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<<  -- 3 --  Jennifer I Paull    CATHY BERBERIAN: LEGACY


The young Cathy devoured anything and everything that came out of Hollywood, was broadcast on National Radio or recorded on 78s. Eventually, there followed singing lessons at the Julliard, in Paris and then Milan (thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship). With devotion and inquisitiveness, she increased the ingredients of her polyglot, vocal technique and multidisciplinary approach to everything she was to undertake. Cathy Berberian translated Woody Allen's book Getting Even into Italian, modelled for Vogue, acted in films, composed music and cooked like a Cordon Bleu chef -- and these are only some of her many accomplishments. 'The versatility of her mind was astonishing.' -- Luciano Berio [Ibidem]. Peter Brook himself and her experience in his actors' workshop were the icing on the cake of her mature years when she was long established as an international star. Brook recognised that her talent as an actress was equal to that of her vocal capacities. Basically, Cathy Berberian was an artistic melting pot.

Anna Russell, the only musician to have analysed and vocally illustrated The Ring (without sexual discrimination) in 21 minutes, 40 seconds of brilliance and side-splitting Wagnerian transparency, conquered audiences over half a century ago with her wit. She, together with Victor Borge, Joyce Grenfell and others, influenced Cathy by the way that they made fun of what they were doing, whilst keeping a straight face and actually doing it. When Cathy put together the recital 'A la recherche de la musique perdue' (subtitled, 'From the Sublime to the Ridiculous'), her own clever jousting, timing and wordplay rivalled their skills. However, Cathy Berberian's witty repartee was delivered to her devoted, international public, without hesitation, in several languages: she sang in yet even more!

Cathy Berberian with John Cage. Photo courtesy of Ervant Berberian
Cathy Berberian with John Cage. Photo courtesy of Ervant Berberian

Her personality bowled over the minds that were looking for a new direction. John Cage, arguably the inventor of The Happening, found everything gift-wrapped inside this one artist with whom he collaborated closely. She could jump from one mental perch to another in a nanosecond. Cathy's vocal prowess was that of a chameleon with an IQ of 150. Cage realised that he could encapsulate these gifts in Aria (1958), his custom-designed architectural plan of vocal choreography (to describe the score's graphic appearance). Here, she changed from her 'Dietrich' voice to 'nasal', 'jazz', 'baby' and many more by using these colours as a pianist leaps to notes on a keyboard -- and just as quickly abandons them.

Photo of Cathy courtesy of Cristina Berio
Photo of Cathy courtesy of Cristina Berio

Cathy could be 'Marilyn' for a heartbeat, then dive to 'contralto' and soar to 'coloratura' as quickly as bullets fire from a machine gun. Vocal gymnastics and range sans frontièrs began with Cathy Berberian. She has never been equalled, let alone surpassed.

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Copyright © 30 October 2005 Jennifer I Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland


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