Sometimes it really is all about the music. Here is the latest edition to our blog series which explores life-changing moments when opera lovers were born.
I was about nine years old when I first heard an excerpt from Faust performed by the incomparable Feodor Chaliapin. He sang the Rondo "La Veau d'Or.” The recording was a scene from the opera where Mephistopheles enters the festivities and offers to sing. I have never heard a performer (before or after) who could vocally dominate a scene so completely—that the focus on him was so complete. His interpretation was so effective that, as of today, I still get shivers from hearing this particular selection. Furthermore, I am convinced that if there is a Devil it would sound exactly like Chaliapin.
Above: a recording of Feodor Chaliapin singing "La Veau d'Or" from Gounod's Faust.
Some of my early memories of classical music came from a friend’s dad playing 78 vinyls of Enrico Caruso. However, the real turn-on came when, at 10 or 11, I first saw Risë Stevens of the Metropolitan Opera sing and dancing the “Habanera” from Carmen in a movie with Bing Crosby. As I look back, I realize that I inherited a love of Latin music from my mother, an accomplished pianist who played for silent movies in a small theatre in Nova Scotia. This was all the more surprising as she was a MacDonald of Scots and Irish decent, but by then Xavier Cugat had brought to North America many catchy Latin melodies, as did Edmundo Ros in England. My love affair with the opera Carmen, especially the “Habanera,” has expanded to many mezzos, much to the consternation of my cousin and retired soprano, Jeannette Zarou of Düsseldorf. Though not a full-fledged subscriber, I do attend several COC performances each year, as well as a number of noon Free Concerts in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre.
Above: (left) acclaimed Canadian soprano Jeannette Zarou in La Bohème (COC, 1976), photo by Robert Ragsdale and (right) Stephen Hargreaves and Clémentine Margaine performing in the Free Concert Series, photo by Lara Hintelmann.
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Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001