Monday, August 17, 2015

Frail Bodies, Strong Singers at Any Age

These days you rarely hear singers who sing with true VOCAL FREEDOM in the commercial arena. Instead you hear singers who blast and push and force their voices for years until they have finally done so much damage to their voices they are forced into retirement, never to return to the stage.

This is not so with singers who studied carefully to achieve VOCAL FREEDOM in the Bel Canto way of singing. When asked to sing publicly years after their retirement from professional life in their frail and elder years they can sing yet with great majesty and expressiveness. Their health may be leaving them, but their ability to sing comes from their depth of spirit, which is as strong as ever!

My associate teacher in the Bel Canto House School of Singing Edwin Williamson had the great honor of visiting Anna-Lisa Bjorling, the widow of Jussi Bjorling, at her home in the year 1994. She showed him the room which Jussi kept aside for his singing, which contained the various regalia, medals, certificates and other mementos that been awarded to him by the presidents and royalty in the countries where he had performed, and she told him of her memories of singing together with Jussi.

Then Edwin asked Mrs. Anna-Lisa Bjorling to sing for him. At first she was reluctant, saying "Oh, it’s been such a long time since I have sung..." But Edwin began to sing Puccini’s "O mio babino, caro" and she instantly joined in with him. Edwin is a witness to the fact that she sang perfectly well even though she had long since retired. This is an experience that Edwin will fondly carry in his memory for the rest of his life.

Another great Bel Canto singer named Tito Schipa made his operatic debut in Vercelli, Italy in 1909 at age twenty. He had an impressive career singing all over the world including the Met in New York City and in several films. He sang professionally for fifty-five years. Even in his seventies he was able to fill the great opera arenas with his tenor voice which was always subtle, light and fully expressive. The last concert he gave was in 1962 in New York. The critics at that concert gave wonderful accounts of his performance. Recordings of that concert are still in publication, and I recommend to you to get a copy and hear it for yourself.

The Croatian-born soprano Zinka Milanov enjoyed a certain degree of fame and success in her younger years, though her voice tended to be somewhat shrill. However, she did not fully come to maturity in her singing voice until she was in her forties. Her later work is a clear example of true VOCAL FREEDOM, and her wonderful interpretations of Verdi and Puccini roles earned her a place in history as one of the best dramatic sopranos of her day.

When she retired from The Met in 1966, Milanov took up teaching on a full-time basis. In an interview with Etude magazine in the early 1940's she said: "I love to sing for my students. I love to demonstrate for them." (She used her own voice when she taught– not the piano.) She also said that she loved to sing for her plants and her flowers. When asked what makes a singer great, she answered: "Those who work hardest at their art."

1 comment:

John Allan said...

Thank your for this and the moving story of Mrs. Anna-Lisa Bjorling singing with Edwin.

I am reminded of contact with old aboriginal singers. One old songman in the Kimberley, 81 years of age sitting on the ground at ceremony - back straight as a die a singing in full voice for hours. Another older woman in central australia. Powerfull voice singing ceremony at the drop of a hat for hours. Both singing song series of great antiquity that told vast stories.

Sorry I am not in Ireland as I think you are on the money with your observations re storytelling as the basis of beautiful singing.
John Allan