“In braccio a morte”
The recent death of the great Italian tenor Carlo Bergonzi at age 90 brings back many wonderful memories. One of the most striking of these memories is that I never saw a Bergonzi recital that was not attended by from one to several of his younger tenor colleagues, including Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. They all knew they had something to learn from the master. This situation is by no means common; I cannot recall ever seeing a noted tenor attending a recital or concert by any major tenor other than Bergonzi. The last time I heard this paragon was in Madrid when he was 65 years old. Excepting some strain beginning at B flat, he was the same great singer as ever. Many have testified to the surprisingly high quality of his singing at a New York recital when he was 75! But the core of our memories of this fine artist go back to the years of his happily long prime.
The Italian phrase in my title (“In the arms of death”) comes from the final scene of Verdi’s Un Ballo In Maschera which offered Bergonzi what most admirers considered his finest role. How appropriate that it is by Verdi, as Bergonzi was always particularly associated with the music of his great compatriot. He may have lacked the trumpet-like brilliance and glamour of such as Del Monaco or Corelli, but what he did have to offer more than compensated for that. There is much to be said for such virtues as impeccable legato, sound vocal technique, beautiful tone and fine musicianship, and these were among the qualities that Bergonzi possessed in abundance. Indeed, his solid technique and the wisdom never to push his lovely voice beyond its natural limitations, while still sustaining the necessary stamina and security in the upper register needed for some of Verdi’s heavier roles, helped make Bergonzi a master interpreter even of roles in such Verdi operas as Il Trovatore, La Forza Del Destino and Aida.
I hear people around me often say that the situation in the world is getting worse and worse. They seem to imply that in the past things were better, much better than they are today. They will talk about wars, global warming, pollution, violence in the streets, political leaders, the economy, insecurity, etc. to justify their pessimism. – What do these people think the world was like before? Do they think the Middle Ages were pretty? Do they think of the earth in the dinosaur age as some kind of pristine garden of love and harmony? Do they think the great plagues and famines that ravished the earth for thousands (maybe millions, even billions…) of years were times of joy and celebration? Do they not know how long humans lived before and how much they suffered? Do they think killing each other with swords, lances, and clubs is better than killing each other with drones and bombs? Do they think executions on crosses were better than electric chairs? Do they think the lives of peasants and slaves (certainly the vocation of most people on earth for the greater part of our “known” history) were a bowl of cherries? Have these people ever visited a Civil War hospital or Mexico during the Spanish invasion five hundred years ago? Have they seen a court of law in the eleventh century? Have they studied the two great wars of the twentieth century (what was it?…100,000,000 people killed?)? Continue reading Garden of Eden