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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Friday, August 10, 2007

Not really hidden, but treasures nonetheless

I have been wanting to post some more sound files of some singers. I have been putting off sketches and snippets of three singers that I have discovered not so long ago and that I really want to share. Proselytizing just comes in the genes, I guess.

But before I do that (and God knows when I will get around to doing that), I wanted to put up sound clips of a few of the singers that I mentioned in my last post.

First, Ninon Vallin, whom I find to be the quintessential French singer. She is well-known enough that I need not say too much about her. Her recordings of Louise and Werther with Georges Thill are definitive. She sings one of the most subtle thrilling renditions of the Falla "Siete cancionces popular espanolas" ever. No matter what she sings, she does it with such discipline and taste, such a flavor for the language and the style and such personal charisma that it is impossible to resist her. To me, she is in the Conchita Supervia mold, yet without that curious vibrato that is off-putting to so many listeners. Of Vallin is simply impossible to pick one selection, and yet, having to do so, I choose her "Dis-moi que je suis belle", the Mirror Aria from Thaïs.

Another singer who has made an enormous impression on me, but is not nearly as well-known as Vallin, is Friedel Beckmann. She was born in 1904 and had a provincial career in the German houses (Münster, Königsberg, Duisburg, Kiel) before arriving in 1938 at the Deutsches Opernhaus Berlin. I have done a little online research, but I have no information on how long she lived. She was particularly celebrated for her Orfeo and her Carmen, and evidently sang a good number of soprano roles as well, including Tatyana, Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Sieglinde and Giorgetta in Il tabarro (!). (Again, shades of Christa Ludwig, with whom she shares a certain plangent vocal quality, though Ludwig sang the Färberin, Leonore in Fidelio, the Marschallin, and a few Ariadnes, none of the soprano roles that Beckmann did.)

I simply adore this singer. Her most famous recording is probably a complete Matthäus-Passion under Günther Ramin from 1941 (with Lemnitz, Erb and Hüsch), as well as a Pfitzner song, "Ist der Himmel darum im Lenz so blau". I have heard parts of the Matthew Passion, and they do not sit so comfortably on our ears. The Pfitzner is exquisite; indeed, it is the first recording of hers that I ever heard, which convinced me of her extraordinary artistry in less than three minutes. But today I post one of her soprano assumptions, "Die Kraft versagt" from Hermann Goetz's Die Wiederspenstigen Zähmung (The Taming of the Shrew).

I also promised a snippet from Liane, the wonderful cabaret singer from the fifties. Her full name was Liane Augustin. I am not sure of her nationality, since her French, English and German all seem to my ear to have a slight accent. She made many recordings with the quaintly-named Boheme Bar Trio which were released on Vanguard Records and reissued less than ten years ago but which have went out of print almost immediately and which are not so easy to find. Some of her most charming are songs of the great American popular song composers, Gershwin and Cole Porter. For Liane I am actually posting two songs, the first her rendition of Porter's "C'est Magnifique" and the second an odd little novelty song called "Hallo, wer ist dort an der Tür". It's as saucy and suggestive as the Porter is sophisticated and classy.

Amazingly, I just found a youtube clip of her, from the 1958 Eurovision competition singing a song called "Die ganze Welt braucht Liebe" ("The Whole World Needs Love"). The sound and video quality are beyond horrible, but you get a nice idea of her charm and élan.

As for Carmen Melis, I listened to her Tosca last night and found it not terribly special. Let me qualify that statement, her characterization and sense of style are irreproachable, but the voice itself is rather shrill, though it is a good remastering. The extraordinary singer on this set is Apollo Granforte as Scarpia. I must post something of his performance here, and I have chosen the "Te Deum", though it is hardly my favorite Puccini moment. You can hear the way that his electric singing perfectly characterizes the animal intensity of this character. He is truly one of the great baritones. But don't get me started on baritones... Hugo Hasslo, Pavel Lisitsian, Giuseppe de Luca. That'll have to wait a while.

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