Midway along our road sometimes a voice
Sounds, prohibiting all heldenblustering choices
Of timbre, overtones or fashions;
Fifty years back, when I first heard you sing
I thought: “The poems I’ve written lack for nothing
But such clarity, such passion.”
With Nadia Boulanger when young, you went
Touring through languages and continents,
Collegia, festivals and venues;
To countertenor from youth’s baritone,
You made each form, period and style your own,
From Frescobaldi, Couperin, Monteverdi,
To Neidhardt, Bach, Schutz’ Sacred Concerti
Then Fauré, Debussy, Auric;
Di Lasso to “A Lover and His Lass,”
Josquin to Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress.
Machaut’s Mass to Coward’s Bitter Sweet.
With an untroubled, easy grace and verve,
You’d fill in for a friend whose wrenched-up nerves
Failed, sang through 60 years unchanged
By travel, time or untold cigarettes.
At 85, you called your debut at the Met
“A little bonbon after lunch.”
“How could I lose my voice,” you were known to banter;
“I never had one”—just a dry, white, unmannered
Mask tone with the bel canto breathing
That carried your song’s deep impulse truly
From mouth to nerve ends like a fine, rich Pouilly.
Why not just say: one voice for all seasons.
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 22 Number 6, on page 39
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