27 February 2005

Sonic boom

Maria Guleghina, phenomenon

The first challenge of a voice in performance is to be heard. There are metaphysical tricks and illusions available to ladies of modest gifts. Among them, the mastery of the open and upward projection of an average-sized voice (e.g., La Portaméenta, Ruth Ann Swenson, Cynthia Lawrence); the cultivation of a unique timbre easily discernible from the arching drone of the pit (Veronica Villaroel, Olga Borodina); an intelligent use of forte/fortissimo (truly loud but used sparingly) to punctuate key moments (Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson, Karita Mattila, Deborah Polaski, Michele DeYoung); empirical knowledge of the sonic idiosyncrasies of the auditorium (every stage has a punto Callas); the Olivero maneuver of launching a drawn-out crescendo from a good pianissimo (Hei-Kyung Hong, Barbara Frittoli).

Then, there are the occasional grand dames with the natural faculty of decibel. These ladies can be clustered into two general kinds: the Raw and the Refined. Among the current batch of singers, the latter counts Deborah Voigt, Dolora Zajick, Stephanie Blythe, and Jane Eaglen as practitioners (and potentially Angela Brown, Violeta Urmana, and Elisabeth Bishop). The Raw cluster would include the voices of Katarina Dalayman, Andrea Gruber, Gabriele Schnaut, Sondra Radvanovsky, and their fearless leader Maria Guleghina.

Maria, oh Maria Guleghina, oceanliner, mountain range, supernova.

Maria, more than a freak of nature, you are a freak of opera. Your harsh Abigaille is never easy to bear. It violates good people’s sensibilities and blasphemes the art of singing. You mock the dynamics of sound, ridicule the question of acoustics. Your voice is carnal, erotic, exotic, extraterrestrial. You transform any music into a challenge of physics; pitchwise you will fail but you shall not surrender. Upon every scene’s end, you are often bloodied, yet you still dare the high note option. You pawn the capital every single time. You defy uniformity. You are gutsy, you are dirty, rude, profane. You destroy. You make live live. Queer, you shall never belong.