Tape 28

Closing Words – Sydney Barker

This survey is complete.  The journey ended.
For those of us who love the tenor voice, there has been much to wonder at, much to learn, much to contemplate.

We have discovered the various schools of singing, the Italian, the French, the German, the Spanish, and the Russian.
We have learned to distinguish between the lyric tenor, the spinto, and the dramatic Robusta.
And we know better now, than to try to compare Tamagno with Clement, Melcher with Skipa, or Krauss with Vickers.
Tenors all, but so very different.

We have noted the change in popular operatic taste, the enormous influence of Wagner and Verdi, and the resulting change in repertoire, leading eventually to the introduction of Puccini and the other verismo composers.
And we have discerned this stagnation of the repertoire during the past 70 years.

Operatic music is no longer the popular idiom and modern composers have been completely unable to reach the public at large, having lost their melodic roots.

It may well be, that the next generation will simply consign opera to the museum.
Faced with the stagnation of repertoire, opera producers, conductors, and singers, have retreated into the past, to re discover the beauties of the old bel canto operas.
This renaissance was in fact, spearheaded by two great post-war soprano’s, Maria Callas, and Joan Sutherland.  Who were able to demonstrate that these simple old-fashioned melodies, could be transformed from empty pyrotechnics, into moments of great beauty and scintillating virtuosity, by singers with the creative ability to do so.
So must they have sounded from the Pasty’s, Greis’s and Marla Brands of an earlier age.

Our survey has given us a chance to hear some rare gramophone records and some unusual and interesting music, when selecting items by French and Russian tenors, I have, in the main, tried to play them singing music by their own composers, and I have tried to include some lesser-known arias in addition to the more popular ones.

I have enjoyed presenting this series enormously and am very grateful for the kind gifts and compliments received.
Most important of all, is the rekindling of old friendships, which were perhaps beginning to drift into nothing more than memory.

My final thanks must go to Eddie Findlay, without whose support and assistance, this survey could never have been completed, in its final form.
I’m sure that 50% of the records, must have been from his own collection and nobody could have enjoyed listening to and presenting them more than I have.

However, I do not wish to have the last word on our survey.  That must surely go to a tenor.
An American high note specialist, who is at present, making a name for himself, is Chris Merritt.
He recorded some fascinating Donizetti and Rossini Arias for Arato during the 80s and an even more fascinating record of Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini, and early Verdi, in 1987.
1990 has seen him in the new Arrato recording of Rossini’s Zelmira.
But his most important recording to date, was his selection for the very difficult tenor role of Arnold, in Phillips’ new recording of Rossini’s, William Tell.

I have not been able to collect any biographical details of the singer, for the survey.
But offer instead, his personal view of the linguistic problems, associated with the singing of the great aria, Omuto Asio,  or Asile Hereditaire from William Tell, which of course, was Rossini’s last opera and which was written for the Paris opera with French Libretto.

Chris Merrit, “What’s the difference between singing, the big Act 4 Aria in French and Italian.
The difference between singing Amuto Asile and singing the French version.

I think, it’s the inherent difference between French and Italian themselves.
You find in the translations of course, an impossibility to translate anything directly because their idiomatic phrases that just don’t translate from one language to another.
And I feel so very sorry indeed, for translators who have to search for something to fit the same mood of a sentence or phrase, that is being said and have to put it to a certain rhythm of music, at the same time, in a different language in what it was composed.

As a singer, we have constantly the Salieri fight, what comes first, the music or the word.
I am up the school that the word comes first and therefore the music is composed, to reflect the emotion of what is being said and therefore, I find myself, the French version much more homogeneous to portray, just from a simple lyrical standpoint.
It seems to be, almost like an old forgotten but very comfortable pair of shoes, when you put them on, after one has sung, especially in Italian.  Italian has quite a bit of dramatic thrust, just inherent in the language itself.

The French have a great tradition for lyricism in their plays, in their literature.  The lyrical aesthetic beauty of the language is very particular to that particular language, to the particular sound of the language and that really has a lot to do with what it feels like to sing this Aria. for example, Amuto Azile which is the translation in Italian from Azile Hereditaire.
The French comes out as being much more, almost, I don’t want to use the word ‘delicate’ because it’s not delicate, I don’t think that the music allows it to be delicate, but it feels like you’re doing something that was written for a cause, for a reason.
When you sing, or when I sing, the Italian version, I feel like I’m singing something that has been changed, something that does not belong to the music and that’s not a reflection on my part of the translators, they did the best they could, but like I said, back at the beginning, it’s a very hard job indeed for anybody to translate something for music.