Saturday, September 15, 2007

Two Incomparable German Chick Singers, #1

I am taking a break from watching Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage (the six-part television series; it's a bit intense for viewing straight through) to post on two singers that move me deeply. Both of them are relatively new acquaintances of mine. I have known of them for years, but had never adequately explored their recordings. Thankfully in recent months I have rectified that situation.

A few months ago I was working in the kitchen, happily listening to a completely different recording (a matchless Pergolesi Stabat Mater with Maureen Lehane and Judith Raskin, who is another all-time favorite of mine and about whom I will compose an entry very soon. Let me just say in passing that she is the singer that she leaves in the dust these twittery, faceless American lyric sopranos of the past twenty-odd years).

At any rate, to get back on track, at the very satisfying conclusion of the Pergolesi, out of the blue I was struck, almost between the eyes, by this lush, creamy, magisterial voice singing "Vissi d'arte". I had to check to see who it was because I had no idea. Meta Seinemeyer. Ah, yes, a name that I knew and yet one with whose singing I had only a passing acquaintance. I had ripped a CD of her singing that I had borrowed from my friend David, with whom I almost always agree in matters aesthetic.

With Frieder Weissmann

Of course one of the the first things comes to mind to anyone who has heard the name Seinemeyer is that she died of leukemia at the tragically early age of thirty-three. She was romantically involved with the conductor Frieder Weissmann, who married her on her deathbed. So most of my knowledge of Seinemeyer was the tragic soap opera aspect of her life.

How lucky I was that I was able to get to know her through her recordings as well. They are not all that readily available. There is a Haenssler recording of selected recordings as well as a Preiser issue of her complete recordings. Here is another soprano who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the very greatest sopranos and yet who today has been nearly forgotten.

She was born in Berlin in 1895 and began her career there at the Charlottenburg Opera. Her career was centered in Dresden, where she sang the Duchess of Parma in the premiere of Busoni's Doktor Faust, as well as a host of Wagner, Verdi and Puccini roles. Her career extended to the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, to the United States, where she sang with the Manhattan Opera House, Oscar Hammerstein's New York company that for a time (1906-1910) was a serious artistic and financial rival to the Metropolitan. She also sang at the Wiener Staatsoper and, in some of the last performances of her career, at Covent Garden. It was immediately upon her return to Dresden that she became ill. She was only to sing five more performances there until her death, a mere ten weeks after singing the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, her final performance. (These details are available on the extremely informative website devoted to Seinemeyer.)
I strongly recommend that any lovers of great singing immediately search out this extraordinary singer. I could hardly choose which single recording to offer, but I chose Butterfly's entrance for the unspeakably beautiful B-flat she sings at the words 'ove s'accoglie'. As all my readers know by now, I never make pronouncements like this, but that may be one of the most perfect notes I have ever heard in my life. Hearing it knocks the wind out of me.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Rose Ader: Liù piange

Here is another great soprano. If you were to demand the name of the most beautiful voice I have ever heard, I might choose Rose Ader (1890-1955). Here is another singer about whom very little is known. I know her because of my friend the amazing Mike Richter, whose site on singers and singing, which changes every week, has published a special page on her life and artistry.

Not much of substance is known about the Austrian soprano. For twelve seasons, her career was centered in Hamburg. It was there in 1921 that she sang the first performance of Puccini's Suor Angelica in Germany. She emigrated with her family to Austria in 1933, went from there to Italy where they remained until after the war, at which time she emigrated to Argentina, where she ended her days.
There are very few recordings extant. Mike has posted all of these on his Rose Ader page. Only two recordings, of the Mimì arias, were ever published. There remain some Parlophone test pressings, including one of "Un bel dì" that simply must be heard.

Mind you, Ader appears, at least on the basis of these few recordings, not to have been the most scrupulous of musicians. She drags the beat incessantly and several of her entrances are not even close to being in tempo. But have you ever heard creamier high notes? Or the end of the aria handled with such aplomb? I don't think I have.

Puccini wrote the role of Liù with her in mind. In fact, she and Puccini were lovers. I found for sale online an autograph letter from Puccini to Ader, which the seller translates thus:

"Mia cara Rose, it hurts me to hurt you! But I must do it for your own good - it doesn't matter if I suffer - you have a future and with me you have no luck. I can do nothing or little for you... Frankly it would be better to finish it - to remain friends and send news of one another once in a while. You know that I want only good things for you and desire all the good fortune in the world for you. You are used to a life that's bright - beautiful - and staying with me, what life would you lead? Think about it seriously - it gives me much pain to think you are not happy. I received your two letters [what I wouldn't give to know what she wrote there!] and I did not want to write you right away - I am working and feeling well enough - My poets have not given me the third act [of Turandot]! Liù weeps and in writing the music I think of you, my poor and sweet and good Rose! Affectionately, your Giacomo."

As the seller of this autograph points out, Ader may very well have inspired Puccini as he composed the music to what was purportedly his favorite heroine (the masochistic ends to which she subjects herself tells us much about Puccini's treatment of women in general), Ader was denied the opportunity to create the role of Liù, a distinction which went to Maria Zamboni instead. If one knows Zamboni's recording of "Signore, ascolta" then one knows what an idiosyncratic , histrionic and rather unlovely Liù she made.

More later on other exquisite Liùs. But for now, enjoy the voice of this woman whom, in spite of her artistry and voice, is remembered today only as the most cursory footnote in music history.

Clearly she deserves better than that!

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