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Rachele Gilmore’s 100 MPH Fastball
March 9, 2012 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Andy Ihnatko writes a charmingly enthusiastic post about listening to the same aria, from the same production, sung in two very different ways: by the star, and by the understudy: Rachele Gilmore’s 100 MPH Fastball

The audience gasps at Rachele Gilmore (the understudy's) performance. The Met Archives shows her having performed twice, 12/23 and 12/26/09, the video being from her debut.

It's a bit of inside baseball opera explained really well. I recommend watching the two videos sequentially for maximum effect.
posted by danny the boy (44 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite

 
After watching Kim's performance, Gilmore seems so... physically awkward in comparison (yes, she's supposed to be an automaton, but her stiffness is somehow non-robotic). You can see the little mistakes she makes, like jumping the gun on her little hop after being wound up for the first time. Totally nervous. But then she starts to SING.

A good friend was at the second performance and remembers being amazed that she was the understudy.
posted by danny the boy at 12:39 PM on March 9, 2012


That was truly lovely, but I'm about to head down to Florida to see some spring training games, and my quick glance and excited link-following left me disappointed at not seeing a woman literally pitch a 100 MPH fastball.
posted by exogenous at 12:47 PM on March 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


holy shit
posted by idiopath at 12:50 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


she doesn’t necessarily need to protect her voice for the next two weeks of performances.

This, no?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:50 PM on March 9, 2012


Awesome. Thanks for posting this.
posted by The World Famous at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2012


I wouldn't necessarily say that "understudy" is quite the word for it ("cover" is the usual industry term, fwiw).

The Met will usually try to replace an international A-level star singer with another international A-level star singer if given sufficient notice of illness or reasonable suspicion that the singer will withdraw (it's also not uncommon for one high-level singer who is appearing in later performances to serve as the cover for some earlier performances). That said, generally speaking all of the covers at the Met are excellent singers who are expected to go out and at least do an extremely good job on short notice. From all appearances Ms. Gilmore sings this particular repertoire at a very high level, and this clearly was known when she was engaged as the cover. It's also true that singers with the biological gifts for this particular repertoire (high coloratura) tend to be "ready" at a much younger age than singers whose physiology lends itself to other repertoire (say, late romantic and verismo opera).


she doesn’t necessarily need to protect her voice for the next two weeks of performances.

This, no?


Not really. On my casual listen, she didn't seem to be doing anything particularly taxing for her instrument.
posted by slkinsey at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


the man playing Spalanzani (the inventor) eventually chose to mill about behind Gilmore, accepting the handshakes and congratulations of the partygoers, as though the 17-minute ovation were for his character’s engineering virtuosity instead of for Gilmore’s vocal virtuosity.

I'm not even sure I could physically manage a 5 minute ovation. Gilmore has some powerful aural drugs.
posted by Panjandrum at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2012


I don't actually like opera, and I've never heard of the show or either of the singers, but the second lady's voice was so beautiful that it made me cry a little.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:57 PM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Unbefuckinglievable. I saw the production starring Kim and I enjoyed it, but now I feel cheated because I could have seen this.
posted by Sternmeyer at 1:01 PM on March 9, 2012


the second lady's voice was so beautiful that it made me cry a little.

My mom is an opera singer and voice teacher/coach and that particular aria was constantly being sung by my mom and others in our home when I was growing up. So I had a similar reaction, but for, I suppose, more complex reasons.
posted by The World Famous at 1:08 PM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't actually like opera, and I've never heard of the show or either of the singers, but the second lady's voice was so beautiful that it made me cry a little.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:57 PM on March 9 [+] [!]


Me too. I don't think I've Opera has ever, until now, felt visceral to me.
posted by basicchannel at 1:11 PM on March 9, 2012


Here's another video of her performing the same aria at a previous performance.
posted by basicchannel at 1:16 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Extremely talented people that dedicate their lives to the opera blow me away. Bravo.
posted by phaedon at 1:34 PM on March 9, 2012


From here, Gilmore singing some Orff (that I don't recognize). Get it while it's still up...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 1:43 PM on March 9, 2012


This recording was from 2009.
This season, Rachele performed the same role at Teatro alla Scala.
Not too bad for an IU grad.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:01 PM on March 9, 2012


God, both of those performances blew me away.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:01 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not too bad for an IU grad.

Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music is one of the best music schools in the world, and its opera theatre and voice programs are consistently ranked number one above the schools that get more attention in the popular media.
posted by The World Famous at 2:12 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Kim's was a was solid, smooth, polished and quintessentially polished performance -- a pro at the top of her game; everything one could hope for at the Met. Or any live event.

