisbane with my husband conducting up there. And the Australian
opera set was nearly a copy of that Zeffirelli set. Every single set I've worked in in Lucia over years, people remembered that Zeffirelli set and it's been re produced
so many times since 1959. And again in Brisbane it was very much that physical production except now it has someone else's name on it...

CP: I know that 1959 production in London was very important for you but it was important for Lucia ,too. The opera hadn't been done for a long time

JS: No, back then it hadn't been done in years

CP: Another opera I have great memoreis of your performances at the Met was Norma.
That's a pinnacle for so many artists and it was unforgettable then

JS: Well, it's an unforgettable opera. It's a great piece. It's probably one of my favorites, if not my favorite. That and Esclarmonde

CP: What makes Norma a favorite?
JS: I think she's a very recognizably human person, where some of the characters are rather cardboard

CP: How is it you sounded fresh at the end of Norma? That's a long sing
JS: Oh it has a few breaks in it. You learn how to sing it with confidence and you learn the pitfalls, and you get to be confident about singing the role.

CP: And Massenet's Esclarmonde-that was an opera nobody knew. I don't think it had been done since Sybil Sanderson-this great French Wagner pageant. It was a big hit

JS: It was terrific. And I was amazed when Decca decided to delete the recording. I thought that was ridiculous. I was amazed because it was the only recording of the piece. So I was hot on the telephone saying what on earth do you think your'e doing? Not because I'm singing but because it's the only recording of it.

CP: I think they listened to you because I saw it the other day

JS: Oh yes, now it has been repoduced many times over
CP: How did you ever find Esclarmonde?
JS: I didn't. My husband did. He read a lot about Massenet along with the Italian bel canto composers. And he read that Massenet thought it was his best work. He found tattered copies of the vocal score in Paris, and later was fortunate enough to buy the complete orchestral score when it came up for auction.

CP: One of my regrets is that I did not get to see you in Alcina
JS: That was a great piece. I loved all the Handel I did. Rodelinda, Julius Caesar.

CP: And what about singing today? What are you hearing? You told me you were at a big competition last night in Sydney.
JS: Very good voices! There were a lot of male voices. In fact there was only one woman last night. And I think Richard and I agreed on the winner. The young woman was quite good but the young man who won, from Western Australia, I think he'll do very well

CP: Are there specific young artists today you admire who you are following with interest?

JS: Well there are very good voices here certainly, but I don't follow it too much. I've had a few difficulties recently with arthritis, and just recently with knee replacement surgery. So I don't get about like I once did. So I tend to rely on recordings and television. I go when I can. I'm not that drawn to it I'm afraid. I don't like the producitons. I don't like all this updating and stagings that don't go along with the music

CP: Well, let's change the subject to something happier! How will you be spending your birthday?

JS: At home. A nice birthday lunch at home in Switzerland. Lots of things were on offer. One of our friends wanted to do a big party at his restuarant but we'll just be back from Australia. We're leaving on Friday-and Friday in case you don't know is tomorrow (laughs). But here we are. We finally made it!

CP: Touche! And I've waited all my life! (both laugh)

Do you realize how important your recorded legacy is?

JS: Well I mean I hear people saying they seem to play it everywhere. They take recordings with them and play them in the car. I'm very gratified that people enjoyed what I did. I wouldn't have lasted as long as I did if people hadn't enjoyed it.
It was great--Richard and I did a lot work on preparing the pieces. And I like to go along with him now and see what he's doing

CP: Where is Mr. Bonynge now?
JS: Right now he's upstairs, fast asleep!

CP: I want to wish you a happy birthday. Thank you very much-for everything.
JS: Well thank you, thank you for all your good wishes.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

MARILYN HORNE AT OBERLIN 2006

Late October has come to mean Marilyn Horne's annual visit to Oberlin College.
If the beauty of the campus in mid fall tends to lull us into a happy stupor, the
energy of this lady-cetainly the greatest artist I ever heard live
(and I heard her a lot, praise God)is a terrific tonic.

Now in her seventies, Miss Horne looked great following a year battling health problems. She was radiant in attendance at the Florez recital that afternoon, and lavish in her praise of this great young singer. I remember a line from her memoir: "I've always been thrilled by great singing, period!" (Me too).

Miss Horne had been in Oberlin for several days of masterclasses and private coachings. I heard the last public masterclass, with an impressive crowd for a cold Sunday night. There were five students. All attractive, all musical and all blessed.

