Sunday, July 26, 2009

The nuns' story

Lastnight, as I wrote on my other Web log, I went out to Artpark to hear Laura Aikin, the soprano from Buffalo who has achieved great success on opera stages around the world. She gave a tremendous performance as I wrote in The Buffalo News.

Aikin brings a real intensity to the stage. Sometimes she is very funny and sometimes she is tragic. She sells you on the music, is what I kept thinking.

Above is a picture of Aikin, at the piano, coaching a bunch of girls at the Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart. I am a Sacred Heart girl myself so I could not resist including that shot! That is our auditorium. I sat at that piano many times. My husband, Howard, sat at it a few weeks ago when we went there for my reunion.

I heard Laura Aikin in Buffalo one other time and that was two years ago. She was singing a program of mostly Lieder. She did a set of songs by Richard Strauss and a set by Ned Rorem and they were lovely. I love those Strauss songs especially.

That was a beautiful week in my life. A few days after her recital was when I met Leonard Pennario and I ended up doing that book. It is funny how often you relate your memories to what music you were listening to at the time! Anyway, I remember sitting at UB that week, listening to Laura Aikin sing.

Just now I was looking around on YouTube to see if I could find her there. I wound up watching this clip of her in the last segment of Poulenc's "Dialogues of the Carmelites."

This is the harrowing scene when the nuns are singing the "Salve Regina" and they go to the guillotine one by one until at last only one -- Aikin, in this case -- is left, and then she dies too. The opera is based on a true story.

The French Revolution. I cannot imagine it!

And here we are in America beating ourselves up over mistakes we have made. We are in the kiddie pool next to this, I cannot help thinking.

Well, back to the YouTube clip and to Buffalo's own Laura Aikin. It is genius how Poulenc handles this scene. He has the nuns singing this haunting hymn with almost a medieval ring to it. From time to time it is punctuated by the noise of the guillotine. And the voices are silenced one by one.

This particular staging unfortunately is not genius. They have the nuns lying down one by one on stage. Which, if you ask me, it makes no sense. It weakens that harrowing drama. I have never had the good fortune to see this opera live, but all I can imagine is that the nuns should be walking off stage one by one and then you hear the guillotine. I mean, let us not sugar coat what is happening here.

The thing to do is listen to this clip, not watch it.

Aikin's high notes, glorious.

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