Sunday, January 13, 2008

News - La Bohème Film and Lucia at the MET

I am just back home from the recital given by Rolando Villazón at the Liceo of Barcelona. Rolando has been awarded with big applauses from the audience but, unfortunately, he still has some problems with his voice. It has to be hard to somehow restart after a six month period out of the stage, as he has recognized during the recital. After he had started one of the pieces of the second part of the concert, he has been forced to stop and leave the stage for a while. The audience showed him again that he was very much appreciated in Barcelona.
After the performance I have been waiting for him at the backstage door to get his signature and to quickly ask him a couple of questions. He has confirmed that the movie of La Bohème, with Anna and Rolando in the leading roles, will start to be recorded this February. The music soundtrack for the movie comes from the concert version performances done last year in München. I asked him also about the performances of Lucia di Lammermoor at the MET for the next season (see the database performances on the right hand side of the blog). Anna is also scheduled for these performances and Rolando told me that he will be also there.



    When Renee Fleming was asked in an inverview : What aria she liked to sing most, she instantly replied: ‘The Song to the Moon, from Rusalka, is my signature piece.”

    I don't think people in general understand to what lengths Ms Fleming has gone to sing this song as she does. Amongst other things, she has shamelessly broken all Dvorak's rules to do so. In the process, moreover, she has left all other Divas at an unutterable disadvantage.

    Moved by your review I cannot conceive of a more apt aria the very polished Ms. Fleming and the coleen from Krasnodar, Ms Netrebko.

    While both Divas, Russian and American, are utterly adorable I have to confess a weakness. I am incurably in love with Anna Netrebko’s girlish ways and Russian voice. Above all I want to hear her sing Russalka at her best. As painful as it is to admit it, I feel at the moment that she has to learn some more discipline: and what’s even worse, is that she has to learn it from Ms Fleming! Indeed, she cannot learn it from any other living Diva. There is no other way! I believe that Anna Netrebko can be the best Rusalka that (n)ever lived only if she can learn something -- something very precious -- from Ms. Fleming.

    What could one accomplished Diva possibly learn from another? And how are all other Divas at an unutterable disadvantage? Surely these outrageous statements require an explanation -- if not an apology!

    If one might be permitted to apologise after one has explained, the apology will be better appreciated. But first one should listen to these to Divas ostensibly singing the same song:

    Let us listen to Anna Netrebko first, paying special attention to the final few notes

    The irritating props aside, this is really a wonderful Russalka. As ever, her voice is delicious dark chocolate. It is heavenly, glorious, full and rich, as a rose is rich. But there is the suggestion of a serious fault.It occurs in Russalka’s finish.

    Now let us listen to Renee Fleming’s interpretation of this ‘same’ aria:

    Anyone with an ear to hear can hear that the final cadence is quite different in each interpretation. But since the cadence is the climax, it sums up the whole song. Don’t let anyone tell you that the dog does not wag the tale: in Russalka it most assuredly does. In Fleming , therefore, all her labours are rewarded; she harvests all her previous toil and gathers into the climax the cornucopia of her emotional anxiety. Anna, however, even if blessed with unbeatable voice and a language advantage, allows her labours to be squandered: the technique of Fleming defeating by far the natural outpouring of Netrebko!

    This, of course, is not Anna's fault. But, then, whose fault is it, then? How come they are singing from two identical scores that sound so unmistakeable different? Is it the fault of her minders, trainers, and teachers:

    I say ‘ostensibly’, because that is what we are led to believe. And in so far as Song to the Moon, was written by Dvorak in G flat Major and in ⅜ time, that is the case. But if we examine the final cadence to the aria, we will find a remarkable contrast between that sung by Netrebko and that sung by Fleming. Here is will be observed that each of the Divas are singing from a totally different score. And so important is the final cadence that it must be explained, because it radiates meaning to the whole aria.

    It has been so constructed by Dvorak that the final cadence -- indeed, the final few notes -- are the moment of the aria's great climax. To bring both climax and final cadence together is no mean feat on Dvorak’s part ; it demonstrates his genius in these matters.

    But this cadential climax is also unusual in another way. In order to enhance the final impact, Dvorak allows it to dawdle close to a recitative base, then with the speed and assent of the entry to Nessun Dorma, it rockets upwards in serial momentum to the high B flat in the Soprano’s register before crashing -- diving, in fact -- to a near aquatic tonic.

    It is truly wonderful stuff. But how is it claimed that Netrebko and Fleming are singing from a different score?

    To understand what has happened is not easy.

    if we listen to the following Divas singing the exact same aria -- say, Lucia Popp, Gabriela Benackova, Milada Subrtova and Anna Netrebko and Renee Fleming, it will soon become evident that Ms Fleming -- not Anna Netrebko -- is the odd Diva out. All the rest sing Dvorak's Russalka as directed.

