Opera Daily 🎶 — A Diva, in the Best Way
This week's Opera Daily features Jessye Norman on critics and “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila
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I have never been a fan of Western classical music criticism, and even less so today.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
— Teddy Roosevelt’s “Citizenship in a Republic” Speech
As classical music faces a changing world, so do its critics (and I say, thank GOD).
When soprano Jessye Norman took the stage, even the most experienced music critics could find themselves at a loss for words to describe the power of her voice.
But of course, the “critics” were always there to offer their opinion on her performances.
Jessye Norman was a wise woman, and the short excerpt above on (opera) critics reminds us of the many reasons why.
(If you’d like to see the full interview, you can find it here.)
I agree with Brene Brown’s (and Jessye Norman’s) philosophy about criticism:
“If you are not in the arena getting your a** kicked on occasion, I am not interested in or open to your feedback.
There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave with their own lives, but will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgement at those of us trying to dare greatly.
Their only contributions are criticism, cynicism, and fear-mongering.
If you're criticizing from a place where you’re not also putting yourself on the line, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
Today we are listening to one of the most beautiful and seductive arias for mezzo-soprano, “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Camille Saint-Saëns's opera Samson et Dalila.
With only a note or two, Norman’s voice is immediately recognizable.
This aria is one of the key moments in the opera when Dalila needs to convince Samson that her love is real and that she will not betray him.
She attempts to seduce Samson to trick him into revealing the secret of his strength to lure him away from leading a revolution against the Philistines, yet also she is not without feelings for him.
She begs him to respond to her, hoping he will finally forget about the Israelite rebellion he is leading against the Philistines. If Samson concentrates completely on her, the High Priest of Dagon may be able to capture him.
🎧 Listening Example: (9 minute listen): Soprano Jessye Norman singing “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Camille Saint-Saëns's opera Samson et Dalila, Dame Jane Glover, Conductor, and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, Avery Fisher Hall, 1994
“Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix” — English Translation
My heart opens to your voice
Like the flowers open
To the kisses of the dawn!
But, oh my beloved,
To better dry my tears,
Let your voice speak again!
Tell me that you are returning
To Dalila forever!
Repeat to my tenderness
The promises of old times,
Those promises that I loved!
Ah! respond to my tenderness!
Fill me with ecstasy!
🗣️ Would love to hear your thoughts on the role of critics (and why the classical music industry has too often been more focused on reviews instead of feedback and praise from actual audiences)?
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to reply with feedback or leave a comment.
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured Ted Gioia, music historian and author, and a live concert with Mirella Freni and Cesare Siepi.
❤️ If you enjoyed this selection, please hit the heart to like it (and share it too!)
Norman was great w/Pierre Boulez when she sang Berlioz' DAMNATION OF FAUST; irregular at The Met in ill-fitting roles and near disastrous in a late recital at NJPAC. She was formidable in many ways, but also a Prima Donna too, for good and bad.
Thank you for sharing both the artist's measure of music critics and this performance of “Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix"! I had not heard this performance. It seems unlike others -- slower and more emphatic?