But I'm older now and my views have changed. I understand what was great about Maria and Giuseppe, for one thing. Further, I've come to understand that there are no flawless singers, no super-human vocal techniques. All singers have human limitations. All human beings have limitations. Duh. We're mortal, it turns out.
No, I choose not to kneel at the altar of the Cathedral of Vocalists; my admiration for composers far exceeds what any of their interpreters have accomplished. That's not to say, however, that I haven't experienced amazing moments of operatic singing which have thrilled me - I have, I have!
So I cannot provide you a list of favorite singers. Instead, I've compiled a partial list of my favorite vocal performances, both recorded and from my memory banks of live performances. These are in no particular order, and are merely the first five that came to mind - I could have listed ten times as many, and may make this a recurring blog feature from time to time. But for now, here are five, three recorded and two live onstage, which rocked my world, brought tears to my eyes and gave me gooseflesh.
1. Tito Gobbi's recording of the title role in the von Karajan recording of Verdi's Falstaff. My first example is an excellent example of why I make no list of favorite singers. I would feel silly choosing Tito Gobbi as "favorite baritone" or "best baritone". As consummate an artist as he was, it's fair to say he achieved "A+" results with a "B" baritone instrument. Heard in some repertoire, especially later in his career, his voice lacked the richly-upholstered luxurious timbre of a Milnes or a Merrill; at the top of his range, this dryness of tone thinned out into a fairly labored production. You might say the steel belt often showed through the tread of his voice. (That's a tire analogy, right? You got that, right? Check.)
However, he is in both his glory and his element as Sir John Falstaff; it's a role he was born to sing, and it's a recording that has spoiled me for any others, no matter how distinguished. His vocal frailties actually become an asset in this role. In the scene when Ford comes calling on Falstaff disguised as "Signor Fontana", their duet of male bonding becomes a highlight. Since baritone Rolando Panerei tosses off resonant high notes with effortless ease, it's charming, humorous and pathetic all at once when Gobbi's Sir John echoes back the same phrases with considerable effort. It's perfect: Ford is young and healthy; Falstaff is getting on in years and obese to boot. That very effect of labored vocalism conveys everything about the character that a more opulently-voiced baritone can't communicate in the same way.
Gobbi is unsurpassed in making every word of Arrigo Boito's libretto leap off the page with genuine humanity. Every nuance of grandiose narcissism, mornonic self-delusion, gullibility and, yes, likeability through it all is right there for the listener to savor. Tito Gobbi as Falstaff is more human than half the real people I know. Probably more human than me, Glenn Winters.
Certainly more human than Mitt Romney. (Sorry, had to go there... it's a joke, people!!)
|Lawrence Tibbett: Jet-setter|
|A rather heavily made-up Pavarotti|
|Heidi Schmidt as Fiordiligi, Rome, 1999|
Congratulations, Heidi: you made my list.