Monday, September 24, 2007

Florence, We Hardly Knew Ye

One of my readers wrote in to me about Florence Quartararo. Evidently he heard her sing in the forties in San Francisco.

He was kind enough to do a search there for her Met performances on the Met Archives and this is what emerged.

There were two quotes from Howard Taubman writing of her in the Times.

This at her Met debut, as Micaela:
The young lady [Miss Quartararo] sang with astonishing assurance. She may be the find of the season...She has a voice of size, range and true lyric quality. It is produced with a smoothness and accuracy that make you wonder how it happened that this voice has been so well placed. One gathered that she had not had much formal vocal schooling. Perhaps it is better so.

As for Micaela's music, Miss Quartararo sang it with affecting simplicity. It is deceptive. It looks easy, and it does not overpower as does the music of Carmen. But it takes sensitivity and quality as a singer. Miss Quartararo, who is also good to look at, seems to have what it takes.
And on her Desdemona, one of only two she sang at the Met:

Florence Quartararo, one of the most promising additions to the Metropolitan last season, got a major role last night and made the most of it. Singing Desdemona in Verdi's Otello in place of Stella Roman, who was ill, Miss Quartararo gave a performance that would have been a credit to an outstanding veteran.

This was the first time that the San Francisco girl had sung Desdemona on any stage. She had done no more than two or three other roles at the Metropolitan. But aside from a somewhat unsteady start in the first act and an understandable unfamiliarity with the action, she made Desdemona convincing. And the measure of her achievement was that she did it, for the most part, by the appeal of her singing.

It was a performance that reminded old-timers of another American girl who appeared on this stage more than twenty-five years ago, also a novice in opera but with enchantment in her throat. That was Rosa Ponselle.

Miss Quartararo's voice is perfectly suited for Desdemona, and she used it last night with a sure instinct for the molding of the musical phrase, She had at her command a finely controlled range of tone from the delicately soft to the ringingly full. And in the last act, her handling of the "Willow Song" and the Ave Maria made you forget the soprano on the operatic stage and left you only with the heartbreak of the poor, bewildered Desdemona.

Miss Quartararo will sing this role even better as she gets used to it. There were several occasions last night when she almost made the wrong vocal entrance. Her costumes, obviously designed for a soprano of much ampler proportions were a persistent nuisance to her as she tried to move about the stage. But she had the voice, the feeling, the temperament and the figure for Desdemona.

What else did she sing there? A couple Donna Elviras and Countesses, a Pamina (at a student performance!), five or six Neddas, a pair of Violettas (those would have been fascinating to hear), and five Flower Maiden performances, and nearly a third of them out of town. Not a whole lot on which to hang a legend. And yet... we know how she sounded. And that, my friends, is the cruelty-free measure of what truly becomes a legend most!

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