>There are thousands, if not tens of thousands of St. John Nepomuk statues on or near bridges throughout central and eastern Europe. He was the vicar-general to the Archbishop of Prague, and legend has it that he was martyred for refusing to divulge details of the Queen’s confession* to the King, Wenceslaus**, who had him thrown from the Charles Bridge into the River Vltava. He is the patron saint of rivers and protector from floods.
* There were of course more complicated reasons, involving the King’s support for the Avignon Papacy, and the growing Hussite reform movement in Bohemia.
**This is Wenceslaus IV. The “good” one mentioned in the Christmas carol is Wenceslaus I, IV’s great-great-great grandfather.
>This morning I had the opportunity to hear two living legends talk about their careers — Brigitte Fassbaender interviewing Christa Ludwig, who turned 80 recently. She’s in fine form, and was a joy to hear as she reminisced about her early career (which began with standards like “Stormy Weather” for American G.I.s in bombed-out Germany); a crisis period which included a divorce, menopause and a burst capillary on the vocal chords all at the same time, and how she felt about ending her career while still in top form (just fine, apparently. She went outside, opened her collar and thought, “At last, I can just catch a cold and not fret about it!”)
Between topics, we got to see and hear a few of her greatest moments on film, including a clip of a concert performance of Bernstein’s “Candide”, with Bernstein himself at the podium and Ludwig singing the Old Lady’s “I Am Easily Assimilated.” It was wonderful, and especially meaningful to me because I had sung that very role on that very stage where she was now sitting, a few years back.
She was wittily honest about what her future plans are (“Nothing!”) and why she doesn’t give many voice lessons (“I’m too lazy”) brutally self-critical at times but not in a self-flogging way, but rather in the way one sees her own “flaws” objectively and strives for improvement. There was a special moment right after a film clip was played of her singing Leonore in “Fidelio”; beforehand she had mentioned that there was a certain note she was never quite happy with. As the clip ended, Fassbaender turned to Ludwig with a silent hand gesture of “Na? What was wrong with that?“, and Ludwig returned with a hand gesture of “Eh, it was so-so!”
I was particularly attentive to her discussion of getting through menopause, at it requires a great deal of re-figuring things out for singers, and every women experiences it sooner or later, although it’s not something that everyone talks about openly. Back in my student days, someone told me that Christa Ludwig is a “real mensch”, and this morning confirmed that for me — a warm, funny, feet-on-the-ground kind of artist, and a very special musician. A real living legend.