Thursday, August 25, 2005

I Dig a Diva

I do not know why, but some voices, particularly female voices, just do something to me. Callas is one. Sam Phillips is another. She could sing "Happy Birthday" to me and I would have to go freshen up afterwards. Usually it's a mezzo-soprano, and thank the stars above we have a glut of them now, but sometimes it's a big steely jack-hammer of a sound like Leontyne Price. Or a "Bollywood" singer with a name too polysyllabic for me to recall here, my mind being somewhat limited even musically.

Tomorrow it will be the incredible Dawn Upshaw. My friends in the business say she's a little past her prime, but not so long ago she was winning Grammies, a total of three, I believe. We travel to Santa Fe to hear her in Golijov's Ainadamar, about the execution of poet Garcia Lorca, a fave also.

My spouse took me to the Met once to hear Cecilia Bartoli sing Despina in Cosi. When she first came out on stage she pulled the set behind her on a big long rope. She pulled an entire house onto the stage, then sang a bitchy aria about all the work she has to do for the two divas that she serves.

Later she has her big one. All men are fickle, she says, and unworthy of a woman's fidelity ("In uomini, in soldati"). So ironic, in the context of Cosi fan Tutti.

I will recall that, with tears in my eyes, as I lay dying hopefully many long years from now, and not so soon.

Upshaw has a most unique and natural voice. If you are unfamiliar with Gorecki's Symphony of Sorrowful Songs then stop what you are doing and go out and buy a copy right now. It was Upshaw's first hit, in which she sings actual words written by an 18-year-old girl on a Gestapo cellar wall. It was a traffic-stopper during New York drive-time when it was first played on public radio there. Tranquil and doomed yet... tranquil.

I must pack now. The voice calls me.

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