Thursday, January 22, 2009

Great Singing is Alive and Well... If You Look for It

Why do I admire opera singers so much? Well... they are very good at what they do. You'd think that it doesn't take much skill to sing something in tune, but... can you sing what the two virtuoso mezzo soprani in the clip below sing? Live? Un-microphoned? While acting?

The first singer is Vivica Genaux, the young American from Alaska who can make rapid fire coloratura sound like a walk in the park. Everyone with working legs can run... but not many can run the way Olympic runners can. The same goes with opera singing. This is extreme agility at its most jaw-dropping. This performance is actually a studio recording (so she didn't do the whole thing in one go (though you can find live clips of her doing this beast of a song on Youtube.... and her live efforts are nearly as clean as this!). I use this clip to drive home that the obnoxiousness of the thing is actually written in the score (though the notes on the score are a lot tamer than the cadenza you actually hear toward the end since it is imperative that she ornaments every time the A phrase is repeated). 'Qual guerriero', being a bravura aria, doesn't really require much interpretation, but Genaux still contrasts the fast and slow sections very well to keep this thing from being one dimensional. Pretty awesome, ay?

The second singer is Vesselina Kasarova, the Bulgarian singer who doesn't just cope with Mozart's demand for naked vocal perfection, but also has the knack for making every note she sings tell a story. This is from a live staged performance. The final aria of Farnace doesn't require the vocal speed that the music Genaux sings does, but the vocal lines are so long (try singing along and see that you don't pass out before the 2nd phrase!) and exposed. It requires virtuosity of a different sort... If you make any mistake (smudging or missing a note... or any unsteadiness or blotchiness in the legato line at all), everyone can hear it. And the tessitura isn't very stable (much of the aria lies very low for a mezzo soprano, but she has to keep foraying upward and is never allowed to get comfy in any part of her range). Somehow, though, Kasarova manages to not just sing the notes but to also projects so much character in her vocal coloring that I listen to this and forget that I'm hearing a woman pretending to be a man who is turning his life around for the good. Instead, it is Farnace himself airing his own repentance... It is just that, his normal mode of expression is in song.

And do you know what the coolest thing is? As big a star as these two low-voiced women are, they are as nice and down to earth as can be off the stage. Their colleagues love them to death... and so do their fans.... simply because they've earned it.

If you enjoy these clips, Genaux recorded the aria on her 'Arias for Farinelli' CD, and Kasarova's full performance as Farnace is available on the Orfeo Label CD of Mozart's Mitridate from the Salzburg Festival 1997.


Anonymous said...

Hiya, Smorg! You know, the first time I heard Vivica doing that murderous aria LIVE, I nearly dropped my jaw. HOW in the world does she do it?!

And yes, the last part of your post is probably the coolest thing indeed. Interesting enough, all my favorite opera singers are very nice and down-to-earth in real life. :-)

Smorg said...

Hey Arashi! Vivica Genaux is amazing indeed. :o) I hyperventilate just listening to her sing that murder of a song. ;oP

I think most opera singers are quite nice and normal people... I just wish that some opera fans would keep that in mind when they write about them online. Some of these guys really demand too much (I think listening to studio recorded CDs too much is causing them to have unrealistic expectation when they attend live performances). I don't know how these singers manage to stay sane.... I like to travel, but if I have to travel so many months out of each year and am expected to always be perfect in all performance, I think I'd lose my love for traveling (among other things) in a hurry.

Thanks a bunch for stopping by! :o)