Opera Daily 🎶 — The Voice of Janet Baker
This week's Opera Daily features Britain's greatest classical singer of the 20th century, Dame Janet Baker
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Known as an opera, concert, and lieder singer, Dame Janet Baker’s speaking voice embraces you just as much as her singing voice.
I loved listening to this interview that mezzo-soprano Janet Baker did with English actor Simon Callow. It’s honest and comforting, and her advice and words of wisdom extend far beyond a career as an opera singer.
Along with the documentary Janet Baker In Her Own Words, these profiles paint a beautiful picture of a woman treasured by many.
I especially loved the moment in the documentary when she talked about the loss of her older brother when she was ten years old. She shares that, in retrospect, the loss of her brother at such a young age, shaped her as an artist and a human being—how it was food for her in a terrible way. That it provided her with the kind of sensitivity she needed in her working life and how that was a tremendous gift to her from him.
I’ve shared before that honest singing is the best singing. And Dame Janet Baker is probably the best example we have of this.
Let’s listen to some iconic Dame Janet Baker moments.
🎧 Listening Example (7 minute listen): Mezzo-soprano Dame Janet Baker sings “Les Nuits d'été” by Hector Berlioz, Swedish Conductor, Herbert Blomstedt, Danish Radio Symphonic Orchestra, March 1972
🎧 Listening Example: (5 minute listen): Mezzo-soprano Dame Janet Baker sings “When I am laid in earth” (also known as “Dido’s Lament”) from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, Glyndebourne Opera House, 1966
🎧 Listening Example: (10 minute listen): Mezzo-soprano Dame Janet Baker sings two excerpts from the opera Giulio Cesare by George Frideric Handel, The Chorus & Orchestra of the English National Opera, Conductor, Charles Mackerras, 1984 British production, Scene 1 “Empio, dirò, tu sei” (“Tyrant, avoid my sight”), Scene 2 “Va tacito e nascosto” (“How silently, how slyly” )
Janet Baker on Stage fright
I love this short clip where Janet Baker speaks about her breakthrough in her long battle against stage fright and how it affects a singer’s performance and can have debilitating effects on the voice.
For Baker, the breakthrough was in how she thought about this gift she was given. Before the shift—it was a weight she carried around, and she talks about how the pressure (to use the gift God had given her) was often crippling for her (and, in the end, defeating the purpose of the gift). Towards the end of this short clip, she shares how she reframed that “gift” and how for the first time in her life, she allowed it to be something that brought her joy—allowing her to do a better job than before. Again, the reframe that Janet Baker did with her voice can apply to many things in life, not just music.
When we remove the pressure on ourselves to be perfect—to be the best—magic happens.
If you want to hear more about the effects of Stage fright on the voice and how some of the greatest singers in the world have coped (Pavarotti included), this is a good clip.
Thank you for reading (and listening), and feel free to hit reply with feedback. I would love to hear from you.
PS. If you missed last week’s selection, we featured Franco Corelli singing “Vittoria! Vittoria!”, the tenor’s big moment in the second act of Puccini’s Tosca.
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