Researching original voices for our new opera

November 17, 2015

I’m doing homework for Mitchell Morris’ and my new opera, FRIDA AND THE SMOKING MIRROR. The seven characters are Frida Kahlo, Tezcatlipoca [pictured above] Diego Rivera, Isamu Noguchi, Josephine Baker, Leo Eloesser (Frida’s doctor) and Leon Trotsky. I have made a rough decision on who is what range, but I wanted to see what I could find in terms of hearing their actual speaking voices. So far, I have had no luck with Frida. But today I stumbled across this Pathé gem of Leon Trotsky giving a speech in English in Mexico. Not a particularly pleasant voice. I’m trying to imagine what voice type he might be: a tenor? a pinched throat baritone? Not a man of long tones, as FDR might do. Short and snappy.

To contrast, here is a (pale) recording of Diego Rivera’s voice. It seems a bit lower than Trotsky’s. More shouting. His sentences bounce between a low note, high note, and ends in the middle. The video has an impressive array of photos from his life.

This next video shows a “getting to know you moment” for Diego, Frida, Trotsky and his wife. The interaction is fascinating.

This video has a terrific collection (bleeding chunks) of Frida in moments of her life that I’ve only read about. The final scene was a shocker!

Isamu Noguchi had an affair with Frida. Here is a video of Noguchi overseeing an installation of his work. His voice sings. He has a huge range of pitch in his voice. The duration of his syllables is completely different.

Here we get to hear Josephine Baker. I am so used to hearing only her singing voice, it took a minute to realize it was her. She has a gentle singing voice, a little breathy, many tones and intensities. I love how she soars up into a range for an entire sentence, hover, dance and then come down.

The last (real) character is Dr Leo Eloesser, her doctor of long standing. There is a cassette recording in the library at UC Berkeley. I guess I’ll have to go there and listen to it.

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