Saturday, December 09, 2017

Thanks for everything, CAROL NEBLETT

Carol Neblett (February 1, 1946 – November 23, 2017) had two big reasons for fame outside the cultish clique of opera: she went topless for a production of “Thais.”  

    This was a very big deal in 1973, when nudity on stage, films and album covers was not very common. Oh, the excitement that same year when Valerie Perrine was briefly glimpsed nude for a TV broadcast of the play “Steambath.” Diana Rigg went naked on stage in 1971. The sight of bush in a movie instantly made it X-rated, which distressed Allen Funt, who got limited distribution for showing candid camera reactions to bare babes in the 1970 film “What Do You Say to a Naked Lady.”  

     The New York Times headlined, “What Do You Say to a Naked Prima Donna,” and asked her about the experience. “Photographers were hanging from everywhere…” she admitted, all trying to catch what the audience didn't see: a full frontal. Carol held to an angle when she doffed her robe in a seduction scene that, obviously, had been performed in lingerie by previous sopranos. Considering the times, her bold move was applauded and she was encouraged to do some risque photo shoots, like sitting nude in a bubble bath while reading opera scripts.

     Her notoriety as a beautiful and bare opera star eventually worked against her. There are few full-length opera box sets on Carol, and she didn't put out solo albums like a Victoria de Los Angeles, Roberta Peters or Beverly Sills. 

    When she did manage to get a good leading role, critics seemed shocked she had real vocal talent. “The surprise of the evening was Carol Neblett,” wrote a NY Times critic of a Met production of “The Flying Dutchman” in 1979. Nearly ten years later, the L.A. Times noted of her title role performance in “Aida,” “Tall, lithe and eminently sympathetic, she must be one of the most  attractive and most formidable Aidas in history.” Gosh, and she can sing, too. 

        Carol, who made her debut at the City Opera in a production of “La Boheme” in 1969. was a favorite in another Puccini classic, “Tosca.” She performed it an impressive, if not astounding 300 times before her retirement. In her latter years, she taught at Chapman University. Fans were delighted when in 2012 she turned up in, what else, the role of aging opera singer in an L.A. production of "Follies." 

        Back in the 70's, her charm and good looks allowed her to be one of the few opera stars to get an invitation to Johnny Carson's “The Tonight Show.” Mostly opera singers would either sing a very famous, weary aria everyone knows, or offer a “light classic” familiar enough so that nobody would turn the channel. Below, Carol impresses Carson and the audience with: “If I Could Tell You.”   

Carol Neblett "IF I COULD TELL YOU" - instant download or listen on line. No pop-ups or passwords

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