Friday, 5 August 2011

August Opera Challenge Day Five: Best Alto/Contralto

Several years ago when I was living far from home, my mother sent me an audio documentary about the founding of Glyndebourne narrated by Ralph Fiennes. It was my general interest in opera and my fondness for Fiennes that led her to send it, but she'd stuck a little post-it note on the CD cover which said 'I love Kathleen Ferrier's voice.' I'm ashamed to say that I had no idea who she was, but through that documentary I heard her beautiful, deep, rich-toned contralto for the first time and learned a little bit about her life and singing career.

I have a theory that our favourite singers (well, certainly mine) do not always become so dear because of musical perfection alone. Often, there are memories and experiences linked to the first time we heard their voice drift out of a speaker, or the first time we saw them perform on stage. With Ferrier, I guess it added to the magic that I was miles away from friends and family, and it was comforting to get a recommendation from home that proved to be so wonderful. Her voice seems to be connected to a lot of lovely moments for me- last year a friend of mine was driving us back from an amazing performance at Welsh National Opera when her crackly, atmospheric performance of  'What is life to me without thee?' from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice came on the radio. It filled up the car and the darkness as we drove back from Cardiff, and has stuck in my mind almost as much as the opera we saw.

Orfeo in Orfeo ed Euridice was one of only two fully staged operatic roles she performed (the other being Lucretia in Britten's The Rape of Lucretia) and although she had a strong association with Glyndebourne and was well recieved at the Royal Opera House, she was thought to be a pretty uncomfortable actress. She died of cancer in 1953 aged just 41, so we'll never know if she could have been persuaded to add more roles to her repertoire. She left behind some beautiful recordings though, among them Mahler's Kindertotenlieder. Recently, German artist Mariele Neudecker produced a visual interpretation of the heartbreaking song cycle consisting of film, sculpture and lots of little walk-in rooms. It was Ferrier's recording that provided the musical backdrop, and when it was exhibited at Opera North's Howard Assembly Room, I found it very moving. So I'll pick the Kindertotenlieder (specifically In diesem Wetter!) even though it's not opera...


  1. Wow, she DOES have a gorgeous voice! Thanks for sharing. I find the Kindertotenlieder absolutely heartbreaking. This is a beautiful rendition of it.

  2. I first heard the Kindertotenlieder sung by Bryn and was quite shocked when I researched what the songs were all about- definitely heartbreaking but so compelling.

    I've only just realised that you're doing the challenge as well and have caught up with all your choices. It's great not to be doing it solo, and so interesting to learn about other people's opera obsessions : )