Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another Great Gone

Yesterday another one of the 20th centuries great opera singers died. I recall a picture in Opera News magazine of Elisabeth Söderström as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier back in 1959. It captured my heart and then I heard her sing and that began a love affair that was to last to this day. (photo: Annelisse Rothenberger as Sophie, Elisabeth Söderström as Octavian - Rosenkavalier, Glyndebourne 1959)

I missed my one chance to see her on stage in Beethoven's Fidelio at Glyndebourne in 1979 - the compensation that year was Frederica von Stade in Ulisse - but the video of that performance became one of my favorites. Unfortunately the only YouTube version of Leonore's great aria is badly synced and I would have posted it but with a great singing-actress like Söderström you need the body language to go with the voice.

However one of the loveliest passages in the score is the canon from Act I. Leonore has disguised herself as a man - Fidelio - and takes a job at the prison where she believes her husband is being held as a political prisoner. Marzelline (Elizabeth Gale), the daughter of Rocco (Curt Appelgren) the jailer, has fallen in love with the young man to her father's approval but much to the dismay of her admirer Jacquino (Ian Caley). In this beautiful quartet - Mir ist so wunderbar ["A wondrous feeling fills me") - each character voices there own thoughts about love using similar words but the music expresses their own feelings. In a performance such as this one conducted by Bernard Haitink and directed by Peter Hall it can be one of the most moving moments in an opera filled with emotional highs.

Söderström was not only a great singer but according to others a wonderful colleague and very giving person. Her appearances on BBC and European television were filled with joy, wit and music and her master classes where real lessons in the art of the singer.

Her career at the Met was an odd one - long gaps between bursts of activity and though she did sing some of her better known roles, no Janack and of the Strauss only Rosenkavalier. In 1983 New York rediscovered rather late why she was a European favorite. Her Janacek and Strauss cycles at Glyndebourne were legendary as was her Mélisande for Boulez. She had only sung the Marschallinin Rosenkavalier on tour with the Met but when she, Von Stade and Kathleen Battle took to the stage the day of the Met Centennial for that final trio the house went crazy. All the artistry of her 36 years on the stage went into her portrayal of the older noblewoman who stands aside and allow her young lover to marry the young girl of his dreams.

Apparently her final years were plagued by bad health, I can only hope that someone who brought such joy and music into the world left it peacefully.

tack så mycket Elisabeth

21 novembre - Presentazione della Beata Vergine Maria


Sling said...

Damm...There does seem to be a high attrition rate of late.
Who knew being an opera singer was more dangerous than being a crab fisherman?

Blake said...

OMG the trio was amazing. Thank you for finding and posting it. Alas as we age our favourite (spell check be damned - it is "our" not "or") performers pass away. Dare I ask about the puppies? Uncle Pervy.