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Thread: Janet Baker - In Her Own Words

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    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    Default Janet Baker - In Her Own Words



    This wonderful documentary was aired on BBC4 last week, and is available on BBC iPLayer for the next 23 days (but presumably only to people in the UK).

    Someone (not me) jas posted it on youtube, though I'm guessing that it probably contravenes copywight laws somewhere, so catch it before it's deleted.

    It's the best classical music programme I've seen in years, with Dame Janet's interview interspersed with comments by colleagues (including the late André Previn). One of the most interesting segments is watching Joyce DiDonato listenint to and commenting on Baker's art, but the whole programme is wonderful, incredibly moving and a superb insight into her personality and character.

    Baker might well be considered the greatest living singer, though long retired of coures. Don't miss it.
    Last edited by Tsaraslondon; Apr-21-2019 at 18:28.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    I watched it when it aired also, it's a really fabulous piece. It's so great to have an extended documentary on one of the greatest living singers, and it makes for an interesting contrast to the slightly fluffier programmes presented by Antonio Pappano. Some really touching moments with her husband as well. Thoroughly recommend!

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Well worth a watch! Especially as the contributors are musicians rather than critics.

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    'Don't miss it' indeed. That was a great insight into Janet Baker. Thank you for posting that Greg.

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    I too have seen the documentary and think it was a wise choice to make it 90 minutes long rather than the usual 60 minute format. This is the type of tribute that is often made when a singer passes away and it was wonderful that it was made with Baker's cooperation and so stands as a document of her career with her own views in the mix.

    Some of the best parts were where the musicians being interviewed listened to recordings of Baker's singing and gave a running commentary on what made her such a unique artist. I've seen many a documentary where musicians and singers talk about a fellow artist's performing with general descriptions and it's much more illuminating to have examples of recordings with a contemporaneous commentary that really explains what is special.

    There were a couple of niggles, though. I was rather bemused by the suggestion that she didn't sing enough at the ROH, she sang more roles there than she did at ENO. Whilst too much can be made of the label "the new whoever", her general tone was similar to Ferrier's and she sang much of the same rep. So it was a bit ingenuous for a couple of those commenting to make such a big thing of Ferrier being a completely different kettle of fish. You could also say that Christa Ludwig and Waltraud Meier have a similar tone to Baker and they really are very different artistically from her, despite having some rep in common with her.

    Baker is without doubt one of the greatest singers of oratorio and I can't think of anyone else I'd rather hear sing Berlioz. Her cool, intellectual approach reminds me of the piano playing of Benedetti Michelangeli and he was best suited to the classical and French repertoire, as was she. Other mezzos before and since have had bigger voices and more soul. However, Baker always explored the text that went with the music in such a way that not only were her interpretations full of revealing insights into many of the works she sang, they also were always natural and never felt schoolastic in the way that some artists who have learned to use vocal colours and word painting often perform.

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Apr-21-2019 at 23:15.

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    Such a great documentary and I had to watch it as soon as I saw Greg's post. Baker may have retired a long time ago, but for all of us she isn't really gone. Great art endures. Her dedication to her art really shows when you listen or see her singing. Documentary was really well made and great that it was done while she is still with us and could tell her own story. It's so wonderful that they interviewed other musicians this way so that people who may be introduced to her for the first time get why she is so special.
    "First I sing loud. When I start to run out of breath I sing softer" Giuseppe Di Stefano on his Faust high c diminuendo

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    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Conte View Post
    I too have seen the documentary and think it was a wise choice to make it 90 minutes long rather than the usual 60 minute format. This is the type of tribute that is often made when a singer passes away and it was wonderful that it was made with Baker's cooperation and so stands as a document of her career with her own views in the mix.

    Some of the best parts were where the musicians being interviewed listened to recordings of Baker's singing and gave a running commentary on what made her such a unique artist. I've seen many a documentary where musicians and singers talk about a fellow artist's performing with general descriptions and it's much more illuminating to have examples of recordings with a contemporaneous commentary that really explains what is special.

    There were a couple of niggles, though. I was rather bemused by the suggestion that she didn't sing enough at the ROH, she sang more roles there than she did at ENO. Whilst too much can be made of the label "the new whoever", her general tone was similar to Ferrier's and she sang much of the same rep. So it was a bit ingenuous for a couple of those commenting to make such a big thing of Ferrier being a completely different kettle of fish. You could also say that Christa Ludwig and Waltraud Meier have a similar tone to Baker and they really are very different artistically from her, despite having some rep in common with her.

    Baker is without doubt one of the greatest singers of oratorio and I can't think of anyone else I'd rather hear sing Berlioz. Her cool, intellectual approach reminds me of the piano playing of Benedetti Michelangeli and he was best suited to the classical and French repertoire, as was she. Other mezzos before and since have had bigger voices and more soul. However, Baker always explored the text that went with the music in such a way that not only were her interpretations full of revealing insights into many of the works she sang, they also were always natural and never felt schoolastic in the way that some artists who have learned to use vocal colours and word painting often perform.

