Background

Everything I put up on Wikipedia gets wiped so I am putting it all up here in my own way -- mostly stuff that Wikipedia does not have in English. Mainly information about operetta but some other topics as well

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A wonderful Austrian singing lady: Ute Gfrerer


Ute Gfrerer is one of my favorite operatic sopranos.  But despite having performed widely and often and for many years, there is no Wikipedia entry for her so I thought I might put a few notes together here that might fill a gap.  I should put this up on Wikipedia itself but anything I put up there gets deleted.  Wikipedia seems to be a subculture of its own with rules that I do not fit

Below is a picture of Gfrerer that shows something I particularly like --  her big smile.  

 

I have watched her in both the Zurich 2004 performance of Die Lustige Witwe and in the 1998 Moerbisch performance of Der Vogelhaendler -- very different roles but well sung and well acted in both cases.

She turned 50 this year, which means she was born in 1965.    She was born in Carinthia in Austria, daughter of an innkeeper, with three sisters, all of whom sang.  She now lives in Boston.  She updates her Facebook page fairly often.  See here.  It's mostly in English

Her musical history is extensively covered here.  Let me reproduce a marvellous vignette from that:

"In fact, singing is so integral to the Austrian social fabric, that a performer in Austria might find their audience joining in on their performances. Gfrerer had one such transcendent experience while recording one of her live concert performances in Austria, where she sang a traditional folk song from her countryside. "When I got to the second verse, the audience began humming along with me," recalls Gfrerer, "Then in the last verse, they all started singing in 4-part harmony, and it was so beautiful. It could only happen in Austria!"

Amazing.  Singing along is one thing but singing along in 4-part harmony is another. Austria is certainly a superpower where great music is concerned.

There is a very good 2012 interview with her here that contains a lot of personal reflections -- In German.

In her early years she was particularly interested in operetta but in more recent times she has had a particular devotion to the music of the prolific Kurt Weill.  She is regarded as a leading interpreter of it, in fact. 

She also shows her versatility here with a 2013 rendition of Piaf's famous song La Vie en Rose.  I think she outdoes Piaf.  Others have also highly praised that rendition.  I liked the way the happy Austrian lady emerged from the soulful French singer as soon as the song was over.

Gfrerer seems to be a rather jolly lady in general, though her part in Lustige Witwe was almost wholly serious.  She was even asked, rather absurdly for her, to be Eine anstaendige Frau (a respectable wife). 

Her natural talent for gaiety did however surface in the dancing scenes of Lustige Witwe.  She was in any dancing going, whether the part really called for it or  not. She even led the cabaret dancers towards the end of the show. With big smiles and shrieks, her happiness throughout the dancing was a joy to watch.  She even got herself tipped upside down in that last segment! She is a naturally happy lady, I think.  And being born both beautiful and talented why should she not be happy? 

La vie en rose is a great love song.  Just for fun, I put up an English translation below:

With eyes which make mine lower,
A smile which is lost on his lips,
That's the unembellished portrait
Of the man to whom I belong.

When he takes me in his arms
He speaks to me in a low voice,
I see life as if it were rose-tinted.

He whispers words to declare to me his love
Words of the everyday
And that does something to me.

He has entered into my heart
A piece of happiness
the cause of which I know full well.

It's him for me, me for him in life
He said that to me, swore to me "forever".

And as soon as I see him
So I feel in me
My heart which beats

May the nights on which we make love never end,
A great joy which takes its place
The trouble, the grief are removed
Content, content to die of it

When he takes me in his arms
He speaks to me in a very low voice,
I see life as if it were rose-tinted.

He whispers words to declare to me his love
Words of the everyday
And that does something to me.

He has entered into my heart
A piece of happiness
the cause of which I recognise.

It's him for me, me for him in life
He said that to me, swore to me forever.

And as soon as I see him
So do I feel in me
My heart which beats

So how does La Vie en Rose stack up as a love song against  Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum?  The words are very similar -- with one important exception: Piaf describes her love as deluded -- as seen through *rose* coloured glasses.  Whereas  the Austrian song is a very happy one: the singer describes her enraptured impressions of her man without reservation.  And the the music reflects that.  The French song has a great air of tragedy where the Austrian song has none of that.  Is love tragic to a French person and admirable to an Austrian?  That is the impression one gets.  And I am comparing two great singers of the songs concerned.  Martina Serafin's faultless voice and enraptured delivery of Als geblueht der Kirschenbaum in Vogelhaendler does every justice to that song. And she was singing it in her native German for a change, which would have helped at the margins 

And what does it tell us that the French song is infinitely better known than the Austrian one?  That tragedy is more interesting to most people?  I am inclined to think so.

And I suppose that it is rather churlish to mention that "tragic" love songs are a rather common phenomenon.  In popular culture "Both sides now"  by Joni Mitchell is a splendid example.  But in the classical music world the famous Goethe/Schubert song Gretchen am Spinnrade anticipated La vie en rose by a considerable time.

Operetta stars seem rather generally to keep pretty quiet about their personal lives but I see that Gfrerer had a daughter named Maxine in 2006.  She would have been 41 at the time.  A late run!  Pregnancies that late often indicate that the lady has had a lot of trouble finding a man who suits her.  She is such a happy lady that seems unlikely in her case.

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