Thursday, August 03, 2006

Comment

Sure, Schwarzkopf meant enough to me as a dewy opera kitten it seems I should say something on her passing, I think now confirmed. Needless to say, her death is not going to provoke the kind of outpourings of some recent losses; she was notoriously tough and perhaps even cold, her heyday ended long ago, and we never end up knowing these things, but much was asked and said about her politics, which may have been of the very worst.

Well, when I was 19 and just past my initial mystification that one singer could be told from another, hers was a voice (the second, after Callas) I could clock right out of the gate. Everyone likes to feel knowledgeable. I bought the Karajan Figaro, senza secco, because it was on two discs and cheap, maybe my first complete or quasi-complete opera recording. I liked that it didn't have the chatter, which I couldn't see the music in, just the meat and no bones. I liked Irmgard Seefried (still do). But really I guess I was, yeah, very taken with the quavery, regretful sound of Schwarzkopf's countess. I have mixed feelings these days, maybe preferring a little more lushness.

Later that year, I spent my first summer in Bloomington, and bought myself a birthday present of Karajan's Ariadne, 100% unfamiliar with the piece. It took me a while to warm up to--much of the prologue felt like bones. I remember falling asleep in the heat and awful humidity with the endless closing duet on like a fever dream in the background. What I immediately took to, though, was Schwarzkopf's full-soul plunge into "Es Gibt ein Reich." It remains perhaps my favorite reading of any aria. She never sang it onstage, right? But she sings it like she's absolutely ecstatic about the idea of dying, and pretty much nobody else does that.

So it's odd I am not very moved by her death, but then it would be odd to be moved by it too, in a way (I start to sound like a broken record about the death of people we've never met: not ours, not ours.) I guess for the past X years I've been less moved, in many roles, by what I remember reading of as her "interventionist" style. I'm not sure why Ariadne is exempt: to me it puts everyone else's Ariadne in black and white. Her four last, though, seem academic. Her Capriccio Countess doesn't break my heart, really even a little. Lately it's a style I associate with the terrible decline of Fleming, so maybe there's that on top of it all.

Well, how many times can we say it's the end of an era? It really does feel historical, though, or am I alone on that? Who else from that particular time is still with us? Maybe instead of putting on her Ariadne tonight I'll put on the Figaro, if I can even still find it, and think of that era in singing and its grace: Schwarzkopf, Seefried, Jurinac, Kunz, all sounding to me like photographs of my family from the 50's look, irretrievably steeped in another way of living.

19 comments:

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

Some bitch on Amazon once called Frau S a 'constipated school marm'.
I never got the adulation either- she obviously thought a lot about the text and was serious about communicating rather making mere pretty sound. But I always got the feeling that before each aria, there was an implicit "ACHTUNG! I WILL NOW ILLUMINATE THE SUBTEXT".

I can't think of another famous artist who I liked better when, instead of holding back (always in complete control, offering only what she is prepared to offer) she actually turned on the juice and let some real sound out. Most of us start to degrade as we turn up the volume, but I heard the opposite from S. And then, it would be gone, back to her finely controlled- selfish even- thread.

Listen to her Alice in the von K 'Falstaff'... she holds back even while crescendoing the climaxes in her first scene (her tone turns sour to my ears). And then the laughs: they don't come out as notated laughter, but more like precisely placed sixteenth notes with the word ha written above them. Zis is ze time on Falshtaff ven ve laugh.

I hate to start a riot, but I also have the Count von Karajan 'Ariadne', and I think that the conductor is more responsible for the success of that recording than the leading lady(ies). No one anywhere else gets the 'Tone, tone' section as perfectly (just slow and gentle enough to make me think I am the one about to swept up by Bacchus-- sigh.....).

Maury D'annato said...

Sprockets, as a cultural reference, will absolutely never get old. It is evergreen.

I'll give Karajan a share of credit on that record but how you gonna be hatin' on Irmgard Seefried and Rita Streich? Ok, not exactly hatin' but slightly discounting the merit of. I played Seefried's Komponist for someone who had just played me von Otter's, and we laughed and laughed. At the follies of youth, or of living singers, or of Swedish people, or something. My point is Irmgard is so spontaneous and full of teen-angst. It just slays me.

Anonymous said...

Scwarzkopf: ordinary instrument, tedious over-interpretations. She would have been nowhere without Walter Legge. And several people who knew or met her said she was quite unpleasant.

JSU said...

And several people who knew or met her said she was quite unpleasant.

A truly hilarious knock -- is there anyone in the world this could NOT describe?

Maury D'annato said...

JSU: Lucia Popp, ha!

PietB said...

