What makes for great singing? We come close to the heart of the matter through these songs and arias from between 1960 and 1967, by which date Teresa Berganza's artistry was fully matured. Early technical mastery is revealed in the 1960 Siete canciones, with Gerald Moore in sensitive support, and where glimpses of self-consciousness in the face of the BBC cameras make the girlish young singer's even, rich tone, model breath control and faultless command of dynamic nuance even more charming. By 1964, in symphonic and recital excerpts from France, transformation to full diva is complete. The hair has chignonned up to stellar proportions, the eye is steely, the command over her audience is gracious, firmly unwavering. The flawless technique has acquired an imperious edge to match the image. Unquestionably this is great singing.
Now a subtly different question. What makes for a great singer? Berganza's very perfection is a double-edged weapon. In Mozart and Schubert is the technical control marshalled with too-evident virtousity? The shyness of 1960 is still there, not now manifest in touching vulnerability, but grown inwards in contemplation of technique for its own sake. Might not even her famous rondo from Rossini's Cenerentola (under the unlikely baton of Eugen Jochum) seem a mite too detached, lacking in spontanaity and humour? Viewers may make up their own minds and hearts, for these extracts at the very least demand to be seen.
My own feeling is that Berganza becomes a truly great singer only when heard in her own language. The promise of the London de Falla songs is amply confirmed in the misty extracts from a 1964 Aix Festival concert where, accompanied by her husband Félix Lavilla Berganza delivers a batch of 20th century Spanish songs, by Montsalvatge, Obradors and Guridi, hot from the forge.
These black and white video transfers, well-managed from some intractable material, make absorbing viewing. We have subtitles in English, French, German and Spanish. The "bonus" items make for fascinating points of debate in pitting the likes of Ludwig, Fischer-Dieskau, Hotter and Patzak against the Spanish heroine. EMI's booklet has an informative Alan Blyth article, plus full documentation, texts and translations. No need to hesitate. Great singing, from a great singer.
© Christopher Webber, 2004