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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sara Scuderi: I Lived For Art!

Sara Scuderi was born in Sicily in 1906. Her debut was in 1925, at the tender age of 19, in Novara, playing no less a part than Leonora, in Il Trovatore! It is inconceivable today that a 19-year old girl would sing such a role, but it was a different operatic world in 1925, especially in regional theaters, and, to judge from her subsequent success, she can be assumed to have done a pretty good job. She was later signed to a 7-year contract at La Scala, where she attained fame, especially for her interpretation of Tosca, which was, by all accounts, quite spectacular. She went on to sing in all the important theaters in Italy, and throughout Europe. She was particularly well received in the Netherlands, where she was engaged for a long period. She is perhaps not so well known in the United States, as most of her career was in Europe, with some occasional forays abroad, most notably in South America.

She enjoyed a fine career, largely in the 1930's and 40's. She retired at the end of the 40's. Toward the end of her life she lived at the famous retirement home founded by Giuseppe Verdi, the Casa di Riposo per Musicisti, where a rather extraordinary film was made of her in 1984, part of which we will see in a moment.

First, her signature role, for which she won widespread recognition:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2fcYNvANCg


Isn't that just wonderful!? All the elements are in place; the voice is well suited by color for the part, and the vocalism is excellent, but that is far from being the whole story. Notice the immaculate enunciation. Every single word can be clearly understood, and this leads to stylistic perfection; every important word is stressed, and no shade of emotion or meaning is sacrificed to pure vocalism (something that cannot always be said of sopranos in this role!) What comes through most clearly is fine artistry imbued with intense emotion and, let it be said admiringly, a dash of strong melodrama. This is Italian opera, after all! It is hard to see how this presentation could be improved upon.

It was in Scuderi's portrayal of tragic heroines that she excelled, and a second fine example would be this poignantly tragic rendition of "La Mamma Morta" from Andrea Chenier:

http://www.youtube.com/user/EdmundStAustell#p/search/1/r9qBqT6DkE0


Much the same can be said for this presentation as was said for her "Vissi d'Arte": admirable vocalism and stylistic excellence, blended with what might be called a dignified melodrama (yes, there really is such a thing, at least in opera.)

And now, speaking of melodrama, a real treat. I would like to offer you, as a final testament both to Scuderi and the melodrama of Italian theater, this very moving film clip, made in 1984, when Scuderi was resident at the Verdi Rest Home For Musicians. To me at least, it speaks most eloquently about the very essence of Italian opera, and exactly how Italian singing actors are able to feel about their music, their theater, and their art. I urge you to watch it all—it's just 9 minutes long. Starting around 333, it is all about Scuderi. The entire clip, however, is most interesting:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CgSabTmPL7I&feature=related



Vissi d'Arte! I lived for art!

22 comments:

JD Hobbes said...

Oh my. I don't know how to react. Yes, she was a fine singer, but the movie clip to me was very depressing. The sight of those former "stars" living in the Verdi home among their memories and old recordings was sad. People who have a strong reaction to art often suffer, if you call it suffer, from Stendhal symdrome. I think most of these artists do--to the point of having sacrificed everything--marriage, family, children-- for their art. I suppose one might call that "illness" or"genius," but what happens when the final curtains fall and glory fades? To them their art was everything. I don't know. I suppose most of us are not made of that kind of steel.

Edmund StAustell said...

Half empty, half full. I have a different reaction. I'm sure you have seen your share of rest homes peopled by the living dead, sitting in wheelchairs and staring. Waiting. This does not impress me that way. They have their memories, they have their feelings, they have their art. I'm sure there are some who are far gone, but I am just commenting on those we see in the film. Something is still vital and alive.

JD Hobbes said...

Well, I can see that side of it. Keats would agree with you. At least they can say they did it and rejoice in their accomplishment. At some point everyone looks back and relives yesterday.

Edmund StAustell said...

I admit it's very poignant. It would take a heart of stone to watch it, and not be moved. I was interested in the reaction of the nurse who spoke at the very beginning of the film, when she said that she found it all very interesting. She knew it was all about the past, but at least there was a past, and it was interesting. We dream all our youth about a future that never seems to come, and then a past that is gone. I don't know which is the nearest to eternity. The philosophers and theologians say to fix on the moment, but how exactly does one do that? It's gone before you can think about it.

