Thursday, December 6, 2007

What does the gardener do during the winter?

What does the gardener do during the winter? Even as recently as five years ago, the answer would have been very different for most of us. Now, it's easy to kill hours with email,
Wikipedia, Google, blogging, web site design and You Tube. I spend a lot of time checking out You Tube music videos. Amazing things turn up now and then. For instance, a few months ago I stumbled on a audio/film fragment which had me high as a kite for days: in this brief segment one hears and sees Luisa Tetrazzini singing along with a Caruso recording. Tetrazzini made plenty of acoustic recordings early in the twentieth century, mostly before the First World War. But I was not aware of any electric recordings. When listening to the old acoustic recordings, the question which immediately arises is "what did they really sound like?" Tetrazzini was one of the great vocal miracles of her time, maybe of all time. Who wouldn't want to hear that voice as it really sounded? So this brief fragment is precious. It catches Tetrazzini late in her life, at her "retirement" after a career which was fabulous and flamboyant but ultimately left her a ward of the state.
Years ago in the liner notes to a set of reissues of Tetrazzini's recordings I read the story about some fans who visited her in old age. Curious about the state of her once famous voice, they discovered that it took little prompting to get the once famous singer to go to the piano and sing a scale topped with a rousing high C. Tetrazzini is then reported to have triumphantly proclaimed: "I'm old, I'm fat, I'm ugly, but I'm still La Tetrazzini".
The film clip opens with Tetrazzini, obviously fat, probably old but hardly ugly, listening to a Caruso recording. The first time I heard this I experienced incredibly acute anticipation: Tetrazzini does not sing at first, and you can see her making the sort of movements which singers do before singing. And then suddenly that voice...she still had it in abundance.
Here's the link to the Tetrazzini film clip:

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