Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Poèmes pour Mi by Messiaen

Composed for a big soprano, this cycle of 9 songs must be one of the most beautiful pieces of contemporary music written for a voice. Messiaen dedicated it to his wife Claire Delbos (who he called Mi), and the music is a refined portrait of a woman combined with his own warmth and tenderness to her. The superposition of the soprano voice with the orchestral contemporary music is truly sensational.

Please do try and listen to the whole cycle [but more than once!] and I bet you'll get hooked up too. ;)

The most frequently cited recording of  Poèmes pour Mi is the one with Pierre Boulez including a phenomenal interpretation by Françoise Pollet [last big French soprano, if you ask me!].

Very recently one of my fave singers, Anne Schwanewilms, recorded it too, and in spite of some  French mispronunciation, a sheer beauty of her voice --leaning towards dramatic yet retaining its lyric juice--  is enough for me to make that recording a permanent entry to my iPod play-list.

Now, why do I talk about Poèmes pour Mi?

(a) The other night Melanie Diener sang it at the Paris Opera and it was live broadcast via the France Musique Radio [it's available for free-listening here]. Pierre Boulez opted for somewhat slower tempi, and Melanie Diener was manifestly suffering for the most part of that performance, struggling with intonation and with so many jumps between high and low registers. Melanie is a very good singer and this only demonstrated how damn difficult it is to sing this opus: it requires constantly to change registers and after 10 minutes you need a few shots of  performance-enhancing drugs to sustain the intensity and keep your focus at 100%. So, even though  Melanie was no good, the fact that she accepted to sing the whole thing live is kudos-worthy anyway.

(b) Yesterday I could read some atrocious comments about the premiere of Armida at the Met, in which Renée Fleming sang the title role. Renée is not my favorite singer but my dear fellows opera-aficionados what the heck happened to us? Did we all lose a common sense and respect for these great singers? Are we becoming a bunch of bulimic consumers who are bored by the most talented and reliable among singers? Throwing stones at Renée because we set ever higher (humanly unattainable?) standards for her?! Honestly I don't feel like I belong to that crowd...

For what it's worth, I would like to remind those who apparently forgot that Renée Fleming didn't chicken out but sang the whole cycle of Poèmes pour Mi in one go at the opening gala of the New York Philharmonic's 2009-2010 season.  And the diva sang it divinely!  See/listen to the video-clips below [posted by asdfopera on YT] and if you can cite any other singer who can do it as well [or better than] Renée, do let me know.
Cheers! ;)


  1. Opera-cake, one thing is to sing divinely Messiaen and another thing is to sing divinely Rossini... To hear her Armida's rendering in a concert last summer was shocking, you can check her performance...

  2. I understand that Mei. She did sing the same repertoire 15-20 years ago and was superb in it.
    Now, after her voice evolved she's not equally at ease in Rossini.
    But hey, from there to completely trash her and read all the horrible comments about her, I feel there should be a zone with many more shades of gray.

    I listened to bits and pieces of Armida and I admit that she wasn't great-great, but she was fiiine. I believe a part of the problem has more to do with our expectations than with her ability to sing out of her mind...

    It all looks like the extreme swing of collective mood: from annoyingly excessive praise for Renée to unbearably too much venom.

    In any case, I wouldn't venture 4 hours of Armida by Rossini. I prefer the one by Gluck and staged by Bieito :)

  3. LOL Mei, I only now got to listen to that Armida. Oh my! Rossini is definitely not for her anymore.

    BUT that does not justify the amount of hatred that's been circulating all over the Internet for the last couple of days. Renée is one of the greatest living singers who is human too and who made a faux-pas by singing this Rossini.
    Everybody does. Did you listen to Marguerite [from la Damnation de Faust] by Joyce DiDonato? Or the same thing by Eva Maria Westbroek? Duke of Mantua by JDF?... Everyone makes a few faux pas in his/her career ;)