Sunday, September 28, 2008

Inge Borkh - Grand Dramatic Soprano

Life's arc, even with exceptions, is of course consistent. With the very best of longevity and health, we human beings get approximately 70-90 years to walk the earth in one lifetime. This may be glaringly obvious but when parallel lives are juxtaposed, it can be quite sobering.

To those of us who lived a significant part of our lives in the middle to latter part of the 20th Century who were/are passionate about the operas of Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, there have been only a small handful of soprano names that were literally synonymous with the great heroic leading ladies in these works. The names are Birgit Nilsson, Astrid Varnay, Martha Moedl and the only one still with us today, Inge Borkh. There were others, including one more who reigned supreme with these four ladies, Leonie Rysanek, but it is chronology about which I am making note--Rysanek, a beloved artist of mine, was born in 1926. Birgit Nilsson was born in 1917 or 1918 (depending on the source), Astrid Varnay in 1918, Martha Moedl in 1912 and Inge Borkh in 1917. Again, all but Borkh are gone, while the magnificent vocal legacies of each woman remains.

These voices are the ones of a TRUE "golden age", wherein those who prepared them in the roles of Bruennhilde, Elektra, Isolde, the Dyer's Wife, Senta and Salome actually knew and worked with Richard Strauss and studied directly under the "disciples" of Richard Wagner. From the perspective of vocal power and glamor, and from the first-hand experience they had with their assumption of these parts, they will never be equalled.

While I revel in the voices of the others, my very first hearing of Richard Strauss's opera, Elektra -- my favorite of all operas -- was not, as some think, in the performances of the very first opera I attended at the Metropolitan Opera House (an Elektra for the ages with Birgit Nilsson and Leonie Rysanek in the 1979-1980 season), but Dr. Karl Boehm's magnificent Deutsche Grammophon recording of the work with the Staatskapelle Dresden. On that recording, the Elektra was Inge Borkh. To this day, the power, openness, freshness and beauty of Borkh's voice remain the same experience. Every recording I've heard (both studio recorded and "live") of this incredible artist -- from the earlier parts of her career in the 1950s to the latter parts in the 1970s -- remained consistent... a rarity. In addition to the Strauss and Wagner parts, her undertaking of the title role of Turandot in Puccini's opera, on a Decca recording with Mario del Monaco and Renata Tebaldi, is similarly breathtaking.

Although I am only in my early-mid-40s, I heard Nilsson live and Varnay live at the very end of their careers, and Moedl sang in Vienna into the 1990s. This where the chronology is directly affecting... All were alive in my lifetime, all sang in my lifetime, all, once again, but one are no longer on this planet.

I SALUTE, with the deepest of respect, Mme. Borkh, the last, still vital being in a unique line--one equal to the others in every way.

Inge Borkh in Richard Strauss's Die Frau Ohne Schatten (from YouTube):

Inge Borkh in a 1990s interview -- how beautiful she still was at almost 80! -- and a scene from Bloch's Macbeth (also from YouTube):

Friday, September 12, 2008

Happy Moon Festival :-)

I want to wish everyone a very happy Moon Festival. Be sure to eat lots of yummy mooncakes. I tend to like the ones with the egg yokes inside... as I understand it, that type of mooncake is sort of difficult to get in the States.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

9-11 - Never Forget

I'm no reactionary, "nationalistic" zealot. I do, however, honor the memory of 9-11. My father is a survivor of the event: he was at work that day, in his office in 6 World Trade Center. He returned to work (for OSHA) after suffering a debilitating stroke the year prior which left him paralyzed on one side. Though he went back to work in a wheelchair and would not have been able to escape his office on that day without help, his colleagues wheeled him out of the office in time to be safe.

I honor the memory of tragically lost lives and of the true heroism of REAL PEOPLE (not opportunistic politicians) who aided the sick, wounded, etc. oft to their own detriment. That horrible event -- which, being a lifelong Manhattanite, I witnessed first-hand -- will forever haunt me and my fellow New Yorkers in a way those who did not live here when it happened can never understand.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rodan and War of the Gargantuas - Toho Classics on DVD

The great blog, SciFi Japan, announced that on September 9, Classic Media will release on DVD a double-bill of the landmark Toho Studios Kaiju Eiga (怪獣映画), 1956's RODAN (ラドン Radon), and 1966's WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (フランケンシュタインの怪獣 サンダ対ガイラ Furankenshutain no Kaijū: Sanda taiGaira, lit. "Frankenstein's Monsters: Sanda Versus Gaira"). War of the Gargantuas will appear for the first time ever in the U.S. on DVD!

I grew up knowing every line of dialogue from the English-dubbed versions of these films. According to SciFi Japan, the new release will include the original Japanese and the U.S. versions of the film, and will also have as a supplement, an important new documentary called "Bringing Godzilla Down to Size". The documentary is a chronicle of Japanese special effects, focused on the work of special effects pioneer, Tsuburaya Eiji (円谷 英二), and will contain interviews with many of the directors and actors who participated in Kaiju Eiga throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

I CAN'T WAIT!!! :-)

Photo provided to SciFi Japan as a courtesy from Classic Media. © 2008 Classic Media, Inc./© 1956, 1966 Toho Co., Ltd.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Don LaFontaine - The Voice of Movies

"In a world..." that would not have been the same without him, such came the voice of Don LaFontaine. Less than a week after his 68th birthday, LaFontaine, the authoritative, dramatic voice of hundreds of movie trailers, passed away today from "complications from pneumothorax" (or a collapsed lung).

His sound will be missed.

After years of being known for his voice alone, an appearance in a GEICO spot made his face as famous as his voice. See it here (from YouTube):