Thursday, June 17, 2010

In Memoriam: Maureen Forrester 1930-2010

Celebrated Canadian opera star Maureen Forrester has died. The Globe and Mail reports:
Forrester was 20th-century Canada’s incarnation of the prototypical 19th-century diva. She sang incomparably, gave generously of her rare musical gifts and her worldly goods, and lived life “in the large.”

...Forrester established her unique persona early. On one hand she took pleasure in washing her own floors. On the other, she loved to live and laugh and spend money on beautiful things. In the wake of her marriage, which ended in 1974, she had some grandes affaires. Her singing career was major from the outset, stretching across five continents. In her prime she sang as many as 120 concerts a year.

She was a big woman, magnificent on the platform (always gorgeously gowned and coiffed) and charismatic on the operatic stage. She was always supremely present for her audience; your eye couldn’t leave her and, when she sang, neither could your ear. Her voice, arguably an opulent and capacious mezzo-soprano, officially a contralto, was famous in Mahler, ideal in Brahms and Dvorak, supple and agile in Bach and Handel, intimate in the most delicate lied and mélodie, simple or rude or funny in folksong or operetta.

An authentic celebrity, she touched the Canadian nerve as no other singer of her time had done.
After making her operatic debut later in her career, Forrester sang a wide range of mezzo soprano roles. In Verdi, Ulrica; in Strauss, Herodias and Klytemnestra; in Poulenc, the Old Prioress; in Massenet, Cendrillon’s nasty stepmother; in Menotti, the title role in The Medium. For her La Scala debut, in 1990, she repeated her Countess in The Queen of Spades.

Her MET debut came in 1975 when she sang Wagner's Erda in Herbert Von Karajan's production of Das Rheingold. The Wotan that night was Thomas Stewart and the Fricka was Mignon Dunn. She later sang Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera under the baton of conductor Henry Lewis, who happened to be married to another famous mezzo soprano.

The night of Forrester's MET debut in Das Rheingold was reviewed by Donal Henahan for the New York Times. It says in part:
Admit it. You looked at the cast before Monday night's Das Rheingold at the Metropolitan Opera and could not suppress a twinge of doubt. A fear for the worst even, to tell the truth. After all, thirteen of the fourteen singers in this first performance of the season in the Met's finally completed "Ring" cycle had not previously taken their roles with the company. Only Thomas Stewart as Wotan was familiar in his part.

And yet this turned out to be a first-class if not quite magical performance that compared favorably with Mr. von Karajan's own glorious achievement in the '68 premiere.
Need I draw any parallel's for you with this last MET season? Sounds very familiar, doesn't it - with all of the cast changes and debuts this last year? Well, it sounds familiar up until the first-class part, anyway.

What's more is that Christine Weidinger left the role of Woglinde that night after Scene 1 in order to substitute for Mary Ellen Pracht, who had been scheduled to sing Freia but cancelled. To accomodate this change, Loretta Di Franco sang Woglinde in Scene 4.

Boy howdy... talk about a switch-a-roo.

I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that I've always thought it would be a grand idea for someone to name their dog Flosshilde ... nicknamed "Flossy" perhaps?

Wait a minute ... I'm suddenly reminded of a conductor I worked with once who had two cats named Fasolt and Fafner. Be that as it may, I still maintain that Flosshilde would be a stellar dog name.

But, let's move away from that - shall we?

I'd like to leave you with a tidbit that someone left in the comments section of The Globe and Mail article on Forrester's death:
I thank you for the wonderful tribute to an Opera diva whose rich chesty voice surpassed even that of American Mezzo Marilyn Horne. While 11 years younger than Ms Forrester I grew up also in the English speaking (not French speaking as your article states) middle class suburb of NDG (Notre Dame de Grace). I recall vividly passing by the house she lived in on Old Orchard Avenue, just down from Herbert Symonds Elementary School and hearing this "voice" wafting out the window of her home. I'd stand for minutes soaking the sound into my being until she stopped her afternoon rehearsal. To this day I am an opera nut and travel all over the world to hear the sounds that I first heard listening to what was to become a national Canadian treasure. Rest in peace. But continue singing with the angels.
This just goes to show you, singers ... you never know how your voice will impact the world even through a passerby.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A very good article, but...Maureen Forrester was really a Contralto, she was not a Mezzo. In my view, perhaps the greatest Contralto in the second half of XX Century.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...