“We Americans are not so critical of art as we are of showmanship.”
Mary Garden left recordings behind, so presumably we have at least a limited take on what she was like in opera. Yet, alone of the still famous singers, she has no clear-cut ID as a soprano. Wonderful? Flawed? More actress than singer? But can you get through her roles--Louise, Thais, whatever-her-name-is in Alfano’s Risurezzione--without being able to sing? We know Caruso and many others of his generation. But Garden remains a mystery.
I have just started slugging through Rasponi’s depressing tome, and last night saw a brief reference to Garden that suggested the singing was not plain sailing but she made up for it with artistry and charisma -- she was cited as a contrast to other singers who had sung Louise in a straight forward, conventionally beautiful and technically excellent way.
Oh CockyKay! Don’t give it up! Just pick a diva you really like or who “speaks” to you and follow her and try to get the gist of the spirit of her times and forget about conquering the book as a whole.
Otherwise it is just a drone of “In MY day, my dear, we did it thus-and-so….”
It would be a shame to give it up as it is a treasure trove of factoids. Giulia Tess, Augusta Oltrebella, and Germania Somebody, were interesting to me, as well, Lisa della Casa had a more ” modern voice”. Anyway, just my experience. Long time time I don’t read it.
Don’t worry Camille, I will persist and I am finding it very interesting. It’s just that the endless carping about how nothing is any good anymore, from the perspective of 1980 or something, does drag one down after a while, as you say!
the singing was not plain sailing but she made up for it with artistry and charisma
That’s pretty much the standard Garden legend, all right. And she did make some exceedingly un-lovable recordings, especially the later ones. But the better ones (I bought an Odyssey LP collection long ago) show a quite good lyric soprano. It doesn’t seem a voice equal to all the roles she did, like Salome and Tosca (which may be part of the source of the legend, especially after the repeated attempts eventually did their work on her). But her handling of “Depuis le jour” (I’m told she also made a second, much worse version of it) is quite striking, and I mean from a classic vocal viewpoint.
There were actually two parfums/perfumes named “Mary Garden”, the other is by McLean Perfumes of Detroit, Michigan. Yes, Detroit, you heard it right.
If there ever was a Kunsty diva, it would appear to be Mary. I am at a loss to ever have comprehended what it was she had, but then that is why I never, ever draw any final conclusions about any singer, or artist of any ilk, without having seen them live, in person, on the stage. Some things are too ephemeral, too ineffable, too fleeting, too fantasmagorical, to be reproduced in any way, shape or fashion. Never the same, no matter the fantastic technological advances of today, and the future.
And there’s the fun I find in going to the theatre live rather than sitting around mouldering with recordings.
I think the near canard about her not being much of a singer is due to the fact that her era was one of a high degree of technical proficiency across the board. Her singing would be considered superb today, but in Garden’s day, her abilities we’re run of the mill. More was required for stardom, either even superior voice and technique, or theatricality. Garden supplied the theatricality. But she was also a damn good singer.
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