A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler / Music

A Singer’s Notes 123: a Tribute to Phyllis Curtin and the Opening of Aston Magna

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Phyllis Curtin
Phyllis Curtin

Aston Magna I

Last night an excellent crowd listened to two hours of Italian recitative as quietly as I have heard an audience, perhaps anywhere. It was a daring endeavor—several lamentations in a row, masterfully played by some of the finest early music performers anywhere. One of the stars of the evening did no singing at all—Erin Headley, who plays a variety of gamba family instruments and was, somehow, the spirit of the concert. There were two first-rate vocalists, sopranos Nell Snaidas, a riveting story-teller, and Kristen Watson, who beguiled us with the beauty of her singing, most bravely when it was soft. This was just an enchanted world. None of us got every word, but we were on a journey, a journey which had many layers, but only one ending, and that a sadness. There was remarkable unity among the performers. Together they were, and adventurous they were. It would have pleased me very much to see these great monologues of loss, Orfeo in particular, staged. That said, the dramatic energy of the evening lacked for nothing. Music that I have often heard just gotten through, was here made a natural speech. I love the beauty of a small ensemble, the dialogue of it, the intimacy of it, even in distress, even unto death. Just a beautiful evening which I will not forget.

Miss Curtin

Good-bye, intrepid mentor: girl from the South, great sense of humor, ears which heard better than God, straight talker, full of encouragement, indefatigable, for us who knew her, eternal. An American singer who with her frequent counterpart, Norman Treigle, showed the world that we Yanks could sing. Miss Curtin never sang a phrase that wasn’t dramatic. Many great artists have come and gone in our beloved Tanglewood family, but the very air is tinged with Phyllis Curtin. I will never forget the great concert the Fellows sang for her a couple of years ago. Just the broadness of interest it displayed was astounding. A few things I remember: the way she said “there” when somebody got the phrase right, how she told a certain young man that he didn’t need to puff his chest out—his chest was just fine. What I heard in her singing, and also in Treigle’s, was an absolute honesty, a willingness to give all, despite the cost. Miss Curtin’s singing was something you just could not ignore. The most wonderful thing anyone has said to me about my own singing happened after a Brahms recital in the old choral shed at Tanglewood. She said, “You reminded me of my dear friend Norman Treigle tonight.” I am hoping this wasn’t a general comment, which it wasn’t, but a comment which said that I had just a little of his honesty. It is a compliment I try to live up to every time I go on stage. Dear Miss Curtin, I hear you now giving a good laugh to something that went well in class. Thank you for all this.

Keith

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