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The other side of the moon

scotto_normaIn light of all the recent discussion of Norma, La Cieca thought it would be interesting to listen to a great (and controversial) Druidess of the recent past.

Norma: Renata Scotto; Pollione: John Alexander; Adalgisa: Joann Grillo; Oroveso: Mario Rinaudo; Clotilde: Lucia Nemer; Flavio: Frank Munafo. Philadelphia, Academy of Music (Opera Company of Philadelphia) January 10, 1978. Conductor: Conductor: Carl Suppa.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

60 comments

  • Noel Dahling says:

    I have her studio recording,and while she is undoubtedly a “Normina”, what she does with the last act is overwhelming, all the more so for being able to overcome her voice’s natural limitations. What she does with one line of recitative is more than Sutherland does in the whole opera. There are times listening to her that I feel she comes closer to Callas than all of the other post-Callas Normas.

    • chaka says:

      I’ve always felt the best bel canto singers were the ones who made the most of the recitatives

      Joan Sutherland would be the big exception--but only because her arias were so brilliantly sung that people forgot she did nothing with the recitatives.

  • Olivero is my Drug of Choice says:

    Back in 1976, Shirley Verrett decided to tackle the role of Norma. She chose to do it on the road. Here she is in the FINALE from a performance of the Met on Tour from Boston’s cavernous Hyne’s Auditorium. I was there…it was spellbinding.

    • operacat says:

      Agreed re: Verrett. Saw her NORMA on tour at Wolf Trap in Washington DC area and she was the best I ever saw.

  • rommie says:

    LISTEN TO THOSE NUANCES DURING THE CASTA DIVA damn homegirl turned it out!

  • rommie says:

    of the adalgisas i have heard and saw on videos and live (all of these very limited of course) i think the best ive heard was Troyanos….so creamy and you could understand why Pollione would leave [Sutherland's] norma for this youngin…

    • peter says:

      Verrett was a wonderful Adalgisa opposite Caballe at the Met in March of 1976. I’ll never forget the double header at the Met that day: Caballe and Verrett in Norma in the afternoon and Sutherland and Pavarotti in Puritani that evening. Verrett was definitely the star in the afternoon’s performance.

      • marshiemarkII says:

        Peter wow I also saw those Normas with Caballe, I adore[d] Caballe, but those Normas were pretty awful, nu? The In mia man sang in painisssssisssssimo??????? And of course I also saw those divine Puritanis with Dame Joan, and Luciano who was beyong glorious!!!!!! The A te o Cara I still rememebr as one of those moments when the gates of heaven open for a few seconds and you can see divinity. I seem to recall the afternoon performance was Rosenkavalier, with Zylis-Gara, and as the lights are going down, in walks majestically Regine Crespin!!!!! who was the cover (talk about luxury covers!) and takes a seat in the orchestra a few seats in front of me. I met her twenty years later in 1996 when she came to the Behrens/Eschenbach Carnegie Hall Recital in the arm of the VILE Herbert Breslin!

        • peter says:

          Check the Met website. It was a double header of Norma and Puritani. Caballe was in lousy form that day, no doubt. The Caballe Verrett duets were sort of like Anything you can do I can do better and Verrett definitely won the competition.

        • marshiemarkII says:

          I think you may be right, it just came to me that Rosenkavalier was the afternoon of the famous Boheme with Luciano and Caballe, now that was a night in which Caballe was simply sensational!!!!!!! but I know I also saw the Puritani around the same time, as I could only be in New York a few times a year, as I was in school up in Boston. Anyway, memories memories, those really were the days!!!!! right? Imagine Sutherland, Pavarotti, Caballe, in their primes and all in one week at the Met.

        • peter says:

          February 28, 1976.

      • marshiemarkII says:

        Now you did make me go to the database and indeed I saw the 3/27/76 Rosenkavalier (with Luciano as the Italian Singer!), and Boheme with Luciano and Caballe and the follwoing day I was invited to the National Auditions concert, and the next day was Puritani (Monday). Luciano was keeping quite the punishing schedule in those days too, and singing like a God for every performance!

