Cher Public

Gay “Marriage”

Le Nozze di Figaro DVD CoverThese days, when James Levine is mostly in the news due to his back ailments, it is somewhat shocking to see this performance of Le nozze di Figaro begin with the Maestro fairly dancing around on the podium as he conducts a sparkling rendition of the overture. It starts off a classic performance of Mozart’s masterpiece that is almost always excellent. 

Although I have always preferred Levine in 20th century works, he is in fine form. Levine keeps the flow of the opera moving briskly along without feeling rushed, which is the key challenge in Figaro, but the performance is not without its rough edges. Uncharacteristically there are occasions where the orchestra threatens to run away on him. The end of the act two finale, for example feels dangerous close to the brink as the string section rushes ahead, but Levine is able to wrestle them back into control. But these moments are few and far between, and in general Levine does an admirable job.

The production, new in 1985, is by the late, great Jean-Pierre Ponnelle. A marvelously specific director, he really understood 18th-century operas and when he had a great cast of singer-actors at his disposal, as he did here, the stage was electric. Every detail is in place, every line given definite meaning, every relationship examined. How often does one see Figaro and Susanna in such an easy, loving partnership, or the red-hot attraction between Cherubino and the Countess? Right down to the smallest roles, the cast functions like a well-oiled machine under Ponnelle’s deft hand.

That cast is an excellent one and features two performances that could, and should, be called definitive. The first is, of course, Frederica von Stade’s Cherubino. Many say she was the definitive Cherubino of the 20th Century, and this video proves their point. She is so unwaveringly right in the part. Every nuance she brings to the role, both musically and dramatically, is spot-on. There’s really not much more to be said; this is the Cherubino of a lifetime.

[From a previous release of this performance.]

The other standout is Thomas Allen’s Count. Truly one of the great Mozart baritones, and quite possibly the greatest, Allen delivers a stunningly strong Almaviva. Impeccably sung and simmering with the same energy that served him so well as Don Giovanni, Allen is an extremely dangerous, intelligent Count who is far from easy to resist or outwit. When his passion boils over in an intense “Hai gia vinta la causa”, it is the high point of a phenomenal portrayal.

The fact that these two titan performances do not unbalance the ensemble nature of Figaro is mainly due to the strength of the other principles. The Countess of Carol Vaness is also exceptional, beginning the second act with a stunning “Porgi amor” that is a fabulous indicator for her performance as a whole. In a nice touch, her Rosina grows stronger and more assertive as the evening progresses, and she shows an unexpected flair for comedy in her all-too-innocent posing after Cherubino is rapidly hidden in the closet.

Ruggero Raimondi, sporting a vintage moustache that makes him look disturbingly like Ron Jeremy, is an angrier, more emotional Figaro than the norm. He starts off in somewhat coarse voice (“Sei voi ballare” is quite rough) but by the time “Aprite un po’ quegli ‘occhi” rolls around, he is able to launch a blistering attack on the fairer sense in a magnificent rendition of the aria. Kathleen Battle’s Susanna is the weakest of the five principles, but only by a hair. She is a polarizing performer, and I find her stage persona excessively syrupy, especially in contrast with her well-known backstage antics. She sings the role very well, concluding in a lovely, hushed “Deh vieni non tardar”, but she is a little too sugary for the witty Susanna.

The supporting cast is admirably filled out. Arthur Korn and Jocelyne Taillon are extremely stylish as Figaro’s parents, and the expert presence of Michel Sénéchal as Basilio is very welcome. The reliable presences of James Courtney and Anthony Laciura are more than welcome as Antonio and Curzio. Dawn Upshaw, who was only about twenty-five at the time of the performance, makes much out of little in Barbarina’s aria; the makings of a major Mozartean are clearly evident. In this performance, it is Upshaw and Von Stade who sing the duet for the two village girls during the act three wedding sequence. It’s probably never been better sung.

The performance’s only major downside is the set design, also by Ponnelle. However persuasive he might be as a director, he leaves something to be desired as a designer. It is an unenviable task to stage such an intimate opera as Figaro on the Met’s giant stage, but Ponelle’s spacious rooms are too large and too gloomy for the lightness in the music. His tonal pallette ranges from beige to grey, and as a result this most colorful of operas has quite a bit of color bleached from it.

The costumes (also Ponnelle) are better, barring a few really ugly wigs, but the lighting seems off, with the singers often in shadow. Perhaps they did not adjust them for the cameras, but in any case it’s a rare stumble for resident lighting designer Gil Wechsler. But in this case, where the dramatic and musical elements are so strong, the set and lighting are just the wrapping paper. And even the ugliest wrapping paper can’t spoil such a gift as this exceptional performance. Its DVD release (in James Levine: Celebrating 40 Years at the Met – DVD Box Set) is long overdue.

  • Nerva Nelli

    “Jocelyne Taillon ”

    Big pal of Billingsgate, apparently. An otherwise inexplicable Met career except maybe in PELLEAS.

    • Baritenor

      Oh come on, she’s a plummy mezzo with the ability to play pretentiousness in a humorous fashion. What else do you want for Marcellina?

      • richard

        You have a point as far as it goes. My own problem is the history I have with Taillon.

        After La Cieca, Erda, Angelica-Principess, Schicci-Zita, and Troyens-Anna, I would cringe when Taillon would appear in a cast list even something not so unsuitable as Genevieve or Marcellina.

    • Best review of Taillon I ever saw (forget who wrote it) was after her Anna in the Met’s 83-84 Troyens: “Long on French, short on voice”.

    • MontyNostry

      “Pal of Billingsgate” = “brouteuse de pelouse”?

    • That explains why Berini was robbed of the telecast of Suor Angelica. I really could not understand why with Berini around they had given the Princess to Taillon.

      • richard

        Plus Berini would have been terrific as Zita. Taillon is gruesome in this role.

        • Dawson

          Billinghurst and Friend have indeed shoved many of their “favorites” down the Met audience’s throats over they years.
          I still remember the telecast. I enjoyed Berini immensely in Tabarro and assumed she’d sing all the three mezzo roles, as customary. When I saw Taillon’s name scrolling on the screen right before the beginning of Suor Angelica, my blood froze. I was so disappointed. If it weren’t for Renata I would have switched off the TV. And in Schicchi her diction was atrocious.

  • NYCOQ

    Did anyone else see this or have a copy of this performance? While Baritenor is an excellent reviewer; I would like to get someone else’s take on La Battle’s performance. She is such a polarizing figure that I find that everyone reviews her based on their personal views of her (including myself). I do remember seeing this as a Live From The met performance, but I was 16 at the time and was very new to opera and my opinions/tastes/critiques have changed drastically since then.

    • Baritenor

      NYCOQ -- You can rent it from the Met Player for like four bucks . And thanks.

