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Samuel Barber: The Daisies

I love this popular song because of the simplicity and charm it brings out from the moving eighth notes on both the voice and piano. Sometimes the least pretentious can be most rewarding.

Leontyne Price with Barber at the piano

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmXeA1GpXns
Marilyn Horne with Martin Katz

Leontyne Price’s Christmas album

Song of the Day is off for the holidays, but we are re-posting a week of holiday songs from NYFOS Managing Director Charles McKay. This post first ran on December 19, 2016.

I’m back for a week of holiday music.  First up, Leontyne Price with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan from 1960 (it was released Jan 1, 1961).  The CD is titled Christmas.

It is Price at her prime and her best and in the hands of Karajan with the Vienna Philharmonic it is a magical collaboration rarely heard.  The recording captures that gorgeous shimmering lush sound that she was famous for and here, performing these beautiful carols and hymns, it is simply one of the loveliest Christmas recordings (or recordings period) ever produced.

The two selections I offer are Mozart’s “Alleluia” and Adams’ “O Holy Night.”  I expect you will not want to listen to any other recording of “O Holy Night” after listening to this.

“Alleluia” from Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dn0fTUyah4I

“O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adams

Jules Massenet: Dis-moi que je suis belle

These days I find that I don’t venture out much to hear the standard operas at the Met. For one thing, I’ve been familiar with them since my pre-teen years, and their music is now so familiar to me that they have become like mantras or prayers, part of my ongoing inner soundtrack. And they have become part of my work life. Not only do I coach the arias from them on a weekly basis, but I also encounter those same excerpts in auditions with numbing frequency. Just as the public is settling in for the musical highlight they’ve been waiting for, I am squirming, subconsciously reaching for the the yellow legal pad I associate with those too-familiar war horses.

No surprise, then, that my two excursions to the Met this fall were for off-the-beaten path operas: Thomas Adès’ The Exterminating Angel and Jules Massenet’s Thaïs. The Adès piece, getting its American premiere, was absorbing, baffling, and bludgeoning. I dutifully bashed my head against it for its two-and-a-half-hour span, and felt I’d earned a glass of wine when I got home. My friends in the cast acquitted themselves well, and one of them even had a lengthy nude scene. Adès’ music sits insistently high in everyone’s voice, but apparently you also need to have a good bottom for certain roles.

Thaïs isn’t such a rarity, but I’ve missed it every time the Met has put it on. This time I vowed not to let it slide away from me. The opera is also famous for a nude scene—an impromptu one at its premiere in 1894, when soprano Sibyl Sanderson’s bodice somehow came unhooked in her Act I entrance scene. After treating the Paris audience to the sight of her naked torso, her career skyrocketed.

No nude scene in the Met production, which (alas) did not find other means to tell the story in a convincing way. The extreme awkwardness of the staging and the sets pretty much kneecapped Gerald Finley. As an actor, he was saddled with obstacles almost impossible for anyone to overcome, and he was still recovering from a bad cold that had made him cancel two performances. Ailyn Pérez, however, brought a voluptuous voice and physical beauty to the title role. Through her—and Emmanuel Villaume’s graceful baton—I could see what this hot-house flower of an opera might really amount to in a decent staging.

I offer you Thaïs’ Act II aria, “Dis-moi que je suis belle,” in which she implores her mirror to reassure her that she will always be young and beautiful. She prays to Venus, then she sings a big high D. You need a sensuous, soaring voice to make this music happen. Here’s the performance I grew up with—the glorious Leontyne Price in 1970. There are a couple of “oops” moments in her French pronunciation, particularly some unfortunate encounters with the vowel “u.” But the narcissism, the fear, the sensuality of Thaïs? Oh, man. Yes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-pzcbzkwHg

Leontyne Price’s Christmas album

I’m back for a week of holiday music.  First up, Leontyne Price with the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan from 1960 (it was released Jan 1, 1961).  The CD is titled Christmas.

It is Price at her prime and her best and in the hands of Karajan with the Vienna Philharmonic it is a magical collaboration rarely heard.  The recording captures that gorgeous shimmering lush sound that she was famous for and here, performing these beautiful carols and hymns, it is simply one of the loveliest Christmas recordings (or recordings period) ever produced.

The two selections I offer are Mozart’s “Alleluia” and Adams’ “O Holy Night.”  I expect you will not want to listen to any other recording of “O Holy Night” after listening to this.

Leontyne Price

“Alleluia” from Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate, K. 165

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUO8S16VOQo

“O Holy Night” by Adolphe Adams

Song of the Day: November 19

Steven Blier (photo Liv Hoffman)Leontyne Price sings Handel in today’s Song of the Day from Steven Blier:

Just before I hit the sack I did a routine check of my email. There I found a note from baritone, friend, and colleague Ricardo Herrera with the subject line “Sad News.” I clicked on it both hurriedly and reluctantly, knowing that it would bear the news of a death. Indeed, he was writing to tell me that Daniel Ferro had died at age 94. Dan was a prominent voice teacher, a guru of bel canto. I played for his voice lessons at Juilliard in the early 1970s, when he taught Neil Shicoff, Alan Titus, and Barbara Hendricks, as well as a who’s who of major singers of the day. He was always proud to have put Evelyn Lear’s shattered voice back together, to have mentored Kathleen Battle, and to have given other teachers like Marlena Malas the technical and aesthetic grounding they needed to start their careers. Later on he was the teacher of Hal Cazalet and John Brancy, some of my most valued colleagues.

He took me under his wing when I was a very, very young spud—a 21-year old kid with a degree in English literature and a lot of moxie. Dan was always teaching me as much as he was teaching the singer. I never went to music school, but playing in Dan’s studio my ears were sharpened to resonance, vowel, phrase, breathing—the technical elements of singing with taste and beauty. Those principles, combined with what I learned from Martha Schlamme and Alvin Epstein about acting and programming, were my true post-graduate degree.

In Dan’s memory, here is Handel’s “Care selve” sung by Leontyne Price. It’s not exactly our contemporary idea of Handel style, but…oh my, what singing. I am sure that Dan is now surrounded by such sounds in his new home, the green, heavenly forest. And in case you think Leontyne’s recorded performance was a fluke of the studio, I am enclosing a live performance, just as perfect. (Maybe even better!)


(live performance with David Garvey, pianist, 1963)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvFmPoz5DZk
(commercial recording, 1967)

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