[because literally every day will be made better with listening to this. – Patricia Petibon with Mozart’s “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio” (under Harding); clip with thanks to Pakito Palote.]
But, actually, this is a post that started here in the comments, thanks to “early career stage clips” posted by Agathe and thadieu, and then starting to ponder what the “essence” of a voice or an artist is that is already palpable at a very young age, and that is – thanks to the wonders of YT, mostly – fascinating to sample in comparison to later, more polished performances.
And yes, I know, it’s sopranos again (White Shirt Monday programmed for tomorrow, though. With a mezzo. Promise!). Because at the end of the day – mezzo or not, trousers or skirts – we simply talk about music and interpretations that move us. Lately, that includes quite a few sopranos (if you want to blame someone, blame the Paris “Mitridate”).
So, time travelers, buckle in and behold mid-twenties Patricia Petibon in 1994, with Handel’s “Messiah” under William Christie (thanks again for the find, Agathe – clip with thanks to RITAGORR):
Apart from the impressive technique – range and control of dynamics and also coloring at that age! (I always remember the Bartoli quote of “At age 20, I had exactly one color”) – look at the sheer joy of employing color and dynamic range (much smoother today, but how could you not be impressed by that will to transmit something?), and, most of all, look at the absolute earnestness and conviction of her delivery.
I don’t find that to have changed at all in the past 20+ years, and it is perhaps a core element of her stance that has enabled her later artistic trajectory.
Talking about one soprano favorite and their expressiveness of course led us to other soprano favorites and how earlier soundbytes often give us a better grasp on what, in current recordings or performances, are technical decisions, and what is a given timbre, and I find it fascinating particularly for singers who work a a lot with conscious styling as opposed to just sailing into the horizon on a boat of pretty material.
On Eye Bags, we come from a wide array of professional backgrounds – people with musicological training and without, people who do or do not practice music in addition to listening it. And I find that to give surprising insights into what moves listeners beyond the usual range of semi-trained or wanna-be musicologists who sagely nod at things they recognize in their reviews in the print press or ‘expert forums’.
thadieu shared an early clip of Anna Caterina Antonacci, who evokes strong reactions across the board – from belcanto lovers, it’s usually how her singing is ‘flawed’, or even technically ‘wrong’. – But from what perspective?
Antonacci’s voice may not be the prime example of sheer tonal beauty. And her approach is surely not to sound as beautiful as possible (and, yes, some of her technical choices may be outside of what is considered ‘good’ belcanto), but then again, what is her aim? She is a very gifted storyteller. A bit like the Anna Magnani of Italian singing – proving that beauty is an approach or an action, not a material fact. And material beauty can, at times, stand in the way of transmitting a story. (and I don’t mean this in a verismo way, necessarily. I think you can sing early seicento that way, too – just listen to the way Antonacci does some of her finest dramatic work in Monteverdi)
thadieu, who does not speak Italian, says, “but I get it” when Antonacci sings, and isn’t that what it is all about? (it’s also interesting how most singers named on here, independent of tonal beauty – that e.g. Petibon, I would argue, has in spades – get singled out by us for their expressiveness and perhaps that is also because for the most part, we don’t judge as much by technical facts and belcanto conventions. And, yes, you can objectively – more or less – judge how well a singer fulfills a technical requirement, and you can be a perfectly good storyteller within these confines, but sheer technical prowess does not necessarily move your audience to tears, travels to your shows, and lengthy social media discussions. (recent personal example: I certainly didn’t write the possibly longest post in the history of Eye Bags on Papatanasiu’s Sifare because of the sheer beauty of her tone.)
For Antonacci in comparison, listen to the 2003 Cassandre of Berlioz’ “Les Troyens” in Paris (fine, not that current, but I couldn’t find the 2012 Covent Garden):
[clip with thanks to Danny Nachmani]
And now listen to this clip (thanks to ziropera for providing it) of Antonacci singing “Col sorriso d’innocenza” from Bellini’s “Il pirata”, at the Callas Competition all the way back in 1988.
Yes, some bits are wacky and there are technical aspects she does of course control much better later, but just listen to that same, fearless commitment to actually transmitting something above all else. Look at perhaps not the storytelling per se (of course she has grown in that regard, too), but look at the *drive* behind her storytelling. That’s already there.
Lastly – and because that is what happens these days if you let thadieu and me talk to each other about singing and singers for any length of time – we talked about Myrtò Papatanasiu, and one of her very early clips on YT
(though if any of you owns that 2003 “Fidelio” bootleg: we are listening!).
Papatanasiu has been around for more than a dozen years (so not quite the mid-90s of Petibon, or the late 80s of Antonacci, but still, we’re kind of late to the party), and there is a 14-year span between this year’s Paris broadcast of her Sifare (I’m not embedding the clip here because a) I have a vasted interest in it remaining online since there will likely be no DVD of it, and b) because I know that on thadieu’s channel, you don’t need sunglasses against nasty comments) and this early Pergolesi “Stabat mater” below (taped in Larisa in 2002 with the local conservatory choir). You’ll have to tell your ears to be patient with the tempi, if you’re used to historically informed performance practice, and be a little lenient with the recording quality, but it’s another time-travel glimpse at the Artist as a Young Woman: Of course Papatansiu is more polished in commanding her range today, and she has much more color variety at her demand, especially in work with diction. But listen to that innate grasp of line she has here already, and I don’t mean that as ‘good instincts’ but as ‘conscious choices’ as to where a phrase accent should go to make a listener sit up and take note: listen to how at this point already, she moves beyond a lyrical approach of just building a beautiful line.
[clip with thanks to the Larisa conservatory choir channel on YT. They have a full cast & crew listing, too.]
Perhaps what sets all these ‘younger’ clips apart is, more than any outstanding vocal material, the audible commitment to telling stories, from a vantage point that may still be a little blurry, but in all these cases, you have a clear claim to a distinct vantage point already.
If you want to objectify voices at a distance – sink into them in a culinary way without actually *listening* to them and letting them challenge you in your own humanity – I would say that these three are not for you. I guess you *could* listen to at least Petibon and Papatanasiu that way (and then probably scoff at the “imperfections” and the “over-acting” in the YT comments), but I think it would be a disservice to their approaches.
Perhaps in all beauty, it is still foremost stories that we connect to. And it is stories – those narrative eyes of the beholder – that constitute beauty in return…?