      • NYCOQ

        Baritenor I hope that you did not take offense at my question, but we all filter our our opinions of performances through our opinions of them as people. And she is one of those performers that people have STRONG opinions about. After seeing that performance on TV I thought that she was just the bee’s knees. Jump to 15 years later and it was all about Barbara Bonney in that role for me. The whole thing is that I am debating shelling out the bucks for the dvd set and I am loving the reviews of each individual dvd. Now that I know that I can preview the performances on the Met Real Player I can make a more informed decision. Thanks for the info.

        • NYCOQ

          Most of the later performances I have either seen live or I can vividly remember the performances from television. At this point I think that I may hold off until they make the dvds available individually, but watching the perforamces on RealPlayer may change my mind.

        • Baritenor

          You just called me an excellent critic, so don’t worry about offending me! Battle IS such a polarizing singer and it took me a long time to decide how to write her up. In the end, she just doesn’t inhabit the character like th thee cast members do. She remains “Kathleen Battle as Susanna”. That’s not to say it’s not a fine performance; she’s excellent in th role. She just isn’t as good as the other four singers.

    • I haven’t seen it myself but a friend of mine described Battle’s Susannah as “oozing with sexuality” and one of her best roles.

      • Krunoslav

        Your friend has odd tastes in sex. Kathy never oozed with anything except self-love and appliqued charm. She sings well in a monochrome sound. But despite some rapturous NYT reviews it was not a great Susannah, merely good.

        • Krunoslav

          Better Susannas I have seen than Battle: Helen Donath, Barbara Bonney, Judith Blegen, Gianna Rolandi, Dorothea Roeschman, Ailyn Perez, Christine Brandes…

        • Well, the friend in question is a gay man, so what does he know?

        • armerjacquino

          All bar one of them from the US, I note, kruno.

          What’s the American for ‘Vicar’? ;-)

    • Bill

      I saw this with this cast. Battle sang sweetly and acted pertly but for me the voice was simply too
      weak to ride the ensembles and be heard on an even keel with the other singers -- it may come over better on video. A small voiced Susanna who does not project well throws an inbalance into the sonorities of the ensembles and Susanna is virtually in every single duet, trio and all the larger ensembles. For me, with a voice of similar size,
      Reri Grist was far more effective than Battle.
      But the best Susannas seen, in my opinion, were the lyrics particularly Irmgard Seefried (seen in her radiant prime at the Met in her debut in 1953),
      Gueden, Freni, Popp and others.

      I might argue also with the statement that von Stade was THE Cherubino of the last century -- von Stade was certainly the preferred Cherubino for a period of time and was superb, but she was not superior to Jurinac or Gueden or a number of others.

      Vaness was a good Mozartian, attractive on the stage, knew the style, but often I found that she would sing five or seven good notes and then lose the line a bit vocally. I do not consider Vaness to be in the league with Schwarzkopf, della Casa, Jurinac, Janowitz, Margaret Price or Isokoski and a few ohers as the Countess.

      Favorite Figaros including Kunz, Siepi, Berry, Ramey
      (not Terfel, he snarled and barked too much).

      I like Levine as a Mozart conductor, always a rich fluid sound, full orchestra.

      If Battle were singing Susanna in the Redoutensaal in Vienna or some other smaller theater, I think she
      would have been more impressive. But then I thought that Grist was also a far better Zerbinetta than Battle as well. I never saw Streich as
      Susanna, another smaller voiced soprano who was able to project but who avoided the Met altogether. But Rothenberger was quite a delicious Susanna. So was Isabel Rey and Bonney. Ileana Cotrubas was another lyric, who at a certain stage in her career, sang a luminous Susanna.

      As to Cecilia Bartoli -- a Mezzo, her Susanna was not to my taste -- again, it threw off the balance of the ensembles, and usually Susanna sings the higher line. Plus she over-mugged the role without the charm one expects though some moments vocally were exquisite.

      I suppose another reason I did not precisely take to
      Battle as Susanna was that, though sweetly sung, there seemed to be a certain sameness to her voice
      vocally -- less variance, less color than some of the Susanna’s cited.

      • peter

        Nozze is one of my favorite operas and I’ve seen it countless times yet the only “live” Susanna that sticks out in my memory in recent years (last 20 years) is Barbara Bonney who was absolutely exquisite.

        • louannd

          I remember hearing Barbara Bonney on a Met radio broadcast and thinking how perfect her voice was for that role -- I don’t think I’ve heard another Susanna as impressive since then.

        • Alto

          Bonney is a great artist, but we usually bestow that label only on people with big voices. In that we are sometimes wrong.

        • Where is Barbara Bonney these days? I know she was going through a bitter divorce and announced that she was cancelling her remaining contracts so her husband couldn’t get his share of her earnings, or something like that. That was a couple of years ago.

          I love her Strauss Lieder album (with piano). Hearing the Four Last Songs with piano was a revelation of sorts.

      • Camille

        Ooh Bill, you are always so fabulously erudite and right on. I had forgotten about Reri Grist. Thank you for your input, always so appreciated by moi.

        Also, thanks for reminding people that there was life for Cherubino pre-Flicka, whom I’ve always viewed as too smugly cute.

        Mozart is a special style, not as easily replicated outside of Salzburg, Vienna, and Praha, as its propigators in these here United States would want us to believe.

        • richard

          I like Grist quite a lot on the Nozze video from Salzburg although the the style that it performed with is very post WWII Viennese. Unfortunately she never did Susanna at the MEt. But she had more variety and “point” to her singing that Battle did, although Battle’s sound was prettier.

        • Alto

          The idea of Frederica von Stade (even in a role) as “smug” has to be one of the most ridiculous things ever asserted here.

      • messa di voce

        Thanks for the comments, Bill.

        Do you have any idea why Seefried didn’t return to the Met?

      • Vox

        Whether you like Bartoli or not, Mozart’s original score had the Countess singing the highest lines, not Susanna. There is some evidence that the original Susanna, Ann ‘Nancy’ Storace (also the original Zerlina in Don Giovanni, a role that sings the lowest female line) was a lyric mezzo.

        • Regina delle fate

          Storace wasn’t the first Zerlina. She left Vienna shortly after the premiere of Nozze. I think the first Zerlina in Vienna was Dorotea Bussani who was also the first Cherubino, but I’ll have to check that.

        • Regina delle fate

          Sorry -- Caterina Bondini was the first Zerlina in Prague and Luisa Mombelli as the first Zerlina in Vienna.

        • Regina delle fate

          And there is a lot of confusion about who sang which line in Figaro because Storace was originally cast as the Countess but switched to Susanna when it became clear that the latter was the more important role. In the Act II trio the Countess sings the top line, rising to C, which is out of character with the rest of the part which is usually lower than Susanna’s. For a long time, Susannas used to sing the top line, which could be because Mozart usually wrote the ensembles before the arias and when he wrote the trio, he may have envisaged Storace still as the Countess and so gave her the higher line, but switched the higher line to Susanna’s part when Storace changed parts. This would suggest that she was a highish soprano. Mozart also wrote Ch’io mi scordi di te as a farewell prezzie to Storace when she left Vienna -- this wonderful concert aria can be sung by mezzos but it is usually sung by sopranos. In any case, the soprano-mezzo distinction in Mozart’s time was hardly made. Dorabella and Cherubino can clearly be sung by either mezzos or sopranos, and Fiordligi’s part goes much lower than Dorabellas.

