Janet Baker In Her Own Words

2019   BBC Four

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More than thirty years after her retirement, Britain's greatest classical singer of the 20th century, Dame Janet Baker, talks more openly and emotionally than ever before about her voice, her career and her life today. With excerpts of her greatest stage roles (Dido, Mary Stuart, Julius Caesar and Orpheus), as well as of her appearances in the concert hall and recording studio (works by Handel, Berlioz, Schubert, Elgar, Britten and Mahler), she looks back at the excitements and pitfalls of public performance.  She tells the film-maker John Bridcut about the traumatic loss of her elder brother when she was only ten years old, and how that experience coloured her voice and her artistry.   She explains why she felt the need to retire early some thirty years ago, and discusses the challenges she and her husband have to face in old age.   She also gives tantalizing clues to the question her many fans often ask: does she still sing today at the age of 85?  

Among the other contributors to the film are the conductors Raymond Leppard, Jane Glover and AndrĂ© Previn (in one of his last interviews before his death in March), the singers Joyce DiDonato and Dame Felicity Lott, the opera producer John Copley, the pianist Imogen Cooper, and the actress Dame Patricia Routledge.  

FILM CREDITS

Written, narrated and directed by John Bridcut
Photography Jonathan Partridge
Additional photography Richard Numeroff, Damian Wohrer
Sound Patrick Boland, Paul Paragon
Additional sound Sean O'Neil, Zach Hoover
Archive research Alex Cowan, Val Evans
Production research Bethan Anwyl-Ross, Lloyd Hann
Production managers Amy Gostling, Fay Thompson
Dubbing mixer Rowan Jennings
Colourist Michael Sanders
Online editor Dominic McMahon
BBC commissioning editor Jan Younghusband
Assistant producer Oliver Soden
Film editor Riaz Meer

REVIEWS

No one matches the director John Bridcut when it comes to documentaries about musicians.  His new film, Janet Baker In Her Own Words, is among his most sensitive and moving yet, with contributions from Joyce DiDonato, Jane Glover, Felicity Lott, Imogen Cooper and more.  Best of all, there is a long interview with the usually camera-shy mezzo-soprano herself, and plenty of examples of her matchless voice in action.  Unmissable.

Fiona Maddocks, The Observer

Janet Baker In Her Own Words was a 90-minute symphony tracing her career as a classical singer. [...]  Its climax came in the final 20 minutes, [...] a picture of the purest love.  Janet Baker's final sentence in John Bridcut's documentary was exquisitely placed.

Carol Midgley, The Times

Top-notch film-maker John Bridcut gets to the heart of Britain's finest classical singer of the 20th century. [...]  Most powerful is the film's final act, where she lets the cameras into her private world today.

Patrick Mulkern, Radio Times

An affectionate and absorbing film

Rupert Christiansen, The Daily Telegraph

You would not have to be enthralled by classical music and the remarkable people who perform it to find Janet Baker In Her Own Words the most moving and profoundly evocative programme of the week. [...]  Although it was a deeply personal account of our greatest singer, it was really a universal 90-minute meditation on the themes of loss and bidding farewell.

Gillean Craig, Church Times

Janet Baker epitomised "quitting while you're ahead".  The revered opera singer retired from the stage in 1982 at the height of her career, and bowed out from public performances altogether seven years later.  At the time, many felt that the mezzo-soprano left too soon, but her decision exemplifies what this fascinating and moving documentary by John Bridcut makes clear: Baker had a deep self-knowledge and attunement to her craft that marked her out as one of the greatest singers Britain has seen.  

A poised Baker takes centre stage once more here, as she roams over her past, taking us from a childhood blighted by life-defining tragedy to the rich variety of roles that made her name, and into the quieter pleasures of later life.  Generous excerpts from her work are spread through the film, and provide a springboard for friends and colleagues, including the late AndrĂ© Previn and soprano Joyce DiDonato, to explain Baker's supremacy.  They point to her exceptional emotional capacity and her dedication to the text.  But perhaps the film's chief joy is watching Baker as she listens along to recordings of herself, becoming curious and humble when faced with the sheer scale of her own talent.

Toby Dantzic, The Times

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