Here is the kind of film for which DVD was made. It will appeal
to a very limited audience and is therefore highly unlikely to
be seen on British television as it now is. However, for that
limited audience it could well be something to be seen over and
over again. A brief description of what it is will probably be
enough for you to decide if you are part of that select group.
very opinionated bearded man with a very high speaking voice
- and apparently an even higher tenor voice – Stefan Zucker
– visits a series of sopranos and mezzo-sopranos who appeared
in Italian opera roughly between the 1930s and the 1970s. They
include Leyla Gencer, Fedora Barbieri, Marcella Pobbe, Anita
Cequetti and Giulietta Simionato. Although for the interviews
camera angles and movement are conventional there are also a
number of linking scenes, intercut with them and not necessarily
in chronological order. These show Zucker and his film team
travelling from one location to another and discussing what
they have heard or what they are about to do. These sections
are filmed with a hand-held camera. In addition there are frequent
extracts from black and white films made by these singers in
the 1950s and 1960s.
film’s weak points are easy to identify. It is surely too long,
repeats itself too often, and Stefan Zucker’s questions, asked
in very slow Italian are often not understood by the interviewees
- there are subtitles. No chance is given to the interviewees
to expand on matters on which I am sure that they have much
to say that is of interest. Nonetheless I found it fascinating
from beginning to end, and enjoyed this wonderful series of
stately ladies each with strong opinions and a splendidly stagey
manner. All are distinct from each other, from the formidable
Marcella Pobbe who wants to talk about herself rather than other
singers and makes this very clear indeed. Anna Cequetti manages
to say next to nothing of substance with enormous style. Then
there is the very frail Gina Cigna and also Carla Gavazzi whose
career was short but who gives probably the most interesting
and intelligent answers to Zucker’s questions.
main purpose of the trip was to discover what was special about
singers of this era, and how they differed from those of today.
Both are more apparent from the black and white film extracts
than from the interviews. Although these singers differed greatly
from each other, there is a clear sense that for all it was
the projection of the words and of the emotions behind them
that was fundamental to their art. These films are often poorly
produced with sets and costumes that are sometimes frankly comical,
but the patent sincerity of the singing makes this irrelevant.
All too many singers of today seem concerned above all with
beauty of tone and what they see as the musical line. Even
when they achieve this, however, the lack of phrasing derived
from the words all too often leads to results which can be curiously
lacking in drama. For all the occasional, and sometimes more
than occasional, infelicities of phrasing, line or intonation
in the singers in this film, their performances do have a dramatic
life for which these deficiencies can be readily forgiven.
I said at the start, this is not a DVD for everyone, but if
you do have an interest in Italian opera or in these singers
you may well find it as riveting as I did. And what a splendid
Christmas present it would make for any opera enthusiast who
thinks that they have everything!