        • peter says:

          I missed those performances of Boheme that season but I was there for the debut of Behrens, later in the year, which was in Tabarro.

        • marshiemarkII says:

          Peter wow you saw my Hildegard in Tabarro!?!?!?!!?!
          She looked so beautiful, after her death someone sent me those pictures. I was listening to the broadcast up in Boston!

        • iltenoredigrazia says:

          I was there for one of those weekends when the sequence was Rosenkavalier dress rehearsal on Friday morning and Puritani that evening. Yes both with Pavarotti. Then Aida for the matinee on Saturday and Norma in the evening. (Aida was in a new production with Price, Horne and Domingo.) Troyanos was then making her Met debut as Octavian. Ah, those were the days. (You could have also seen Te Kanawa as the Figaro Countess on Thursday evening.

        • Meimei says:

          It’s good to see you back, MarshiemarkII!

    • SilvestriWoman says:

      Rommie, you are so right! I heard Troyanos’ Adalgisa with SFO back in the 70s. Not only did she sound gorgeous, she was visually a knockout. Her Norma was Rita Hunter -- a butterball who was unfortunately appeared to be clad in a burlap sack. Troyanos -- tall, sleek and voluptuous -- looked like a Grecian goddess in flowing white, sleeveless chiffon, dark tresses falling down the back. How could Pollione -- or anyone -- resist???

    • callasorphan says:

      I’ve heard and seen Troyanos completely steal the show as Adalgisas. The Norma was really kind of forgotten about.

  • The Vicar of John Wakefield says:

    Not a patch on Rutter!

  • Cocky Kurwenal says:

    I’ve never got Scotto, but I think with this Norma it might finally be happening! Kind of a belligerent entrance recit, but it certainly makes one sit up and take notice, and the Casta Diva is extremely expressive and mostly well sung. Finally I’ve heard something from Scotto where I can get past the fact that I find the timbre just plain unpleasant.

    What is controversial about her Norma? The fact that it was late in her career? She seems perfectly well equipped with the required technical arsenal and sounds at her limit rather than beyond her limits to me, so hence not over-parted.

    • La Cieca says:

      I don’t think this performance is controversial per se, but Scotto was at the time a controversial performer of Norma in that she arrived at the role from outside the generally accepted fachs of spinto or dramatic coloratura. She was one of the first singers to suffer the now familiar “how DARE she sing Norma; why in MY day…” queenery, and of course there continues in certain quarters (not around here, obviously) that the disastrous 1981 opening night at the Met was representative of her singing of the role in general. (But La Cieca has long since resigned herself to the sad fact that some people are idiots.)

      • rommie says:

        what did happen on that fateful 1981 evening?

      • marshiemarkII says:

        Well carissima Cieca, since no one else seems to have been “there” at the time I’ll share my personal experiences of that infamous Opening Night 1981. There were lots of musical events and non-musical events that would have made the parterre of the day boil with excitement, had it existed!
        First there were the Callas Queens who could simply not tolerate that piccola Renata would attempt MY ROLES (that is Maria’s of course) so the knives would have been out in full force in any case, but some other extraneous events crept in that made matters even worse. Renata had apparently given an interview in San Francisco, where she was singing La Gioconda with Luciano (talk about a Maria role), and in said interview she spoke of the “froschi di Milano” as the only ones who had hissed one of her recent performances there (she was getting a lot of static from the Maria queens worldwide at that point as she was assuming more and more of her roles). Well talking about the froschi in San Francisco was not the most politic thing to do, so at the prima Luciano got a tempestuous ovation and Renata was again booed. Her response was to dismiss the boos as “questo e un publico di merda”. All of this was but a couple of weeks from the Met opening. By this point the Maria Queens are in battle gear, and one Etienne fellow (of Belgian origin), a ferocious stinging mad queen bee, decides to avenge Maria’s honor by entering the Met in disguise as a bag lady (he was a well-known standee and would not have been allowed in the theater by the guards that were well apprised of his antics) and parks himself in the family circle. At Renata’s entrance for the Sediziose Voci, he screams at the top of his lungs “Brava Maria Callas, Renata Scotto TU sei la merda”. Well you can imagine the state of poor Renata’s nerves for the remainder of the performance! Not a happy affair. Said Etienne could be found at the end of the performance boasting about his “heroic deed” to all and sundry, and I heard it from his own lips, for better or for worse, including the “complex relationships” with the previous interviews, etc, for the TU sei la merda bit. It was the beginning of the end for dear Renata at the Met, as shortly after came the fiasco with Lady Macbeth, both for her and the production by Sir Peter Hall, the largest booing I ever saw at the Met!!!!!!!! And soon after she was no longer singing there, despite having been one of the three favorite singers of James Levine, who at the time had near ABSOLUTE power at the Met. Said Etienne, met a terrible end of his own not many years after that.

