Saturday 6 November 2010

And still they go

O numi, o ciel, what a year it's been for distinguished deaths: many of them in the natural order of things as we so equably acnowledged in the stunningly energetic Mackerras memorial concert on Thursday, the inevitable few untimely. Just as I'd finished my homage to Rudolf Barshai for The Arts Desk, I flipped over to Parterre and found that glorious Shirley Verrett had died at the age of 79.

I never saw her on stage - not sure there was much opportunity this side of the pond, at least when I had grown to opera-going maturity - but I always loved her Verdi tigresses: few mezzos had a more redoubtable chest-voice. The obvious choice is this, delivered in a tacky studio set and with just a teensy bit too much lingering, but at least the emotions have time to tell.

And thanks to the Parterre punter who drew my attention to this:

So let's have a lollipop encore to lower the emotional temperatures. As one of my students said last night, Yan Pascal Tortelier's latest, slightly OTT appearance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra yielded a 'real peach of a concert', pure delight from the Hindemith we'd so keenly anticipated through the cheerful burble of Debussy's early Fantaisie to the Ravel Pavane and his unsurpassable orchestration of Musorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (every segue, every tempo perfectly judged, I thought).

But the surprise gem was Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's encore. I didn't recognise it, and nor did orchestral pianist Liz Burley. I guessed French, I guessed toccata, so I was about as right as you can be without knowing the piece. Here it is played (not quite so humanly, but impressively enough) by Aldo Ciccolini.


Will said...

Yes, Shirley sang on your side of the pond, on both sides of the Channel.

There's a wonderful video of a Covent Garden Samson et Dalila in which the director and the design team decided that if you're given an African goddess, go with it. Her first appearance is stunning, draped sensuously in African cloth and hung with gold, moving elegantly toward Samson to whom she is obviously the most exotic creature he's ever seen. And it just gets better; she sings, she dances, she seduces. At the final curtain there's the ritual big bouquet presented by a liveried CG footman. One knows that she knows this is going to happen but her wonderful "Oh, for ME?!" expression and gesture is priceless. The crowd loves it.

She had a significant career in Paris following the famous stint at La Scala where, after her Lady Macbeth, management offered a blank contract for her to dictate what roles she would like to sing and when. In New York, my earliest performances of hers date back to when she was still Shirley Verrett-Carter (Beethoven's Missa Solemnis during opening week of Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center). At the MET, her Eboli was incredible, a thing of passion and gorgeous tone. In Boston, her Aidas and Desdemonas were perfection. The last production in which I saw her was the famous Hytner Carousel, looking great and seeming for all the world to be having the time of her life.

Because of a friend who was close to her, I had three occasions to meet Shirley in person, spending large amounts of time with her. She was warm, unaffected, unfailingly gracious, funny and elegant. A very great artist and lady!

David said...

Well, Will, I did qualify about my 'opera going maturity', but you're right, I could have seen Verrett's Dalila - and Jon Vickers's Samson - in the early 1980s (I only know it on film, but I did see Domingo and Baltsa in 1985. Great singing, mostly unsexy opera, what a shame).