Friday, July 22, 2011

"For my Mother"




I'm reading Christa Ludwig's autobiography In My Own Voice, and she makes the most amazing statement. She writes about makeup artists, especially admiring the ones at the Met, and then says that in modern German productions no one wears any makeup. The singers apply their makeup when they prepare to go home. Oy.

She writes about the things I would want to read about.

Christa Ludwig's book is dedicated to her mother, and the dedication is a list of wise sayings from her mother.

I, of course, am most attracted to the wise sayings about vocal technique.

"Breath, vocalization, and overtones are the pillars of good singing technique. Everything else comes from differences in body structure. Different cavities resonate differently from person to person." This is really all there is to singing technique. Controlling the breath controls the vocalization, which is really the smallest part. It controls the tessitura and registers. You only need to have heard the unresonated voice once to recognize this. Everything else is resonance.

"Never strive to sing loudly. Only aspire to make a beautiful sound. Practice singing every note smoothly from pianissimo to forte, and back, at least forty times every day." Does this remind you of something? It should. It's the short version of my chapter on the messa di voce. I am amazed.

It is so cool to read this. If you were attempting to boil it all down, you could hardly beat this.

"Singing is spiritual. Physical technique is the base, but you must also be in spiritual harmony with yourself and with your surroundings." And, "Love must flow from you when you sing."

She writes what I would want to read--the parts that give her joy, the parts she loves.

She calls herself "we Austrians," though she is certainly German. "In Vienna, all that's wanted is bread and circuses--or rather pastry and opera." I've read singer autobiographies before, but never one written by someone who was so passionate about opera.

Charlie Chaplin, and a lot more celebrity types, wrote an endless "and then I met" name dropping list.  Christa writes about the business.

She writes about her take on each of her major roles, of her own particular style in creating characters. She tells us that somewhere there exists a score where she and Gottfried von Einem rewrote the opera Der Besuch der alten Dame to suit her voice. She thinks it is unfortunate that this opera is no longer performed.

We learn in a footnote that there is a privately printed newspaper by and for the standees of the Vienna State Opera. This is now called Der neue Merker and, of course, is available on line here. Who knew?

She writes the most amazing things about Lady Macbeth from Verdi's opera Macbeth. It wouldn't have occurred to me that a mezzo would sing this. She tells a wonderful story about studying this with Zinka Milanov. They agreed on a bel canto approach to the role. Perhaps this is the problem. This is SOOO interesting.

I've started to think I'm channeling Christa Ludwig, we think so much alike.  If you read nothing else, read "The Greatest Artists are always Searching."

She likes any staging as long as it "doesn't distract from the music."  What have I been saying? She then goes on to complain about various stagings, but I think this is a German perspective where everywhere they have regie theater. I would enjoy seeing a Despina that tends bar. I think.

She says, "I believe that a talented interpreter not only has the right, but the duty to always examine and create a piece of theater anew." And then she goes on to quote Goethe: "...individuality of expression is the beginning and end of all art." I have always loved Goethe.

Singing is above all else an act of creation.  She calls the score the "golden bonds" from which and through which art is created. She urges singers not to imitate but to create their own art. She tells us that Herbert von Karajan thought there was no absolutely right tempo. The pulse and the tempo are related. It is part of the individual interpretation--whatever flows for you is right for you.

Oh! "A professor teaches and an artist searches." What could be cooler than that?

We part company only in her criticism of original instrument orchestras, a phenomenon I have been slow to understand. I think the same movement that wanted original instruments also has resulted in far more ornamentation in Baroque styles these days than was the case in my youth. Unless you're talking about Marc Minkowski who only wants the da capo sections to be sung sotto voce. Bah! The idea of individualized ornamentation is one of the most powerful trends in modern opera performance.

She writes what I would want to read--the parts that give her joy, the parts she loves. 

She calls herself "we Austrians," though she is certainly German. "In Vienna, all that's wanted is bread and circuses--or rather pastry and opera." I've read singer autobiographies before, but never one written by someone who was so passionate about opera.



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