        • La Cieca says:

          Depends on how you define “soon,” I suppose. Scotto sang her first Met Norma on September 21, 1981 and made her farewell on January 17, 1987, six seasons and 120 performances later.

        • marshiemarkII says:

          Yes Cara Cieca it does depend on how you define “soon” and how you define “success” also. First to be fair to you I didn’t realize that her last performance was in 1987, I thought more like 84 or so were her last ones, so that only proves that memory can be very faulty, and I am not denying that :-) .

          But also after the Norma, came the Manon Lescaut which I saw and loved, she was so over the top and wobbly but boy what performances were those!!!! But she was panned, and then came Freni that everyone thought was divine. Then the Don Carlo, again seeing/hearing the telecast now one sees all the classic Scotto virtues, but at the time she was pretty well panned and then came Freni that everyone thought was divine. Even the Mussettas were pretty much panned and she was very wobbly and screechy for that. Then the Macbeth came in 83, I think, and that was pretty disastrous in general, Scotto not as much as the production, but the whole thing was just dismissed as one big flop. I honestly don’t remember seeing anything after that. Cara Cieca, I saw Scotto for the first time as Suor Angelica in 1976 at the Hynes Auditorium in Boston, Met on Tour, and it was one of the most unforgettable nights of my entire opera going. We were in the front just howling for her for more than a half an hour!!! She was what is called divine!

          And in 1994, Renata asked her coach Bob de Keuning to ask Hildegard for lunch and Hildegard accepted and invited me to go along, and we had lunch at Fiorello’s. Renata was a wonderful human being!, she also sent messages very recently inviting Hildegard to give Master Classes at her school in White Plains, it never was to happen. Renata was one of the truly great ones but she unfortunately had a few of less than stellar nights at the Met, and there is no denying that.

        • iltenoredigrazia says:

          Marshie, I don’t quite buy your story. The San Francisco Giocondas were two years before the Norma opening night. The Macbeth one year after the Norma. The dispute at the SF Gioconda was backstage because Pavarotti insisted on taking the last bow, which traditionally goes to the title role. That performance was telecast and I don’t remember any booing. Also Scotto sang at the Met for four or five more years after the Norma, including two new productions and a telecast.

        • marshiemarkII says:

          Tenore, the only thing in dispute seems to be the date of the Gioconda in San Francisco. I stand by my recollection, as told by Etienne at the very night of the Opening of Norma at the Met in 1981. If I have mixed things, could be, it happened 29 years ago, and I am going strictly from memory here, but I related the story as my memory serves, and rather vividly if I may say due to the impact of the events. Our SF friends can possibly corrobarate or dispute the date of the Gioconda with firm facts, I don’t have them at this moment, or else you can provide them.

          Your other point is not disputing anything I have said, or implied, or clarified in a second post responding to La Cieca. So what is your point?

        • marshiemarkII says:

          Errata: Our SF friends can possibly corrobOrate or dispute the date of the Gioconda with firm facts
          God I HATE typos!