      • armerjacquino

        I was lucky enough to see Allen and Vaness in the wonderful Schaaf production at CG in the late 80s. They were both terrific, although Claudio Desderi stole the show as a definitive Figaro. I’m going to keep banging on about Desderi on here until someone takes any notice, by the way- one of the greatest singing actors I have ever seen. His ‘Aprite un po’ managed to be a great howl of pain while also being true to the score at every turn- I can’t be bothered with people mugging their way buffoishly through that aria any more.

        That ‘Figaro’ was broadcast on TV over here, actually; I wonder if any of it is on youtube. It also had , on the plus side, a glorious Susanna from Marie McLaughlin, and on the minus a dull Cherubino from one Stella Kliendienst.

        • armerjacquino

          Hurrah! Found it.

        • Krunoslav

          “on the minus a dull Cherubino from one Stella Kliendienst.”

          Where was Pamela Helen Stephen, Vicar?

        • armerjacquino

          Oh look. Projection.

        • This is excellent. Thanks for sharing, AJ.

      • Buster

        Thanks Bill!

        My favorite Cherubino is the young Christa Ludwig, on the Böhm Nozze from Salzburg, 1954.

        Best legs, and a great soprano Cherubino, with the wonderful Claire Watson, and Reri Grist:

        • louannd

          I believe that is Edith Mathis as Cherubino. Who by the way I have never seen as Cherubino. Wonderful. And, points well taken about Reri Grist who even in this small clip is superb!

    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      I am a pretty big Battle fan and I’ve seen this performance on the Met Player and heard the 1987 broadcast with (I think) a much improved cast including Hampson as the Count, Soderstram as the Countess and Battle and Von Stade returning. When you listen to how much Battle’s Susanna has matured into a woman, rather than as the reviewer accurately described, overly sugary, its a wonder why they haven’t released *that* recording at least on CD. I think this performance is seriously hurt by the horrid production. The stage is a sound swallowing cavern and seems to be doing nothing for any of these voices. Especially Thomas Allen who, contrary to this review, sounds underpowered throughout the performance, though he looks the part.

      • Baritenor

        Well, here’s where we part ways I guess. Hampson has a bigger voice than Allen, sure. But he does not use his instrument half as well. They’re actually both good comparisons: two committed singing actors who sing much of the same rep, both tall, handsome and named Thomas. However, in direct omparison as the Count, I find Tommy A. wipes the floor with Tommy H. Allen is elegant, slimy but with a certain kind of aristocratic allure. Hampson is blustery and coarser, lustier but not as inherently noble. Vocally too Allen has more control over his gifts than Hampson, who too often turns to hectoring and shouting. No contest. Allen Every time.

        • richard

          Baritenor, have to agree 100%. Hampson and his hectoring and crooning, exactly the same words I would use, are boring. Sometimes he inhabits a good middle ground between the two, but not very often these days.

    • The whole performance is also available in 10 minute segments on youtube. Here is the link to the whole playlist:

      http://www.youtube.com/user/antmusique#grid/user/3BAB77289B0C9B7F

      and some battle excerpts:

      Via resta servita

      Venite inginocchiatevi

      Canzonetta sull’aria

      Deh vieni non tardar

      This is the famous production that soured Battle and Vaness’ relationship forever. Battle (allegedly) insisted on the prima donna’s dressing room, going (again, allegedly) all the way to placing Vaness’ costumes outside of the dressing room. Isn’t this when Vaness (allegedly) told her to go fuck herself after the run was over and refused to ever share the stage with Battle again?

      • peter

        Didn’t Battle get the final female curtain call? I don’t ever remember Susanna coming out for her curtain call after the Countess before this performance.

        • manou

          Maybe she got the final curtain call as one of the five principals

          Sorry -- my name is manou and I am a nitpicker.

        • Well, Battle was splitting hairs with this one. Given how many prima donnas (of the nightingale kind) sang Susanna in the late XIXth and early XXth century, it had become traditional for the Susanna to be considered the prima donna of the show (like anyone would say to Patti or Melba: “No, you will not take the last curtain call, that will be miss B. over there“)

          So Battle sought to revive that tradition, given how she held herself in high regards. I am not sure how long before this performance people were aware of her antics, but AFTER this one, there was no turning back to Kathy-the-nice-kindergarten-teacher-who-sang-so-beautifully.

      • Well, let’s remember that this is a rumor (admittedly one that La Cieca herself has retailed more than once) and as such we don’t have documentary details of exactly what happened when.

        In Battle’s (sort of) defense, she very often seemed to be clueless about this kind of fringe tradition stuff, e.g., who’s got the “leading” role in such-and-such an opera. I think it’s at least conceivable that (assuming the story is true) Battle could have arrived at the theater that first night dressing rooms were assigned and genuinely, sincerely thought a mistake had been made. Of course part of the job of an opera company’s administration is to have people around to handle this kind of misunderstanding before it escalates into a scandal, and apparently that system wasn’t functioning properly in this case.

        The curtain calls for the Met’s current production of Figaro send Figaro and Susanna out as a couple for the final bow, if I recall corrrectly.

        • I think couple bows work best for this opera.

        • Yes, in the Bartoli/Terfel/Fleming braodcast, Fleming took a bow first, followed by Bartoli and Terefel as a pair.

          Susanna is the longest soprano role in the rep, no? I think that justifies the final bow, even if the Countess gets the grander arias.

        • richard

          I hated that production when it was new and recently saw a video of it and still felt the same way. It was a boring, undefined production and Miller seemed to be willing to just abandon any thought of direction, leaving Bartoli and Terfel to mug their way through it. They did everything but mud wrestle.

          Hard to admit these days, but for me the only saving grace was Fleming’s Countess. The night I saw it she paused before starting the second verse of Dove Sono. She sat back and just moved her foot slightly. It sounds a bit cheesey but was actually magical and much of the audience just held their breath for her to begin the second verse.

          Actually I like Mentzer quite a bit as Cherubini but thought the rest of it was just a mess.

        • hamish

          It’s generous of La Cieca to come to Ms. Battle’s defence, but this longtime lurker in Toronto has a similar story which I heard directly from my friend, the late contralto, Maureen Forrester. She and Battle were the soloists for a Mahler 2nd with a major orchestra, and Forrester, having the larger part, had been assigned the no. 1 dressing room. Ms. Battle arrived and removed Forrester’s things to the corridor and took over the dressing room. Maureen’s reaction? “Oh Kathy! I could just as easily get changed in a bathroom.”

