Wednesday, January 11, 2006


The post on Otto Klemperer brings this note from Bob Gartside, melodie-ist and singer extraordinaire. And a sweet guy.

Fischer-Dieskau was doing one of the Bach Passions with Klemperer and was dying at the slowness of the tempo, he aked the maestro if they could go faster. "Vell Fieskau" growls Klemperer, who always said 'Fieskau', "ve'll tink about it." Dieskau comes back the next day and says, "Maestro I had a dream that I met Bach and he agreed the tempi are too slow." "Oh", replied Klemperer, "Ve vill tink about it a little more." The next day at rehearsal, Klemperer calls Dieskau over and says, "Fieskau, I too dreamed I met Bach. He said he never heard of you!"


Sad news that soprano Birgit Nilsson has died at 87.
She was buried earlier today near her home in Sweden.
Without question, hers was the loudest and most impressive voice I ever heard close up.

Nilsson had left the US in the 1970s after a dispute with the IRS.
She returned in 1979.
I was a grad student then, living across from Lincoln Center, in the West Side Y!
I was on my way to a statistics study group on a Sunday morning when I saw the line snaking down Columbus Avenue. They were waiting for standing room tickets for Nilsson's "comeback" concert at the Met that evening, with Levine conducting. I got on line only because some of my buddies were there. The study went to hell. I got the very last standing room place. When the box office guy handed me my ticket, ($2!) he slammed the window down and left about 100 pissed off people behind me.

That night, from the third rail of standing room, I heard Nilsson.
The applause at her entrance was incredible. She was crying.
Levine was crying. The orchestra was crying. I was crying.
The first piece, "Dich teure Halle" did not go well, the A wobbled and she backed off. But it was wonderful when she opened her arms at the lines 'du, teure Halle!" (You, beloved hall!)She pulled herself together-and she was in her early sixties then-and went on. The inhalation Scene. Saloon finale. Brunnhilde's Battle Cry. All was well. It was a mighty wave of sound; a tsunami, hitting you right between the eyes. I actually felt my bones shaking. The applause lasted longer than the program. The lady was back.

I saw her again, as Elektra and the Farberin in 'Die Frau ohne Schatten'.
There wasn't much tone left by then, but there were volume and musicianship.
All the power was there, and there was plenty to enjoy.
Her recordings and broadcasts give a hint what hearing that voice 'live' was like,
that huge silver knife of a voice, that she could whittle down to a piano in the Liebesnacht, or as Lady Macbeth.

Even at the end, she was somethin'
I'll never forget her.
God rest her soul.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


You'll find the article on this blog in the September, 2005 archive.
Scroll on down.
Problems with access?
Let me know.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Recordings of the Mozart-da Ponte operas recently crossed my desk; two of them are long out of print and the remaining, Don Giovanni, is hard to find. These were recorded in London in the early 1970s, toward the end of the extraordinary life and career of their conductor, Otto Klemperer. Today they are considered old hat, unfashionable. I doubt these operas would be sung today in performance as Klemperer conducts these recordings. Why unfashionable? We'll get to that. First things first.

Otto Klemperer (1885-1973) was a German with a self destructive streak fueled by
bi polar disorder. In his manic moods he would take off, wander the earth, set himself on fire, sleep around, alienate musicians on and off the stage and generally be uncontrollable. His condition worsened after surgery for a brain tumor left half of his face paralyzed. He was quite the ladies man: his elopement with the married prima donna Elisabeth Schumann scandalized Germany eighty years ago. He had a long suffering wife and two children: His son Werner became famous as Colonel Klink in "Hogan's Heroes"-there was a lot more to Werner Klemperer than that, but I spent some time with him about ten years ago and he always spoke of "HH" with affection. Klemperer's daughter Lotte spent her life taking care of Papa; without her he might have been institutionalized, much less been able to work.

Werner and Lotte have since died. (Klemperer also founded the Kroll opera, one of Europe's most important companies, in Berlin in the 1920s: here he introduced new operas by Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Hindemith, Weill and Janacek. Put me in a time machine and take me back there; I would have loved to have experienced the Kroll opera.)

Klemperer came into a golden period in the early days of stereo, when he made a large number of recordings with the magnificent Philharmonia Orchestra, in London. Most of these are now available on CD; everything from Bach's B minor mass to symphonies of Bruckner and orchestral works of Richard Strauss. Klemperer's style is large, just short of ponderous, and intensely dramatic. His Bach and Mozart can sound overwhelming and too, well, too today's ears. Repeated listening will reveal as much orchestral detail as today's historically informed peformances. Mozart and Bach as played today give us the lighter textures and greater clarity we think the composers intended. Certainly we have performances of great beauty-and most importantly-great energy from conductors like Jacobs, Herreweghe,Rifkin, Hogwood and John Eliot Gardiner. Klemperer can be thought simply....slow. Even Werner Klemperer told me "Father's Cosi fan Tutte really is very slow."