    Maybe the directions are the problem; for notwithstanding his emotionally powerful run in to the cadential climax, Dvorak -- perhaps for other reasons -- only devotes two thirds of a bar to the high B, or in any event devotes a very short climax and short-circuited resolution to a climax so meticulously prepared. And it sounds great. If you listen to any of the Divas -- or in this case -- to Anna Netrebko on her own, you will observe this final, almost chastising descent at the end. And you will go away with the feeling of a splendid aria well sung. It is only when you hear Renee Fleming’s singular interpretation that the dawn breaks on a more revolutionary and far-seeing interpretation.

    Russalka has prayed to the Moon to send her prince of love. After her prayer, she (as in Netrebko) has submerged herself with girlish haste and almost Christian contrition. As we shall see, Ms Fleming is not so easy to get rid of; she does not submerge so readily. Indeed, she prays most fervently -- movingly, in fact -- to an indifferent moon; but, when it comes time for her to take her departure, she refuses to play the role of the fat lady, she simply will not budge ; she remains on in office unapologetically rude, revolutionary and pagan to whatever end may come!

    Where all the other Divas have gone, Ms Fleming will not go --not even for Dvorak! So, when Ms Fleming (as Russalka) climaxes, there is no diving into the safety of a Czech lake. On the contrary, the earth trembles. When she reaches the high B flat in the final cadence, far from bailing out modestly, she holds on to the B flat ‘for bear life’ (if one might use such an apt expression); indeed, she holds onto it forever, which is maybe twice, three times, ten times, longer than any other Diva (including Anna Netrebko) : so long , in fact, that the orchestra have packed it in and taken their break, while Ms Fleming, still vibrating in flagrante delicioso, sees the aria through to the last syllable of its emotional obligation : ‘durchgefuert’ , as Schonberg would say! In this climax, she is the consummate creative artist - and I personally don’t care too much that she sings Czech in a Spilvill American accent: (which, incidentally , is where Dvorak spoke Czech to his Czech friends and ex-pats.)

    Like a tigress protecting something primordial , and red in tooth and in claw she wrings and tears at the tune’s hind-quarters until the entire aria is purged of its anaemic short breadths. She holds the tune to its organic high promise. She compels and hurls it to its logical and emotional conclusion. There she sits on some Olympian mountain, vibrating in catharsis on B flat, and she consciously purges all that has preceded it, until the emotional charge has travelled cap-a-pe from its first to its last tonic, and has flowed into its final moonlit syllable. Only then are all issues resolved, only then is the aria allowed to close, not so much with a whimper as with a whimper after an earth-shattering, all-merciful, mother of all rumbles in the jungle!

    Renee Fleming has re-written Dvorak; Dvorak would hardly recognise ‘his’ aria or understand the emotional re-orientation. In many ways,therefore, Russalka has become more Fleming than Dvorak, more American than Czech.

    The only question pending is ; has she done the music and Rusalka a service?

    By her prolongation of one well-chosen, emotionally strategic note, she has changed utterly the whole tone, balance, meaning, emotional discharge and general aesthetic of the Water-nymph's entire aria. In her person and in her performance a terrible scorching beauty is born!

    But further, she has transformed Rusalka’ s B flat into an interminable primal scream -- a demand for human love from a cold world and a cold moon. In true pagan if not in American style, Ms Fleming commands the moon to provide her with a lover -- predating the Judeo-Christian opportunity to leap in and claim that Christianity would provide it, if the pagan moon didn’t . Of course, the one remedial belief is as cold and barren as the other, but Ms Fleming’s command , her anger, is immediate and modern. Russalka is the life-giving, life-affirming fertility of Sile-na-gig, or what many have called the ‘divine feminine’. She is not prepared to live without love -- nor will she put up with the excuses of a cold and distant moon.

    Personally speaking, I can’t imagine any self-respecting Czech Water-nymph complaining about the new arrangement. It is true that Rusalka has undergone a process that is otherwise known as transubstantiation, where the nymph changes from an uncrucified but pining mermaid at the mercy of the moon to a goddess that commands the moon and the natural world to do to all women what is no more than its fertile and servile duty. From a Christian prayer to a pagan command is not an easy transition, but Ms Fleming has accomplished it in spades - so much so , in fact, that she has now made this beautiful pagan hymn unsingable in any other way except her way.

    And I for one am most grateful for it.

    When I hear Anna Netrebko singing Russalka from Ms Fleming’s score in her hand, I know I shall have gone to Heaven and my prayer as well as my apology shall have been heard!

    Seamus Breathnach

  2. Thank you for posting this very interesting article, despite the fact that I understand that here, as an unrelated comment to a given post, probably it is not the most appropriate place to do it. But I have enjoyed it.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...