          I should add that I had become an instant Battle fan some years before, I think in 1983, when she first appeared in Toronto to sing the soprano roles in Handel’s “Solomon”. The audience was blown away by her first aria and burst into applause, not the usual practice during an oratorio.
          I subsequently enjoyed a few of her recitals, but they soon became repetitive and boring, and her platform manner lacked charm. Sad to see such a promising career proceed as it did.

  • luvtennis

    Battle is wonderful in the role, but her excellence is entirely one dimensional. Sweet shimmery tone, lovely legato, pert and cute to a fault, and did I mention that sweet bell-like voice?

    The role has more in it, however.

    For me, Popp, Freni and Gueden were the perfect housemaids!

    But Battle has such a sweet voice!!!!! And she was hot too!

  • Camille

    The “Porgi amor” I can no longer bring to mind, however, Vaness’ “Dove sono” was exemplarary and explained to me her reputation as a worthy Mozart singer. This I had on tape from the eighties, and viewed multiple times, back then.

    Battle’s Susanna? Where’s the harm? Would you rather have la Bartoli? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t know, though, as I never saw that edition of Figaro.

  • richard

    I liked Battle quite a lot in this production. At this point I was still a big, big fan. I first heard of her in a Figaro broadcast from somewhere in the US with Steber(!) as the Countess. I first her her on stage in a L’italiana revival in the early 80s at the Met. She make a nice but not overwhelming impression but enough so that I went to her next role, Pamina in Magic Flute, again ca 1981. It wasn’t a very robust sound as Pamina but extremely beautiful with a wonderful crystaline quality. Just stunning.

    I loved her silvery, clear sound as Despina, Sophie and
    Zdenka. Around this time she also appeared in a Gala of the Stars thing on PBS where she sang “He’s got the whole world” with a silvery , radiant Eflat at the end.

    Did I say I was a fan??????

    I liked the Susanna in the Ponelle Figaro a lot, but the lack of variety nagged at me just a bit. But jeez, the sound was just so beautiful.

    The Carnegie Semele was somewhere around here and this rather limited character worked very well for her and she both sang and looked stunning.

    The next go round was Zerbinetta and that was very disappointing. I think the commercial release may have been groomed a bit to smooth over some of the uglier moments, the performance I saw had her very tense, snatching breaths everywhere, cutting up phrases, and at some of the most difficult points, the High D trill, the two high E’s just stopping what she was singing and letting out screams. It was just two difficult and two high for her.

    Next time was Cleopatra and that was pretty much it. She sounded once more very beautiful but all the arias seemed slow and lacked both variety and energy. It was lovely but sort of boring. Plus there was the start of a sea change in her voice. I find that around the time she hit her 40th birthday, her voice lost some of it’s crystal like purity. The middle particularly was sort of cloying and furry compared to it’s earlier clarity.

    I think that was the last time I saw her. After the Caesare she mostly concentrated on things like Barber and Elisir and these are not operas I really like and so that was pretty much the end of my great love affair with her. I saw her on the Flute telecast from the Met in the early 90s and didn’t really like it, she hadn’t really grown emotionally and the voice just wasn’t as free and clear . At this point she really made a meal of that pulling her lips over her gums and sucking in a nd out both breath and sound.

    Plus the increasingly elaborate TV concerts started to appear with a fairly bizarre aura about them.

    But I have to say I found her just stunning and her voice carried better when it was clearer and more easily produced than later. It had much more float than it did after the late 80s came and went.

  • Arianna a Nasso

    Nerva Nelli @ 1: I hate to burst your bubble, but since Sarah Billinghurst didn’t come to the Met until the mid-90s, how could she be responsible for the Met career of an artist who last sang there in 1988?

    • armerjacquino

      It’s very simple. Whenever anyone who wasn’t born in the US sings at the Met it’s the result of a filthy Commonwealth conspiracy. Hope this helps.

    • richard

      Maybe Nerva mixed up Sally B with Joan Pigpen. Same method.

      (ducking)

      • Nerva Nelli

        Richard is right-- I mixed up two hags. It was Ingpen who was pals with Taillon and at whom Berini screamed insults backstage about hiring Taillon ( for ADRIANA?) instead of her, the cover.

        It was Bilingsgacko, from ate who had Heather Begg brought to San Francisco for Marthe and Annina (separate years, think of that airfare).

        Take a cue, Armerjackie, from Figaro:

        “Io non impugno mai quel che non so.”

        • armerjacquino

          Wow. I’ll know better than to make a joke round here next time, if that’s the kind of weapons-grade pomposity it elicits.

  • Batty Masetto

    Baritenor, thanks for the interesting review. As fine as he is generally, I would never have figured Raimondi for a Figaro. A propos des bottes -- Would you mind emailing me your contact information (battymasetto@sonic.net) so I can get you on the list for the next SF Parterrian gathering?

  • bigbob56

    Here’s what I remember from the telecast: von Stade’s curtain call blew the roof off the house. When Battle came on with her shoulders up and that “surprised” look (Nobody told me there were people here tonight!) that she stole from Leona Mitchell in “Turandot”, the applause dropped appreciatively.
    And the dressing room story I heard (true or untrue) is she tossed Vaness’ costumes into the hallway and said “I may play the maid but I don’t be the maid”.
    I do know it was at the end of the Japan tour that Vaness and Allen went to her and said they would never work with her again. She is the only thing holding me back from buying this DVD,even with Baritenor’s gracious review. I like the ROH with Miah Persson and chubby Erwin Schrott, Finley and Roschmann. so there.

  • SilvestriWoman

    Baritenor, I’d just take out the “Mozart” and say Sir Thomas is one of the greatest baritones, period. Just because he (wisely) barely dipped his toes into Verdi waters doesn’t diminish his achievement. His Beckmesser was widely hailed. In the lyric baritone rep, he’s peerless. I even saw him at Ravinia in Act II of Samson with Heppner and Graves. Though his voice was theoretically smaller than theirs, it carried far easily, thanks to flawless diction and technique. To me, it least, this clip is about as good as it gets for a baritone:
    httpv://www.youtube.com/user/GordonsGirl?feature=mhum#p/f/49/Ev09Vc3bKio

    • SilvestriWoman

      Oops -- here’s the clip!

    • Baritenor

      I will listen to this man sing the municipal transit system guidebook. Thomas Allen is a rock star, and I’m so glad I was able to tell him how much I admired him after ROSENKAVALIER. Hell, I’m just glad I saw him live. That was a great afternoon.

      • peter

        Thomas Allen sang an absolutely gorgeous Onegin in SF in 1986. He’s a real singer’s singer.

  • Noel Dahling

    According to the Met archives this was performed the night I was borne. It would be cool to have as a souvenir for that reason alone.

    • Alto

      The night you were “borne” — as in being put up with? I was bearing the singing of Kathy Battle that night.

      • Noel Dahling

        LOL

  • Tamerlano

    She was “on” this night…and it’s easy to hear what the fuss was about. She was a fine Handelian: excellent coloratura, legato, and a fine trill.

