Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mercoledi Musciale

Last week one of the great singers of the late 20th century died, though sadly dementia had stilled her voice for the past 15 years. Maureen Forrester was an incredible talent and an incredible person. Larger than life on stage and off she had an wonderful sense of humour and inspired sense of the dramatic. She is a singer I grew up on - her's was the first performances I saw - on television back in the days when CBC did classical without apologizing - of many of Mahler's great pieces including this performance of the 4th movement (Urlicht) of his Resurrection Symphony (Symphony #2). I have heard others do it since but this one remains the benchmark. The rather strange conductor is the equally incredible Glenn Gould. Two great talents.

Primeval Light

O red rose!
Man lies in greatest need!
Man lies in greatest pain!
How I would rather be in heaven.
There came I upon a broad path
when came a little angel and wanted to turn me away.
Ah no! I would not let myself be turned away!
I am from God and shall return to God!
The loving God will grant me a little light,
Which will light me into that eternal blissful life!

When she was head of the Canada Council I dealt with her often at Ottawa Airport - she was always warm, friendly and understanding - and often a little self-deprecating in her humour. One day I finally got up the nerve to remind her a party we were both at years before in Toronto. My friend Greg and his partner Robert threw a Canada Day fete at their apartment on Avenue Road. We use to have such silly piss-elegant affairs in those days. As I recall that one was an afternoon event with "hats for ladies" and "decorations to be worn" - and there were actually a few of our friends who could and did wear their medals. Maureen Forrester lived downstairs from them and came up to join us - wearing a hat and her Order of Canada. As I recalled the champagne flowed and at the climax of the party, Walter McNutt, a well known organist, choir master and composer, sat down at the baby grand - yes it was that sort of apartment - and struck up the first few chords of O Canada. We all began singing with this rich warm contralto voice leading us as we hymned our home and native land. Completely impromptu we let her solo on the second verse and then all came together for the refrain. I am ashamed to say none of us knew the third verse. We both had a chuckle - and when she chuckled you knew it - when I said I told my friends I had sung with Maureen Forrester.

She was a singer with a remarkable ability in a wide range of music - from Bach to Handel right up to Sullivan - of Gilbert and. Her comic timing was perfect and her sense of drama made her more serious roles some of the most intense portrayals I have ever seen. A combination of her and Jon Vickers in the Confrontation scene of Pique Dame still remains in my memory.

Here she is singing one of her first operatic roles - Gluck's Orfeo. The grief stricken Orpheus, having lost his Euridice to death a second time, asks: Che faro senza Euridice - How can I live without my Euridice?

Sung the way it should be and the way she sang everything - perfect diction, clean style, perfect technique and heart ... most of all she always sang from the heart.

23 giugno - Santi Martiri di Nicomedia
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Debra She Who Seeks said...

A beautiful tribute! I only heard her sing live once, about 20 years ago, with the Winnipeg Symphony. Her voice was magnificent, of course. Her death is a great loss to music.

David said...

Good to know more about the life of this fine singer - I only knew her Mahler, nothing else until now.