A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes, 4: From "Live in HD" to Christmas Shopping to Angels…and Walter Frye

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Master of the Saint Lucy Legend (artist) Netherlandish, active c. 1480 - c. 1510 Mary, Queen of Heaven, c. 1485/1500, oil on panel, NGA, Washington, DC
Master of the Saint Lucy Legend (artist) Netherlandish, active c. 1480 - c. 1510 Mary, Queen of Heaven, c. 1485/1500, oil on panel, NGA, Washington, DC

Lo, I am with you always.

Sometimes I think all is lost. Mostly when I go to a “live in HD” event. The other day I went down to the Mahaiwe to see “All’s Well that Ends Well” from the National in London and found the theater half empty. No Helen Mirren, I guess. At first it seems real good watching one of these things. It’s clear. It doesn’t force you to look at what you don’t want to see. In this case there was subtle and passionate acting. But after forty-five minutes or so, there just doesn’t seem to be anything up front – no tension, no real sound, no humans. There is a cold poltergeist just in front of the proscenium. He’s invisible. I guess I’m the only one who sees him. And he’s separating me from the great ones. And he’s keeping their voices from entering not my ears, but my imagination. He has the impertinence to dull my senses here particularly, in a theater where I have seen live actors. The feet of the live actors actually trod the boards. The feet of the “live in HD” actors never touched the ancient wood—they floated. It is difficult to be invested in a character’s agon when she is floating. Floating with her, without cessation, was the poltergeist. He was the most elegant dancing companion, like skin on a tomato. He was between her and me the whole night. When it all finished there was nothing in the theater. Great acting, great singing are portals. They must be there with you beckoning, right there, begging the play to revive itself once again, out of the thin, real, air. That’s what should be floating! “Live in HD” left me with nothing. The big black speakers fell silent and the poltergeist crawled off stage right, as invisible as ever.

There is hope. I got to a bookstore early the other day, before it opened. I followed my reluctant feet to what might be called a “ladies store”. It was open. There were fine and fetching nick-nacks of all sorts—vases, candles, notecards, and thank you Jesus, Christmas cards. I love Christmas. And here’s the great thing. In the midst of printed consumerism of all sorts, dog and cat cards, blank cards where you insert a picture of your grandchild, religious sweets of piety, there was a box of angel cards. There were several boxes of angel cards. I picked one up at random. On the cover was a grand being playing a musical instrument. I opened the box and to my surprise found a small piece of paper which explained to me that the manuscript the angel was holding was actually legible and was an image of a part-book used to sing Walter Frye’s “Ave Regina Coelorum”. Now, Frye is a little-known 15th century composer who was popular with the Burgundian court. But here he was in a mall store surrounded by pictures of dogs with Santa hats and cardinals in winter. Still alive apparently, and even legible, singable, and good enough for the angels. Whoever got the corporate Scrooges to include that note wherever you are, in whatever century, I love you.

Thursday, October 8, a fine young singer is appearing in the recital hall at the State University of New York, Albany Performance Center.  Her name is Julie Norman, and the performance begins at 7:00 pm.  Julie has just gotten a Master’s degree from Eastman, and while there sang Mozart’s greatest female role, Susanna in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. All reports are that she is first-rate.

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