Friday, July 16, 2010

Classical Nerman

I thought I'd post a few more of the wonderful Nerman caricatures from that little book I was mentioning last week.

Einar Nerman's contract with Eve magazine required a monthly page of caricatures of singers, conductors and notable musicians who played the Royal Albert Hall and other concert venues in the London of the 20Ss and 30s. His talented pen found plenty of scope in the full-bosomed prima donnas and eccentric conductors who mounted the podiums.

By the time Nerman inked these drawings of these two musical Dames, they were both approaching the end of long careers. Nellie Melba was a reigning prima donna of the opera stage from the 1880s until her retirement in 1928. Much loved by the public she was less appreciated by her colleagues. The Melba stories are numerous as the dishes named after her and most suggest that the Australian soprano did not "work and play well with others", but damned she could sing! Clara Butt was much loved by the British public though her stock within the musical world was not always as high. Sir Thomas Beecham, well known for his sarcastic wit, once quipped that she could stand on the Cliffs of Dover and be heard on the shores of France. Rather snidely Nerman has her cradling Kennerley Rumford, her stage and life-partner, to her amble bosom.

Frieda Hempel and Amelita Galli-Curci shared much of the same repertory though the petit Italian soprano never ventured into the realms of Wagner the way her saftig colleague did. Though Hempel had a successful career in Europe it is thought that her North American career was overshadowed by Galli-Curci. Both turned to recitals in the late 20s and that was Hempel chief venue until her retirement. Galli-Curci's singing days were cut short by surgery which left her vocally damaged and she retired to a life of teaching.

By the time Nerman drew this caricature of Enrico Caruso, the great tenor had been dead for 20 years. I'm not sure where Nerman got his inspiration but he captured the well-known roguishness of his subject. Its interesting to see that current tenor heart throb Jonas Kaufmann wasn't the first one to go for that rugged five o'clock shadow look. Of course while Nerman was in New York Danish tenor Lauritz Melchior ruled the roost in all thing Wagnerian at the Met. He was never known for his convincing acting but when you sang like he did - on a night when he felt like it - acting really didn't matter. I agree with Sandy Wilson who says of this drawing that Nerman "has, I could swear, capture sound on paper."

These two great conductors of the 20th Century were as different as night and day. Arturo Toscanini was the martinet, the terror of the podium; Sir Thomas Beecham was the avuncular uncle. Both were magnificent in their own way. My own preference has always leaned towards Beecham, I've always found Toscanni's readings to be cold - to my ears his Falstaff robs that masterpiece of all its humour and joy. However with Beecham you always feel the joy of a true "amateur": he was chiefly self-taught as a conductor, championed various neglected works and seemed to be in the habit of founding orchestras when he couldn't find any to hire him as their conductor. His recordings of La Boheme and Carmen are still - to my mind - the touchstones for those two war horses.

Its probably just me being an old "fogie" - no it is definitely me being an old fogie - but I can't imagine a caricaturist having as much fun with today's crop of singers or conductors.

16 luglio - La Beata Vergine Maria del Monte Carmello
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1 comment:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Alas, caricature (pure and simple) is not as popular as it once was. But the Globe and Mail still has a wonderful caricaturist -- Anthony Jenkins. With a few strokes, he can cut right through the mask of a politician or celebrity.