The Voice as Collaboration and Intervention
This paper looks at the performativity of the singer, Cathy Berberian, in much the same way that the individual performativity and creativity of the actor/performer is regarded in contemporary performance-making. Rather than being responsible for the simple repetition of musical or theatrical languages, there is something of an intervention in Cathy Berberian’s interpretation of both the music and drama demanded of her.
What this sees in the musical terrain is a radicalisation of the role of the classically trained singer, whose limitations were, in centuries previous, confined to the musical conventions of their time. However, in an environment of aesthetic experimentation, particularly in her collaboration with Luciano Berio, Cathy Berberian tested the limits of genre stability in musico-dramatic forms. Evidence of this is to be heard in the compilation Magnificathy: The Many Voices of Cathy Berberian (CD: Wergo, 1993), which can be argued as an ur-text for post-modern divadom, well before the operatic “cross-over” of opera singers into the popular cultural influence of jazz, rhythm’n’blues, rock ballads and electronic music.
Cathy Berberian’s unique performativity also responds to the unique fusion of musicality and theatricality in the aesthetic experiments which parallel the history of opera: from Monteverdi to the theatricality of Weill’s musical language and the conceptual experiments of John Cage. Ultimately, it is her command of the multiple roles of composer, singer, actress and collaborator that marks Cathy Berberian’s significant intervention of genres at the crossroads of music and theatre.