Headshot of La Cieca

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Last soprano standing

survive“As for Elektra — one of the most strenuous of opera roles — the Met seemed to have settled for a singer who could survive the ordeal.”  [NY Post]

86 comments

  • tannengrin says:

    read quickly, it looked as if JJ had called Felicity Palmer ‘husky’. Which would have been a lot(t)!

  • arepo says:

    Being an “Elektra newbie” could some kind person please tell me, if it’s too much for Bullock to handle, who of today’s crop of singers could do the part justice?

    • kashania says:

      You asked a mouthful!

    • Often admonished says:

      This was probably the last listenable one (Berlin 2005)

      and some girls will complain that it’s not big enough.

      • Camille says:

        Paging Often Admonished…!

        ‘An error occurred…’ could you please identify this Elektra?

        thanks.

        n.b. = I shall not attend tonight’s MET Elektra, as I am still recovering from the effects of illness and tonight’s performance of Elektra shall be broadcast on Sirius, in case anyone cares to know. Perhaps the Good Lady Bullock shall have recovered from First Night Jitters and make a stronger case for herself. Here’s hoping so. OR, perhaps we may be the recepients of Deborah Voigt’s totally surprise debut in the part of Elektra, subbing for her indisposed colleague. Voyons, amis.

        • Often admonished says:

          …it’s Elizabeth Connell (Berlin 2005)

        • Often admonished says:

          big Liz said: “I particularly like singing Elektra because you can really let your hair down and any issues you had with your mother you can work out on stage … and get paid for it”

        • Camille says:

          that’s okay — i found out for myself.

          having long been a Liz Connell fan I was a teeny bit disappointed, but she is getting on, so i guess it’s okay. think i liked the hoodieElektra better. lots more fun.

        • Camille says:

          oh gee, oftenadmonished, thank you for your kind reply; i didn’t receive it in time.

          what Liz Connell says is so. i have a fond memory of her Isolde @ Carnegie, unfortunately she was ill that day, either with a fever or terminal hot flashes, it wasn’t clear. however, she sure did have the temperament in spades. admirable artiste, always.

        • this is a much better example of the Connell phenomenon. I’ve posted this a few months earlier, but always happy to repost what I consider some fabulous and highly articulate Wagner singing. The voice isn’t very “big” but it cuts the orchestral fabric because it’s so concentrated. And the superb technique allows her to be very precise with pitch, dynamics and legato. Some beautiful messe di voce, a true trill. This girl knows something about singing. And just see the easiness of that top C in 3:20!! I think she should be around 60 by now.

        • kashania says:

          CerquettiFarrell: Thank you so much for that. I agree that it is a better representation of her singing than the Elektra clip. And you’re so right about that perfect (first) high C and a real trill leading up to it. Throughout, the ease of her singing was remarkable.

      • kashania says:

        Thanks. I had only heard of Connelly by name before. She’s vocally more suited to the role but I think Bullock is the more interesting performer.

        On a different note, I never knew that Flagstad recorded any of Elektra’s music:

        • MontyNostry says:

          I think she’s Liza to her friends — and I believe she has been a lupus sufferer, poor thing, but she seems to be in pretty good form for a veteran, even if the voice lacks a thrill in the tone.

      • Connell was very effective in this. The only name springing to my mind are Jennifer Wilson, who’s still too young to tackle the role -- I see she’s singing a lot of Aidas which is good -- and Irene Theorin, of course. Can’t think of anybody else….

        • Camille says:

          Mmes. Cerquetti/Farrell:
          This is in response to your posting of the Siegfried duet with Liz Connell.

          Yes, I listened to it some time back, and was pleased to listen to it again. I could never figure out, during the reign of the prime of Miss Jane Eaglen, why Connell had been shuttered out, as she is infinitely more interesting a singer. Quite a C in alt for an obviously no longer young singer, who started as a mezzo. She is upwards of sixty, now, I believe and subbed for ENO -- I think -- in Turandot sometime earlier this year and did extremely well. Keep on, keeping on, Mme. Connell. You got the real stuff and prettiness and dress styling, BE DAMNED!

        • This is the Turandot clip from earlier this year. In an interview Connell said that she refrained from singing Turandot because she thought it wasn’t right for her. Around sixty she thought it might be fun, after having sung all the major hochdramatische roles. Well, it’s far from perfect, but always spot on pitch-wise. Remember she jumped to replace I forgot who at the very last minute.

  • Harry says:

    Oh! Vicar….Porter praising that Birtwhistle and his crappy compositions! Some critics just love to name drop, and are but plagiarizing ‘farts’ wishing to IMPRESS in print. Prefaced of course with a typical comment like ‘when I last spoke to….’ The Gramophone magazine as an example over the years, was full of them. A day never went past without one of them claiming to have met this or that singer and inferring being on close speaking terms.
    Yet, one has quietly met performers, many now forgotten as time goes on, who never proclaimed their remarkable experiences off the rooftops….
    Willing to open up and share their memories in conversation with those they felt, were totally ‘genuinely bewitched’ by Opera as sheer music….essential to one’s every day living…. and not for the exploitative spin offs / cultural glamor connections , some associate, with Opera. I know a elderly former opera singer that was able to determine his parents took him to the opera in Paris around the start of he 1930′s to see Tetrazzini sing in Rigoletto. He remembers Rigoletto dropping in grief on his knees as the curtain finally fell. He was later told: he had exclaimed to them, “why didn’t I know about this ( meaning Opera, itself), before?”. Later in life , of having lessons from the great Wagnerian Florence Austral and of her perfect sense of diction .Then singing with the likes Marjorie Lawrence and Lina Pagliughi while still in his youth.
    Growing up myself, one heard old people describe the experience that they had actually heard Melba live. What was common was the description of the voice as some sort of ‘pure crystal bell’. Such given personal recollections by others, no doubt used by many of us in the situation: when we listen to such singers. How many of us consider , when we decide to listen to some long forgotten singer we are in fact, creating a temporarily memorial altar of our own / ‘a majority of one’ so to speak, to that singer?

  • On an issue remotely concerning this thread, just found a clip of Ewa Podles singing Klyt. I so do not like this. Everything is wrong IMHO -- the basic sound, the style, the lifting up to nots, the wrong accentuation on the final syllable, the total lack of idiomatic understanding of the language. Extremely one dimensional and unconvincing IMHO

    • Camille says:

      Mmes.C/F,

      Really, I was not able to clearly make out enough to hear her, other than just some sort of sounds, but thank you very much for posting.

      I would find it surprising, however, if it were entirely one-dimensional, as she did manage to make La Cieca (no relation to our Beloved Doyenne!) a real and credible character on stage, last year, in the MET’s Gioconda. That is a considerable feat as La Cieca is usually rather pallid and lackluster, a sort of cardboard mommy figure. Just Camille’s take on it, that’s all. Camille doesn’t have a IMHO, she only has her opinion, which is not humbe at all, I fear.

      • It’s just totally out of style, I think. And there IS such a thing as Straussian style. And it’s not about shouting either.

        • Camille says:

          Shouting is all you usually get in Elektra, and most certainly, yes, there is a Straussian style, but all bets are off in Elektra!

          I could not make out sufficiently what was going on to say -- not one word came over my laptop, so I could not form an idea. My reference to the dimensional quality of her singing is only in relation to that which I heard in La Gioconda last year.

  • arepo says:

    Being that no one can seem to answer my question on #12, would it be better NOT to stage a production of a long missed opera rather than go ahead and do it with the best (though lacking) results possible despite all the criticism?

    • Camille says:

      oh Jeepers, Sr. Arepo,
      that’s so bad that your question posed at the outset should be ignored, and forgive us all for the digressions. I can only say that stagings are done all the time, whether or not the Messiah appears for a particular opera. That is well as it should be, as the works themselves should be heard, no matter what the singing is. Look at the case of Hamlet (Ambroise Thomas opera, that is) last done here in the 19th century, and being exhumed for Mme. Dessay. Why should it have waited this long? It’s no better or worse than many operas and affords the singers a lot of in good opportunities to show their stuff.

      The question you pose is thorny and many-sided and there are no good, final, nor complete answers. The style of singing has drastically changed over the years, so we will just have to accustom ourselves to what the marketplace allows us to hear, as it is, make no mistake, all marketplace driven.