    • Alto

      Sorry, but I hear nothing of Handel in that singing. She even seems to be in a different world from the orchestra that she’s presumably in the same room with.

      Fine trill? A couple of notes, then a big vibrato. Nothing to do with Handelian style.

      • Tamerlano

        Show me what fine Handel singing is in your opinion then, seeing as you presume to be such a scholar on the subject.

        • Alto

          “Presume”?

          If you think that’s a way to get a reply from me, you have another think coming.

          You have no idea who I am.

        • Tamerlano

          …I hear some fine trillin’ in this piece…

          Here too…

        • Tamerlano

          Who you are is of little significance to me. I just think that if you are going to make such statements about an artist, you should back them up…What is a good baroque trill in you opinion? I want to hear it, simple. SHOW me an example of great Handel singing.

        • La marquise de Merteuil

          It is one thing to talk about Verdian, Puccianian or Straussian style as we actually have examples of recordings of contemporary artists who worked with these composers, etc… And how far have we strayed from these?

          Since the baroque experts speak with such authority on correct style one has to presume that they have either attended a concert of Farinelli or Salimbeni via séance, or are able to travel back through time or have a recording of these performers. If so would be very keen to engage in a conversation to learn from you… otherwise I’ll keep on sticking my Burney, Tosi, Heriot and try to imagine what these singers art may have sounded like…

          And considering that NO professional singer today from Bartoli to David Daniels ornaments the A section, as well as delivering cadenzas in the A section and B section and intensifies this process -- I think it is POINTLESS to talk about correct style. And don’t get me starting on the absence of instrumental cadenzas in these operas ….

        • MontyNostry

          That shot of Battle sitting on those marble stairs, surrounded by her diaphanous, flowing skirt, always makes we wonder whether the photo session gave her a chilly ass (or arse, as we say on this side of the Atlantic]!

        • No Expert

          I think this is fine Handelian singing.
          That being said, I adore Battle’s lovely, coquettish Semele too. It’s one of my favorite Baroque recordings.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      This is bloody brilliant. I really don’t understand Alto’s point of view. It really doesn’t all come down to the trill, and neither should it. Frankly, even if they aren’t perfect, I’ve always found Battle’s to be a much better approximation of a trill than those of Horne.

      One wonders if Alto has any other more meaningful, specific criticisms of this performance, since it seems to me to be excellently sung, clearly enunciated, beautifully and dramatically phrased, with none of the lapses of taste to which she could sometimes be prone in terms of ornamentation and cadenzas.

      • luvtennis

        Too many folks pretend to be experts on STYLE. Screw that!

        Is the singing good? Is the singer hitting the notes, the expressive markings, the legato markings, the dynamic markings.

        If so, then they are doing what they need to do. Too often, self-styled critics (that includes all of us) defend horrible singers with “Oh, but she has such Italianate style.” Again screw that. If Italianate style is what matters, then let the Italians put on and enjoy opera in their little country all by themselves.

        For me, opera is about the music and the musicians doing their best to bring to life what’s in the score. All of the bullshit on proper barocque style, or echt German, is just shorthand for folks too lazy to get out a score.

        And I especially get a kick out of praise for so and so’s italian pronunciation.

        In my opinion, you don’t get to make comments about a singers pronunciation unless you can prove that you are fluent in the language and have been appointed arbiter of pronunciation by the language’s country of origin.

      • Tamerlano

        Sills is heaven in this! And to think, many early music nerds consider her Handel singing tantamount to heresy…stupid. Her voice crystal clear, the coloratura is effortless, the ornamentation gloriously executed, and she has a revelatory trill.

    • Harry

      That DG Semele cover is the one, where ratty Battle is supposed to have held up its release for 3 months while she decided what cover to approve. It is said to have stuffed up the Company’s planned promotion.
      Even as far back as the Jessye Norman/Battle Concert at Carnegie Hall, the fact that Battle was already showing early signs ofor future trouble vocally, was starting to show.

      With Battle with her pretty pretty voice….it remained just laminated veneer gloss.. developing into …more laminated gloss. Insight or depth of interpretation……….forget it! Could anyone believe she was THE character she was attempting to portray? She finally showed herself as the operatic ‘retard’,she was. Becoming the biggest classical star of temperamental bitch spastics to ever go on a concert stage.
      One hears her voice and a mental check block goes in place…… a code for her mental baggage.

      • CarlottaBorromeo

        That cover did more than stuff up DG’s promotion -- it actually ended up costing more than the whole recording. But that was in the days when classical recording operated on the economics of the mad-house. Oh wait…

      • luvtennis

        Not me, Harry.

        I could not care less what sort of human being Battle was or is. I know none of these people personally and have no way of judging anyone’s behavior from such a distance.

        Battle was never convicted of a crime. She lost her career because Volpe fired her. But so what, Volpe is a nobody in the grand scheme of things. An administrator.

        Battle has a lovely voice and an exquisite manner that appealed to me. In the final analysis, the voice was just too limited in its expressive range for her to join the pantheon of truly great singers, but my assessment of her has nothing to do with the silly scandal.

        Frankly, Battle’s behavior is exemplary when contrasted with the average Fortune 20 CEO.

        • Harry

          This is where we differ. Do Parterrians have such short memories? I did not know so many put on their lovely rose tinted glasses and fluffy ear muffs to listen to her in ‘Cranky -Vision’. The woman was a pampered shit-bitch. If a person in the street did some of the things she did, they would be kicked out on their arse a lot quicker. Bravo Volpe even if he was the c….t he was reputed to be. Perhaps she met her nemesis. .
          It is strange how some performers come to Australia and go sliding down the other side of their rainbows. Lenny Bruce, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and yes Madame Battle. The night she performed in Melbourne, her recently recruited fully professional accompanist ( after Battle’s American one pissed -off ,left after the Asian leg of Battle’s trip)was subjected to the final straw of many insults. The promoter had to virtually plead to get this highly talented person to even take the job in the first place. An accompanist that also happened by luck to be very familiar with Battle’s chosen repertoire. First half: Battle tapping her fingernails on the piano like a metronome, dragging tempos up and down willy nilly. Just after the start of the second half. The accompanist bowed …..left the stage and Battle ‘to it’. A few unacompanied spirituals later (encores??!!!). Battle left the stage.
          The accompanist had pre-arranged her exit with the promoters at the interval …who could blame her?

          The most interesting stories were the back stage ones. Staff told not to try to make eye contact with Battle, and keep a big distance as she came and went alng the corridors. The after supper party……..HA! HA!HA! Battle that angry looking statue in the corner….speaking to no one…..expected to explode any minute. I know a woman criminologist friend that wanted to get ‘a bit of quick psycho close up profile’….and bravely asked for an autograph and chatted to her. Amazingly she got one. The only one Battle gave. As to for a opinion garnered about what appeared to make Battle perhaps tick……’not nice’.

        • luvtennis

          Harry:

          I am not defending Battle’s behavior, but let’s try to have a bit more context here.