      • richard says:

        Well, I didn’t see the opening night Norma but instead one of the later performances and thought it was very, very uneven with a lot of painful singing. She made some effective points, Scotto always did, but by the 80s, Scotto’s Met performances were often a very mixed bag. She was always a canny and creative performer but vocally she was pretty uneven.
        And I had no agenda in the matter, basically I didn’t then and still don’t consider operatic roles anyone’s “property”

        And this comes from one who was a HUGE fan, I saw her many times from the late 60s on up till the late 70s. I loved Scotto’s 1978 Met Adriana, I really thought it was the best version I’d seen and my Adrianas include Tebaldi, Olivero, Caballe and Freni.

        But really Scotto at the Met in the 80s was a real mixed bag. Her tops were often really shrill , her phrasing seemed to be compromised by a diminished breath control. Sometimes, depending on the role, the pluses still outweighed the faults but that seemed to happen less and less. Her 1983 Adriana was no where near as good as the 1978 one I had adored, and her reprises of Vespri, Trittico, and Musetta showed mostly just a severe decline from the mid 70s one, etc, etc.

        Sadly, the last time I saw her was as Butterfly in her last Met season. She was out of sorts and sang better on the broadcast some months later, but the performance I saw was just poor and she seemed unable to get into her top register at all. she couldn’t even pull off a bflat for Un Bel Di.

        So I don’t really thing it’s ONLY the viscious queens with agendas that charted the very real decline in Scotto’s singing that began with her Met Giondona which had really very little going for it, as well as her Macbeth and so forth. Really of her work in the 80s, the only memories I have that have much in the way of positives were the second season of Francesca da Rimini and her Met Vitellia’s , an interesting experiment that had a lot of good things going for it.

        So call me an idiot if you will, but I do think I bring a fairly balanced set of judgements to Scottos Met career, early as well as late.

        • peter says:

          I stopped going to Scotto’s performances in the 1980′s because much of her sound was too painful to listen to. Interestingly enough, I did hear the Sirius broadcast of her Lady Macbeth and it was far better than I remember. Her soft singing could be quite ravishing but in the house, it was oftentimes inaudible. The screechy singing was way too audible.

      • luvtennis says:

        I agree. Scotto is the first soprano of distinction to be persecuted for taking chances “THAT ONLY MARIA CAN TAKE.”

        It’s absurd really. That said, there was something about Scotto’s manner that seemed to invite that sort of treatment, don’t you think. Almost as if she secretly believed that she HAD assumed Maria’s mantle (whatever that might be). Unfortunately, it’s hard not to be smug when you have a cool secret that others would die to know. I think her detractors felt the weight of that smugness (real or perceived) and lashed out with a viciousness that was wholly our of proportion to the sin.

        • kashania says:

          I’ve heard that Scotto greatly admired Callas early on and was flattered by the comparisons to her early in her career. But then, the bitchiness of the Callas widows became too much and she came to resent Callas.

    • marshiemarkII says:

      Darling Olivero, I also was at the Verrett Norma in Boston in 1976, with that wild high D at the end of the Trio. Verrett was much better there than the fateful performances later in 1978 at the Met where she missed a few Act IVs, and cancelled the Opening Night replaced by Marisa Galvany (no comment :-) ) And of course I still remember your bouquet of white roses for my adored Hidlegard in Elektra.

    • Bart says:

      I saw Scotto do a Master Class with some young singers last season, and I was simply astounded at how she was able to show these singers how to interpret the arias. She would demonstrate, for example, how Suor Angelica is smiling when she thinks of her dead baby. She still has magic. She can still make a character live if not vocally. Actually, she could sing some phrases very well still.

  • CwbyLA says:

    does anyone know if a recording of Angela Meade’s Norma exists? I searched operashare but couldn’t find it.

  • iltenoredigrazia says:

    The San Francisco Giocondas were during the 78/79 season.