JD Hobbes said...

Yes, oddly enough I was reminded of the last part of the movie, "Maytime" with Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, in which the dying star reflects on the pain of her life and gives advice to a young girl who wants to emulate her.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this posting - such tender and exquisite singing. I was so intrigued by the clips of the Casa Verdi film I saw on YouTube (via one of your wonderful uploads) that I've just ordered it. I found the clips very moving but also very life enhancing and even cheering! Such a beautiful woman. I would love to end my days in the company of people who shared such an intense passion for life and music and who gave so much to others and I admire the creative benevolence of Verdi. On the Casa Verdi website they quote his comments about the home - “Among my works, the one I like best is the Home that I have had built in Milan for accommodating old singers not favored by fortune, or who, when they were young, did not possess the virtue of saving.... The poor, dear companions of my lifetime! ...Believe me, my friend, that Home is truly my most beautiful work.” I love that phrase - did not possess the virtue of saving - but oh, what other virtues they had! Bernie H (can't work out how to post a comment properly today)

Anonymous said...

Edmund, thanks a lot for the article. Scuderi is not the most famous singer (I hadn’t known about her before I saw your videos and read this article), but she is absolutely great. She had a charming soft timbre and her singing is skillful, very expressive, and ‘feminine’ . Every soprano sounds feminine of course, but many soprano voices sound indifferent or cannot make a character by sound. Scuderi’s voice creates an image of a charming, beautiful woman, so she doesn’t need to ‘act’ on stage to become Tosca.
The documentary is very moving. It’s sad to see such great artists living in the rest home, which means they have no families . On the other hand, it’s clear that she doesn’t think that her life is tragic. Usually it’s very unnerving for old artists to speak about their glorious past, especially when journalists are filming them. However, she smiles and doesn’t look depressed even when performs the most tragic moments form Tosca.


n.a.

VoiceTalk said...

Thank you for this post! I saw the film ages ago, and it is a delight to see this clip here. Far from being depressing, I found it illuminating, funny, poignant and instructive. Scuderi is expressive in a way that soprano's are not allowed to be in this aria, that least, not on this side of the Atlantic. And it cracked me up when the baritone, who is on the floor behind the door, asks if he can get up, and Scuderi tells him to wait a moment. She is committed to being Tosca to the end of the scene even though no music is playing. A absolute professional! Amazing.

I've spend a good deal of time with relatives who were in homes at the end of their lives. And while its never easy, and some are able to spend there last years with more grace than others, I simply wish that when it is my turn, I can be as inspiring as the residents of the Casa Verdi.

Edmund StAustell said...

You posted it just fine! And thank you for a wonderful and touching comment. Yes, some things mean more than others, don't they? I find everything about the Home to be uplifting, generous, touching, and somehow, just plain right! Thanks again.

Edmund StAustell said...

For Voice Talk: Thank you, my friend, for another uplifting comment about Scuderi and the Home for Musicians. I sense we have all hit on a subject here that means a lot. There is something almost transcendent about the old singers and their art, and their old age. It seems to be particularly alive in Italy, surely one of the world's greatest artistic cultures. There is an understanding, and deep feeling, for something very, very important that surprising numbers of people don't feel, or don't understand. Yes, it's all very uplifting. Thanks again for your comment.

Edmund StAustell said...

For n.a. (Sorry the answers are out of order...I have never quite figured out how to avoid that) Thank you very much for your comment, as always. You make a good point about defining a character by sound. Exactly right! Callas and other great sopranos could do the same thing. It's in the concept of the character, the attention to text, and especially attention to detail in the text. The voice is certainly there, but these other qualities add so much to it. And of course you are right about the documentry being tinged with saddness, because there is no family for most of these elderly singers, but one need only consider the alternative, which is a cold nursing home away from everyone and everything, to realize that they have each other, and their art, which they continually remember and discuss, to see that such a dedicated home is a blessing for them. As always, thanks for your insightful comments.

Jing said...

I just watched everything and read all the comments. All I can say is: when it's my time, send me THERE - to CASA VERDI! (or whatever the equivalent here might be - if one can even be found.) I have more and more friends in retirement "communities." One who moved to a particularly active and busy one - clubs, games, exercise, bridge, wii ping pong, political activism, etc. - confided to me that he hated living there. "A cruise to nowhere!" he called it. Yes, everyone where he was living was in the "present" - but (for him) what that really meant was pretending to live like people who were still young. And that was depressing to him.

