While I was a professional singer for about 20 years, I no longer identify as an artist, and I do my best not to think about it too much anymore. While the pandemic has changed many practical things for me, as a result of an injury almost ten years back, my separation from live professional music making actually happened a long time ago. Since then, not having access to this outlet in my life is something to which I have just had to get used to. If I am honest, I still miss it in a “quiet ache” sort of a way that comes over me briefly at some point almost every day. One of the great things about singing is that when it is working, it is a powerful way of giving vent to your emotions through your breath. It also offers an almost sacred way of connecting with people that transcends normal conversation. I have not yet found a substitute that addresses the isolation and “containment” that I feel sometimes in quite the same way. Figuring this out is a work in process.
For this project, I thought I would share a clip from a live performance of the St. John Passion filmed in Tokyo in 2008. In this excerpt, I am performing with the Netherlands Bach Society conducted by Jos Van Veldhoven. The magnificent gamba soloist is Mieneke Van Der Velden. This aria, (“Es its Vollbracht”/It is fulfilled), comes after the death of Jesus in the Passion story, and the music creates an appropriately melancholy and despairing atmosphere until the second half when Bach reminds us, in dramatic shift of tone, that the “Lion of Judah’s” victory over death and sin has saved us forever. It is three and half minutes of the most powerful music ever written. Looking back at this is like looking at a different person, and not just because that person still had hair. My whole frame of reference was different at the time. I had no children, was only just married, and was unaware of how lucky I was to be sharing that experience with such talented and lovely colleagues. I have a whole other set of things to feel grateful for now, including the privilege of sharing things I love with people willing to listen.
The other thing I wanted to share was a clip of the great mezzo soprano, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, singing an aria from Handel’s Theodora at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1998. A lot of smart people will tell you that trying to identify objective truth when describing the quality of artistic expression is not worth the effort. That beauty is an abstract idea found only in the eye of the beholder, and that we should skeptically and carefully question our reactions to art. Even if this is true, watching this performance always seems to ground me and provides me with quiet reassurance that despite so much evidence to the contrary, perfection and truth can exist in art almost like it does in science. To me and hundreds of colleagues I have spoken with, Lorraine’s performance wed to Handel’s exquisite music seems a perfected fusion of movement, breath, spirit, deep musicianship, burnished vocal beauty, emotion and honesty. Its beauty seems so profound that it lies outside the realm of opinion. To me this is a pure, unbound expression of hope and longing that I can rely on every time. It is a perfect moment frozen in time.