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December 24, 2009

Belated birthday nod to Puccini

Had some blog software issues Wednesday and couldn't post anything, including my intended little salute to one of my favorite composers, Puccini, who just happens to share my birthday -- depending on what source you accept for his entry-into-this-world date; several go with Dec. 22, but, naturally, I like the ones that choose Dec. 23 (a recent biography of the composer fudged it nicely by saying he was born on the night of Dec. 22-23, 1858).

Since there has been so much talk of "Tosca" lately, thanks to a certain production at the Met, I got to thinking about the ultimate diva aria, "Vissi d'arte," from Act 2 of that opera. And that made me think of a soprano who, in her prime, sang Puccini's music with unusual beauty and amazing technical control.

Montserrat Caballe did something very, very few sopranos ever could manage -- sing the end of the penultimate phrase, "Perche, perche, Signore" ("Why, why, Lord?") on a single, exquisite breath, connecting "Signore" with the following "Ah." Nearly everyone else has to gulp for air after "Signore" -- not that there's anything wrong with that -- but hearing Caballe keep the line going is something really magical and affecting.

So here's my belated salute to my birthday buddy, Puccini, courtesy of a soprano I've always loved:

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:08 AM | | Comments (5)


While we're on the subject of belated birthday salutes, happy birthday to you, too!

Thanks. You're too precious. TIM

Happy Birthday to a person who shares my love for Montserrat Caballe! May she "breathe" for many years to come. And may you enjoy all your birthdays!

Many thanks. Delighted to hear from another Caballe fan. TIM

All right, I am here to spoil the party. While I do admire Montserrat Caballe in her prime, she's unfortunately another one of those who sing more than they should have. She should have retired long ago, but a few years ago she was still singing, and badly. What a shame.

Otherwise, here's another Happy Birthday wish.

Everybody's a critic. But thanks muchly for chiming in. TIM

Love it. Doubt she could get hired for today's Tosca though...probably wouldn't fit Mr. Bondy's aesthetic ;)

Point taken. (If I recall correctly, the last time she did the role at the Met she had to walk offstage rather than attempt any kind of leap at the end. That must have been interesting.) TIM

Hi Tim,

I hear a breath after each "Perche" I the only one?

Thanks for catching my dumb mistake, caused by being in my usual hurry. Of course, you hear those breaths after each 'perche,' What I meant to write was that Caballe sings the END of that phrase, all of "Signore" and the following "Ah" on one breath, which is very, very rare. Most sopranos take their gulp at the top of the phrase, then sing "Ah" on another breath, before finishing up. Mea culpa. (Of course, this being my blog, I'll correct that error now, for the benefit of future, unsuspecting viewers.) TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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