          Ever read any stories of the exploits of Melba? Or Patti? Or Jeritza?

          Admittedly, those ladies are all-time greats, but that doesn’t excuse their behavior, does it?

          Battle’s biggest issue seems to be that she had too high an opinion of her indispensability, if you catch my drift.

        • PirateJenny

          Well, I don’t think a sense of indispensability was her fatal flaw, so much as what can only be termed a debilitating personality disorder if not outright mental illness.

          And please, remember, as others on the site often remind us -- the Met is not the only opera house in the world. If the problems were truly only between La Battle and Il Volpe, surely other houses would clamor for her services, and she, in return, would be only too willing to provide a demonstration of her not-at-all-craziness by performing at them.

          At any rate, I actually think she is more to be pitied than censured, since she clearly has mental health issues that must leave her quite isolated and distraught most of the time. Since she has had a huge career, it’s easy to assume she simply needs to get over herself -- I am quite sure, however, her problems are more extensive.

    • I love Battle’s Semele recording. She is fabulous in it.

      • BETSY_ANN_BOBOLINK

        I had rather an odd reaction to that Semele recording, of which I am very fond. The first time I played it, I thought “Wow! Battle is really fabulous.” Then I thought, “Wow, Ramey is stupendous.” Then Horne began, and I thought, “Wow, Battle and Ramey are really sort of second-rate, aren’t they?”

        • I must admit that I find Horne ever so slightly overrated. Don’t get me wrong. She is great in that recording and really brings the character to life. And I love how when she sings florid passages, each note is clearly articulated. But at the same time, she never impressed me with her speed. In fact, there’s one aria in the Semele, where she has to noticeably slow the tempo down when she comes to the roulades.

          I’m also not a fan of her voice production, which changed from her early days. There’s a weird quality that is especially pronounced in the mid-voice. I don’t know if it’s because she’s putting too much pressure on the voice or what (I’m not a tehnical expert) but the resulting sound bothers me.

      • rapt

        Ditto re the Semele recording. I’ll add, though, that my view of Battle underwent a sea change between her recording of Mozart arias and the ensuing (at least by release date) recording of Handel arias. I was blown away by the Mozart, and I expected the same of the Handel--but didn’t find it. I lack the technical knowhow to explain my dissatisfaction--can only say, impressionistically, that I didn’t find the emotional connection between her and the music any more. The Semele recording was later--but perhaps it works for me in part because she does seem to me to enter into the character there.

        • rapt

          Oops, my ditto was re Kashania’s comment--but I find BAB’s reaction congenial, too. To my taste, this is a prime example of Horne’s greatness in the use of the voice (despite its late-career losses).

        • richard

          Rapt, I think it’s not just you view of Battle that underwent a sea change but also Battle’s voice itself.

          The Carnegie Hall performance that this preformance was based on was into 1985 and I liked Battle very much in the live performance. Her voice was still quite clear and pure sounding with a silvery top.

          By the time they got the cast in the studio 5 years later Battle no longer sounded the same.
          The sound was droopier, and more cloying rather than sweet and really took a nose dive in energy levels. It was the start of the late career Battle with all the mannerisms and sluggish singing. Not terrible, but not on the same level as the younger self.

          It’s unfortunate that DG couldn’t/didn’t release the Carnegie Hall performance. The difference in Battle and Horne particularly was noticeably not for the better.

          I loved the performance but found the DG recording pretty much a snooze.

        • rapt

          Thanks for the info, Richard, and thanks for the thoughts on Horne, kashania--and thanks, Cieca, for the chance to participate in discussions like this, that help refine my ear, on the one hand, while helping persuade me, on the other hand--whether justly or not--that I’m not crazy!

        • Tamerlano

          I never understood why she sang “Iris, hence away” so much…she always seemed to come to grief in it. She was fabulous in much of the music though. I remember thinking she could blow Michael Chance off the stage with one solid puff during the “You’ve undone me” duet (which i love). Some of her soft singing on that disc is gorgeous.

        • I love it when Battle sings pianissimi and pushes in her lover lip, it looks like she’s giving head.

    • Tamerlano

      Of course, there’s always our dear Ceci…

  • Constantine A. Papas

    Von Strada owned Cherubino, but Sopranos sing it too. Did Stratas do it? Chistine Shafer sang it in Salzburg and it’s on DVD. I saw VS twice and she is the Cherubino of my lifetime.

    • Harry

      Agreed Constantine A. Papas, Von Stade you heard- you watched -- and you were bewitched. You went into a different immersible dimension. The woman had a insightful intellect as well, seeing her in documentary discussions of roles. She chose her roles well. She was not one of the usual drippy song birds that tend to fly across opera’s radar. I know of at least 5 people -- not into opera..after hearing her voice became opera fans…strictly of ‘of anything she performed in’. They would willingly run out and buy the latest complete operas of hers as they were released. Now that is communication!
      A perfect example : take the version of Desdemona’s aria from Rossini’s Otello. It is set in 5 sections and Von Stade’s shadings, and developmental graduations are superb.

  • Bill

    Mezza -- I do not specifically know the history of
    Seefried at the Met or why she did not return.
    Originally she was asked to repeat her 1949 Marzelline in Fidelio from Salzburg at the Met in the winter of 1951 also with Flagstad, but that did not work out though Seefried came to the USA for the first time at that time for lieder recitals and 7 orchestral concerts. Then Bing announced rather early (for those days) that Seefried had been booked for 5 Susannas in late autumn 1953 in a revised production of Figaro and then later also engaged della Casa and both made debuts the same night -- Seefried had 5 minutes of applause for her Deh Vieni, was written up in Time Magazine and even della Casa admitted in a book about her that Seefried had the much greater success that night. I was there and it was for me and much of the audience, a thrilling evening. I went to one other of Seefried’s Met performances -- the last of the 5.

    When Bing decided to do a new Zauberfloete under Bruno Walter a couple of seasons later for the Mozart year, Seefried was much desired by both Bing and Walter -- but it was decided to do Flute in English and it was stated that Seefried did not wish to sing Pamina in English (though she had sung Figaro and Meistersinger in English at Covent Garden in 1948 and she had stated in Opera News that the Meistersinger at CG had had “altogether too many thees and thous”) -- so when Walter’s “all American” Flute was premiered in English there was no Seefried by her own choice. Opera News had a feature interview from Vienna about Seefried at the ime titled “Pamina at Home”

    When the Met decided to do Ariadne for the first time. Karl Boehm wanted Seefried, to be sure, as the Komponist. (ultimately the Prologue was sung in English with Kerstin Meyer and Leonie’s famous “Was ist das?) -- here, as I understood it, Ariadne was also to be done on the Met tour involving quite a few weeks -- at the time Karajan was Director of the Vienna Opera and though he usually did not conduct them he had given Seefried 9 premieres during his tenure and she was heavily booked in Vienna during the tour time. Plus, she had a family, was frequently on tour with lieder recitals so the tour dates for Ariadne could not mesh. (Bing usually insisted that his artists for the season in certain roles also do those roles on tour and many European singers were not happy about that) After 1963 because of vocal difficulties Seefried relinquished all her Mozart roles except for taking on the Figaro
    Countess from 1963-66. Most of the roles she was
    still singing then Octavian, Komponist, Marie in Bartered Bride, Eva, Blanche, Dido, Poppea, Marie in Wozzeck,Judith in Bluebeard’s Castle, Dame in Cardillac, Baronin in Wildschuetz would not have fit into the Met’s repertory -- in any case, after her Octavians in San Francisco and LA in 1964 with Schwarzkopf/Hildebrecht and her Ariadnes in Chicago with Crespin which immediately followed in November of 1964 plus some recitals, I do not think Seefried sang in the USA thereafter.

