Wednesday, August 19, 2009

RIP Hildegard Behrens (1937-2009)

I have been off-line a lot in the last few weeks and so am a bit behind the curve on news and other things (emails and comments included). It appears that another remarkable operatic grande dame left us last night after many years of lighting up the stage with her combustible voice and dramatic presence. Hildegard Behrens, the 72 yrs old German dramatic soprano, was to give a recital in Tokyo, Japan yesterday when she fell ill and was taken to the hospital where she died of burst aortic aneurysm.

Not being a die-hard fan of Wagnerian and Strauss operas I wasn't as familiar with Frau Behrens' work as I should. Just about the only recording of hers that I keep digging up to play every now and then is the DVD of Mozart's Idomeneo from the 80's. Yep... a bit of an irony, I'm afraid. I bought that DVD almost exclusively because of that unlikely casting of Behrens as Mozart's (rather than Richard Strauss') Elettra.

As someone said in the comment session on Youtube, it was a sort of performance one came to boo and end up on ones' feet brava-ing. And though this clip perhaps doesn't show her in her best musical light, it does provide a good snap shot of the exact quality that made Behrens great and well beloved - she wasn't one to miss the forest for the trees. Music is very important in opera, but it ISN'T everything. Being able to sell the story of the opera to the audience IS. Many soprani out there can sing every note Mozart wrote down for Elettra perfectly, but not many can translate what the notes were meant to represent as convincingly as Behrens could.

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall when she argued a case in court... The lass actually had a law degree from the University of Freiburg before she decided to become an opera singer! It was almost unfair how mentally acute she was while also being blessed with the dramatic fire that she had. Click here for a glimpse of that brain decoding some of the operatic heroines she portrayed in her glory years.


And here was Behrens in her element. One of the greatest Isolde to ever grace the stage. She wasn't the subtlest of singers or actresses by a long shot, but definitely one of the most sincere.

"Mild und leise wie er lächelt, ---- Mildly and gently, how he smiles,
wie das Auge
hold er öffnet ---- how the eye he opens sweetly.
Seht ihr's, Freunde? --- Do you see it, friends?
Seht ihr's nicht? ---- Don’t you see it?
Immer lichter
wie er leuchtet, --- Brighter and brighter how he shines,
hoch sich hebt? --- illuminated by stars, rises high?
Seht ihr's nicht?
Wie das Herz ihm --- Don’t you see it? How his heart
mutig schwillt,
voll und hehr --- boldly swells, fully and nobly
im Busen ihm quillt? wells in his breast?

Wie den Lippen wonnig mild --- How from his lips delightfully, mildly,
süßer Atem
sanft entweht --- sweet breath softly wafts ---
Freunde! Seht! --- Friends! Look!
Fühlt und seht ihr's nicht? --- Don’t you feel and see it?
Hör ich nur diese Weise, ---- Do I alone hear this melody,
die so wundervoll und leise, --- which wonderfully and softly,
Wonne klagend, --- lamenting delight,
alles sagend
mild versöhnend, --- telling it all, mildly reconciling
aus ihm tönend
in mich dringet, --- sounds out of him, invades me,
auf sich schwinget
hold erhallend, --- swings upwards, sweetly resonating
um mich klinget?
Heller schallend, --- rings around me? Sounding more clearly,
mich umwallend --- wafting around me ---

Sind es Wellen
sanfter Lüfte? --- Are these waves of soft airs?
Sind es Wogen
wonniger Düfte? --- Are these billows of delightful fragrances?
Wie sie schwellen
mich umrauschen, --- How they swell, how they sough around me,
soll ich atmen,
soll ich lauschen? --- shall I breathe, Shall I listen?
Soll ich schlürfen,
untertauchen? --- Shall I drink, immerse?
Süß in Düften
mich verhauchen? --- Sweetly in fragrances melt away?
In dem wogenden Schwall, --- In the billowing torrent,
in dem tönenden Schall, --- in the resonating sound,
in des Welt-Atems wehendem All --- in the wafting Universe of the World-Breath ---
ertrinken, drown,
versinken --- be engulfed ---
unbewußt --- unconscious ---
höchste Lust! supreme delight!"
Leb' wohl, Hildegard Behrens. Sie fehlt uns.


Georg said...

Hi Smorgy,

Quite sure Frau Behrens would have appreciated your laudatio.

You did there a very sincere study of her art and her personality.

It gives credit to both of you.


berenice said...

hola mister Smorg! how are you?
have you melted yet??? what's going on with our heat wave???

just so you know herr Georg, Smorgy and I are melting in this city, today my thermometer in the sun in Normal Heights read 102° F!!! which is about 38.8888888° C, can you believe it??? I know you are closer to the coast than me mister Smorg, but i bet you are suffering this heat too!

hope it ends soon!
have a toasty weekend in the meantime :) will try to write you on your e-mail soon to catch up w/you, am a bit busy these days 'cause i started a class at Mesa College :)


Smorg said...

Hallo Georgy:
Thanks very much! :o) I really wish I was into her repertoire more (I had been neglecting the Wagnerian/Straussian part of the operatic world of late). Frau Behrens really was a spell-binding artist, I think... though perhaps more so when you can both see and hear her (much the way Leonie Rysanek was... that's another wonderful artist that left us too soon because of cancer :o( ).

Thanks very much for stopping by! I sure hope the weather has been nicer there than here of late. Like la belle Bere said here, we've been melting like Frosty the Snowman caught in a lit oven! ;o)

Hola bella Bere! That's brave of you even looking at the thermometer, my friend. I think I shed another 2 lbs this week just sitting (mostly) still. I hope you have a working A/C there! :o) Hopped the Breeze bus up the coast to Solana Beach a few days ago looking for some relief, but even the ocean breeze was hot. I liked the view, though.

Hope you and the kitties are hanging in there in uptown. There's got to be a cool front coming our way soon (I hope)!

Thanks very much for stopping by and hope the weekend was a good one for both of you! :o)