First of all -- I debated whether to post this selection at all because audio quality is poor (sometimes an issue we have to endure with amateur in-house recordings). However, I decided that the benefits outweighed the drawbacks, and that enough of a sense of Harris's brilliant singing came through to make it worth it, for the diehards as least.
THE SONGBIRD: Where to start with Brenda Harris?! This American soprano's long career has shown an astounding range, earning her contention as a true "prima donna assoluta." In her 35-year career she has sung a huge swath of coloratura, lyric, and dramatic roles by composers from all eras, all around the world, but especially in New England. She was a regional finalist in the Met auditions in 1984, and then in 1997 was the cover for Carol Vaness as Vitellia at The Met -- and she stepped in to finish a performance (Act 2 of "La Clemenza di Tito" was her only performance at The Met). She has gone from big coloratura roles like Anna Bolena, Semiramide, and Norma to the pure dramatic roles Turandot, Elektra, and Beethoven's Leonore.
THE MUSIC: You can hear the rich power and flexibility in this rare capture of her early in her career singing Marguerite's majestic tour-de-force aria "O beau pays" from Meyerbeer's "Les Huguenots" in Boston. Marguerite's long scene is one of the pinnacles of florid soprano arias in French grand opera. It's structured in three major sections: the elegant pastoral opening aria, the middle section where she weaves long threads of roulades over two back-up singers (her ladies-in-waiting), and an exciting cabaletta with fireworks going off in every direction -- typically culminating in a long "stop everything" cadenza (always quite different in each rendition â€” Harris seems to hew close to Sutherlandâ€™s). The aria wants a singer with a noble bearing, a regal yet feminine tonal quality, pristine execution of the endless pyrotechnics, and a true sense of exquisite beauty and ease through all of it.