Janet Baker and the Jersey Effect
So, after some time of relative quiet in the run up to and enjoyment of the grand sss anniversary party and holiday, there has been time to reach a few conclusions. Some are typical new year-style conclusions (work less, eat less, exercise more, blah blah blah) but others are more momentous.
The first, which hit me only two evenings ago, is that there really hasn’t been a mezzo-soprano like Janet Baker. This is not the first time her name has appeared on this blog; it won’t be the last. By the fortuitous coincidence of leaving my parents’ house at a particular time last night (how many of my best musical memories are associated with my parents, I wonder?), Mrs simonsometimessays and I had an hour or so in the car listening to a radio programme celebrating Baker in the week in which she reaches 80.
Her voice was rich, solid and dramatic, and her technique simply brilliant. Listening yesterday to The Angel’s Farewell from Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, I was struck by how perfectly accurate she was – a precision that was almost, but not quite, scientific, supporting a delivery that for pure artistry was enrapturing. With a repertoire that encompasses almost everything in classical music that I love, stretching from Schubert to Britten, Elgar, Bach, Handel and all points in between, what could be better than sharing the best of them? Parto, Parto from Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito.
I always regard that as a slightly quirky part of Mozart’s output. It was the last complete opera he started, though he finished it before The Magic Flute; but while generally his compositions grew richer and more sophisticated through his life, Tito harks back to his earlier works both in subject matter and style. It never quite made the top four Mozart operas that I have stuck with since my early listening days – The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan Tutte. With the sort of fierce loyalty that is born of early love, it seemed logical that because Mozart was the greatest composer, therefore his operas were the greatest operas. Moreover, his top four were necessarily the top four.
That was how I thought way back when, and with perhaps a little more objectivity I can say that nothing that I have heard since has disturbed that view of things, though Britten occasionally excites a sense of desolation which is rarely achieved by anyone else. Claggart’s aria from Billy Budd is the point at which the evil master-at-arms, John Claggart, sets out his credo. Claggart is one of the scariest and most truly evil characters I know: the idea of him kept me awake for many nights when I was young.
The second conclusion is that the theme tune from Bergerac bears repetition, but not endlessly so. I have Matt and Helen to thank for planting that earworm just before Mrs sss and I departed for Jersey. This proved to be the most persistent example suffered by me (and therefore Mrs sss) for a long time. I feel it is only fair to plague you; and should they chance to read this, Matt and Helen also. In the course of the trip it was occasionally and rather surprisingly supplanted by the tune – Wheels – that accompanied the muscle-man on the old talent show, Opportunity Knocks. I do not know why I remember this or what caused it to infect me; each time it came into my head it brought with it images of strangely talented folk who can shape their stomachs into a map of Australia, or remove their underwear without stepping out of their trousers. This is the sort of thing which seems to have garnered renewed popularity by means of Britain’s got Talent, and is liable to generate such despondency in me that I had to sing the Bergerac theme again to get rid of the pernicious thoughts.
And now for a weak link. From Jersey to Jersey Boys – ie Franki Valli and the Four Seasons. And specifically Rag Doll, the destruction of which can be heard in the sss automobile on a long summer’s drive when I vainly attempt to match Valli’s falsetto. And my third momentous conclusion is that we keep the windows firmly shut for that one.
Nice to talk to you again.