    N.
    A few points.

    I don't think she did sing enough at Covent Garden. She sang Hermia in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream in 1966, then in 1969 she was a last minute replacement for an indisposed Josephine Veasey as Didon (singing in English to everyone else's French). Her next role was Kate in Owen Wingrave, a role that she had created for the TV production. That was in 1973. The following year she sang Vitellia in La Clemenza di Tito, a production that was revived the next two seasons, Cressida in Walton's re-working of his opera in 1976, Idamante in 1978/79, and finally Alceste in 1981, the year she retired from the operatic stage. Considering she was the foremost British singer of her time, she was pretty much ignored by the house. Remember that at this time, she was singing Didon, Dorabella, Octavian and the Composer for Scottish Opera.

    Admittedly she sang no more roles at English National Opera - Poppea, Marguerite in La Damnation de Faust, Charlotte, Mary Stuart, Julius Caesar, but all in productions specially mounted for her, so maybe she was referring to the fact that she always felt more welcome there.

    I don't think she sounds anything like Ferrier. Baked did sing a lot of Ferrier's repertoire to begin with but they diverged quite a bit later, and the only operatic roles they shared were Orfeo and Lucretia. Ferrier was a true contralto. Baker was not and she had a very useful upper extension. A above the stave was the absolute top of Ferrier's voice, whereas, according to my singing teacher, who knew her, Baker would exercise up to top D.

    Finally I have no idea what you mean about other voices having more soul. I have never found Baker in the least bit cool, and she has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. Her Marguerite on the otherwise not very recommendable Prêtre recording of La Damnation de Faust is arguably the best on record. The only other singers I have heard to equal her performance of D'amour l'ardente flamme are Callas and Verrett. Her Didon is peerless, passionately intense and scrupulously sung. Though their voices and methods are so dissimilar, she has a Callas-like ability to get right to the emotional core of the music, without ever diverging from the score. Soul is the very thing that marks her out from other singers.
    Last edited by Tsaraslondon; Apr-22-2019 at 19:00.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Quote Originally Posted by GregMitchell View Post
    Though their voices and methods are so dissimilar, she has a Callas-like ability to get right to the emotional core of the music, without ever diverging from the score. Soul is the very thing that marks her out from other singers.
    Yes, absolutely.

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    The video has now been taken down.

    As have I.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Boludo View Post
    The video has now been taken down.
    Awwwww! I only got to watch the first 9 minutes. But I have her on Julius Cesare in both DVD and CD and it is a GREAT performance by her and others.
    Last edited by Fritz Kobus; Apr-22-2019 at 16:50.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Boludo View Post
    The video has now been taken down.
    I assumed it would be. Taggart has added the link to the BBC iPLayer, but I have a feeling that is only available to people in the UK. It will only be available for a limited time.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Quote Originally Posted by GregMitchell View Post
    I assumed it would be. Taggart has added the link to the BBC iPLayer, but I have a feeling that is only available to people in the UK. It will only be available for a limited time.
    Yes, even within the UK it is available only if you have a TV License. I don't have one, so happily I got to see the programme in time. Thanks again Greg.

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    Quote Originally Posted by GregMitchell View Post

    I don't think she sounds anything like Ferrier, and their repertoires might have started off similar, but diverged quite a bit later. Ferrier was a true contralto. Baker was not and she had a very useful upper extension. A above the stave was the absolute top of Ferrier's voice, whereas, according to my singing teacher, who knew her, Baker would exercise up to top D.

    Finally I have no idea what you mean about other voices having more soul. I have never found Baker in the least bit cool, and she has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. Her Marguerite on the otherwise not very recommendable Prêtre recording of La Damnation de Faust is arguably the best on record. The only other singers I have heard to equal her performance of D'amour l'ardente flamme are Callas and Verrett. Her Didon is peerless, passionately intense and scrupulously sung. Though their voices and methods are so dissimilar, she has a Callas-like ability to get right to the emotional core of the music, without ever diverging from the score. Soul is the very thing that marks her out from other singers.
    I may not have explained myself well as you seem to have taken some of my observations as being negative points. When it comes to similarities and differences between singers it is, of course, all relative. However, most singers sound similar to at least one other singer whilst still being instantly recognisable and these singers often sing a lot of the same repertoire. You have Callas, Souliotis and Aliberti, all different and each one sang roles the other two didn't, but at the same time there is a similarity in their timbres. Baker has a similar tone to Ferrier, Ludwig and Meier to my ear and these four shared some repertoire. (It's true that Ferrier's voice had a darker hue and she had quicker vibrato, but similar doesn't mean same). Baker was seen as the heir to Ferrier at the beginning of her career, so this observation isn't controversial, nor should it be taken as being denigrating, which is why I find comments poo pooing the similarities between the two as if someone had suggested that Baker were the "English Simionato" amusing more than anything else. I am in no way suggesting that Baker was a poor copy of Ferrier or that she was trying to imitate her, it is clear that she has always felt that she was a special artist in her own right, even before she started singing seriously.

    Perhaps, what I call soul, you would term something else (and it may be something that you don't value in a singer, but I do). The best way to illustrate what I mean is to compare Baker and Ferrier in 'He was despised' from Messiah (whatever it is, Ferrier has it and Baker does not):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_yhacZ8l3U

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qH3E64G0oCI

    N.
    Last edited by The Conte; Apr-22-2019 at 19:03.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Boludo View Post
    The video has now been taken down.

    As have I.
    I can never understand why the BBC take things down like this. Surely it was out on national terrestrial TV so anyone could watch it.

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