(Curator: Andrew Garland)
It’s all relative.
In my first year of undergrad my voice teacher would have me over to his apartment to listen to opera recordings. I remember our first session vivdly: I had just decided to change my major to voice performance and was suddenly ready to listen to as much opera as I could, where previously I had heard almost none. One pair of examples proceeded as follows: he set up this first clip, telling me the name of the singer, (Sam Ramey – of whom I had never heard) with a short summary of the character and plot. *In order for me to tell this story you must, if at all possible listen to both of these examples on some quality speakers. “Le veau d’or” from Gounod’s Faust. (Welsh National Opera, Carlo Rizzi, 1994)
Seeing the expression on my face that I had for the first time heard the voice of Sam Ramey he said “That’s a pretty big voice, right? Well listen to this…” and then he played the same aria sung by Nicolai Ghiarov (London Symphony, Edward Downes, 1968)
Imagine you are just beginning to study vocal technique, just starting to learn precisely how to make a beautiful, projecting and yes, loud tone. Imagine that you had never sat down and critically listened to an opera recording. Imagine that you had never listened to a true bass voice. Imagine that you had never been presented with the difference of a formidable bass-baritone and a hulking, dark true bass. *And imagine that you’re listening on a really good stereo. I know I already told you, but you probably didn’t go listen to these examples on a good stereo*. It was like the difference between hearing a subway car approaching the platform and standing directly underneath a 747 as it takes off. Both strong, formidable, irresistible, but one is undeniably bigger than the other.
This same teacher invited me to his native Chicago over the winter break. There I heard a concert by the Chicago Symphony and a performance of Faust at the Chicago Lyric starring Richard Leech, Renee Flemming, Dimitry Hvorostovsky and, of course, Sam Ramey. It was, as he said, like having ten voice lessons.
In that same listening session he played me a recording of this song: “Charlie Rutlage” by Charles Ives. Sung by Mr. Ramey with Warren Jones on piano. Here it is, a bonus track for today: