Cher Public



The best way to pay tribute to a legendary Wagner interpreter?  Why, to perform the “Liebestod” as beautifully as Nina Stemme did at the first Birgit Nilsson Prize Award Ceremony just last week.

October 13, 2009

More details about The Birgit Nilsson Prize Award Ceremony 2009 are online.

  • brian

    Sorry. I meant BUY the Price/ Kleiber Tristan. Chalk it up to a neophyte’s jitters.

  • luvtennis

    I have the Stemme Isolde on the Pappano recording. At first, I hated it. For me, Wagnerian singing went horribly awry after Gadski. I want an Isolde who sounds like a great Donna Anna. Legato, legato, legato. I agree that Nilsson was an incredible vocal phenomenon, especially when heard live, but the voice lacks the flexibility to move me in this music. The high notes are of course beyond compare. Flagstad is just about as “modern” as I can stomach as Isolde and Brunnhilde. And of course, the voice is incomparable among those Wagnerian sopranos who have been captured on electrical recordings.

    Ultimately, however, I have come around on Stemme -- who knows how to sing but doesn’t always, particularly in a role like Isolde that stretches her past the breaking point on occasion. The legato breaks down at key moments and there is too much declamatory grousing phrases that cry out for a singing approach. But she is incredibly riveting in the role. Her intelligence, her phrasing, and her personal intensity are stunning. She is NOT a model Isolde, but (like Maria) she commands attention in whatever she sings, and temperamentally speaking, Stemme is a great match for the role.

    For a true and well-sung Isolde on a modern recording, we have Brewer -- who is a real singer. For me, Brewer and Farrell should be the modern models for Wagnerian sopranos.

    (Margaret Jane Wray provides some lovely singing in the Naxos excerpts. The top is stretched by the high c’s but everything else is lyrical and lovely.)

  • well, since we started with Stemme, here is Stemme in the Tristan Curse:

  • luvtennis


    I have always loved the Kleiber recording, especially Price’s Isolde. It used to be my favorite modern recording -- and it is a marvelous example of reimagining a work for recording purposes. There are moments of incredible haunting music-making, especially in the love duet.

    I am less enamoured of the recording now for two reasons:

    First, as lovely as Price is as Isolde, you can hear the toll that it took on her voice, even in recording. The incipient spread in the upper register is very anxiety-making for me. Also, there are moments where the lack of “nap” in the voice -- vocal reserves as it were -- distract from the lyricism that she and Kleiber are striving for.

    Also, the Price legato was flawed. (Margaret’s NOT Leontyne’s whose legato was along with Sutherland and Callas unique in the post-WWII opera world) I am less willing to sacrifice a true legato for that unearthly purity than I was a decade ago.

  • As for narration and curse -- a heck of a video, Meier left to her own devices and trumps! So much feeling and possession of the character via the music. I especially love the way her eyes narrow with irony.

    I’d love to post Margaret Price’s narration but it ain’t on you tube. I especially love the irony in “Das war ein Schatz mein Herr und Ohm”. Incidentally, I’d carry basically three audios of T & I : Karajan 1952 (the best of the lot?) Bernstein and Kleiber

  • miss kitty litter

    “As for the Bach H-moll – I can listen to this every day, all day, ten times in a row…” -- CerquettiFarrell (#73)

    Boy am I ever with you on that! Also the Matthew Passion.

  • Jay

    I didn’t much care for Stemme, either. Too opaque. I’ll take Traubel’s (recorded) ruby-throated sparrow or Nilsson’s gleaming sound any day over Stemme. But alas, we can’t turn the clock back and I’m glad Stemme had a triumph at the ROH. Hopefully the BBC will stream this performance a few weeks hence.

    As for Verrett’s Norma, it was a big mistake. I heard her do the role in 1976 (Met on tour) and it was at best tepid. A few years later (1979) at the Met Verrett was more poised dramatically but still disappointing vocally. I absolutely adore Shirley Verrett. Her Eboli, Azucena, etc. were something to behold. Verrett and Caballe were so well matched onstage in Norma and in the duets album they made together. But Norma just wasn’t a role that suited Verrett.

  • La marquise de Merteuil


    I agree about Bartoli. But who else is doing this? And 18th century opera is my obsession so we are stuck until someone else comes along. I’ve heard gr8 things about the Gauvin ‘Porpora’ cd.

    PS: A minute of Bach is like a year in jail for me.

  • #88 Wow sorry about the Bach. Well OK. Just a tip there: you might want to try the new Minkowski H moll mass. Not perfect, but extremely exciting! Watch out especially for the VERY young Julia Lezhneva.

    So many ppl tend to do the 18th cen rep formidably well today. How about (for starters)

    Sara Mingardo
    Karina Gauvin (spectacular indeed)
    Joyce DiDonato
    Vivica Geneaux
    Geraldine McGreevy
    Inger Dam-Jensen
    Tuva Semmingsen
    Maite Beaumont
    Patrizia Ciofi
    Sandrine Piau
    Nuria Rial
    Anna Bonitatibus, a favourite of mine, who seems to perform extremely well just about anything.
    Here’s a snippet of the lovely Bonitatibus:

    Agreed, in Mozart, but it sort of demonstrates the technical accomplishment and lovely quality.

    And here’s Vivaldi’s Agitata. And we all know how Bartoli sounds in this!

  • suzyQ

    #88 “A minute of Bach is like a year in jail for me”
    Thank you for articulating what I’ve been trying to express for decades!!

  • danpatter

    CerquettiFarrell, speaking of lavish LP packaging, remember those great Soria Series issues from RCA. Those were the real “jewell boxes” of recordings! Ah well, gone are those days. Now we’re damned lucky to get a libretto.

  • The Vicar of John Wakefield

    You all mark — Our Own Janice Watson will be THE Isolde of the 21st century.

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    I don’t understand this talk of Varnay’s perfect bel canto technique. To me, even in her youngest recordings, it sounds like a voice with a lot of unresolved technical issues, with her getting through her roles as best she could in spite her difficulties. Her singing so seldom sounds easy in terms of getting from one note to another (volume is a different matter, of course). I’m not disputing that she studied Italian bel canto technique, but I would question how far she got with it and how much she managed to incorporate into her singing. Surely if she had mastered it, she’d have made a more idiomatic Amelia Grimaldi -- as it is, it is one of the strangest pieces of Verdi singing I’ve ever heard. I absolutely adore Varnay, but it would never occur to me to praise her technique.

    I agree with the comments about Price’s Isolde above -- I too used to adore it without question, whereas now I have to be in the mood, I’m less sure it was such a great idea, and her idiosyncratic technique which can work in Mozart because the effect is almost instrumental feels odd in Wagner. She does get the attitude over well though, particularly the sarcasm. I’d never be without this recording though, for Kleiber, and for Fassbaender.

    The Bernstein is just wonderful, and if he had used Fassbaender instead of Minton, it might be a clear first choice for me.

  • La marquise de Merteuil

    89. Thanks for these suggestions. I already know most of those artists -- Bonitatibus in the live Pergolesi operas is especially thrilling!

    The “Agitato” is a great reading of the aria! Sorry to be nit picking but that lady is slightly flat on the top but a really brilliant reading -- nice, and difficult, ornaments too!

    93. Varnay’s technique sounds pretty formidable. (Her main teacher was her mother who was a coloratura.) I agree her Italian stuff sounds odd -- I only have her Lady M so maybe I’m not being fair. Although compared to Moedle she was bloody near perfect technically.

  • operaddict

    Monty Nostry (#66)asked about which post WW2 singers have Italiante, phayrngeal placement…Of course, Flagstad, Traubel, Farrell come to mind Steber, Kirsten…most of the great divas. Scotto did until she got too wordy and her voice became so overly bright emphasizing an over abundance of squillo..ditto Callas…Leontyne Price certainly had that quality, too. It is simply TECHNIQUE…not particularly German, Italian or any other nationality…it is just the way to sing. At the risk of infuriating everyone, I would submit that it all has to do with placement…and singing the AH vowel correctly. Most people sing too open of an AH. It makes the voice mouthy and throaty. The Italians eat pizzuh, not pizzAH…The opera is called Toscuh( NOT ToscAH,for example) Uhiduh, Luciuh…if you get my point. This will send voice teachers up the wall…but this is the way these words are actually pronounced…and if you sing the words like this, a beautiful, round, focused Italianate AH will emerge…It keeps the AH vowel pharyngeal and enclosed, like the rest of the vowels. Sorry for the mini voice lesson here…but this works for everyone I have shown it too…big time. Worth a shot, NO?

  • kashania

    I want to like this Stemme performance more than I did. It’s a moving performance, which is the most important thing but the vocalisation isn’t as great as I would like. I also agree that the close miking doesn’t do her any favours. I much prefer the clips of her Senta that someone posted a few days ago.

  • kashania

    For Isolde’s Transfiguration, I prefer big, warm voices that “envelop” the music. Flagstad and Norman are perfect fits. I’m going to post the Norman clip that LIndoro posted way earlier because I think it’s one of Jessye’s greatest accomplishments. Vocally, the piece sat perfeclty in her voice. And the long lines (and incredible breath control they require) provided the type of challenge to which Norman could rise so splendidly.

  • MontyNostry

    Very interesting, operaddict. Many thanks for the explanation. But what about Joan Sutherland’s ‘euh’ vowel?