Song of the Day: October 5

This week’s Song of the Day curator is Russian soprano and international star Dina Kuznetsova. You can hear Dina in NYFOS’s upcoming show From Russia to Riverside Drive on November 8 (Boston) and November 10 (New York), performing songs by Rachmaninoff, alongside some of the Jazz Age music that Rachmaninoff heard during his time living in New York.

from Dina Kuznetsova:

It gave me acute pleasure to read and listen to the blog. It seems that people who love art song share similar obsessions, which do not have a genre boundary. From jazz singers to Sondheim, from Lorraine Hunt Lieberson to the Barry sisters, to…nearly anything and everything.
 
There is so much repertoire that I love that choosing five entries proved a difficult task, but for my first entry I dip into a childhood memory. My selection will be a song by Petr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, “Not a Word, My Friend” (op.6, #2, written in 1869). I’ve sung Tchaikovsky’s operas and songs, and they hold some of my fondest professional memories, but this song I did not sing (or at least have not yet sung…).  It belongs to my Grandmother, a constant and beloved and yet a mysterious presence in my childhood. She was from an educated family, with unrealized but deeply felt artistic sensibilities. Some of her family members perished in the Gulag; she lived through World War II, and suffered innumerable losses at which I can only guess.
 
“Play this,” my grandmother once announced, pulling out a thin sheet of paper and putting it in front of me. I started to read: “Not a word, my friend, not a sound, We will be silent together, for silent are weeping willows that lean over the tombstone…” I played the melody—short, repetitive phrases; the melody did not seem to develop…
 
At my twelve or so years, I was not impressed. I wanted DRAMA in sad songs, a sweep, an outcry, much like in Liza’s arias in Queen of Spades. So I put it aside. After that, I heard my Grandmother murmuring the melody to herself. And it stayed with me—that was the song my Grandmother loved. Now, decades later, I try to imagine what the song meant to her, and it is a poignant memory.
 

Translation: (words by Alexei Plesheev)
Not a word, my friend, not a sound,
We will be silent,
For silent are the weeping willows
That lean over a tombstone.
They bend and read
In your tired heart
That there had been days of shining happiness,
That happiness is no more.
Not a word, my friend, not a sound,
We will be silent,
For silent are the weeping willows
That lean over a tombstone.

 

Georg Ots (1920-1975), Estonian baritone, was a huge celebrity in the Soviet Union. He sang classical repertoire in major opera houses, but was propelled to wide fame when he starred in a 1958 Soviet movie “Mister X”, based on The Circus Princess, an operetta by Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán.
Here Georg Ots singing Tchaikovsky at a live concert in 1962.

 

Some bonus tracks:
The second version of Tchaikovsky’s song, by the legendary Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, live from 1964 concert, with Mstislav Rostropovich on the piano.

 

Georg Ots as mysterious and dashing “Mister X”, a nobleman who abandons the aristocratic life and becomes a circus acrobat.