To a young soprano singing "Prendi, per me" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore:

Wonderful. Just great. I really don't have much to say.
Now listen. When you do that descent on 'prendi' the very first word.
Give me more D in prenDI. A little bite here is good.
Listen, you're an attractive girl. I want you to use that bod you've got!
Use your hands and your face.....OK. The coloratura needs more energy. You gotta pick it up a bit because the pitch will sag otherwise. Now look, you have a lovely voice. But I want you to sing louder. I don't mean to push or force in any way, but you are being a little too careful. Sing out.

(When she sang out it was a pealing, silvery voice. Exquisite)

To a young tenor singing Si ritrovarla from La Cenerentola

This young man met Juan Diego this afternoon. Juan Diego asked him what's your reportoire and I piped right up and said, "Yours!"
This was very good. But I want you to keep it Right Here..forward, in the mask-always. Especially with this, so much legato and then all that coloratura-you know I'm all about support. Your body has to work all the time, the entire body to provide the enrgy you need for this music.

(If this kid can bring some ring and support into his top notes, he'll go far. He's a baby still and his singing was mighty impressive)

To a young soprano singing Porgi amor from Le nozze di Figaro

Well! You have a very big voice, don't you? Wonderful. There aren't that many out there. But you are singing this too carefully. It's perfectly fine to sing this with a big voice. But use it....Oh, my I'm getting a wiggle in your voice. I think it's because you are holding back. Don't. Sing it. Also be very careful of your placement. C'mon...right here... right between the eyes. See? You sang out and no more wiggle. I want you to be very aware of that. You can fix it. Breathe low and support. You need to fill yourself with that good compressed air-and then keep feeding the breath slow and steady. Look, this is a difficult aria-its the first thing she sings and it must be rock steady. It's really all about technique. But with a big voice like yours
you really have to use it all-or else that wiggle. You can fix that. Your voice is wonderful!

A young man came out to sing Richard Strauss's Befreit. A long, higly emotional and dramatic lied. The voice was good and the musicianship very good. I'll bet Dieskau himself found this song a challenge. This young man was twenty-two. To him, Miss Horne said "Great. Wonderful. Just great. I really have nothing to say except congratulations!"

And last but not least, a young woman with another Strauss lied "Allerseelen". Her somewhat nasal production was attended to. Right here! A little higher, between the eyes. Miss Horne was big on using the entire body. No standing rock still for her.
You must engage everything. And very quickly, our Allerseelen artist came out with a march larger, warmer and rosy tone.
She also sang Allerseelen again, this time with real commtimewnt. In ten minutes there was a dramatic difference.

By this time it appeared Miss Horne was tired. It had been a long day. And certainly a wonderful day for music. The kung pao chicken at the local Chinese bistro wasn't bad either. And let me by all means acknowledge the gifted painists, Howard Lubin and Daniel Michalak, great musicans both, not fazed by anything, and totally in support of the young artists.

Now stop reading this and go play one of MArilyn Horne's recordings.

MARILYN HORNE AT OBERLIN 2006

Late October has come to mean Marilyn Horne's annual visit to Oberlin College.
If the beauty of the campus in mid fall tends to lull us into a happy stupor, the
energy of this lady-cetainly the greatest artist I ever heard live
(and I heard her a lot, praise God)is a terrific tonic.

Now in her seventies, Miss Horne looked great following a year battling health problems. She was radiant in attendance at the Florez recital that afternoon, and lavish in her praise of this great young singer. I remember a line from her memoir: "I've always been thrilled by great singing, period!" (Me too).

Miss Horne had been in Oberlin for several days of masterclasses and private coachings. I heard the last public masterclass, with an impressive crowd for a cold Sunday night. There were five students. All attractive, all musical and all blessed.

To a young soprano singing "Prendi, per me" from Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore:

Wonderful. Just great. I really don't have much to say.
Now listen. When you do that descent on 'prendi' the very first word.
Give me more D in prenDI. A little bite here is good.
Listen, you're an attractive girl. I want you to use that bod you've got!
Use your hands and your face.....OK. The coloratura needs more energy. You gotta pick it up a bit because the pitch will sag otherwise. Now look, you have a lovely voice. But I want you to sing louder. I don't mean to push or force in any way, but you are being a little too careful. Sing out.

