Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Power Couple?

Anthony Tommasini had an article in the Times a couple of weeks back about Heidi Grant Murphy and Kevin Murphy, billing them a classical world "power couple." I was mildly flabbergasted.

While K. Murphy's new gig, director of music administration at NYCO, is, in fact, an important spot, H.G. Murphy's career isn't exactly huge. Tommasini cited her recent Met appearance as Sister Genovieffa in Suor Angelica, terming the character innocent and dreamy. Honestly, if you've seen Suor recently, can you tell the nuns apart?? Aside from Angelica, the monitor, and the Abbess, I mean?*

You can take a look at her career in the Met archive to get some perspective; there've been a lot more Barbarinas and Gianettas (Elisir) than Sophies and Nanettas. You can't make a case for her being what I'd call an important Met artist, though she has certainly been a consistent and valuable singer there for the last 20 years. If you're looking for career comparisons, bearing in mind that Grant Murphy is singing a lighter repertory, see Patricia Racette, who is a year or so older than Grant Murphy, but who graduated immediately from the Voice of the Falcon in Frau and the Priestess in Aida to leading roles.

Tommasini also runs off the rails when he says that Richard Bonynge and Joan Sutherland were a powerhouse team who "kept their married life private." Richard Bonynge's career got an immense boost from the fact that you could hardly hire Sutherland to sing without also hiring him to conduct. The one time I heard him, in a late 1990s Lucia at San Francisco, he struck me as an extremely competent, but not very interesting, conductor. I doubt he would be as prominent as he has been if he'd been married to, say, Mary Curtis-Verna.

So, while I enjoyed the Murphy family article a great deal - there are plenty of interesting insights into what it takes to have a musical career, let alone two musical careers in one family - I don't think Tommasini proved that they're a "power couple."

* I confess. Genovieffa has some real music; she gets the leading vocal part when they're discussing the beam of sunshine on the fountain. Still. It's one of those roles that nearly any lyric soprano can sing effectively. At San Francisco, Rebekah Camm sang the part. And did you ever judge a performance of Suor on the basis the singers other than the Angelica and Zia Principessa?


Joe Barron said...

It seems to me that in the arts, power is an ephemeral luxury. What counts in the long run is talent. The Murphys will be forgotten in thirty years or so, but there's probably some kid out there right now who's struggling to get performances for his string quartets, butwhose music will be widely played and admired in years to come. I doubt any new composer will ever become a household name, but the chance for a meaningful legacy is still there.

Glamour is cheap.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yeah, the annoyance here is at Tommasini's poor judgment, not the Murphys. I forgot to mention a real power couple that might have given him some perspective: Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the Met's general director for many years, and his wife, the soprano Frances Alda, who was a wonderful singer with a big career.

calimac said...

Wow, I've reviewed this "power couple" in a song recital. They were pretty good, but I'm not sure what a "power couple" are supposed to sound like.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I have never heard them, but they have a good reputation as recitalists.