    In any case, Seefried was not to be found singing opera with any great regularity in any of the world’s operas houses other than Vienna (for 33 seasons) or Salzburg, though she did appear at least for a few performances in virtually almost all of the great opera centers of the world. She probably essayed more lieder recitals than Schwarzkopf, and was regularly utilized in countless orchestral concerts in Vienna or Central Europe under the best conductors in a very wide variety of Oratorios, Masses, Requiems, Stabat Maters, Mahler works etc. She was also a singer not known to cancel performances -- I know of only two instances -- in 1943 in Vienna due to illness she cancelled one Komponist in Ariadne which led to the Staatsoper debut of Welitsch as a replacement {what a replacement!} and in the mid 1960s she cancelled a lieder recital in Paris and Janowitz sang instead. After her last Octavians in 1970 and Maries in Wozzeck in 1971 she sang some character roles until 1980. So a 40 year career from her professional debut under Karajan in Aachen til her last performances on stage at the Volksoper which including almost 700 performance at the Staatsoper, but only 5 at the Met. Schade

    By the way, the English Opera Magazine mentioned that
    Renee Fleming ahd Thomas Hampson will sing in Strauss’ Intermezzo in Salxburg in 2015.

    thous8

    in

    • luvtennis

      Seefried’s voice also started to go pretty early on in her career. I think the voice stopped being reliable as early as early as ’59-60.

    • messa di voce

      Again, thank you.

      Of that miraculous group of Mozart/Strauss sopranos in Vienna after the war, I think Seefried was the most natural, the most musical, and, for me, the most moving.

  • You can sense that ultimately Susanna was written with Nancy Storace in mind. I cannot believe that Mozart wrote Deh vieni or Venite, inginocchiatevi for another singer. You can feel the love and admiration stemming from the woodwind writing, enveloping Susanna in both arias. Besides, the tessitura in the two arias is very similar to the tessitura in “Ch’io mi scordi di te”, rather low in fact, as indeed is the solo phrase in the sextett “al dolce contento di questo momento”. The tessitura is A below middle C -- A above second C. Storace was clearly a Zwischenfach, not exactly mezzo tessitura but a soprano with a darker color, or the ability to “darken” the voice and color it, I always think of Seefried as a true Zwischenfach (when contrasted with Gueden or Della Casa, or contemporary Miah Persson for that matter.
    I always think a good casting choice for Susanna is not really about color or range or volume, rather a question of temperament and personality. In a way it resembles the “other” classic Zwischenfach role, Melisande.
    A Susanna I adore is Alison Hagley in Gardiner’s exquisite Figaro from the Chatelet, directed with genius by Jean Louis Thamin. Hagley’s voice was surely unique and individual, a true Zwischen. The slightly vinegary quality rather enhancing the sparky, defiant personality of the character. Yet by “Deh vieni” she is able to switch back to being a pure singer-musician and deliver a beautifully unaffected, heartfelt and spontaneous reading, the voice intertwining beautifully with the period winds. Gardiner sets a wonderful moderato tempo that sounds spontaneous and dance-like.

    Add it to the fact that around 1993, when this was filmed, she was a gorgeously beautiful woman, with dark purple eyes, she truly becomes the star of the show. As Mozart and da Ponte intended.
    The voice itself was fairly potent for a leggiero. I heard her do Die Schoepfung back in 1995 or so and she was radiant, no problem with melismas, legato or projecting the voice above chorus and orchestra in a 3000 seat hall.

    When first seeing the Gardiner Chatelet Figaro thanks to a 1993 France 2 Christmas screening, I was in absolute shock. Here was real theatre, the recitatives absolutely realistic and with a beautiful natural flow of action. Somebody in Gramophone wrote that rather than a performance of the opera, this was a realization of the piece. I view with which I wholly concur. Just listen to what Gardiner does in the act I trio and what a perfect tempo he sets for an episode of pure musical comedy genius. This is on a very different plane that just playing and singing the music well and following the stage directions. This is about trying to find out how to maximize the situation, to draw the ultimate from the characters and their relation to one another.BTW he is the only conductor to observe the Calando indication, ending the trio.

    • manou
    • luvtennis

      I hate this performance. The only Gardiner Mozart performances that I can stand are the Don Giovanni (almost solely due to the excellence of Organosova as Anna), the Abduction (Again solely for the singing), and Idomeneo (a tremendous performance all around).

      His Nozze is distinctive soley for Terfel. And encomiums for Hagley? Really?

      She is a freaking conservatory singer.

    • Thanks, Manou, for the link! I immediately added my twopence there. Nice to see that some people share my opinion reg Hagley’s Susanna.

      Luvtennis, OK, I see you dislike Gardiner’s Mozart output, I agree his Idomeneo is tremendous, for me the standout in a gloriously echt Mozart cycle. I love period instruments in Mozart, especially for the winds, brass and timpani, and Gardiner seems to strike a nice, “modern”-chamber ballance between strings and winds, the latter never overwhelming the former, as happens if you have very few string forces (as happens in the Oestman recordings on audio and video). With Gardiner it sounds fairly “modern”, yet with the winds sounding more focussed and individual, as surely befits the gloriously personal Mozartean wind writing!

      I sincerely belive that, period practice or not, the Gardiner opera performances will have an imminent place in the catalogue, after all the sound and fury of “avant-garde” obscenities will die down (i.e. the infuriating Jacobs recordings). Gardiner, after Mackerras has died, along with Colin Davis, are probably the most eminent Mozart conductors nowadays. For me his Mozartean opera recordings are as important as Toscanini’s Verdi output. Sacrilege!
      He seems to me to ‘understand’ the purport of Mozartean drama as few other conductors do, and he imparts a unified sense of style. Just think of the way his singers agree to abandon their individual personalities and sing in a way similar to a string quartet (i.e. the Ideomeno quartet, or the cadenza in the Giovanni sextet), so that we may clearly hear the harmony and individual lines. Tempi are almost always sensible, dramatic impetus to the fore, text all-important. No, these for me are ur-recordings, whose importance is outmost.
      The Idomeneo, Clemenza and Giovanni are the standouts but the Figaro works perfectly as music theatre, and is much more funny than most other productions I’ve seen.