    • marshiemarkII says:

      If there were no revivals in 81 then I would have to assume that the story Etienne told that night had in fact occurred two years before and not two weeks before, it’s quite possible that my memory is that blurry, but the “TU sei la merda” and it’s origin I stand by because:
      1) I heard it in the theater
      2) I heard Etienne’s explanation on the plaza after the performance, there were quite a few queens congregating around him, and I gravitated towards the crowd and there it was THE STAR of the night, Mr Etienne “Callas” who had just destroyed Renata Scotto. Who says that opera is not a contact sport?. He died of AIDS like a couple of years later

    • RRnest Thesiger says:

      The SF Giocondas were in September and October of 1979. The live telecast, which included the post-performance backstage interview with Scotto, took place on Sept. 16, 1979, according to the SFO archives. If I remember correctly, she said “gente di merda,” which amounts to the same thing, of course.

      • richard says:

        And in December of 1979, Scotto brought her Gioconda to the Met. For me that was really the start of her decline at the Met. It was the first role I saw her do that I felt the bad outweighed the good. And she followed Bumbry, who did the earlier Gioconda performances and I was sort of surprised to feel that Bumbry actually sounded more secure in the part and less iffy on top.

        Out of my great, great regard for Scotto, who was really one of my all time favs, I continued to dutifully attend all of her productions during the 80s and in retrospect, I believe it was a mistake.
        There was far more that was bad than was good and I probably would have been better off closing the books on her ca 1980. But hindsight is always 20/20 , isn’t it?

      • marshiemarkII says:

        RRnest Thesiger, thank you thank you thank you for not making me look like I was losing it. Of course pre-Internet things could have taken easily two years to travel from coast to coast. Don’t know where I could have gotten the two weeks bit, except in a 2010 frame of mind, but the essence of my story is CORRECT.

  • marshiemarkII says:

    Cara Cieca, in view of this thread and the related one on Jimmy Levine’s health issues, we could do a quizz for the young ones:
    “Who were the three favorites singers of James Levine”
    [Hint: My beloved HB was not one of them]

    • kashania says:

      Or you could just tell us the names of the other two, and we’d be done with it. ;)

      • marshiemarkII says:

        But don’t you love competitions Kashie? I think it would be a lot of fun. As always there is a lot of misinformation and gossip that after several generations and gyrations, the final product has nothing to do wiht the reality. So let’s get the ball rolling…… you start Kashie!

    • Noel Dahling says:

      Thats funny because in the book Molto Agitato the writer says something to the effect of “Behrens was one of his favorite singers.” I read that book about six years ago so my memory could be playing tricks.
      By the way, did your Beloved HB ever sing the Marschalin? How did she feel about the role?

      • marshiemarkII says:

        Noel I wish it were true about Behrens being a “favorite” but she was not. Behrens was one of the “you were sensational tonight”, which of course every diva thought she was the only one to whom he said that to, but it turned out that category included also Jessye Norman (yes Kashie!), Leonie Rysanek, Christa Ludwig, I suppose Birgit Nilsson, and a few others I can’t recall now……., but the ones he truly adored were indeed Renata Scotto, Tatyana Troyanos (yes Peter!!!) and Teresa Stratas (maybe No 1?) so points for Richard (who doesn’t like me :-( sniff sniff).

        So Noel, no I do not believe that Battle was ever in that category of the other three. Regarding the Marschallin, in general Behrens would not have been into because she was one of those gilrs to whom “shit happens” as opposed to driving the action, but at the twilight of her career, the VILE Herbert Breslin was shopping around for her to do it including at the Met and SF. It was one of the many things that just never happened at the end, such as the Kostelnicka also at the Met and the Makropoulos in Paris………..

  • perfidia says:

    I’ll take the Scotto Macbeth any day over the screeching we were subjected to by Guleghina. At least with Scotto you could hear a performance that had a sense of purpose and understanding of style. Same thing with the “Norma.” Yes she is overparted, but the declamation is spot on.