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Shirley Verrett sings Lady Macbeth’s aria (Verdi)

Today I’d like to present one of my favorite recordings of opera repertoire. It is the aria of Lady Macbeth from Verdi’s opera, sung by Shirley Verrett. The recording was made at La Scala, Milan, in 1975. I view this performance as not just one of the best embodiments of this heroine, but also as an outstanding model of vocal technique, artistry and incredible stage presence.

I admire singers like Shirley Verrett, Luciano Pavarotti, Elena Obraztsova, and Cesare Siepi. Not only were they gifted with wonderful voices, but they also attained perfection in using them. It’s my belief that real excitement in opera cannot be achieved without perfection of vocal technique. It doesn’t matter how gifted by nature the singer is, he or she needs a perfect instrument to convey all their feelings and thoughts to the audience. This should be done not just by mimics or movement but first and foremost with the voice.

Still, perfect voice is not enough. To make the character alive the singer must charge it with his extreme energy. In general, I think singing is a result of emotions a person feels that are too overwhelming for simple words, and the inside flame can be expressed only by singing. The emotions can be happy or sad, but they have to be strong. Good singing can’t happen without that strong ardor inside. The singer has also to understand the character in depth, absorb his special traits. Combining all three important components – technique, artistry and energy – is a great challenge. The singers who are able to do this are rare, admired by the public and unforgettable. Shirley Verrett is one of them. Fortunately, her recordings are plenty. I keep listening, enjoying them, learning from them. For example, Desdemona’s aria (Covent Garden, 1983) or Tosca (the Met, 1978), to name a few.

I’ve picked up this very aria as a pinnacle of exceptional technique control, beauty and fullness of sound, highest drama, power and energy. I think the ovation given by the demanding La Scala public speaks for itself.

Song of the Day: October 2

from Michael Barrett:

For my final choice of this week’s survey of the Negro Spiritual, I have a selection of six from the amazing Shirley Verrett in live concert from the 1960s. Ms. Verrett was a vocal force and a major Met opera star. I had the good fortune to work with her in the 1980’s at the very end of her career, and it was a beautiful experience. The songs are (in order) :
1. Can’t Stay here
2. Hold On
3. I Want Jesus To Walk With Me
4. Ride On, King Jesus
5. Witness
6. Roll Jordon Roll
The formal style (and tradition) of presentation of these songs, which lasted for several generations, is in full display. The rolled rs, the pronunciation of Jordan as “Jerden”, and fully committed vocal power all contribute to performances of dignity and  deep religious conviction. This music may not have become the themes of our American Symphonies, as Dvorak had hoped, but it did (and continues to) make its way into our concert programs right there with Schubert and Beethoven.

Song of the Day: June 22, 2015

from Steven Blier:

A prayer for our country, in the wake of last week’s horrific killings in Charleston: “Oh Glory,” sung by Shirley Verrett in the early years of her career. The pundits are busy spinning this story, some of them in the most appalling, self-serving ways. This is my counterpoint to all the chatter.

Shirley Verrett’s RCA recording (now available on CD) was taken from her recital at Carnegie Hall in 1965. It was my first exposure to what we then called Negro Spirituals. How I wished that the music I heard at Riverdale Temple sounded more like this. I might have become more observant. For aficionados, I enclose two performances—the Carnegie Hall/RCA one I heard as a teenager, and another from four years later that I like even better. What is soul? Well, this is what it sounds like.
 (1969, with Warren Wilson)

 (Carnegie Hall, RCA Records, with Charles Wadsworth)

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