What I find poignant, heart-breaking, wonderful, beautiful, and exhilarating is how thoroughly alive the residents of Casa Verdi we meet are. They seem to me to be living totally in the "present" in a spiritual (as opposed to temporal) way. They are filled with life. For example, Sara's Scuderi's "entrance" into her room. Her "girlish" giggle a few minutes later. She was a little girl in that moment.

One of my favorite poet's latest book, (W.S. Merwin: "The Shadow of Sirius") is made up of poems about how memories are experienced in the here and now, after a long life. Memories more present than the present. I find these poems fascinating and amazing - and I had the same feelings about this brief visit to Casa Verdi. The little re-enacted death of Scarpia was a memory of something that happened on stage decades before, but it was also two singing-actors playing Scarpia and Tosca one more time. Acting re-enacted. Something that is itself "eternal" invites endless participation. And, most important, to me at least, I think it was two people "at play". And to be at play is, more than anything, to be fully present in the moment. To be ageless.

Edmund StAustell said...

Thank you very much indeed for an absolutely beautiful comment. I can't add a single thing, and anything I could say could only detract from it. Beautiful and touching. And, most importantly, I sense you are absolutely right. I also have seen too much of homes where there is a huge pretense of cuteness, living in the "now" and eternal youth. Condescension on an obscene scale--a monstrous lie. Thanks again.

Anonymous said...

I also feel I have nothing to add to Jing's great comment, only that now that I've watched the film, which arrived yesterday, I appreciate his comments even more, particularly about the importance of memory as a truly creative and productive act and not simply nostalgia. I especially, as a lover of opera and of the 'human' quality I often blithely value in performances, feel that seeing the whole life in context is an invaluable experience. And though I'm not such a great lover of Verdi's operas, I love him very much for his cherishing of all his musical co-workers. Anyhow, thanks again for the inspiring and really interesting discussion and posts, especially Jing's; it was a lovely and educational experience. Best wishes, Bernie H (still can't recall how to post in my name but never mind)

EdmundStAustell said...

Thank you for an excellent comment!

annie said...

Say what you will, IMO it's far, far better to live out your days after a long, fruitful life in a home where the other inhabitants are similarly minded and sympathetic to your tastes and talents than a) to die young; b) to end your days in a nut-house like poor, poor Salieri! Great blog as usual, Edmund, thanks!

Verdiwagnerite said...

Another great post, Edmund! I had seen that wonderful documentary many years ago and remember being moved but not depressed by the former singers reliving their past glories.
What fabulous memories - to have sung on stage at La Scala, wow! I thought it was very forward thinking of G. Verdi to found a " Casa di Riposo per musicisti" ( the Italian sounds so much better than the English equivalent).
Listening to beautiful music is preferable to the ghastly TV that many retirement homes in this country rely on to help keep their residents occupied.
Thank you once again.

Edmund St. Austell said...

That is a very interesting and telling comment! I could not agree more. The image you evoke of all the people in rest homes watching, vegetable-like, the eternal TV (read garbage) is a chilling image. One I know only too well. Let us pray that when the day comes, we can have a good computer/monitor and internet connection, and have the strength and wit to use it. There is no comparison between the two!

Verdiwagnerite said...

Sorry Edmund I didn't mean to depress you with my comments. I don't have a set against retirement homes. Obviously they do serve a community need but like you I hope to be "compos mentis" enough to access listening and viewing alternatives to reality TV and the like if I end up living in one of these facilities.
I was reminded of another great singer today when having a look at the Met website - the wonderful Tatiana Troyanos, another singer who died far too young! In her case, at least, there is quite a treasure trove on you tube.

beats headphones said...

I wanna share your post on my facebook,u know,the link,I like your post! is that ok?

Edmund St. Austell said...

Could you please tell us who your request is directed to? If it is to me, then of coure, yes; if to another, then please specify. Thanks,

Gerhard Santos said...

BEAUTIFUL POST!!! I am honor to say thank you very much for your valuable time to share us your knowledge in this modern times. Thank you and Good Night!!! *GOD BLESS*