Gilmore's performance was wobbly, flawed, passionate, raw, scary, breathtakingly beautiful; the epitome of what one really wants to see in a live event -- a human at the peak of their ability, pouring everything they have into their art and right on the crackling edge of liminality.

I heard someone once describe proper jazz when played by proper jazz musicians as "dangerous; you won't be sure whether the next notes to come out will kill the player, or you."

I had popcorn at my desk; I stopped eating it and my mouth hung open.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:17 PM on March 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


I've found the range of the Olympia role listed at Eb4 to Eb6. My music theory is very rusty, but my understanding is that this encompasses the first Eb above middle C to the first Eb above the top of the clef. If you're a pianist, that's three of those "extender" lines above the top of the treble-clefed staff.

For (more contemporary) comparison, I believe the highest note demanded by the Christine part in The Phantom of the Opera (with the phantom urging her on at the end) is either that very note, or a half-step above.

The Queen of the Night aria, considered one of the more demanding operatic soprano roles, tops out at F6... but demands that the performer exercise great power and control at the very top of that range.

What Rachele Gilmore did was extend some of the vocal runs an additional perfect fourth, or five half-steps, beyond what was demanded, to Ab6.

You'll occasionally hear some higher notes in popular music (Mariah can/could hit notes in the 7th octave), but in popular music one need only fill a microphone. Rachele Gilmour filled a theater with that voice.
posted by The Confessor at 2:23 PM on March 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


(And people who know what they are talking about can feel free to dispute my "layman's analysis".)
posted by The Confessor at 2:24 PM on March 9, 2012


Holy smokes. I'm not into opera at all, but that was really amazing.
posted by brundlefly at 3:09 PM on March 9, 2012


I love opera, but I don't know crap about music. That was the most amazing thing I've seen in a long time, and thanks to everyone for explaining why.
posted by Mcable at 3:19 PM on March 9, 2012


Wow... I just listened to them both in a row and then listened to Rachele's performance again as soon as it had finished. Gorgeous.
posted by chatongriffes at 3:25 PM on March 9, 2012


I was there for that. My niece was dancing in the wild party scenes. Quite a few people seemed to know in advance that the note was coming. The score had been hastily changed during rehearsal to accommodate her special abilities, and the performers had witnessed this, and word got out.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:44 PM on March 9, 2012


BTW, that's my niece, Allison Clancy, sitting on the stage in the front on the right hand side, with the red hair (she dyed and cut it for the show, rather than wear a wig) and the stick-on bra thingies.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:53 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


In case it's unclear: Ornamentation of the second verse in Olympia's aria is quite common to the point of being expected. There would have been no need to change the score or anything like that. As with any ornamentation, the singer is expected to feature the things he/she does best. I'm not trying to take anything away from Ms. Gimore, whose performance is really excellent. But soprani who sing this sort of thing and have access to extra-high high notes is not as uncommon as one might think (go to the end for the money notes).
posted by slkinsey at 4:00 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


There would have been no need to change the score or anything like that.

I was told that some of the instrumental parts were passed forward and alterations were penciled in.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:03 PM on March 9, 2012


I love how, in the video I linked above, the musicians react to her virtuosity... grins ear to ear.
posted by basicchannel at 4:09 PM on March 9, 2012


I was told that some of the instrumental parts were passed forward and alterations were penciled in.

I just listened straight through both performances performance with the score. Gilmore didn't do anything that would have required special markings or modifications of the parts compared to Kim's performance (in fact the two performances are remarkably similar in most aspects, as one would expect), and the orchestra played what they always play.

Again, this isn't to take anything away from Ms. Gilmore. It's a fabulous performance, and the exposure was clearly was a major turning point in her career. The point I'm making is just that it's not exactly an unprecedented performance where she did all kinds of things no one ever has done before and was head and shoulders above all others in the role who came before her -- and secondarily that this fact may not be obvious to those who don't know much about opera, this type of soprano voice and this aria. What she did do, was come out and kick ass at a high level. And, from what I can tell, she continues to kick ass at this sort of thing.
posted by slkinsey at 4:29 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


From here, Gilmore singing some Orff (that I don't recognize).

