Operacast is my New Best Friend. Despite the Csardasfürstin fiasco, I've been visiting daily and mastering the art of converting GMT, and I found something fun today. More Menotti, believe it or not. I was annoyed and sulking for most of The Saint of Bleecker Street the other night, but nevertheless it did penetrate somewhat and the more I've thought about it since, the more it - and Menotti generally - has interested me. So this afternoon I was really quite thrilled to see that a radio station somewhere in Oklahoma was broadcasting a Menotti double feature: The Medium and The Telephone
The Medium is an odd, dark little thing. Fake medium holds séance, has real ghostly experience, loses it, and eventually shoots daughter's mute boyfriend in a fit of paranoia. Bleecker Street it ain't, musically or dramatically, but it still has its charms, along with a few moments of brilliance: Monica's Waltz is the 'hit' of the show, but her haunting 'Mother, father, are you there?' which returns again and again, each time gathering sinister significance, is probably the best thing she sings. And the close of Act I, where Monica's ethereal tones float over Madame Flora's desperate, monotone repetition of the Ave Maria, is quite stunning. Menotti, I think, had a gift for characterisation if nothing else: Madame Flora's duped clients only appear relatively briefly, but in their words and their music we can hear the whole history of their grief; the sweet and fragile Monica contrasts sharply with her troubled and domineering mother; and even the frustrations and outpourings of the mute servant Toby can be heard in the music. All of this, of course, is helped along by the cast, which is excellent. The recording is the soundtrack from a 1950 film of the opera, and includes sound effects and extra music composed specifically for the film. Marie Powers is a simply stunning Madame Flora: a fabulously dark, dramatic mezzo voice which captures both the forcefulness and the vulnerability of her character. Anna Maria Alberghetti sings Monica, and is just gorgeous, blurring the line between herself and the ghosts she plays during the séance. Hers is exactly the voice the part requires: so light and sweet that at times it seems barely to be there, yet with enough depth never to lose a sense of character and emotion.
The Telephone, on the other hand, is fluffy and comic with no deep meanings to worry about. Ben has to go away, and wants to propose to the telephone-addicted Lucy, but naturally every time he starts to speak, she has to take or make a call. It's all very silly. But it's good fun, and Menotti (being, as usual, his own librettist) comes up with some great lines, while taking off as many musical styles as possible. And both Marilyn Cotlow (Lucy) and Frank Rogier (Ben) are excellent comedians and excellent singers, which helps.
The two Menotti works were followed by a celebration of Handel's birthday. I had hopes of a nice selection of various bits and pieces, but in fact all they did was put Renée's Handel CD on. Sigh. I still have issues with this CD. All in all, I like Renée a lot more these days than I used to, but I do wish she could just stick to the repertoire that flatters her. Her Mozart and Strauss is to die for. Her CD Signatures: Great Opera Scenes proves that somebody somewhere has a sense of what she ought to sing. But she seems determined to have a go at everything, and to record the results. When I was typing out Luisa Tetrazzini's words of wisdom for Antologia last night, I kept thinking it was like a letter to Renée from beyond the grave.
While it is well to cultivate versatility so far as possible, it is a mistake to sing music of a kind which you are not suited. Patti loved Wagner, for instance, and was a frequent visitor to Bayreuth. But she did not sing his music. She liked to hear it sung by others, but she realised that it was not for her. Voice, personality, training, temperament, all impose necessary limitations.
People blame me sometimes, for instance, for confining myself mainly to music of a certain school. But I think I know best as to this, and that I am exercising sound judgment in adopting this course. There is much music which I admire and love, but I do not always try to sing it. In the same way I may admire frocks which I see on other women, but I do not necessarily try to wear the same myself. I have the good sense to recognise that they would not suit me.
That's it exactly, don't you think?
Now listening to: Kiri Te Kanawa. 'La Flûte enchantée'. French Songs & Arias.