Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Mirella Freni and one unforgettable opera evening

When I read today that Mirella Freni had died, all I could do was picture her as Susanna in "The Marriage of Figaro." I watched it when it was on TV. I was 14. I'm sure I have written about that here. I will never forget that opera as long as I live.

The production was made for TV and the singers were all good actors. I have seen parts of it here and there over the years on YouTube and such and unlike many movies that I loved in that era, this has held up.

Mirella Freni was so lovely. That last act! My dad came into the family room where I was camped in front of the TV, had been camped for hours. He loved classical music but he did not quite understand my obsession with Mozart. That was why I was watching the opera, I loved Mozart. I did not know a thing about opera but I loved Mozart.

"Isn't it over yet?" my dad asked me. It was about midnight or something.

I said, "No! There's still one more act."

He shook his head in disbelief and went up to bed.

Here is part of that last act. Beautiful Mirella Freni.

Her voice was so glorious. Her makeup and everything are so of that era. That was sort of a golden era of television, you know? The look everyone had.

That opera, that one evening, I never got over it. It made such an impression on me. You had Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as the Count and -- already the future music critic, LOL -- I remember when I first heard him and I said, "Who's that?" He was just this giant and I could tell.  I have always known quality when I heard it. I was starstruck and I wrote to him and we had a little correspondence and he sent me two signed pictures of himself. What a nice man.

And I remember overhearing my dad telling my mom, "He'll never write to her." Ha, ha! Dad and I never stopped laughing about that. My father was the greatest. I wish he were still alive. I wish everyone were still alive, you know?

Looking at this production more recently I saw a funny thing I could not have known at the time. Hermann Prey was Figaro and he was always kind of second fiddle to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, I mean as far as their careers went. It was nobody's fault, not Prey's, not Fischer-Dieskau's, it was just the way the cookie crumbled. And in that opera, these two great singers, they worked that. There is one scene where Fischer-Dieskau blows smoke in Prey's face. Fischer-Dieskau was always a smoker, as I understand it. His Count smoked and he blew that smoke in Figaro's face and it is chilling to see.

I will have to find that scene and post it. I have other thoughts on that Figaro and Susanna / Count and Countess situation that I will also have to post. It has been on my mind.

But for now, Mirella Freni. That last scene, so magical. For years I never quite saw that last act the way I see it now. I was too taken up with the first act, with these characters jumping out at you, each scene more magical than the last. I loved Cherubino, who doesn't? In this production Cherubino was Maria Ewing. The singing, the staging, I was just entranced.

However then there is that last act, when Mozart comes up with all these overwhelmingly beautiful melodies and shoots them off one after another like a fireworks display. I wrote that in the paper once because that was how I felt it. It was like a fireworks finale, each creation more gorgeous than the last, and you just sit there with your mouth open, you don't know what to do.

What an opera. What singers I saw, that night when I was 14. Since I have gotten more into my Catholic faith I have been remembering not just to mourn the dead, but to pray for them. Dear God, have mercy on the soul of Mirella Freni. Welcome her into Your kingdom.

Ask her to sing Susanna!

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