      If I were you, go over to the Elektra excerpt (think it’s over on the Kill Aegisth, Vol. 2 thread), and look at Ms. Eva Johannson. That’s maybe representative of the new crop. Ms. Connell, estimable artist that she has been, is in her sixties now, and there can’t be a lot of electricity left in her. Last year, Deborah Polaski, now sixty, exhibited her Elektra at the Philharmonic, and amazingly, sang it better than when she was here some years before at the Met.

      Just persevere, and keep on listening. Go get many records and listen and listen to many singers, some old ones first; well, there’s alway the monumental Nilsson which really can’t be topped in so many ways, and there is the marvelous but problematical Inge Borkh, and the great but not always pleasant to listen to Astrid Varnay — they are all the old guard. There is a recording of Alessandra Marc with
      Deborah Voigt, from the last decade, for instance — shame she’s faded out. Just dig in and shop around and form your own opinions, as in the end, they are the ones that will matter most to you.

      Sorry to be a Yenta, but it IS pretty damn confusing and hard to figure out in the beginning.

      Sincerely and with good wishes,
      Camille.

    • Maybe go ahead and try staging it after all because
      1) It’s one of the most profound and interesting operas within the entire operatic cannon, and not just a batterd cheval de bataille (a la Tosca, kill me)?
      2) It almost always is a deeply moving and shattering experience, almost regardless of the inadequacies of the cast
      3) It tends to bring out the best of the performers, regardless of their ability to do justice to the vocal writing.
      4) It’s a total experience and real frisson can be created by the conductor, who is the most important figure of the evening. Luisi and the met orchestra proved my point, for judging by radio standards, I thought it WAS a great evening, and I certainly know my Elektra. I started listening around 3:00 AM (I live in Tel Aviv) and couldn’t bring myself to stop in the middle and go to sleep. It kept hunting my mind throught the next day.

      • haunting my mind, that is

        • Camille says:

          It’s on again tonight and I’m sure it will be hunting my mind!

          Thanks for the little clip of Connell’s Turandot. Remarkable and I wish she were singing here more. Perhaps she is busy enough where she is and has no need of this side of the pond. It has been a shame for us.

        • Oy vey, is it possible to record the transmission or something? i’d love to capture it somehow. And can’t afford yet another notte di somnambulismo

        • Camille says:

          This is in response to Mmes. Cerquetti/Farrell’s missal/plea in 15.2.1.2 below.

          Alas, I cannot help you out and I am disposed to do so, however I have never learned to burn a CD, so 19th century am I.

          There is only one future broadcast, the matinee (@ 1:00 p.m. EDT) on the 26th. Perhaps by then someone could help you out by making a copy or even you could yourself.

          I will give a report tomorrow on this same thread, should you care to hear anymore.

          I am sorry not to be able to accommodate you, after sharing all those nice clips. Perhaps someone else has the capability??

          Sincerely,
          Camille

  • rogwood says:

    #12 & #15 Dear arepo, in addition to the mentioned Theorin, who has not sung the role, and Johansson, whose Elektra is available on DVD, I’d like to add another Scandinavian. Swedish soprano Katarina Dalayman very successfully made her debut in the role Saturday in Stockholm. Dalayman sang beautifully, expressively and lyrically while also being (surprisingly) secure throughout the upper range of the vocal line. Indeed, Elektra seemed easier for her than Salome and the part sits very well for her voice.

    • MontyNostry says:

      Would I be right in thinking that Elektra as a whole doesn’t sit as high as Salome? Salome bashes away at the upper-middle voice doesn’t it, while Elektra has occasional explosive excursions into the top register (eg that fabulous “Sei verflucht!”). Salome doesn’t have a top C, though, does she?

      • The tessitura aint that different but most of Salome’s high notes are pianissimo and are softly scored, whereas Elektra usually has to compete with the full might of the orchestra. The only comparable place is in Salome’s final apotheosis. But the use of the voice is mostly different. The Elektra writing resembles Salome only in the recognition scene. Otherwise, Salome shares many similarities with Chrysothemis, in terms of vocal writing and surrounding orchestration. Dyer’s Wife and Elektra are vocal sisters whereas Salome, Chrysothemis and Die Kaiserin are sisters too.

