Thursday, October 14, 2021

Underrated Classical Musicians: Raina Kabaiwanska

 So let's talk today about the Bulgarian soprano, Raina Kabaiwanska. ,

But first of all, I wonder if this is not the greatest Otello I have ever heard in my life.
Studio recordings are already overrated - a lot of over-budget for less inspiration than you'll get from just clicking a tape recorder halfway back in an audience. Unless the work is written for recording, works meant to be performed live need the air of live performance as much as they need the proper instrumentation and great performers.
Georg Solti made many, many recordings, but none were as good as what he could do in the pit of an opera house. Neither of his studio Otellos can come close to this. A decade and a half after the famous Toscanini performance, this, in slightly worse sound, is what Toscanini might have done in a proper opera house. The same iron grip on the structure, but with the ability to let singers breathe and occasionally interpret. Solti is not the center of the show, and neither are the singers, the center of the show is the performance itself - one can't even necessarily say that of Toscanini's recordings. There are plenty of great Otello conductors: Toscanini, Kleiber, Busch, Kubelik, Mackerras... just to name 5... but never in any Otello performance I've ever heard has discipline and freedom been combined this successfully. One can fault Toscanini for rigidity, one can fault Kleiber for willfulness, but here, one cannot fault Solti either. This rendering is simply sui generis.
But if he didn't have singers equal to the framework he sets for them, it would be a fruitless endeavor. Mario del Monaco and Tito Gobbi are extremely well known commodities in Otello - del Monaco perhaps lacking a bit as an actor, Gobbi perhaps lacking as a singer, but so supposedly were Tamagno and Maurel who premiered the roles, in precisely the same proportions. del Monaco is larger than life as Otello always must be - the single most important element of Otello is that we are frightened of him, and del Monaco is terrifying. Gobbi, well, he's terrifying in a completely different way, not brute force, but evil incarnate.
Which brings us to the emotional core of this performance, as perfect a realization of Desdemona as I've ever heard anywhere, anywhen, any how. I know I've heard her before: certainly I've seen the Karajan Pagliacci movie in which she plays Nedda, and I'm sure I've heard her elsewhere, but she never made any impression on me before. But my god, you will never again say that Desdemona is either a simpering dope or a two-dimensional archetype of purity. These are prayers heard in heaven, this is sublimity that shakes the throne of art, this is Desdemona incarnate as flesh and soul - womanly and sexy, as terrified as any human would be against an abusive force of nature, assertive and angry even as she is loving, Desdemona in all three dimensions. This... is... art. And it is thankfully just one glorious component of a performance whose sublimity may never have been equalled.

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