Eileen Farrell was a great American high dramatic soprano, and, at the same time, she was also a jazz singer.  I will write this again.  She used no swallowing muscles,  nor did she constrict or squeeze her throat to produce sound.  This is in great contradistinction to the way in which most singers produce sound today.  Today, everything is squeezed and swallowed, and the sound is never free.  Farrell’s sound was very free.

Farrell was the daughter of vaudeville singers. She received her early vocal training from Merle Alcock in New York, and later studied with Eleanor McClellan.  In 1940, Eileen Farrell sang on the radio. In 1947-1948, she made a USA tour as a concert singer, and in 1949, she toured South America. Her song recital in New York in October 1950 was enthusiastically acclaimed and secured for her immediate recognition.

I am going to post 4 very different types of performances:  a mélodie by Debussy, a large Wagnerian aria,  a Verdi aria, and finally a magnificent rendering of an aria from Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul”.

Beau Soir

Lorsque au soleil couchant les rivières sont roses
Et qu’un tiède frisson court sur les champs de blé,
Un conseil d’être heureux semble sortir des choses
Et monter vers le coeur troublé.

Un conseil de goûter le charme d’être au monde
Cependant qu’on est jeune et que le soir est beau,
Car nous nous en allons, comme s’en va cette onde:
Elle à la mer, nous au tombeau.

Beautiful Evening

As the sun sets rivers run pink
A lukewarm shudder runs through fields of wheat
Advice to be happy seems to draw things out
Comes close to a troubled heart

Advice to taste the charm of being in the world
While we are young and the evening still beautiful
Because we disappear, as this wave goes away
It to the sea, we to the grave

Liebestod

Mild und leise, wie er lächelt
Wie das Auge hold er öffnet,
Seht iht, Freunde?
Seht ihr’s nicht?
Immerlichter, wie er leuchtet
Sternumstrahlet hoch sich hebt?
Seht ihrs nicht?
Wie das Herz ihm muthig schwillt
Voll und hehr im Busen ihm quillt?
Wie den Lippen, wonnig mild,
Süsser Athem sanft entweht
Freunde! Seht!
Fühlt und seht ihr’s nicht?
Höre ich nur diese Wiese
Die so wundervoll und leise
Wonne klagend, alles sagend,
mild versöhnend
Aus ihm tönend, in mich dringet,
Auf sich schwinget
Hold erhallend um mich klinget
Heller schallend, mich um wallend,
Sind es Wellen sanfter Lüfte?
Sind es Wolken wonniger Düfte?
Wie sie schwellen, mich umrauschen,
Soll ich athmen, soll ich lauschen?
Soll ich schlüfgen, untertauchen?
Süß in Düften mich verhauchen?
In dem wogenden Schwall
in dem tönenden Schall
In des Weltathems, wehenden
Ertrinken, versinken, unbewusst
Höchste Lust!

Liebestod

Softly and gently, see him smiling
How the eyes that open fondly,
See it Friend?
Don’t you see?
Ever lighter, how he’ is shining
Borne on high among the stars?
Don’t you see?
How his heart so bravely swells
Full and calm it throbs in his breast?
As from lips so joyfully mild,
Sweet the breath that softly stirs
Friends! Look!
Don’t you feel and see it?
It is now I that hear this way
So wondrous and gentle
Joyously sounding, telling all things,
reconciling
Sounding from him, penetrating me,
Rising upward swinging on itself
Echoes fondly around me ringing
Ever clearer, wafting round me,
Are they waves of gentle breezes?
Are they clouds of gladdening sweet fragrance?
As they swell and murmur around me,
Shall I breathe them, shall I listen?
Shall I sip them, plunge beneath them?
Breathe my last amid their sweet smell?
In the billowy surge,
in the gush of sound
All In the World’ Spirit, Infinite All
To drown now, sinking, unconscious, void of all thought
Highest Bliss/Desire!

Surta è la notte . . . Ernani involami

Surta è la notte, e Silva non ritorna!
Ah, non tornasse ei più!
Questo odiato veglio,
Che quale immondo spettro ognor m’insegue,
Col favellar d’amore,
Più sempre Ernani mi configge in core.

Ernani!… Ernani, involami
All’abborrito amplesso.
Fuggiam… se teco vivere
Mi sia d’amor concesso,
Per antri e lande inospiti
Ti seguirà il mio piè.
Un Eden di delizia
Saran quegli antri a me.

Tutto sprezzo che d’Ernani
Non favella a questo core,
Non v’ha gemma che in amore
Possa l’odio tramutar.
Vola, o tempo, e presto reca
Di mia fuga il lieto istante!
Vola, o tempo, al core amante
è supplizio I’indugiar.

Night has fallen . . . Ernani, flee with me

Night has fallen, and Silva has not yet returned…
Oh, may he never return.
The more this odious old man pursues me,
What an unclean spirit pursues me
With talk of love,
The more Ernani is lodged in my heart.

Ernani, flee with me.
Away from this abhorred embrace
Let us flee, and together with you
If love will be bestowed on me
Even a cave in an inhospitable land will be for me
My feet will follow you
An Eden of delight
Will be other to me

I disdain everything that of Ernani
To my heart does not speak.
There is no gem which can transform
Hatred to love.
Fly O time, and soon bring back
That joyful moment of my escape
Fly, O time, for to the loving heart
Delay is a torment.

