Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Berlioz, Nuits d'été. Janet Baker.n°2. Le spectre de la rose

Text: Pierre-Jules-Théophile Gautier (1811-1872)

Le spectre de la rose/
The ghost of the rose

Open your closed eyelid
Which is gently brushed by a virginal dream!
I am the ghost of the rose
That you wore last night at the ball.
You took me when I was still sprinkled with pearls
Of silvery tears from the watering-can,
And, among the sparkling festivities,
You carried me the entire night.

O you, who caused my death:
Without the power to chase it away,
You will be visited every night by my ghost,
Which will dance at your bedside.
But fear nothing; I demand
Neither Mass nor De Profundis;
This mild perfume is my soul,
And I've come from Paradise.

My destiny is worthy of envy;
And to have a fate so fine,
More than one would give his life
For on your breast I have my tomb,
And on the alabaster where I rest,
A poet with a kiss
Wrote: "Here lies a rose,
Of which all kings may be jealous."


  1. Janet Baker is one of the singers whom I admire.
    I really appreciated her spectacular phrasing all the way through the performance. I loved that she started out moderate, really “low key” and then step by step, phrase by phrase went from sotto voce to forte and ff. Peculiarly amazing diction and legato. The poem speaks for itselfs , especially when the performer really makes it happen.

  2. I thought that the prelude to this song reminded me of the slow movement of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto. Very noble, warm and sincere. On the other hand, because of the text and subdued quality of the first stanza, the ideallic love reminded of something very youthful.

  3. What magnificent singing! Every word had color and her enunciation of text was excellent. I really liked the descending chromatic-scale melody midway through the piece. I also thought that the many different textures in the accompaniment made the music interesting.

  4. This is indeed a masterfully sung rendition! Her dynamic layering is particularly well done, but also, she manages to carry out a character while still maintaining perfection in diction and line!
    In terms of the piece itself, Berlioz does a terrific job of creating a real spectral atmosphere while still maintaining the dripping emotional saturation that borders on hysteria in some moments of his writing. That hysteria can sound manic if it is over emphasized by the orchestra or the singer, but here the balance and taste is exquisite.

  5. Dame Baker is capable of creating such an amazing line, and maintains that continued sense of it even through the rests in her final descending line. Berlioz utilizes a varied color palate in the orchestration of this piece. The rhythmic evenness under "O toi, qui de ma mort" leads seamlessly in the pizzicato, the character of which moves from the strings, to the winds, then back to the strings. It is an interesting juxtaposition of evenness and unsteadiness creating an exciting tension beneath the vocal line as the poem intensifies. Thrilling!

  6. Wow, beautiful poetry, beautiful music, beautiful singing. One effect that I liked was the sparse instrumentation used during the quotation at the end. I think Janet Baker complements this well by toning down the drama during those lines. I think Berlioz's take on the song, if not evident from the musical character of the entire piece, is made so by his climactic focus being on the powerful statement at the end of the second stanza. Those few lines carry a depth and weight of meaning that is far beyond mere words on a page.

  7. Absolutely beautiful! Such tremendous legato, the voice spinning, spinning and spinning as Baker uses an amazing color palette. Texture and colors from both singer and orchestra create a whole magic landscape. Baker seemed to taste each word. Fantastic diction!

  8. I could watch her final pose for hours!!!! Every note had such a life to it not to mention the phrases are so perfectly proportioned. I've never heard Baker before now and I'm now hooked!

  9. A very brilliant and interesting setting to the text. Main thematic and melodic material are maintained but incredible variation takes place throughout the three stanzas. For me, the brilliance lies within the 2nd stanza and the very end of the 3rd stanza. I love the text painting in the 2nd stanza, especially the "dancing ghost" music, the lamenting bassline and the euphoric depiction of paradise. "Ce leger parfume et j'arrive du paradice". I love the emphasis put on this line of text. With repetition, this line seems to become more "fantastique". The "parfume" seems to circle around me and slowly move me to an imagined paradise. I loved the last two lines of text. The quotation is highlighted by the sparse texture. It becomes more human and direct for a moment even though there is much more climactic music earlier in the work.

  10. This poem is an excellent example of symbolism - emphasizing the symbol rather than the symbolized. Beyond being an example of the poetic style, it demonstrates just how effective such a style can be. The poetry along with the musicality & artistry of Baker's performance results in a gorgeous, moving piece.

  11. Nothing inspires me more than french art song and nothing inspires me more than a totally fearless singer with a totally fearless performance. I really love Janet Baker's "open e" vowel. it is almost out of her head, if that makes any sense. I loved the text painting where the song takes off for the first time at the end of the first stanza when she is speaking about the pearls from the watering can and how she was carried by her love. What amazingly haunting poetry with such a power house of a song and singer! WOOT!

