A few weeks ago I was part of a team of two who interviewed Sarita Stern, the well-known South African opera singer and teacher of opera singers at her book launch, in Cape Town.
I was there to help bring out for the audience the significant part that Christian faith had played and continues to play in her life, her deep sense of spirituality, her love of Jesus and through it, the way she has been able to embrace people of all faiths and all humanity.
In this blog article I will share some of the passages of various people of faith who had moved her at various moments in her life and helped to form her as a person and opera singer.
I would encourage you to read this book… I was so amazed in the first few chapters, and deeply emotionally touched that I had to read on – to find out more about this remarkable person and her journey.
It is the spiritual, emotional journey of a very gifted opera singer,
She moved forward from her humble beginnings against an enormous backwash… you find out…and the singer is so damaged… you will find out why…and overcomes…you find how.
Carl Jung once said that Song is the forgotten language of the Soul. Sarita believed that an inner voice guided her in her journey. Much later on in her journey she came to a realization:
Beautiful sound lifts the vibration of the universe and carries it right into the heart of God
Chapter 5 page 63
Her struggle to sing the high notes with ease.
Later that year I was scheduled to sing in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville). It was my second major role. I was struggling terribly with my eyes which were not healing well. I was also struggling with my voice. I knew I could reach high notes, but I didn’t know how I reached them. I had no sense of security about whether I would manage in each performance.
I recall that on the opening night I was terrified. On Stage, sitting on the chaise longue before my opening scene, I prayed, ‘Dear Lord, I feel this fear overtake me. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to access these high notes so please let me sink, let the floor open up, let me disappear!’. The orchestra played the overture, the curtains went up and I was still sitting there on the chaise longue looking at a full house and an expectant audience. I was in a quiet panic. If God heard that request, He didn’t grant it, but by His grace gave the gift of successful high notes! I reached every high note, but it left me in great terror, not knowing actually how I had reached them. This was one of the main reasons I wanted to study further. I felt my technique was unfinished, I needed more knowledge to fulfil the potential of my voice. I wanted to go to Vienna to study with a well-known international singing teacher, Eugenie Ludwig, mother of the world-famous opera singer Christa Ludwig. I also wanted to hear in person some of the greatest voices in the world singing in the Vienna State Opera House.
The time period after Barber was difficult for me. I was still living in the psychological and physical aftermath of my acid attack, and the struggle with my eyes was ongoing. My life seemed so painful. My first family had disintegrated, and now my marriage had failed. I felt I was being punished in some way. I was asking a lot of questions. ‘What is our purpose in life? What happens after death? Is there a hereafter?’ I was always afraid of death and needed some answers. My search for spiritual understanding and meaning to life became more and more intense.
Copies of the Book: The Inner Voice of Sound – a memoir – with Sally Argent can be reserved from Margie: weircairns@gmail. com 0722774493
You will find details of the images of the people who appear in this blog in my previous blog:
The Inner Voice of Sound – Opera Singer, Sarita Stern Part 1. See below in latest posts.
When she returned to Cape Town after Vienna, she began her career as an opera teacher of the Bel Canto method of teaching. A way of breathing to help singers reach the high notes with ease. Her philosophy of teaching emerges in this poem which she cherished by Kahlil Gibran.
Chapter 9 page 107
No man can reveal to you
aught but that which already
lies half asleep in the dawning
of your knowledge.
The teacher who walks in the
shadow of the temple, among
his followers, gives not of his
wisdom, but rather of his faith
and his lovingness.
If he is indeed wise he does
not bid you enter the house
of his wisdom, but rather
leads you to the threshold of
your own mind.
Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love
but only with distaste,
it is better that you should leave
your work and sit at the gate
of the temple and take alms of
those who work with joy.
And if you sing though as angels,
and love not the singing, you
muffle man’s ears to the voices
of the day and the voices of
Kahlil Gibran The Prophet
Sarita became part of the Cathedral community when Ted King was the Dean of Cape Town. In the days when apartheid was at its height removing vast communities of people from their traditional homes and from urban centres in its grand design of separate development. In this extract we see how the opera teacher and singer moved beyond her safe world of singing and performance in a compassionate drive to serve others.
Chapter 11 page 124
One wet evening in March 1982 as we left the Cathedral after a meeting in the crypt, we were confronted by a group of people at the front door. Surprised by the crowd gathering in the dark and rain outside Dean King asked, ‘What is going on?’
‘We have come here to pray and fast,’ one of them said.
The Dean was taken aback. ‘To fast? Here? But we can’t look after you!’ he said.
Then I heard myself say, ‘Don’t worry, I can do it.’ I’m not sure to this day where that came from.
‘But Sarita are you sure?’ he asked. I heard myself again, ‘Don’t worry, I will do it.’
Some years later to commemorate the fast, author Josette Cole documented the story of the fast in the book Behind and Beyond the Eiselen Line.
Fifty-seven men and women and fifteen children…came looking for a safe place, a place of refuge where they could pray, fast and seek relief from the reach of an apartheid government intent on hounding, arresting and deporting them to the former ‘Transkei’. Those who came to the Cathedral that evening were part of a wider group of black (Africans) women and men living ‘illegally’ on a sliver of land located on the edge of the Old Crossroads in Nyanga (Nyanga bush) since early 1981, all wanting passes and places to stay in Cape Town.
Some final words from Sarita
I have learned that listening involves learning to pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit in the circumstances of our lives. We also need to be taught to be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit within us. Of course, part of listening is discernment. There are many voices in the world and in our heads that are not of God. Sound teaching, seeking advice and waiting for affirmation are all ways that we can discern whether what we are hearing is of God or not. Listening to Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the context of a service, I was struck by his comment: ‘God is everywhere, God speaks. All we need to do is get connected, put the plug in!’
There are so many twists and turns in my journey. I have been given many wonderful people along the way who have helped me find faith. Every group I was part of offered stepping-stones along the way. As a parallel to my search for beautiful vocal sound, my lifelong search has been a spiritual one. I have experienced much healing, and I can look back, nearing the end of my life now, and see how God has loved and provided for me through some extraordinarily difficult circumstances, including my dysfunctional childhood. I do believe I was given the gift of my voice and have felt strongly led to teach and pass on my experience and the gifts I received in my training, and through how I teach and mentor the young singers of today.