        • MontyNostry says:

          CF, you are the Allwissende Muschel (somewhat lower tessitura …)

        • hmphhh, meinst du es tueckisch ?

        • rogwood says:

          CF, very well described! Maybe I should clarify that Dalayman sang Salome in Stockholm a couple of years ago and she did not come across as comfortable in the role. Dalayman’s high notes obviously need more forte though she sang the upper range of Elektra more softly and securely than Brünnhilde in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, partly indicating that she is developing into a better singer.

        • MontyNostry says:

          No, CF, ich sag’ was wahr ist.

        • Regina delle fate says:

          Well the Dyer’s Wife was written for Lotte Lehmann who never sang Elektra. Equally, Christa Ludwig, one of the great Färberins, never sang Elektra either. Inge Borkh was the best performer of both roles, but she wasn’t really a true hochdramatische as she never sang Brünnhilde or Isolde. For me, Borkh remains the best Elektra of the recording era, in her commercial recording with Böhm for DG but also in countless pirate recordings. I don’t think Nilsson sang the role more beatifully.

        • richard says:

          I agree, two very memorable Farberins were Borkh
          and Ludwig. Borkh wasn’t too good when I heard her sing the role at the Met but Ludwig was.

          Borkh is about my favorite recorded Elektra, I rather have that kind of approach than the more massive one of Nilsson or some of the later heavy lifting screamers such as Schnaut or Mastilovic. Both of those simply sounded ugly to me. Nilsson was certainly better but rather cold sounding.

          Of recent Elektras, i was very much impressed with Polaski, actually I perferred to her performance to Nilsson, Jones, Behrens, and Schroeder-Feinen.

          Perhaps the greatest Elektra between the two world wars was the Hungarian soprano Rose Pauly, who left a slightly abridged broadcast.
          Pauly makes her effects by phrasing, expression, and use of the texts rather than heaving giant boulders of sound around. She made a fabulous recording of the awakening scene from Egyptian Helen to give an idea of what her other roles were.

          With Varnay and later Nilsson, the orchestras were able to play louder and audiences were looking for a different, heavier kind of sound.
          The problem really is Strauss orchestration, he wanted it played lightly but it is just two tempting to play it full out and it makes it difficult for lighter voiced Elektra’s to make an effect.

        • Camille says:

          Mmes. C/F,
          an ever so slight modificaiton of that schwesterhood is needed: actually, Die Kaiserin is listed in the Kloiber faecher book as a role for Dramatisch Koloratursopran, ergo, it is just an mite above and more florid than dis Schwesterin Chrysothemis und Salome. She’s perhaps more like a close or kissing cousin. Suits her otherworldly nature, do you not think?

          Thanks very much again for all your wonderful posts as it is now well established that I am too retro to post myself becaue I am accustomed to having my minions do so for me. JUMP SKLAVE!

  • arepo says:

    Rogwood and Camille (you sure live up to your dramatic name!) thanks both for your interesting feedback on my query. (no pun intended)

  • Krunoslav says:

    Rose Pauly was Hungarian the way Rosa Raisa was Polish and Alexander Kipnis Ukrainian. Eastern Europeans see, and certainly saw in the mid 20th century, Jews as being Jews, an ethnicity.

    The Viennese did not pelt Pauly and Friedrich Schorr with rotten fruit at FLIEGENDE HOLLAENDER performances in 1938 because they were “Hungarian”. I think it’s an injustice to mislabel these artists, as Michael Scott consistently does-- he only identifies singers as Jews if he doesn’t like them , as in the case of Jadlowker, with his supposedly “alien” technique.

    • richard says:

      Krunoslav, Pauly referred to herself as Hungarian in an Opera Snooze interview with her about 40 years ago.
      She also obviously considered herself Jewish ( the interview took place in Israel as I remember) and she spoke of being pelted with rotten oranges because she was Jewish by anti-semetic audiences in Europe in the 30s.

      It was quite an interesting interview, it stayed with me for many years and made me curious of what her singing was like. Many years later I heard some of her recordings, including the Elektra performance, which I found very impressive.

  • Krunoslav says:

    Did anyone hear the one (1) Met performance of Brenda Roberts as the Dyer’s Wife in 1981?