ROBERT MERRILL (1917 - 2004)
the end of the day, I'm still baffled, even after all these years, whenever I
hear in the hall any technique that is so relaxed and open, yet unblary, that
the tone itself becomes seemingly freed of any connection with the singer. The
tone assumes a corporeality of its own. Literally. It seems to be emanating from
the hall itself, not just from the individual many yards away down there on that
stage. The sensation is not that of a sound that is _deliberately_ loud or pushed
in any way. Rather, it is just _there_. The sensation is of an unaggressive sound
that is just....._everywhere_. And this is what happened when Robert Merrill sang.
few, a very few, other singers have given me the same sensation, sometimes on
certain notes rather than throughout the range. And the size of the voice has
less to do with this sensation than the ease of the tone. Merrill achieved this
eery sense of "separateness" throughout the range. So did Sutherland.
But, surprisingly, Nilsson, for example, did not. Instead, the attack on certain
higher notes ("Nun denn, allein") would impact right in one's face like
a bullet. It was thrilling, but one was aware of a human agent expending commendable
-- and deftly focused -- effort. The same was true of the high notes of other
keenly focused voices like Tucker's. But the sensation that the hall was "making"
the sound, even when the tone itself might not strike one as unduly loud, happened
more with certain notes from Corelli and Vickers. I don't pretend to account for
plain power of voice is obviously not the determinant, it may instead be a function
of psychological approach. Who knows? There may be an "image" in the
singer's mind that is so direct that the "sound" is already there before
it's "ushered" into the hall by the singer's modest opening of his mouth
-- a mere technicality? The "sound" is there all along?
this is all pretty fanciful, but I'm describing eery sensations anyway, and certain
highly gifted singers may have illogical sensations of their own that help relax
the tone and make it flow......er........away from them, so to speak. (I believe
it was Bjoerling who once remarked that, when he was feeling at his best, he would
have a sensation as if all the tones were out there in front of him, not inside
him at all; sadly, I came to opera three years too late to hear him in person.)
Stephanie Blythe gives me that sensation of tone emanating everywhere. It is plain,
in any case, that here is an artist whose approach to singing is utterly relaxed.
One does indeed get the impression that the tone is always there; she merely has
to "release" it; muscular manufacturing of the tone in the act of producing
it seems (illogically) unnecessary and (illogically) beside the point. No, this
doesn't make any sense at all. But it parallels precisely the experience of hearing
Merrill's singing in person.
today's baritones, that sense of the tone being gently "ushered" in
and being given liberty to wander around the auditorium unfettered and unattached
is most keenly recalled in Thomas Quasthoff, IMO. Others have already spoken/written
of a certain spiritual element when this man sings. It seems freed of ego. The
voice has been appropriated by the music, and what the music wants, the voice
there's something plainly physical here as well. The evident concentration in
Quasthoff's singing translates into such a focus on a steady conception of _tone_,
pure and simple, that it almost seems the physical act of planting the music in
the voice has all taken place before the concert has even started! The tones are
all in place, they merely have to be "played"! I never thought I'd get
this sensation from any other baritone after hearing Merrill. But the first thing
I thought when I first saw Quasthoff, and heard these tones with no _apparent_
muscular manipulation flowing away from Quasthoff altogether and emanating from
the seats around me, was "Merrill!"
there's a telling description of a Melba high note, the concluding high note for
Mimi at the end of "O soave fanciulla", that a few here may already
know, but I can't help thinking that there is a family resemblance between this
Melba description and what some of us experienced when hearing that Merrill _sound_.
So it seems appropriate that we end with that:
note came floating over the auditorium of Covent Garden; it left Melba's throat,
it left Melba's body, it left everything and came over like a star and passed
us in our box, and went out into the infinite. I have never heard anything like
it in my life, not from any other singer ever. It just rolled over the hall of
Covent Garden. My God, how beautiful it was! ..... That note was like a ball of
light. It wasn't attached to anything at all--it was out of everything."
-- Mary Garden
Nellie Melba -- and Bravo Robert Merrill and Thank you.
CALLAS (1923 - 1977) -- HER BEST RECORDINGS IN GOOD SOUND
-- FROM COMEDY TO TRAGEDY
CARUSO (1873 - 1921) -- A BRIEF APPRECIATION
CORELLI (1921 - 2003) -- RECOLLECTIONS AND REFLECTIONS
CARLOS -- RANDOM JOTTINGS
TENOR AND RICHARD WAGNER (1813 - 1883)
ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES
ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES
OF OPERA IN MINIATURE
TAUBER (1891 - 1948) -- A BRIEF APPRECIATION
IN LA TRAVIATA
OVERVIEW OF TRISTAN ON CD
TROVATORE ON DISC -- THE STRONGEST ENTRIES