That's "In Trutina" from Carmina Burana--maybe the loveliest section of the whole piece. Here's the great Lucia Popp performing it. There's another coloratura showpiece a few seconds later: Dulcissime.
posted by rodii at 4:57 PM on March 9, 2012


This was fantastic, thanks for posting! Right from her first notes, I thought that Gilmore's voice sounded much richer.
posted by carter at 5:18 PM on March 9, 2012


... oh my god. I cried a bit at Gilmore's performance. I thought that Kim's performance was pretty good, and was going, hey, opera that looks interesting! But was otherwise not inclined to watch opera. But then, Gilmore came up, and I put my headphones on, because there was something about it that /felt/ just, /more/. And wowza. That would have been so awesome to see live.
posted by owlrigh at 5:32 PM on March 9, 2012


I adored Ms. Gilmore's talent and virtuosity, but there was something about Ms. Kim's performance which truly floored me. Maybe just the clear understanding that ever single moment, not just in the singing but in the "acting" of it was fine-tuned to absolute perfection, without losing the enjoyment of the piece. I'm having a much tougher time choosing between the two.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:30 PM on March 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was incredible. She has such a nice tone, too. Some coloraturas sound really shrill to me; her voice has a "roundness" that I really like. Thanks for the link.

Also, not that it has anything to do with anything - she's really cute, too.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:35 PM on March 9, 2012


This was wonderful and reminded me just how much I love the opera.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 6:40 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love that one of the commenters on the article put the last 30s of Gilmore's performance through a spectrum analyzer.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:41 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting this here!
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:33 PM on March 9, 2012


soprano vs. soprano. great post. now i want to find more sites with musical duels.

for my vote: kim is technically better but gilmore's voice is more thrilling.
posted by ecourbanist at 9:33 PM on March 9, 2012


Agreeing with the above. In my opinion, Kim had the technical chops and the part down pat. Gilmore had passion, which can never be underestimated.

I remember being a stage manager at a reunion concert for local bands from the 50's. The first night was pretty good and the crowd ate it up. After the show, I stayed around until 3 or 4 in the morning to keep the venue available to the performers and jammed a little on conga. (I love drumming, just never learned how to play a drum kit.) It was kind of cool, apparently my conga playing was good enough for some of the bands to ask me to sit in on their sets the second night. Which I declined as my stage manager duties kept me busy enough.

Anyway, that second night seemed really for the performers and the crowd was along for the ride. I still swear I could hear one of the singers ripping his vocal cords to bloody shreds, but he was in the song until the bitter end, and up to that point, he would give it everything he had.

That's what Gilmore's performance reminded me off, FWIW.
posted by Samizdata at 9:50 PM on March 9, 2012


This is probably a non-sequiter, but having grown up in the theater and being involved in an opera production currently (fine, it's the Georgetown Gilbert & Sullivan Society's current production of The Mikado. It's still opera) I'm reminded of my absolutely favorite moments in a lifetime of theater.

One is from our production of Urinetown. Our technically strongest performer at that time was always confined to supporting character roles, and was playing Penelope Pennywise in this one. She had a ball with it, as she always did, but in the climax of "Why Did I Listen To That Man," I was waiting in the wings at her side, and could only see her, and watched her drenching with sweat every night, having just run all around the stage for god knows how long, and throwing everything she had into an aria line buried within the harmony, one which went from legato to staccato at whim, and which made me want to cry every time I heard it.

The other was in our production of David Ives' It's All in the Timing. For those who don't know it, it's a pretty humorous collection of short plays based in humor more suited to the late 70s, early 80s, but filled with enough clever wordplay and whatnot to be still entertaining today.

One of the pieces is called "Seven Menus," which is seven short scenes in the same restaurant, with a shifting cast of characters coupled up as we go from scene to scene, playing off of the dynamics of the different individuals being coupled differently. Now, my friend Chris is barely an actor. At this time, he was essentially Gareth from Community. He was playing one of these guys - a kind of dorky guy with a love for puns which his friends suffer with minimal agitation, and who is with the love of his life, who encourages him. Later in the piece, he is with a different woman, for whom he has changed, and there is one throwaway line:

"Well, if you've got a niche, scratch it!. I'm sorry."

Chris filled this one stupid line with every ounce of self-doubt, self-loathing, romantic futility, and everything else he could, and still made it understated. The best actors in the world couldn't have done this better, because they didn't have a lifetime of unmitigated romantic loserdom behind them from which to draw that perfect read. It broke my heart every single night.

(Chris recently got engaged to the love of his life, BTW. Hooray for happy endings!)
posted by Navelgazer at 10:13 PM on March 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows McGee: "I don't actually like opera, and I've never heard of the show or either of the singers, but the second lady's voice was so beautiful that it made me cry a little"

seanmpuckett: " ... Gilmore's performance was wobbly, flawed, passionate, raw, scary, breathtakingly beautiful; the epitome of what one really wants to see in a live event -- a human at the peak of their ability, pouring everything they have into their art and right on the crackling edge of liminality."

