You know, the French really are better than the rest of us. (Though not in calcio, of course.)
Here’s one bit of proof. About ten years ago, I was in the ville lumière, listening to the radio on a stormy winter night. On the air: A roundtable whose mission was to choose the finest recording of “Che gelida manina” from Puccini’s La bohème.
The hosts played version after version, with rhapsodies and genuflections for Bjoerling, Pavarotti, etc. Then Carlo Bergonzi’s rendition aired. There followed a long, stunned silence, after which someone whispered, tears in his voice, C’est Rodolphe!
Another version started. Blah blah blah, “Aspetti, signorina”—vrrrrrrrrrrrrrip, the sound of a stylus being dragged across vinyl. And then the hosts said, in so many words, F*ck this, let’s play Bergonzi again—which they proceeded to do, several times.
Only in France!
All of this to introduce one of my desert island discs: Carlo Bergonzi’s recording of “Che gelida manina,” made in 1958 with Tullio Serafin conducting, offered as a premiereopera podcast. One could pick nits—there’s at least one honking aspirate, for starters—but, overall, the performance seems to me to approach that chimeric state known as perfection.
You can marvel at Bergonzi’s sumptuous tone, his mind-boggling diminuendo at “Chi son?”—but I will thrill to his sense of musical architecture, the way he keeps the music conversational and moving forward despite Serafin’s ultra-spacious tempos. You can swoon over the majesty and ease with which Bergonzi phrases through the (C?) at the aria’s climax—while I relish his pellucid enunciation, the way he evokes moonlight and frosty night air despite that chestnut-and-bronze timbre of his, and the gentle smile that suffuses his voice at “Deh, parlate, chi siete?”
Most important, all of this vocal splendor is in the service of the music, with none of the look-at-me whorishness that is the province of stars but never of artists.
The rest of the podcast features excerpts from Butterfly, handsomely sung but skewing more towards the cannoli-and-ragù school of Puccini interpretation than I like. (NB:Butterfly should be sung like Pelléas. Uh-huh.)
Maestro Bergonzi turns 83 in July and, I’m told, is not in the best of health. Happily, we can enjoy not only an abundance of wonderful recordings documenting Bergonzi’s art, but also the work of many younger artists who trained with him—including Michele Pertusi, whose silken phrasing and patrician musicianship so movingly recall the maestro’s.
P.S. Speaking of the Olympus of vocalism: Back in January (how out of it have I been?),Mastro N posted Dalila’s “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” sung by Ewa Podleś.
I have no words—except that we should all chip in and buy a sixteen-ton weight to drop on the idiots who failed to bring Podleś back to the Met singing whatever the heck she wanted. (Since 1984, people!)
Note, too, that Podleś sang Dalila at the Bastille—further proof that the French are better than the rest of us (except in calcio).
Three women bloggers whose work I admire and try to learn from are celebrating happy landmarks. Let’s celebrate, too, shall we?
(By the way, I don’t know any of them. I just love their work.)
Chocolate & Zucchini, the cookbook by Clotilde Dusoulier of the blog Chocolate & Zucchini, is out today. Clotilde is an enchanting stylist—and English isn’t even her native tongue. Her book and her blog are chock-full of grace and whimsy and pleasure and smarts. Check out her tour dates: She’s in New York, Boston, and Chicago this week, with stops also scheduled for elsewhere in the States, London, and Paris.
Holly Becker of decor8 has landed a gig as a columnist at HGTV. She writes with immense generosity, and the luscious-shiny stuff she highlights always dances right off her blog and straight into my brain, where it rocks my world. (And Etsy!Who knew?)
Gretchen Rubin, who wrestles with matters transcendent and pragmatic at The Happiness Project, has landed a column-writing gig of her own at The Huffington Post. (Can I find her column? Not yet, but I plan to keep trying.)
Luckily for us all, my sister Giò was on hand to register the event for posterity. (She said something about an MP3 recorder, too. Hmm…) Please visit Bob and Giò for more complete reports. As for me, I shall soothe my sadness with a tiny tribute to l’altissimo poeta.
Bob read Canto XIX of the Paradiso. The 2006 Word Cup miraculously foretold this event, as number 19 was worn by Gianluca Zambrotta—Bob’s spiritual brother, the most elegant of the Azzurri and the thinking woman’s sex symbol. I remind you: There are no coincidences.
Eh, pupo, in do’ tu vai? Ma quanto sei bello!
La nazionale di calcio beve Uliveto, but Bob drinks San Benedetto. With all due respect to Del Piero: vilaine fille is switching brands!
Onorate l’altissimo poeta: Bob’s own book of poetry, L’indegnità a succedere, will be presented in Florence on 21 May at Le Giubbe Rosse, ore 17.00. Quanto mi piacerebbe esserci! Mi pòvra dòna, ne dovrò attendere la presentazione nuovaiòrchese, una delle tante tappe della tournée globale.