Thursday, July 22, 2010

Rossini and Tetrazzini

Tomorrow night at La Scala starts what looks like what is going to be a summer for Rossini with the most popular of his operas Il barbiere di Siviglia. The Scala production directed and designed by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle is 40 years old - I remember when it was first presented at Salzburg in 1969 with Claudio Abbado on the podium. Several generations of Rossini singers have followed Ponnelle's closely choreographed movements, been caught in the "real" rain storm and rocked back and forth on his rotating sepia toned vision of Seville. I'll be getting the chance to see two of today's great Rossinians - Joyce Di Donato and Juan Diego Florez along with several of their colleagues - in this classic "old fashioned" production.

Our great-grand parents and grand parents would be astounded to hear the rich mezzo voice of Ms Di Donato singing Rosina. They were use to Rossini's heroine being sung by a coloratura soprano who would spin of stratospheric phrases meant to shatter glass. I'm not sure how or when the soprano tradition of Rosina came into fashion - though it was certainly within Rossini's life time - but by the beginning of the 20th century singers such as Selma Kurz, Marcella Sembrich, Freida Hempel, Nellie Melba, Amelita Galli-Curci and the incredible Luisa Tetrazzini dazzled their audiences with their high notes. By the time Nerman captured the much loved and admired Italian soprano for Eve magazine Tetrazzini had largely abandoned the opera stage for the concert hall and was frankly in vocal decline. An unfortunate marriage had lead to her losing the fortune she had made as one of the world's highest paid singers and necessity forced her to performed well past her peak.

An earlier caricaturist pictured Tetrazzini and her arch rival Nellie Melba dueling it out in 1908 - the choice of weapons? Victrollas of course.

But here she is, recorded in her prime in 1911, singing Rosina's Una voce poco fa from The Barber the way our great grandparents heard it. The style may seem a bit dated but the technique is rock solid and a few singers today would do well to take a listen.

The stories surrounding the petite - but stout - prima donna paint her as anything but a diva. She was much loved by her colleagues - pace Dame Nellei - and worshiped by audiences around the world. She lived in and adored San Fransisco; it is believed that Chicken Tetrazzini was created by Ernest Arbogast, then chef at the Palace Hotel, to honour their famous resident.

On Christmas Eve 1910 she sang at the corner of Market and Kearney to serenade between 100,000 and 200,000 of her beloved San Franciscans. It was said that crowds down the side streets could hear her clearly - and that was in the days before amplification!

After her retirement Tetrazzini made this little film clip in 1932 - 8 years before her death. She is listening to a recording of Enrico Caruso singing M'appari, Tutt'Amor and joins her old and much loved colleague. Even here the good nature that so endeared her to so many comes through. I particularly love the little laugh she gives at the end.

After her retirement she taught - and often supported - students in her home in Milan. It was rumoured that she was financial distressed and that when she died in 1940 the state had to pay for her funeral - though that has been questioned in a recent biography. It was during those declining years that she came up with what is perhaps her most famous quip:

I am fat! I am old! But I am still Tetrazzini.

Perhaps she was a bit of a diva after all.

22 luglio - Santa Maria Maddalena
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Debra She Who Seeks said...

Yes, what a delightful laugh! She certainly produced vocal fireworks when young. Love that quotation too -- fiery and defiant!

Elizabeth said...

Wow! Those high notes on the first clip! What purity and control!

Hope you have a wonderful evening.

Buy Final Fantasy XIV Gil said...

what a wonderful laugh! She certainly created oral fireworks when younger. Really like that quote too -- fantastic and defiant!
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