Saturday, January 19, 2008
The Voices That Have Gone, Part 7
My husband likes to listen to the 1957 Sir Thomas Beecham recording of La Bohème, not because he’s a connoisseur, but because it’s the one we have (I used to also have the von Karajan recording with the luminous young Pavarotti and Mirella Freni, but I gave it to my ex-husband years ago and haven’t had the heart to replace it). The Beecham recording features Victoria de los Angeles (above) as Mimì, Jussi Bjoerling as Rodolfo, Robert Merrill as Marcello (my favorite character in this opera), and Lucine Amara as Musetta. Sometimes it’s almost too much for me to hear these wonderful singers, all dead except Amara. No one sings like that anymore: the plangent, conversational, extremely feminine singing of de los Angeles is sui generis, as are Bjoerling's passionate yet slightly restrained Italianate style and Merrill’s combination of wit, warmth, and virility. The deaths of singers in the past year and a half have hit me very hard: Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, Jerry Hadley, and especially Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, whom many a sensitive young mezzo idolized fiercely for her depth of soul and her fragile humanity. But then again, sometimes I can’t even stand the thought that Beethoven is dead. I heard a recording yesterday of Yo-Yo Ma and Emmanual Ax playing his Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” from The Magic Flute (WoO 46), and it struck me as the most perfect music ever written; and I longed for those days in Vienna at the turn of the nineteenth century, when, at least in my imagination, the soul was less fettered and there was a lot more great music around to ease the pain of life.