  12. Baker's breath control and phrasing with the control that she has is always amazing, and this is an example of her great craft. What struck me the most is that each stanza of the poem was treated differently both by the composer and by the performers. There was a different intent that was presented that truly made this performance come to life. The last stanza where Baker gets so quite, she brings the audience to her, almost breathless waiting for each word to come out of her mouth. It was spectacular!

  13. Newly translated for program notes for a concert I'm hosting May 26: http://mainconcerts.blogspot.com/2009/05/526-615-pm-anne-elise-richie.html --I think I'm finished with it now, but any further revision will be reflected on the concert blog page...
    (English version ©2009, by Edward Lein -- please notify/credit if reprinting)

    The Ghost of the Rose

    Open those eyelids now closed,
    Soft-touched by a maiden’s pure dream;
    I am the ghost of the rose
    That you wore to the ball yester-even.
    You snipped me while yet I was pearly
    With the watering can’s silvery tears,
    And about the glittering soirée
    You paraded me under the stars.

    O to thou who brought about my death
    (For to chase death away you’ve no chance),
    Every night my rose-colored wraith
    Will appear at thy bedside and dance.
    But fear not, for I am now owed
    Neither Mass nor De profundis.
    This fragile perfume is my soul,
    And I’ve arrived here from paradise.

    My destiny was to be envied,
    And to suffer so lovely a fate
    More than one would gladly have died,
    For thy bosom became my grave;
    And on the alabaster where I repose
    The poet there with his soft kiss
    Has inscribed: "Here lies the rose
    Who made even emperors jealous."

  14. After listening to the whole cycle, this one has to be my favorite. There's a sense of wonder that emerges in the second stanza and becomes more hushed and intense in the third, all the way to the final statement. Janet Baker is phenomenal, of course, but her performance is not merely beautiful, it's captivating. True artistry.

  15. This second song is my favorite in the whole cycle. The very essence of it moves me. I am always amazed about how Berlioz is so much ahead of his time. This song points ahead to late Wagner and Strauss, yet it was composed just 14 years from Beethoven's death.

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  17. What a phenomenal performance! I really like Baker's facial expressions as they just seem so natural and unpretentious.

  18. I am so impressed with her ease and clarity of language. Every word is clear and yet there is never anything done to disrupt the incredible legato line. The incredible power in her low range is as captivating as the smooth transition into her middle and high range. The warmth in her sound makes me want to listen to her forever!

  19. I am so impressed with her ease and clarity of language. Every word is clear and yet there is never anything done to disrupt the incredible legato line. The incredible power in her low range is as captivating as the smooth transition into her middle and high range. The warmth in her sound makes me want to listen to her forever!

  20. This is one of my favorites! The dramatic sensuality in the music is captivating. I really enjoyed Baker's intense approach- her diction and delivery feel operatic in energy.

  21. The moment at the end where the texture is pared down to just voice and clarinet is amazing!

  22. Holy smokes, Ms. Baker's legato in this piece is so extraordinary! She floats above the orchestra effortlessly, but her energy does not wane in slower sections. Maya, I agree that her language is so clear and easy!

    I was so gripped by her transition into her low register! So thrilling and captivating!

  23. What a magnificent poem. Gautier was a forefather of the Symbolist movement, and you can see that in the text he uses here. The imagery in the poem surrounding the ghostly rose makes me think of a young woman who gives her heart to a man at a ball and is left in disgrace.

    I think Berlioz's setting is so beautiful. The slow waltz sounds like the kind of music you'd dance to at a Cinderella-type ball, and the sudden change in tone when the text starts to darken is gut-wrenching and almost cruel.

  24. I am really taken aback by how extensive this song is. Janet Baker does a great job of capturing the intensity of emotion in this piece. The arc of this music is so dramatic. It has the grandeur and emotional depth of an operatic aria yet has the formal compactness and precision that I associate with art song. This is probably my favorite movement of the six.

  25. I love this piece! Baker really has an amazing French legato, and the control she has over her voice is so wonderful. The way she colors the text is just so beautifully done.

  26. What a gorgeous piece! It was interesting to compare Baker's performance with Crespin's. I noticed that Crespin's felt more subtle and reserved comparatively to Baker's, whose performance was remarkably vibrant. I also LOVED Baker's diction; very clear and beautifully crisp.

  27. Janet Baker nails it. She manages to get both the subtlety and refinement as well as the passion in this music. She has such control over her instrument and delivers this text with so much nuance and color. Very inspiring!