Saturday, March 15, 2008

Notes for Lecture on Great Singers of the Past (1)

Lecture notes

1famous singers

1—intended to be fun—not help you find as new job or a new career, or a new spouse, or get a promotion, or stop losing money in the stock market, or retire comfortably in your 40s, or live to be 120. It’s intended to provide you with the pleasure of listening to wonderful singers, whom you may not be familiar with, singing wonderful songs. So that the next time you go to a library, or a store that sells vocal music, you may think of renting or buying a disk of songs sung by people like John McCormack, Rosa Ponselle, or Richard Crooks.

2—It’s a shame that we don’t hear these people on the radio or TV. It seems that everybody wants to hear new singers – Renee Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Natalie Dessay, and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with that—but why overlook Elisabeth Rethberg? Yet you never hear these older singers on WQXR. We’re denying ourselves some keen pleasure in life when we neglect great singers of the past.
Woman I met, in her 30s, who had never heard Mario Lanza, Paul Robeson, or Ezio Pinza. Isn’t that pitiful?

3-Points: no one very recent included—like Jussi Bjoerling.
They will sing beautiful songs—with a lot of crossover—Victor Herbert, Rudolph Friml.
At least two singers every session—one for an hour, one for a half hour. The hour singer is one of my favorites—not necessarily better than the half-hour singer--the pairings are to show a contrast—today, a tenor who was born in NJ, Richard Crooks, and a bass who was born in Russia, Alexander Kipnis. But we’ll be flexible. Sometimes there may be three or more singers. Today, we will have three singers.
One is a surprise mystery guest.

4-some other points:
incredible number of gifted older singers! I’m always discovering someone new. That is, someone old who is new to me. If you discover an older singer you’re not familiar with, enter his or her name on youtube and see if anything is available. Then read the comments. A typical comment is: “You think Bergonzi was a great tenor? You’re nuts! He couldn’t hold a candle to Giuseppe di Stefano!”
A lot of very short-tempered people are opera buffs. But you can collect a lot of new names—new old names--by going to YouTube.
Another point: One question we might want to think about is: What makes a singer great? What are the qualities that unite exceptional good singers?

Another thing: Harold Schoenberg was a critic for the Times for many years, and exactly 25 years ago he wrote an article naming the 12 best opera singers who had appeared at the Met—providing that they had sung there for at least nine years. Nine years, because some fine singers had sung there ONLY nine years.
Here are the 12 singers:

I don’t agree with all these choices. Among my own favorites are Victoria de los Angeles, Cochita Supervia, Alexander Kipnis. And I’m no big fan of Nellie Melba or Marcella Sembrich. But…during this course, you will have an opportunity to hear all 12 of those singers, so you can make up your own minds.
What else?
Leave me your email address & I will send you the names of all the songs played during the hour.
Also, it seems to me that every singer’s career is divided into when they were young and when they were… er, mature. There’s often a big difference between them. Rethberg was a great singer when she was young, for example, not so great later on. The same tends to be true many other singers.
Finally…at certain opportunities, I will show you films of various singers. In particular, Cochita Supervia in an utterly amazing screen performance.

Today, we’ll start out with an obscure singer singing an obscure aria from an obscure opera written by an obscure composer. David Devries, who died in 1931, singing…

My point is: there are singers out there whom you never heard of who were absolutely GREAT. Hard to get a CD of Devries singing.

Next, a man who has been called the greatest bass of the 20th century: Kipnis. Born in the Ukraine, sang all over the world, wound up living in Westport, Conn., where he died in 1978. First, let’s hear him singing a song you may just possibly recognize if you’re an unusually sophisticated music lover. (Kipnis singing Jack Horner.)

We’ll come back to Kipnis if we have time.
Richard Crooks, the silver-voiced tenor, sang at the Met from 1933 to 1943. Born in Trenton, NJ…
(pick up from old notes)

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