I went to hear Kiri te Kanawa sing Strauss' Four Last Songs at Carnegie Hall a few days ago, and have been sitting on my hands debating whether to write about it or not. Why the trepidation? It's awful witnessing one of your idols crash and burn.
Truth to tell: I wasn't expecting the performance in the Utube video below (one should make allowances for the passage of time), but the performance at Carnegie was compromised in ways that made me wonder if Dame Kiri was aware of her current limitations. In a work that demands impeccable 'placement,' and is arduous even for those in the the prime of life, I heard only a handful of tones that cut through the orchestra and landed on the listener's ear with a hint of radiant glory. The rest were so carefully produced as to be inaudible. In short: the voice simply wasn't there.
A great singer with a once golden voice? I should say that I heard- and saw- one really beautiful tone in the third song. Everything came into alignment. Of course, this needs further explanation.
What most people aren't aware of is that the facial nerve is connected to the ear. When the face is 'open', that is, the small muscles of the head enervated, the ear is tuned towards higher frequencies which make ringing chiaroscuro tone possible. This is effected via the facial nerve which goes into the middle ear and stimulates the stapedius muscle and the stirrup, bringing about a posture of the ear as well as the body. What does this look like? The facial muscles looks sculpted while the spine is extended without effort. What does this feel like? To put the matter succinctly: the muscles of the face, front of throat and back of head feel drawn towards the ear, while the upper lip feels wide, and the small muscles surrounding the nose 'busy' (the combined forces of /a/, /i/ and /u/). Then the bones really do sing. For one moment, and in one tone, that is what I heard and saw in Dame Kiri. Barring the Strauss, which is a tall order for anyone, I hope she gets her groove back.