Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sylvia and Shirley


Well, I haven't really been inundated with guesses on the previous post's Violetta, so let me just do the "reveal": Sylvia Sass. This was the performance that catapulted her onto the world stages. Aix, 1976. Her acting is no great shakes, except for the one moment during Alfredo's serenade, but she looks amazing and proved her acting chops elsewhere (supposedly her death scene was incredible, though there are no clips from it on youtube, not yet, anyway). There are more than a dozen Sass clips on youtube at present, posted mostly by a user named "sylviasasslives."

By the way, I can indeed attest that she lives. I saw her sing a benefit at the Hungarian Embassy in Paris about two and a half years ago. To say that the voice is more or less completely shot is to be kind. She looked amazing, however. She presented this Hungarian would-be stud baritone, his hair slicked back in a pony-tail, as her "protege" (God knows exactly what that meant) who sang a not very good rendition of the Ravel Don Quichotte songs. The only thing he lacked were the pointed incisors!

She sang Liszt and Kodaly songs with very gusty, explosive vocalism that only exposed the sorry condition of her voice. They were performing in a salle in the embassy that was the most amazing room: very narrow, very deep, with the most amazing trimmed gold leaf on every column and molding. There was a platform at the front of the stage from which the singers entered stage right. There were some precarious stairs and La Sass was wearing some pretty spiky stiletto heels, and there was one narrowly averted accident in her traversal of those stairs.
The final number on the program was the Tosca-Scarpia duet from Act One (!?), hardly the most scintillating excerpt from the opera, and yet one was glad that something more ambitious was not attempted. But it gave her a chance to chew the scenery in a most engagingly theatrical way.

They saved the most grotesque number for an encore: a "La ci darem" in which our Sylvia portrayed the most artificially coy, arch Zerlina. It was a performance not to be forgotten. I only wish I had taken more thorough notes at the time. I ended up relaying my impressions by phone at the time, but I am sure I have forgotten any salient details, such as what she was wearing.

For anyone interested, be sure to check out the other Sass clips on youtube.

In closing, I simply MUST post Lady Macbeth's first scene as performed at La Scala in 1975 by the extraordinary Shirley Verrett. I have never heard anything like it, not from her and not from anyone else, either. The clip in the best condition is in two parts, both of which I post here. I believe her performance the role in its entirety is on youtube; I know I have posted the Sleepwalking Scene earlier. This is, if anything, even more amazing.

Okay, since someone has seen fit to remove these clips from youtube, I will just have to post these excerpts from Verrett's Met Tosca. She is at her most gorgeous physically here, and it is fabulous to watch a pro handle a role for which she was perhaps not perfectly intended by nature.

I also found a clip of a concert performance of the first Macbeth aria. It's not nearly as good as the Scala clip, and you miss her full characterization, but it's still damn good and it's still Shirley!

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Blogger AndrewGoesBroadway said...

The clips you have are "no longer available." However, I did go to youtube and watch her do a concert version of "Nel di della vittoria" which is pretty sweet:


July 17, 2007 at 6:53 PM  
Blogger AndrewGoesBroadway said...

I was talkin about Verrett, by the way. I am about to listen to a clip of her doing the Mozart Exultate Jubilate . . . this will be interesting . . .

July 17, 2007 at 6:54 PM  

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