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Classical 101

Remembering Maureen Forrester

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[DEAD VIDEO] Serenata presents an all Brahms tribute to Maureen Forrester, Saturday July 3 at 1 PM The wonderful Canadian contralto Maureen Forrester died on June 16th, [caption id="attachment_12733" align="alignright" width="85" caption="Maureen Forrester (1930-2010)"][/caption] just a few weeks short of her 80th birthdays. She had been in declining health for several years. Now, about the term 'contralto'. Maureen Forrester was not a mezzo soprano. She did not have the edge or bite to her sound to excel at the great mezzo heroines of Verdi.  I suspect too, that her ebullient personality would have made them a tough sell for her. The contralto is the lowest female voice. Forrester's was rich and gorgeous without being ponderous. These tend to be 'slow' voices. Think melted chocolate rather than champagne. Here's Maureen Forrester singing Mahler's Urlicht (Primal Light) [youtube CWPKiuFmY4M 490 344] Hear that? It's a voice that wraps around you. You can't fake a sound like that.  In my opinion, its God's gift. I used to think of Forrester as a very serious lady. Think again [youtube 6BkyxI1Iokg 490 344] She sang everything. Bruno Walter made her his protege in the 1950s and with him she became the world's preeminent Mahler singer.  She recorded Handel operas when no one else was. She commissioned a lot of fine new music from Canadian composers. She sang Bach and Vivaldi. Her recording of the Verdi Requiem with Ormandy is a winner. She raised five children. Her 1986 memoir Out of Character is written with humor and insight and details what became a messy private life. It's a great read, especially for a young artist. It shows that the life of an artist costs. Think of Maureen Forrester when you want to remember an artist at home with Monteverdi,  Mahler and Rogers and Hammerstein-I'm told her Bloody Mary in South Pacific was a honey of a performance. I remember her as the sinister old Countess in Tchaikovsky's Queen of Spades.  She was too intelligent to play an old harridan. Forrester reminded us that this ancient character was once called "The Venus of Moscow" Her later years were not easy. Her decline was long and terrible. Happily, there's a wonderful legacy of recordings and videos. Wrap that voice around you the next time you think your life is going down the tubes. Up you'll come! --Christopher Purdy