Yes, maybe it is. The fizz and wit in all of Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan Tutte are harder to find in Klemperer's recordings. Some think with today's ears he has loved the music into stasis. I just obtained these recordings and cannot stop listening to them. Finding a balance between joy and sorrow is a terrible burden, and is critical, especially in Cosi fan Tutte. I expect Klemperer did not understand casual listening. He was working for audiences who listened over and over, who paid attention, and who allowed his performances to really get under the skin. The Cosi fan Tutte has an exquisite cast: the soprano Margaret Price (Fiordiligi) sings with a warmth and a glow recalling Eleanor Steber
(you voice students should know Steber) Teresa Berganza, Lucia Popp, and the wonderful tenore di grazia Luigi Alva, and Geraint Evans-too little recorded-all sing for the beauty of their own voices and they allow Klemperer's loving approach to the music to tell the story. This is a case of "just sing" but what singing!
This Cosi sounds to me both romantic and sad, but never slow.

The "Figaro" is on the heavy side even for me; but after all not much of this show should be played strictly for laughs. The irony and yes, some of the cruelty is more forward in this approach. I can still marvel at the simple beauty of the finale ("Contessa, perdono") but for the first time we get the hint that all will not end well(and it doesn't). Another great cast, especially one of my favorite artists, the soprano Elisabeth Soederstroem (Countess--voice students write that name down) Geraint Evans (Figaro) Reri Grist (Susanna) and Gabriel Bacquier (Conte).
There's a lovely story told about these recording sessions. The first scene, with Susanna and Figaro had just been recorded. Klemperer lit is pipe and was content. The recording producer, Suvi Raj Grubb asked that the scene be repeated. Klemperer was surprised. "Vy repeat?!...Miss Grist, are you satisfied?" "Yes, maestro" replied Reri Grist. "And Mr.Evans, are you pleased?" "I am maestro." Klemperer then turned to the orchestra and said "I too am pleased, but since Mr. Grubb is not pleased, we will do it again."

I haven't heard the Don Giovanni yet, but stay tuned.
These recordings have been a joy with which to launch this Mozart year.

And let's all read up on the Kroll Opera. REALLY stay tuned!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


It must be the Boston Irish in me, but my first view of any newspaper in any city is The Irish Sports Page, so called by my mother and grandmother. You know it as The Obituaries. Sadly, and with respect and gratitude, we have lost:

VICTORIA DE LOS ANGELES, age 82, the magnificent Spanish soprano whose repertoire embraced Provencal Chanson and Xavier Montsalvage and everything in between. Her many opera recordings will have you in tears: Don't miss her Madama Butterfly and Carmen; and of course in Spanish song she was peerless.

PIERO CAPPUCCILLI aged 76; Roman baritone, a smooth and elegant artist,he was made for the big baritone roles of Verdi which he sang beautifully.
Simon Boccanegra is a must have.

GHENA DIMITROVA, Bulgarian soprano, 63; A huge voice, memorable as Santuzza, Gioconda, Turandot. She was HOT when she came to the States just over 20 years ago. A huge American career didn't happen for her-but she was hardly unemployed. I saw her most recently as Eboli, in Pittsburgh a few years ago.

DOROTHY DOW- 85, American soprano. Sang premieres by Virgil Thomson and dramatic roles at La Scala. Made a wonderful recording of Schoenberg's ERWARTUNG with
Dimitri Mitropoulos over fifty years ago. She's still hard to beat.

CARLO MARIA GIULINI, 91; Italian conductor, He conducted Callas at La Scala, I think of him as a Mozartean for his superb recordings of Figaro and Don Giovanni and for his Brahms Symphonies, recorded in LA when he was music director there. Reinvented the use of cantabile for instrumentalists. One of the greats.

JAMES KING, 80; American tenor. Memorable as Siegmund, Walther, Lohengrin and Parsifal. Later taught at Indiana University. He was also a superb Florestan.

THEODORE UPPMAN, 85; American baritone. Created Billy Budd for Benjamin Britten. It's on recording. Get it. Uppman was also a superb Pelleas and Papageno, and did lot for American song. He was part of the great generation of American born singers that included Eleanor Steber, Robert Merrill, Richard Cassilly, and Phyllis Curtin. Upppman was an American original.

MARCELLO VIOTTI, 50, Italian conductor, collapsed in performance in Zurich. Much too young.

BEVERLY WOLFF American mezzo, 77; A leading artist of the New York City Opera, she was Sesto in the famous production of Giulio Cesare, with Beverly Sills and Norman Treigle. She created Douglas Moore's Carrie Nation-she had been a fine trumpet player before she took up singing!