She blew me out of my shoes. And more, far more than "just" her voice -- her presence, from the second that video started until the second it ended, that performance was magic. Gilmore was magic.

I would not have wanted to like it -- here's some gal wearing a wacky hat, yowling like a cat on a fence on an autumn night, is what I'd have said if I was with my brothers, for sure, or most anyone else, really. And watching Kim, while I absolutely recognized that she was doing something that no one I know could do, perhaps could ever do, it didn't catch me; I felt respectful in the same way maybe that I'm respectful of a guy who can throw a baseball 104mph with pinpoint accuracy or write tight, flawless code real fast, or make seventeen million bucks with some multi-level marketing business. A skill, very unusual, interesting, where's the cheese dip?

But Gilmore. She could have been wearing forty-six of those wacky crowns, she could have had them duct-taped all over her, it wouldn't matter a bit -- what she was doing would have come through. Art, Capital A Art, right there in front of us, not live -- oh, too bad for me, for us -- but at least we get to see it, and hear it.
Oh, we thank you, gods of technology, for the cameras that caught it, for this laptop which is in fact in my lap, for the HD download of the performance now nestled cozy on my hard drive...

I just can't believe how great she is. Can you imagine what it's like to be her, to live her life, to know that people know that she can cast spells? She's not but 30 years old. From what (very, very little) I know she still has plenty of years left to her, that opera singers can often sing for decades. I hope that she can, I hope that she does.

And then she's a beauty on top of everything else -- how can life be even remotely considered fair? Maybe she has big feet, maybe she has trouble buying shoes that fit comfortably, we could take comfort in that, not that I'd want her to hurt at all but maybe just a little bit, to remind her that we are all out here suffering the slings and arrows and stuff, and not being magic at all hardly, maybe the shoes could hurt her feet the tiniest bit until they've stretched out a touch.

It'd be only fair.

I can scarce imagine myself going to an opera -- all those mopes wearing tuxes, those old, powdered gals festooned in glittering jewels -- but I'd go if I had the chance to hear her sing, to experience her performance.

Great post, OP, best of web. Made me marvel, and cry.
posted by dancestoblue at 1:04 AM on March 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


...all those mopes wearing tuxes, those old, powdered gals festooned in glittering jewels

The people on the left and right of me handing one set of opera glasses back and forth iacross me, leaning side to side around the tall guy in front of me, fiddling with the sub-titles menu on back of the seats, wishing I'd done more research on the complicated plot, squinting for clues in the program in the dark, trying to follow which one of the red-haired minxes was my niece -- it was really hard to "be here now." It's much easier to follow for me now than it was then, thanks for linking this. My niece hadn't seen this video, and she thanks you too.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:12 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


So Gilmore just finished a run at La Scala, the first reprise of this role since her debut, and surely people from across the globe came to see her. And oh what they saw, she was dressed in an enormous rubber "fat suit." Oh dear, I hope the director knew what he was doing, and that it worked. She performed alternating nights with Vassiliki Karayanni. Here you can see Karayanni performing The Doll's Song in 2004.

I was entranced by Gilmore's performance, I must have listened to it 20 times. I even found myself unconsciously whistling the tune, only noticing what I was doing when I failed to hit the high notes, even transposed into the lower register I could whistle. So I had learn more, and compare Gilmore's performance to others like Karayanni and Kim. I think I understand what was so entrancing, as Sean remarked:

Gilmore's performance was wobbly, flawed, passionate, raw, scary, breathtakingly beautiful;

Wobbly and flawed? Perhaps by technical operatic standards that I don't know of? But then I compared her performance back to Kim's. Kim is controlled and precise, the clockwork doll. The moments when Gilmore shakes her body up and down, making the expression of the notes wobbly, makes Kim's look lifeless in comparison. The flaws are purposeful and make the doll transcend its clockwork mechanism.

An institution like the Met has existed for well over a century, with thousands of performances. A young woman spent her life training and preparing to appear on that stage. They came together for just a few minutes, this is the moment they each existed for, and people are still talking about it years later. They may still be talking about it decades from now.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:55 PM on March 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The recording of Gilmore is so much worse, it's hard to compare the two. But it was less precise, for sure, on those arpeggios. And I don't think that's because of her movements. Kim did some interesting and effective ones too.

But Gilmore has a way with phrasing, and that superhuman coloratura which even a century-old wax recording couldn't conceal.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 1:26 PM on March 11, 2012


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