Rise Stevens
February 9, 2006 11:07 AM   Subscribe

For all the hoo-ha about Callas first bringing real acting to the operatic stage, one has only to view the footage of Risë Stevens legendary 1952 “Carmen” to see what kind of Method she brought to the Met. Stevens was the definitive gypsy wanton, and her performance has it all— fire, ice, and that impossible balance between elegance and sluttiness. Her technique is superb—licking her fingers before extinguishing the candles in what will be her death chamber, then flicking off the wax; flinging her unwanted lover’s ring at him, spitting out a contemptuous “Tiens!”.
The Metropolitan Opera Guild honors the Bronx-born singer, now 92. More inside.
posted by matteo (9 comments total)

definitive gypsy wanton, and her performance has it all— fire, ice, and that impossible balance between elegance and sluttiness.

I always thought that was Stevie Nicks.

Joking aside, great post. Great opera is underappreciated. Thank you.
posted by JekPorkins at 11:14 AM on February 9, 2006

fire, ice, and that impossible balance between elegance and sluttiness

I have a new ambition in life — to have those words said of me;-)
posted by orange swan at 11:17 AM on February 9, 2006

As I snap shut the last catches on my vac-suit, I swallow the throat lozenge and wonder what the great opera singers of the past would think to see me now. Stepping into the airlock, these familiar thoughts about the strange twists of history amaze me once again. A few centuries past, the opera singers were a dying breed, and noone would have predicted we'd still exist at all now. Opera, of course is long dead, for all but a very few. I have never been out of well paid jobs, even if this current gig might be seen by some as a bit below my level.

I love the icebreaker work, though. As I sled across from the ship to the glasstroid, I love the feeling of open space. The "real" work on the interstellars is definately the most exciting and challenging, but it's very abstract and contained. Here, as I strap into the rig and look around at the mining operation getting started on the day-cycle's work, I love the strange mixed feeling I get - half performer getting ready to hit the stage, half crusty old miner getting my gear ready. I plug into the transducers and start my aria. I feel the crescendo through my feet as the entire glasstroid starts to shake, and just as I pull contact and eject away from the surface, I can see the entire massive thing begin to crack and reticule. It's well done, and I enjoy seeing the miners start diving in even as I reenter the ship.

The interstellars are entirely different, and while I've been enjoying my break I think I'll take the next gig I can. The long hours on the bridge of a ship in hyperspace are a performance unlike any other - all the technicians and specialists relegated to supporting roles, while I literally sing us to another star. The first few experiments with hyperspace were dreadful failures, with no technician or algorithm able to keep up with the competing vibrations and resonances induced in a ship playing such games with space-time. Reacting to these changing harmonies and modulating the dangerous ones required a special set of instincts and skills that took some time to find. There's nothing like it though - sustaining a note as the low rumble of a passing galaxy threatens; weaving around the rhythmic squeals of pulsars; the last gentle aria as realspace blossoms around us and we enter impulse orbit around a sun I've never seen.

I'm humming Carmen as I pack my kit bag.
posted by freebird at 11:55 AM on February 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

But have you tried definitive Gypsy wontons?
posted by zonkout at 12:16 PM on February 9, 2006

Terrific post, matteo, but you edited this crucial bit out of your quotation:
Stevens was the definitive gypsy wanton, the best, they said, since Conchita Supervia ...

Now that's a name to reckon with! (I stock up on her canned plum tomatoes whenever I see them.)
posted by rob511 at 12:43 PM on February 9, 2006

no, there was a reason; stick around -- Conchita post coming soon
posted by matteo at 1:22 PM on February 9, 2006

Sounds (scroll down)

What an incredible resource. Thanks
And I'm so glad they didn't filter out the record hiss. Better to leave all the highs and use your internal brain filter.

As much as I listen to opera I see that I have no Risë Stevens in my collection (at a quick glance). I'll have to go get some.
posted by HTuttle at 7:38 AM on February 10, 2006

Wow, Freebird you're a Crystal Singer!
And if you're not you should be
Excellent post as always Matteo
posted by Wilder at 8:55 AM on February 10, 2006

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