Maybe because I'm old, maybe because I'm German, I always was affected by Schwarzkopf's performances. To me, her Strauss was incomparable, her Countess in Figaro a marvel of dignity and pain. Many younger (and perhaps more impassioned) opera lovers compare her to Callas because they were contemporaries, but that seems sort of like comparing Brando to Olivier. There was warmth in her voice, but it was Northern warmth, not the blaze of the Mediterranean, and I would argue that she represented the last of the native speakers in the German rep, just as Scotto does for the Italian -- an ease and spontaneity of communication, a clarity of conversation, that I don't hear any more. I pretty much don't care if she was difficult; how many great artists are sweet and fuzzy, after all? I've never heard that either Callas or Sutherland was exactly a picnic in the park, backstage, just to take examples. Am I all wet?

Maury D'annato said...

Brando to Olivier: just so.

I go back and forth about whether it matters what they were like. By all accounts Callas doesn't sound like someone you'd want to spend any time with, as you say, and Strauss though he wasn't really complicit with Nazism was what we look at today as a mostly silent bystander. Still it is easier to like them when they appear to be decent folk, and the first time you actually meet an artist who turns out to be an ass or something worse, it gives you pause.

Winpal said...

You know, Maury, I must say that there are few people who blog as well as you. If I was articulate, I would have written something quite like what you so succinctly and thoughtfully, even eloquently, said. Thanks for putting into coherent words just what has been formlessly floating around in my head. Brava.

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

I will agree that Seefried's Komponist is very good; but I was thinking of Streich when I said lady(ies). I prefer Gruberova--
I bought the Leontyne recording just to have Gruberova's earlier performance of the part (and so I could replay and replay the trademark Leontyne high soft on 'und ging im Licht'... which comes out as: LiUhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhSHHT).

The thing that strikes me as odd about Schwarz's reputation is how all official sources report that her voice was perfect, as though it were some objectively established fact.
The story on All Things Considered practically lead with the line Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, opera singer with perfect voice, died yesterday at her home, etc...
It's as if it were some fact that everyone learned in Music Appreciation class, along with the year Mozart died.
Then they all say to support that assertion is, "It was silvery."

It would be similar if someone introduced Renee Fleming (or anyone else) as 'the singer with the most beautiful voice in the world'. You could say she's popular, or that a lot of people really love her voice-- but it would sound strange to make a subjective assertion of 'most beautiful' or 'perfect' as though it were easily observed fact.

Maury D'annato said...

Mr. Winpal, I thank you for your kind words, and I'm glad you liked it. I'm also secretly amused that, as one of the minority of opera bloggers with a male alias, I still rate a "brava!"

Meretrice: but Fleming practically IS introduced that way!! We're going to have to agree to disagree on Streich, who I've always found awfully charming as Z.

Winpal said...

Certainly a more congenial vowel with which to sing your praises. Unless, of course, one is Sutherland.

Maury D'annato said...

Your cries of "Buh-vuh" are equally welcome, Madame Sutherland.

Anonymous said...

Well, JSU, I can think of hundreds and hundreds of musicians to whom the description "unpleasant" would never be applied. I'm sure you have read or heard stories of Schwarzkopf being mean-spirited. It's not a "hilarious knock", merely a remark on her personality that has been cited before.

Maury D'annato said...

Kids, no fighting on my blog.

Ariadne said...

I have struggled to understand Dad's Schwarzkopf worship for many decades now, and I finally "get it". (Uh, I think.) He's 75 and was born & raised Austrian (naturalized the year I was born.)

Okay, bear with me here. If you watch, say, her '61 or is it '62 Marschallin MINUS the filter of soprani who came later, you hear a crystal clear voice, precise and flexible, with diction to die for (ie you can understand the words) and you see a pretty woman, nice to look at, with some damned fine *subtle* (remember when understated was good?) acting and oh yeah, alot of very Viennese style sophistication & class.

She acted and interacted well with Jurinac & Ludwig on stage and, to my knowledge, neither of them (nor Von K.) complained about her work ethic or professionalism.

I admire and respect her work, and can learn alot from her style. Mozart & Strauss, wow! Beyond that, I guess it's just a generational thing.

Sorry, I still don't completely get it myself (don't tell Dad), so that's the best I can do.

ps The comparisons with Callas crack me up. Can we all practice saying "different" and "repertoire" in the same sentence a bit more?)

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

I've read that Schwarzkopf took Lucia out of her rep after seeing Callas perform it. Sounds apocryphal-- I can't find anything about Schwarz ever doing Lucia.

TomN said...

It was Traviata, not Lucia -- it's doubtful that Violetta was a role for Schwarzkopf anyway, so hardly a great sacrifice there (and yet by giving up the role to Callas she managed to seem so complimentary at the same time. Evidently she did learn a lot from her husband). But I do love many of her recordings. And like you, Maury, she was one of the first distinctive voices I heard along with Callas. I still hear her voice even when others are singing Exsultate Jubilate, and really enjoy the craziness of her Donna Elvira.

Maury D'annato said...

I think there's not much recorded evidence of her days as a leggiera. I'm almost certain I had an almost unrecognizable recording of her as Konstanze at one point, on the Gala label.

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