|Lucine Amara as Aida|
Recently I programmed the famous recording of La boheme conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, with Jussi Bjoerling, Victoria de los Angeles, Robert Merrill, Giorgio Tozzi...and Lucine Amara as Musetta. Mimi was her role-Amara never sang Musetta on stage, she learned it for the recording. A recording that has never been out of print. Great as the performance is, the recording sessions weren't all smooth sailing. I wanted to know more, so I picked up the phone, nervy guy that I am, and phoned Lucine Amara.
Here's some of our talk, recorded June 26, 2012:
(I've been unable to post the recorded conversation-I'm sorry you won't hear Miss Amara's laughter or get the wonderful sense of her that was so clear even on the phone)
CP: And the tape as running at this time?
LA: The tape was running. So we had do to another take-and the same thing happened! So finally, I had to grip the music stand with both hands to keep from rushing!
CP: There's a clip of you on youtube singing in New York just a few months ago. And its astonishing because its the singing of a much younger woman. You sang Adriana Lecouvreur and Porgi amor...how do you keep your voice?
LA: Well, I must tell you, I'm 87 years old and I don't vocalize any more. But I still sing. I don't have my high C any more, but I still sing. the Adriana aria and Porgi amor or whatever, but if I need to I'll have my accompanist transpose it down a bit so I won't have the trouble with the high notes.
CP:: Well, why not? Ponselle did it, too, so why not?
LA: Right! Exactly! I sing all the notes-it doesn't matter if its not the right pitch. But I wouldn't be able to sing O patria mia, now.
CP: You sang it a lot-Aida was one of your most performed roles
LA: Yes, but Micaela was my most performed role. I sang one hundred performances of Micaela. I sang it when I was fifty-two years old!
CP: I heard that. I heard you often on the Met tour in Boston, and later in Forza in New York
And I don't know if I should tell you this, but I have all the pirate recordings..
LA: Wonderful! I'm glad! Really I'm happy, and I'm happy when friends send me copies of the pirates because then I have a record
CP:: Where did you get your technique:
A: My technique came from my teacher in San Francisco. Her name was Stella Eisner Eyn. She had been a soprano in Vienna. Her husband and her step- daughter were killed in London in the blitz. After that she came to San Francisco. When I was beginning with the violin, my father bought me a violin, and when we moved out to California my mother felt I should continue with the violin. Then my cousin said to me, 'Why don't you give up that squeak box and take some voice lessons', because I was singing in the church choir.
When I went for the first lesson, I walked in the door and I knew who she (Stella Eisner Eyn) was, because I had been to several of her concerts. So I looked at her and said I know who you are, I've been to your concerts. And she looked at me and said, I know who you are, I take my shoes to your father's shoe repair shop!
When I started taking voice lessons I used to take the cable car, come home, have some graham crackers and milk and run to my lesson. But I couldn't sing above a G-I didn't know why. One day I was late so I went directly to her home for the lesson, she fixed us some Turkish coffee and we chatted for a few minutes, then she said let's do some vocalises...so I got up and was able to sing A-flat, A, B-flat, B and she stopped. What are you doing differently today? Nothing. Well, did you skip something you usually do before a lesson? I didn't have time for my snack, graham crackers and milk. It turns out I was creating so much phlegm from the milk that I couldn't sing. No more milk for me.
CP:: And it worked!
LA: And it worked, and she had the most beautiful tone, and she would just sit at the piano and sing. And that's really what I learned. I mimicked her. She had a pianissimo that was so glorious and she had a scale that trained you to sing pianissimo.
|Lucine Amara and her daughter, Evelyn LaQuaif|
...a young singer came to me to coach the Countess (Figaro) She sang Porgi amor. Glorious. Beautiful voice. But there was nothing behind it. Nothing.
I said, do you realize how tortured this woman is, because her husband wants to sleep with Susanna, and you're singing that aria as though its nothing. You're signing (sings) Por-giamor...qul che ristoro (straight tone, correct, no imagination) What does that tell you, nothing. And you're not enunciating your words.
Sings : Pogi a-mor...qual che ris storo...
CP: Wow! May I say, you still got it!
LA: (laughter) Thank you!