How does a widely acknowledged great singer completely disappear into obscurity, turn up in a classic film, and then retire to Wilmington, Delaware? Such is the story of Latvian soprano Mascia Predit, whose few but great recordings are newly reissued - leaving the Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns both enraptured and puzzled.
David Patrick Stearns: Such a voice will haunt you forever. But a closer listen shows that Mascia Predit was also a great artist. Jeffrey Miller, music director of Opera Delaware, who produced her reissued recordings, sums her up this way.
Jeffrey Miller: Every single note that comes out of her mouth is connected to some kind of intent. Every one. There's not one empty note, so that's great singing
DPS: The Latvia-born, Italy-trained soprano was given the star treatment by two major recording labels after World War II, but vocal decline set in. She turned down attractive offers for opera and film. When reunited with family in Latvia, she couldn't get back out. Finally returning to Italy in 1970 and cast, on a fluke, in the film Death in Venice, she played an aristocratic Russian tourist and sings a lullaby on a near-deserted landscape as plague descends upon the city.
That visibility - plus contacts in the teaching world - led to Catholic University in Washington DC, and after retirement, friends in Wilmington found her a viable apartment where she lived quietly. She died in 2001 at age 95. The new recording, issued by celebrated Philadelphia sound archivist Ward Marston on his own label - is available only as a bonus to subscribers. Miller is happy that it's come out in any form.
JM: Let's be realistic, there are about 25 of us left on the planet who are going to be interested in Mascia Predit.
DPS: Make that 26 - counting me. What do you want to bet there will be more new converts?