Monday, December 10, 2012

Reri Grist and the cavalcade of opera

I'm just finishing up writing up descriptions of hundreds of operas, concerts, and dance performances on DVD, of every stripe, from intimate to opulent, from black-and-white tv broadcasts of the '60s to up-to-the-minute high-def extravaganzas with surround sound. Opera is a great passion of mine, and I'm glued to the Met's Saturday afternoon broadcasts, as well as catching many of their live transmissions in theaters. So this assignment was obviously not too onerous (except for not having time to sample as many as I would have wished!) While enjoying a few scenes from a historic Marriage of Figaro from the Salzburg Festival, I spied as Susanna a singer unknown to me who looked to be of African descent. Wow ... what a discovery (for me at least). And what a bundle of talent! Her name is Reri Grist, and she's also featured as a most delectable Zerbinetta in another production from the same time period, Richard Strauss's opera buffa/seria combo Ariadne auf Naxos. Grist, who turned 80 this year, was Consuelo in the original production of  West Side Story—and she was the first to sing "Somewhere."
Still from Ariadne, with the commedia dell' arte troupe. After her tour de force scene, Grist received three uproarious curtain calls.
After that, Bernstein cast her in the soprano part of Mahler's Symphony No. 4 with the New York Philharmonic, and in a later Columbia Records recording of 1960. But the biggest successes for this minute personage with the outsize gifts were in Europe. In a program honoring her 80th, the Academy of Berlin summed up some of the highlights:
Grist's official operatic debut was at the Santa Fe Opera in 1959, when she played the role of Adele in Die Fledermaus, followed by the role of Blondchen in Die Entf├╝hrung aus dem Serail. When Igor Stravinsky heard Grist in the latter performance, he invited her to perform his Le Rossignol with him conducting with the Washington Opera Society. This led to her European debut, in 1960, as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute in Cologne. From there, Grist became a member of the Zurich Opera (1960–1966), leading to other successful debuts in London, Vienna, and San Francisco, among others, including at the Salzburg Festival in 1964. Her Metropolitan Opera debut took place on February 25, 1966, as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, leading to a smattering of subsequent, impressive roles. She closed her operatic career in 1991 at De Nederlandse Opera in Amsterdam in the one-woman opera composed by Morton Feldman (to a text by Samuel Beckett), and directed by Pierre Audi.
Here are scenes from the aforementioned Figaro. In this one, Grist is interacting with the adorable Edith Mathis as Cherubino. In the next, she sings one of Susanna's most beautiful arias. Then we have a scene from Ariadne, with Hildegard Hillebrecht. (Don't worry, if you buy the operas you can access English subtitles.)

Going all out here, I'm adding this version of the magical final trio from Strauss's Rosenkavalier. This is the DVD we're carrying. Just ignore the mishmash of subtitles by the Spanish youtuber, and enjoy!


  1. Love the excerpt from Der Rosenkavalier!

    1. Un peu epris d'elleDecember 10, 2012 at 6:25 PM

      Si, si! Oui, oui! And a refresher course for two languages.
      Lovely duet between (female) Octavian and Sophie.
      The credits flashed by too fast for me to catch the name of the Japanese singer of Sophie. Como se llama?

  2. The Sophie is Maki Mori. So glad you liked it. I love this opera, and the version we have is very special in terms of the acting, singing, and cinematography.

  3. Listening to "Somewhere" gives me the chills - it is so beautiful!