Dirty Gerty's Hurdy Gurdy


Only the poem knows what's true

Monday, March 22, 2010

Rachel and Malibran and Madame Viardot

I remember when I discovered Chopin had a romance/affair with Lady George Sand, I was quite... excited. I'd often imagine Chopin's sensitivity. His emotional and artistic insight, too. Sometimes, I'd put on Liszt (another friend of the two) or Chopin on quite loud, downstairs, while I was upstairs, just to pretend one of them was playing on the piano, just for me.

Today, I've discovered other magnificent characters. It's been said, when Daphne DU Maurier, the writer, tried to put Chopin's nocturnes to voice, she was mocked. But, one mezzo did it quite well. She was a friend of George Sand's and Chopin's, and went by the name Madame Viardot. Or Pauline Viardot. Or Pauline Garcia.

Miss Pauline was a leading 19th century French mezzo-soprano, pedagogue, and composer. She was of Spanish descent. And inspired a literary gem, Consuelo, from George Sand, the heroine of which was based on Pauline, aka Madame Viardot. Viardot led a luminous life. She was noted for her talent on the piano, and had even taken piano lessons with the young Franz Liszt. Viardot also performed in duets with Chopin, though her fame was in her singing, alas, it was. Turgenev was so smitten for her, after seeing Pauline perform in The Barber of Seville, that he installed himself in her household, and even treated her four children as his own.

Another historical tidbit I find amusing, and not in the humrous sense, simply in the, oh my, isn't this interesting, capacity (!), is that she inspired Berlioz, who had her in mind as Dido in Les Troyens; Berlioz changed his mind about this, which led to cool(er) relations between the two (him and Madame Viardot). Charles Gounod wrote the lead role in his opera Sapho, for her. And, much to my delight and surprise, Camille Saint Saens dedicated Samson and Delilah to her, and even considered her for the role (Delilah), but declined because of Viardot's age.

I was quite astonished to read the bit about Saint Saens. Only because, other than Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck), Samson And Delilah is my favorite opera. Bear in mind, I like Tosca, too, and I"m not an opera buff. By ANY means. I simply gather and garner knowledge and delight, whether it be musical or poet(ical) or philosophical, as I go.

I want to say that Pauline's older sister was a singer. Malibran. AKA Maria Felicia Garcia. And was compared, I think, by Alfred De Musset in an essay on Malibran and Rachel, the famous nineteenth century actress. Do forgive my blog seeming more like an encyclopedia, at the moment, as opposed to something rife with interest and opinion. But I want to inform those who have never heard of Rachel into her life.

Rachel, born Elizabeth Rachel Felix in Switzerland in 1821, was of Jewish descent. She revolutionized acting insomuch as she acquired and utilized minimalism. In physical gestures. She wasn't, as some would say, bombastic or hyperbolic, and her fame was in Tragedy. She romanced several Bonapartes, and when upbraided by a lover for not remaining faithful to him, she said, "I am as I am; I prefer renters to owners." In many ways revolutionizing feminine roles, albeit in a personal capacity. She died in 1858, in France *bear in mind she was a French actress,* of tuberculosis. And, what intrigues me about her history is the fact that Charlotte Bronte dedicated the character Vashti in Villette, to and after Rachel. Also, Rachel, a light tannish facial powder used in artificial light was named after her.

I suppose I'm a collector. I like to pick up these aspects of history, because, in my mind, they are not only notable and nostalgic but necessary. There's something to be said about discovering the lives of literary celebrity or musical celebrity long dead, finding an affinity with the characters at hand, but knowing more about their connections and lives, and thus coming to a personal interpretation of "Dasein." I read an article in one of my last graduate classes, about intertextuality. How everything, even the Declaration of Independence, is based on intertext, a sharing of words or thoughts from the past. So, those of us who would rather conserve a collective forgetfulness, admonishing the past as ridiculous and obscure, are really making ourselves just that, ridiculous and obscure. I'm going to abuse Proust again and say there's something to Remembrance of Things Past. I like to say we are not rooted in the past, but the future; we are each a massive tree, whose roots are the future, whose bark is the present, and whose leaves and branches are the past. Something so deceptively delicate, like an eyelid, severing what we can and cannot see. (That description is actually from my first manuscript/novel, the bit about the eyelid). The past, in many ways, is more vulnerable than the future, because it's vulnerable to destruction. Venerable yet unwilling to decay. I believe preservation should always be our philosophy; even if there are past moments in our own lives we'd like to forget, they are shaping. And there is a reason the memories are kept. Similarly, there's a reason history's memories are kept; if we lose them, we lose our hope and scope and everything in between. While there is a collective amnesia, noticeable in our times, I think this amnesia will be broken, so long as it's shaken. I don't want it to be shaken, because that might require a horrific event, but it will be.

Of final note, I often say beauty is the interconnectedness of nothing. And, I've never really thought of it this way. But if the "everness" of us is really "neverness," everything we are and do, historically, musically, artistically, philosophically, is reflected in nature. Evolution. Natural Selection, etc., etc., This may be another reason why I found Spellbound (read a previous blog for more about this) so intriguing.

There's something to be said about our lives not being the reflections of mirrors, but the revelation of glass. What we are and seem, the future, is always in some way manifested on the other side of the glass. So we don't get reflections of ourselves, as we persist. We get recollections, recollections which take us closer to ourselves by enlightening what we never thought we were.

Good Night, all, it's only 10:20 pm, raining, I'm thinking of Chopin's Raindrops sequence, which, I ALWAYS say this, but it is a beautiful manifestation of the falling rain, I do hope you have sweet dreams...

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