Va col canto… Thank You, Lorraine

July 13, 2006

The world is a poorer place this week than last, with the untimely death of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson.LHB Bach cantatas

There are some fine obituaries of the 52-year-old mezzo-soprano in The New York Times (registration required), Playbill, and The San Francisco Chronicle, whose music critic Joshua Kosman puts it so well:

“I always loved hearing Hunt Lieberson sing, but I hated writing about her performances. More than with any other artist, her splendor seemed to defy description or accurate measure.

Words failed; superlatives bounced off her performances with an empty clang. You’d have to have been John Keats to convey any sense of the beauty she brought into the world.”

I saw her numerous times in Boston and always her first note would stun you, take your breath away, leave you all goose-bumpy. A friend who had excellent seats (center, row 4 or something) at a recital in 1998 or 99 said that sitting directly in front of her, he could feel the air vibrating before his face.

Whenever mailings came from the BSO or the Bank of America Celebrity Series, I always looked eagerly to see when she was coming to town and arrange my budgeted music consumption around that. I suspect those mailings will now pile up unread for awhile.

The New Yorker of Jan. 5, 2004, ran a profile of Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Through that, and the facts of her career, she has been called the anti-diva, an arch maverick and other appealing epithets. Maybe because of going about it differently or in spite of that, she gave the world something amazing and lasting in her too short life. I am forever grateful.

If you have not heard her, try her recording of Handel Arias for a general sampling of gorgeous stuff. I am particularly partial to an early recording (she was still plain Hunt and billed as a soprano) of Handel’s cantata Clori, Tirsi e Fileno with Jill Feldman and Drew Minter. Both recordings include the aria Va col canto. (Va col canto lusingando/ la sua bella il rusignuolo…. With his singing the nightingale/ charms his beloved.) It will make you remember being in love on a crystal September day with wind in your hair. Something soaring like that.

NPR offers a free listen to a tune it called the best classical song of 2004, Handel’s Ombra mai fu. Also the aria from J.S. Bach’s cantata Ich habe genug, along with an interview with the singer.

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2 Responses to “Va col canto… Thank You, Lorraine”

  1. janiceb Says:

    Jeez, your headline and first sentence gave me a heart attack — I thought you meant our Lorraine. Phew!


  2. […] was 62. It was breast cancer, like Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, that other great voice recently quieted. I don’t personally know too many people who’ve died […]

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