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Six Orfeos

June 16, 2008

As a singer-in-training, I'm just beginning to squawk out my first aria from the operatic cannon. I'm tackling "Che Faro Senza Euridice?" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. The famous song is, of course, one of the most divinely beautiful and tragic arias I've ever heard, though you wouldn't necessarily know it from my mangled attempts to penetrate Gluck's underworld.

Thankfully, my singing coach came up with the bright idea of pointing me to YouTube so I could hear some of the world's great mezzos and countertenors tackle the aria. I spent a very interesting hour listening to the many different renditions that can be found in YouTube's ever-revelatory cache. Here are my reactions to the interpretations that struck me in the most visceral way, both good and bad:

1. JANET BAKER Probably the most moving version I heard. It's no wonder that this aria was one of Baker's signature pieces. She absolutely floored me with her depth of feeling. I was right down there in Hades with her, clutching the dead body of Euridice. There's something a bit Miss Piggy-like about Baker's visage. But she made me cry anyway.

2. SHIRLEY VERRETT A heavier sound than Baker's, but still balanced. The singer looks majestic in her Roman senator-like getup. Sometimes, however, she gets a bit carried away with the emotion of it all.

3. TERESA BERGANZA A lush, powerful voice. I wasn't too keen on the singer's habit of swooping up and down to catch some notes, rather than hitting them head on. A bit too romantic a sound for my taste.

4. KATHLEEN FERRIER Singing in English from an old phonograph recording. Even the translated text and the crackling, hissing interference from the record can't destroy the singer's strength of feeling.

5. ANDREAS SCHOLL Scholl is my favorite male classical singer, but there's something too clean and choirboy-like about his delivery on this occasion. He sounds absolutely sterile -- more like he's singing about losing a sock in the laundry than the love of his life.

6. JENNIFER LARMORE I saw Larmore last night do Fricka in SF Opera's production of Das Rheingold. She was great. The mezzo has clearly lost about 30 pounds since the YouTube clip I saw of her singing Orfeo. Her delivery of the aria doesn't apeal to me really -- it's plodding, heavy and there's just too much vibrato. In fact, Larmore sounds like she's singing Wagner.

Feeling very inspired -- and not a little bit intimidated -- as a result of hearing all these great voices. Now to try and make the song my own.

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