Live from Wigmore Hall: Dame Janet Baker in conversation

Check it out tomorrow, 30 September, on Wiggy’s livestream. It’s at 3pm London time, so it might be a bit weird, but I believe it will also be rather interesting, especially for mezzo fans πŸ™‚ I’ll be around, from the comfort of my lounge, and will give a bit of a running commentary in this very post, if everything goes the way it should πŸ˜‰

So, here I am. Janet Baker and Simon Callow talk about her seeing Lotte Lehman at Wiggy in the late ’50s, who came in her hat and gloves, which stopped Baker in her tracks. Apparently Lehman was very intimidating, including to the young Baker, who found her teaching style lacking in spontaneity, having to do everything exactly the same way Lehman wanted. Baker felt greatly inhibited by this. She wondered about the generation gap being similar today.

Callow: who did she admire at that time in her time? Sena Jurinak.

Acting: connecting with the thoughts of the character = both agree. As the narrator in the church nativity play, she felt very serious about it and also “in charge” of the play, and being confident she was “right” in what she was doing, unlike the others in the play πŸ˜‰

Words and music: as important as each other.

Friends play teddybear picnic on the piano = reprehensible πŸ˜‰

(Certain) rubbish church songs vs Bach = no contest πŸ˜‰

G&S = also terrible, haha. Reacted strongly to “quality as she saw it” since a young age. She’s since changed her mind about G&S. All great but she’s never wished to sing it herself πŸ˜‰

Voice: teachers apparently could tell she had a good voice by age 11, as per a school friend, she’s quite surprised how anyone could tell so early on.

Callow: says she realised early on that she had a responsibility towards her talent (to nurture it); a sense of destiny = she agrees. Baker: surely you felt the same way? Callow: nope. he loved theatre but her no experience with training. Wrote to Laurence Olivier about the wonderful theatre he was running and LO wrote back, inviting him to work at the box office πŸ˜‰ not too bad! Would this ever happen today? Very unlikely. CV >>> enthusiasm for any medium.

She thinks she was very “gullible” when she was told not to sing for two years. Callow thinks she was way disciplined for a young person. This was when her voice was changing from high soprano to mezzo.

Both acknowledge luck, as they met people without “shopping around” for teachers etc. and the choices one makes (having a children and family etc.).

Talks about her Austrian teacher (see also: the conversation with JDD). She really enjoyed lieder, which was what her teacher specialised it. She says she enjoyed singing in German, German language in general and the love of words developed further. She was also singing in the Glyndebourne Chorus at the same time = she says it was luck that all came at the same time.

Acting

Callow: how was she so naturally in character? Baker: mind/heart/body coming together = acting. Callow: not all actors have that either – after 3 years in drama school, he was able to say convincingly “My lord, the carriage awaits!” πŸ˜‰ Baker: John Copley and Peter Hall taught her to act as far as “the mechanics” go. Callow: says she can transform with a minimal amount of makeup (specifically in Les Troyens). No generalised rush of emotion. Baker: Peter Hall said she was dangerous because she took risks (don’t we love that πŸ˜€ ). She says she doesn’t teach beginners because she wants to dig deeper when acting, because at that point you need to expose yourself, which she acknowledges is a lot to ask, but it’s necessary (as a good actor) and it never bothered her. She thinks it’s because of how she cares so much about the power of words so she just goes with whatever is required by said words. Callow: he was surprised how the very big emotions fit the limits of her voice. Baker: trusted her solid technique, practiced every day, before whatever she sang, though it was tiresome, so she didn’t have to worry about it later. Lucky she had teachers who suited her. Because of this she was able to focus on her acting on stage. She worked for 30+ years busy all the time.

On retirement: relief! Not having to wake up and sing. She says younger singers coming up and having their turn = natural. Likens her singing to raising children – at one point you have to let it go.

Baker:Β as actors, do you learn discipline to see you through? Callow: yes, physical and vocal (dancing, singing = to warm up). The attitude towards voice in theatre changed in recent years. Voice = no longer considered for its expressive qualities. Actors are increasingly wearing microphones. Body becomes slacker and less expressive – physical excitement lessens. Diction, rhythm = not so important today. With actors it’s not just the voice = talent, it’s a bundle of things (personality, physical package). Doing 8 shows a week = needs good character (mental stamina) to do it 8 shows a week for 3, 6, 12 months at a time or 40 takes on a movie set. The challenge = to keep the reality of it. Acting = “images of destiny”. Baker’s Full Circle book = Callow praises it.

Opera productions: respect the composer and libretist. Costumes also important = supports your imagination of who the character is. Critices “busy-ness” on stage (I agree!). Callow: opera is ahead of theatre in experiementalism. Seems ambivalent about many different angles but no Wagner with urinals. Midsummer Night’s Dream in a box = ok, thinks it worked.

Farewell: Orfeo handing the lyre back. Chorus gave it back to her πŸ˜‰

About dehggial

Mozart/Baroque loving red dragon

Posted on September 29, 2018, in acting in opera, mezzos & contraltos, wigmore hall and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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