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Galina Vishnevskaya

16 Dec

I was sorry to read of the death of Galina Vishnevskaya earlier this week.

I only saw her live twice.  The second time was at a performance of Britten’s War Requiem at the the Royal Festival Hall in the 1980s.  The more important one for me was the first time when I saw her sing Verdi’s Lady Macbeth for Scottish Opera in 1976.  In retrospect that was probably the first thime that I’d even seen a real operatic star.

At the time, Scottish Opera was using a lot of classy singers, but they didn’t always make it down to Newcastle.  However, even though Norman Bailey, the original Macbeth was otherwise engaged (we had the excellent Malcolm Donnelly), Vishnevskaya was persuaded to make the trip.

My first impression was of a huge, rather cutting voice and a presence that commanded you to watch her.  I think I was also aware that she wasn’t singing it perfectly, but that this really was neither here nor there.  She was a Lady Macbeth who seemed utterly single-minded and determined on her goal.  I remember her advancing down stage with a menacing power, like a force of nature and singing her entrance aria and La luce langue with a piercing eloquence.  You emphatically would not want to get on the wrong side of her.  The cast was good, but this creature seemed to come from a different world, one where, when she was onstage, she was the only one who could remotely matter.

At this distance, I can’t honestly say that I remember in detail how she sang it and what she did but there remains a memory in my mind of this outstandingly passionate operatic character filling the theatre and expanding beyond.

There aren’t many other singers with that sheer intensity and grandeur: Silja, Behrens, Fassbaender, Vickers spring to mind of those that I’ve seen and, of course, there are others.  You feel that they are a declining breed.  Is there anyone around who has the sheer grandeur to perform roles like Tosca and Lady Macbeth in that old fashioned, but entirely convincing way? Perhaps the arrival of Directors’ Opera has meant that some of the personalities get lost.

Anyway, she is one of those singers whom I regret having been born too late to see her as much as I’d have liked.  Her recordings, particularly the wonderful Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk are fabulous, but they’re still not the same as seeing her live.

You get a feel for her grandeur and intensity from her autobiography

Either way, I feel that I washugely privileged that I had the opportunity to see her even once, but it’s tinged with regret that I didn’t get to any of her later recitals or that I wasn’t born early enough to have seen her more often.

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