(When she sang out it was a pealing, silvery voice. Exquisite)

To a young tenor singing Si ritrovarla from La Cenerentola

This young man met Juan Diego this afternoon. Juan Diego asked him what's your reportoire and I piped right up and said, "Yours!"
This was very good. But I want you to keep it Right Here..forward, in the mask-always. Especially with this, so much legato and then all that coloratura-you know I'm all about support. Your body has to work all the time, the entire body to provide the enrgy you need for this music.

(If this kid can bring some ring and support into his top notes, he'll go far. He's a baby still and his singing was mighty impressive)

To a young soprano singing Porgi amor from Le nozze di Figaro

Well! You have a very big voice, don't you? Wonderful. There aren't that many out there. But you are singing this too carefully. It's perfectly fine to sing this with a big voice. But use it....Oh, my I'm getting a wiggle in your voice. I think it's because you are holding back. Don't. Sing it. Also be very careful of your placement. C'mon...right here... right between the eyes. See? You sang out and no more wiggle. I want you to be very aware of that. You can fix it. Breathe low and support. You need to fill yourself with that good compressed air-and then keep feeding the breath slow and steady. Look, this is a difficult aria-its the first thing she sings and it must be rock steady. It's really all about technique. But with a big voice like yours
you really have to use it all-or else that wiggle. You can fix that. Your voice is wonderful!

A young man came out to sing Richard Strauss's Befreit. A long, higly emotional and dramatic lied. The voice was good and the musicianship very good. I'll bet Dieskau himself found this song a challenge. This young man was twenty-two. To him, Miss Horne said "Great. Wonderful. Just great. I really have nothing to say except congratulations!"

And last but not least, a young woman with another Strauss lied "Allerseelen". Her somewhat nasal production was attended to. Right here! A little higher, between the eyes. Miss Horne was big on using the entire body. No standing rock still for her.
You must engage everything. And very quickly, our Allerseelen artist came out with a march larger, warmer and rosy tone.
She also sang Allerseelen again, this time with real commtimewnt. In ten minutes there was a dramatic difference.

By this time it appeared Miss Horne was tired. It had been a long day. And certainly a wonderful day for music. The kung pao chicken at the local Chinese bistro wasn't bad either. And let me by all means acknowledge the gifted painists, Howard Lubin and Daniel Michalak, great musicans both, not fazed by anything, and totally in support of the young artists.

Now stop reading this and go play one of MArilyn Horne's recordings.

JUAN DIEGO FLOREZ AT OBERLIN

Sunday, October 30, 2006

Juan Diego Florez sang a recital at Oberlin College's Finney chapel today to a cherring, stamping, shouting crowd the like of which I haven't heard since the autumnal days of Callas and Tebaldi. The difference was, as Marilyn Horne commented later "You are hearing a magnificent artist in his absolute prime with all engines running and everything working."

Florez had an ingratiating "aw shucks" stage demeanor, endless legato, perfectly placed coloratura-no machine gun apsirating here-and ringing high Cs
(and Ds, thank you very much). Tonio's aria from Fille du regiment was the first of three encores!

The program opened with three Mozart arias: from Die Zauberfloete, Il re pastore and Il mio tesoro (Don Giovanni).
The tone was evenly porduced and the languages sung with undertanding and love. Il mio tesoro ran on with the elegance and effortlessness heard on the classic John McCormack recording made ninety years ago. There were Rossini arias from Il turco in Italia and Elisabetta d'Inghliterra. In this last Florez any semblance of youth and humor and became a warrior.There were luscious Peruvian songs, and an exquisite "Ouvre tes bleu yeux" by Massenet, which was all about line. Refreshingly, Florez ended the printed program with a contemplative aria from Donizetti's Linda di Chamonix.

Florez's stage presence sometimes threatened to induce sea sickness-he's a bopper and weaver-but to see this wonderful looking young man sing his heart out so thrillingly, well-like the song says, "I'll tell my grandchildren."

Encores: Ah, mes amis; La donna e mobile and one more Latin song.
The audience would have kept him all night.
This was first rate bel canto. Pianist Vincent Scalera matched Florez note for note for energy and elegance.

Not even the death of my van in the Oberlin parking lot at 11 pm-which had to be towed to Columbus ($377.88!) at 3 a.m. spoiled the sound of that wonderful singing and playing still ringing through my sleepy ears.