Robert Merrill needs no defense from me. He does qualify as having
arguably the most beautiful male voice I've ever heard. This is not
the place to go into his limitations as an artist, but his is one
voice that I am very grateful to have heard many times LIVE. ALso
when I am introducing people to the strange world of opera, Merrill
used to be (kids have different ears these days!) one of the best
to see how someone reacted. The soundis SO natural (recent postings
about relaxed sound could be a description of Merrill). Never a
reveler in high notes like his distinguished American counterparts--
Warren, MacNeil, Milnes, his voice was one of those that could literally
sing the phone book and your jaw would drop at the beauty.
Merrill usually considered himself a "lyric" but boy did he ever have
power in reserve. In fact I can think of no other baritone that had
the column of tonal support behind him that Merrill did. A tribute
to that support is is falsetto singing of Ford's lines in the monologue
on the Solti recording. Puts the countertenor crowd to SHAME.
Admittedly I never envisioned him doing Reimann's Lear, but he is one
singer that most other baritones willingly admired-- they knew such
sounds were a freak of nature, and no one could easily match them.
I was in the Met shop late Sunday afternoon after standing on line for
a Trovatore standing room (dont ask). The Met Finals were taking place,
and I thought we might have been hearing some sort of feed from the
stage. But no, it was the shop playing the latest reincarnation of
Sutherland's Art of the Prima Donna. Aria after aria on this record
(I date myself!!!!) has such incomparable singing AS art, that it was
like the most cleansing sorbet of all time (the Bel Raggio--not a
favorite aria of mine just blew me away. After a few cuts from this
recording, you just feel like singing is the most wonderful experience
Lucky me to have heard JS starting in Alcina, 1960in Dallas and for
many many years to come. They were not the gold standard, but
close to once in a lifetime voices that it was my privilege to be in
the same room (hall, really). Missed Flagstad and Bjoerling, but
didnt glad RM and JS were around for me.
On other days, I too enjoy "artistry", but the viscera give a special
reaction to these vocal miracles. On Thursday Im expecting neither
at the Trovatore, and just hope Verdi survives.
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