To This We’ve Come

To this we’ve come,
That men withhold the world from men
No ship, no shore for him who drowns at sea,
No home nor grave for him who dies on land.
To this we’ve come,
That man be born a stranger upon god’s Earth
That he be chosen without a chance for choice;
That he be hunted without the hope of refuge.
To this we’ve come. To this we’ve come.
And you, you too shall weep
If to men not to god we now must pray
Tell me secretary tell me, who are these men?
If to them not to god we now must pray
Tell me, secretary, tell me:
Who are these dark archangels?
Will they be conquered?
Will they be doomed?
Is there one, anyone behind those doors
To whom the heart can still be explained
Is there one anyone who still may care?

Oh, the day will come I know
When our heart’s a flame
Will burn your paper chains
Warn the consul, secretary, warn him
That day neither ink nor seal
Shall cage our souls
That day will come.
That day will come.

Eileen Farrell

Eileen Farrell (February 13, 1920 – March 23, 2002) was an American soprano who had a nearly 60-year-long career performing both classical and popular music in concerts, theatres, on radio and television, and on disc. NPR noted, “She possessed one of the largest and most radiant operatic voices of the 20th century.” While she was active as an opera singer, her concert engagements far outnumbered her theatrical appearances. Her career was mainly based in the United States, although she did perform internationally. The Daily Telegraph stated that she “was one of the finest American sopranos of the 20th century; she had a voice of magnificent proportions which she used with both acumen and artistry in a wide variety of roles.” And described as having a voice “like some unparalleled phenomenon of nature. She is to singers what Niagara is to waterfalls.”

Farrell began her career in 1940 as a member of the CBS Chorus on CBS Radio. In 1941, CBS Radio offered Farrell her own program, Eileen Farrell Sings, on which she performed both classical and popular music for 5 years. In 1947, she launched her career as a concert soprano, and nine years later began performing on the opera stage. The pinnacle of her opera career was five seasons performing at the Metropolitan Opera from 1960–1966. She continued to perform and record both classical and popular music throughout her career, and is credited for releasing the first successful crossover album: “I’ve Got a Right to Sing the Blues” (1960). After announcing her retirement from performance in 1986, she still continued to perform and record music periodically up into the late 1990s. She was also active as a voice teacher, both privately and for nine years at Indiana University.

Farrell was born in Willimantic, Connecticut, the youngest of three children born to Irish-American parents, Michael Farrell and Catherine Farrell (née Kennedy). Her parents were vaudeville singers who had performed under the name ‘The Singing O’Farrells’ prior to having children. The family moved quite frequently during Farrell’s childhood to various towns in Connecticut. Farrell’s first clear memories were of her family’s home in Storrs, Connecticut, which was where her parents were working as music and drama teachers at Storrs Agricultural College (now the University of Connecticut).

Farrell received her early vocal training from her parents during her childhood. Her mother, a talented coloratura soprano, was her primary teacher, but her father, a baritone, also occasionally taught her. Farrell’s early singing career was greatly encouraged by her local pastor, Father Cornelius J. Holland, at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. After graduating from high school, she moved to New York City in August 1939 to study with retired Metropolitan Opera contralto Merle Alcock. While studying singing with Alcock, she received language coaching from Charlie Baker, who was the music director of Rutgers Presbyterian Church. After working with him for a few months, he hired her as a paid singer at Rutgers. When her radio career took off, Baker became Farrell’s vocal coach and helped her prepare most of her music. In her autobiography, Can’t help singing: the life of Eileen Farrell (1999), she credits Baker with helping her succeed during the early years of her career on radio. Farrell later was a student of vocal and opera coach Eleanor McLellan, whom she credited for giving her a solid technique.

Concert and opera career

During 1947–1948, she toured the US as a concert singer, and in 1949 she toured South America.  Farrell’s song recital in New York in October 1950 was enthusiastically acclaimed and gained her immediate recognition. That year, she also appeared in a concert performance of Berg’s Wozzeck as Marie. In 1952, she was engaged by Arturo Toscanini for his first and only studio recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

In 1956, she made her stage debut as Santuzza in Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana with the San Carlo Opera in Tampa, Florida. In 1957, she debuted with the Lyric Opera of Chicago; in 1958, with the San Francisco Opera. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut on December 6, 1960, singing the title role in Gluck’s Alceste. She opened the 1962–63 Met season as Maddalena in Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, opposite Franco Corelli. She remained on the Met roster through the 1963–64 season, singing forty-four performances in six roles, then returned in March 1966 for two final performances as Maddalena. Her other roles at the Met included the title role in Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, Leonora in Verdi’s La forza del Destino, Isabella in de Falla’s Atlàntida, and Santuzza.

Throughout the 1960s, she was a frequent soloist with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein; she was also a favorite of Thomas Schippers. She was a featured soloist in an abridged recording of Handel’s Messiah, with Eugene Ormandy, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

From 1971 to 1980, Farrell was professor of music at the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington. From 1983 to 1985, she was professor of music at the University of Maine in Orono.

Farrell was married to a New York Police Department officer, Robert Reagan, with whom she maintained homes in the Grymes Hill and Emerson Hill areas of Staten Island, New York. They had a son and daughter. The son died in 1986.  Farrell died at a nursing home in Park Ridge, New Jersey, on March 23, 2002, aged 82.