      • armerjacquino

        The ‘infuriating’ Jacobs recordings?

        I’m not sure I could love anyone who didn’t love the Jacobs Cosi.

        • Well, that Cosi is great, the Nozze has goood singing but it is a little noisy. The Giovanni needed a better cast and the Idomeneo, inspite of the presence of Richard Croft is a little messy and over all disappointing.

        • The Jacobs Cosi is immensely interesting, one of the best studio versions available IMHO, so a caveat for that one. But Figaro? Oh no, no no. Tampering with tempi for “expressivity” ‘s sake. Bah. Act one has absolutely no momentum. There’s no build-up. The splendid trio is a sham, Jacobs speeding up proceedings after the accompagnato, thereby ruining Mozart’s perfect comic timing. Ciofi is a frowning Susanna most of the time. Where’s the sensuality there? Where’s the fun of it, the humanity. Contrast with Gardiner’s perfect, slightly moderato tempo for the trio. Listen to the beautiful denouement in the second finale, where with a slightly slower tempo Gardiner achieves a unique sense of release and fulfillment.

          Jacobs seems to get worse, more willful and arbitary with every new Mozart installment. I cringe in fear for his imminent Zauberfloete. The Clemenza tears Non piu di fiori to tatters, with “meaningful” ritards and tempo manglings, and way too much decoration -- it misses the essential purity and simplicity of Mozart’s 1791 style -- the clarinet concerto, Zauberfloete and this.
          The Idomeneo has a subpar Ilia, perky and strident, and the direction is surprisingly lacking in bite. Contrast with Harnoncourt and Gardiner, both superb, although very different. The Giovanni has some really infuriating tempo changes, a terribly mangled introduzione (where following the basic allegro tempo, taken from the overture, is surely the right thing to do, both musically and dramatically) with, again, “meaningful” fermate. Ugh. So disappointing.

      • I love Gardiner’s Don Giovanni. I think the cast is quite fine but for me, the recording is greater than the sum its cast’s contributions, and I attribute that to Gardiner and the sound of the opera on period instruments.

        • armerjacquino

          I think I’m the only person I know who adores the Harnoncourt Don Giovanni. A modern band playing in a period style is a kind of best-of-both-worlds for me (others may differ…) and it’s a really terrific cast. Roberta Alexander is the standout, but Gruberova was always an interesting Anna, and then you have Bonney, Blochwitz, Hampson, and Polgar. Casting from strength.

          The Marriner is another all but forgotten recording, and would be another recommendation were it not for Sharon Sweet.

        • I have the Harnoncourt Giovanni and the cast is really interesting, though for me Hampson’s Italian is unconvincing, overstressed and beatified. There are some very interesting things, direction-wise, I especially like the way Harnoncourts makes the eighth notes in the violin at “ah tempo piu non v’e” sound like an hourglass ticking away. The Concertgebouw play beautifully, the recording is crisp and clear, Gruberova has never sounded better, though I miss some “meat” in the sound (not a question of volume). Alexander is Very, very interesting and Polgar is a natural. But it is a Don Giovanni of ideas, instead of fire-and-brimstone. This is not a Giovanni for the theatre. Harnoncourt’s direction works much better for me in his Zurich DVD, despite a godawful Anna.

        • LittleMasterMiles

          “…like and hourglass ticking away…”

          I believe some ne’er-do-well has planted a bomb in your hourglass.

        • Well, you know what I mean. :)

      • luvtennis

        CF:

        I have two basic problems with Gardiner’s Mozart:

        1) Stylistic Limitations. Gardiner absolutely fails to bring out the warmth and beauty that has kept this music alive for more than 200 years. Jacobs, for all his weirdness, at least occasionally captures the sensuousness of this music. The humanity of it. Let’s be CRYSTAL CLEAR -- Mozart did not survive for 200 years because of “historically accurate” performance practices. Mozart comes down to us through the filter of great singers and conductors who brought their own style to performance of the music.

        2)Casting Limitations. In 1990-93, no better singer existed for Donna Anna, and COnstanze than Luba O. No complaints for Terfel or Sanford Olsen either. But FAR too many of Gardiner’s singers strike me as unfinished and amateurish. Whoever thought Roocroft’s Fiordiligi deserved anything other than anonymity should be fired posthaste.

        • Harry

          When I was young , choosing to buy a version of an opera, I may have agonized about ‘which one’ for a year. Today, gee, instead for example, I must have about 16 Don Giovanni’s. So what matters whether this or that singer is not so good as….in another version ‘Who cares’? I have too many to bother worrying whether ‘so & so’ is doing Donna Anna on this one but Donna Elvira on that one. Otherwise it becomes so much O.C.D Mozart navel gazing.

        • I agree that Gardiner’s Mozart is short on humanity, and for that reason I have Busch, Fricsay, Gui, Giulini, and the classic Kleiber Figaro. But Gardiner is a theatre man and he knows what “works”, plus he has a very acute ear for the Mozartean sonorities. I really fail to feel the lack of sensuousness you’re talking about. I think of the woodwind in his Entfuhrung and Cosi, of the way he makes me realize that in fact Vitellia’s non piu is a chamber piece, of the way he somehow manages to make the orchestra sound so “different” at Elvira’s entrance aria. He makes me aware, more than any other conductor, of the fact that, after the overture, Elvira’s Ah chi mi dice is the first time we hear clarinets in the opera, always a postsign in Mozart. I have never heard beforehand the “night music” in Giovanni’s Meta di voi, crickets and all, really a foreunner for the Tristan prelude to act 2. He always makes me sit up and admire the music afresh. It always seems as if his players have their own libretti. In that way he is similar, IMHO to Toscanini in Verdi, Furtwaengler in Wagner.

          Regarding casting choices, I agree there are problems. He has his “rost” of singers, not true stars but people who are able to give more of their time, again like Toscanini. So it doesn’t sound like everybody flew in to do their bit, rather like a lived-in ensemble. For me, this is the overriding rule in Mozart. But there are some great performances: Varady’s Vitellia (somehow more fresh and “telling” than for Bohm, happily joining the ensemble instead of distancing herself), Orgonasova’s Anna and Konstanze, Margiono’s infinitely humane and warm Elvira (such a beautifully slow, luscious, humane tempo for Mi tradi!), Olsen’s Belmonte, Terfel’s Figaro, Hagley’s Susanna, Gilfrey’s Conte, and finally, Oelze’s Pamina.
          There are compromises, but there is also beautiful ensemble work. I agree the Cosi is a relative blot, the girls especially mismatched and undercast, but for that I have the great Kujiken Cosi with Isokoski and Groop.

          I don’t hear that Gardiner pays more than lip-service to period practice, besides having the instruments or replicas of them. His Figaro undoubtedly owes a lot to Busch, Gui and above all Kleiber, he has undoubtedly heard plenty of Giulini’s Giovanni before attempting the European tour and recording it, and his Zauberflote has the Fricsay spirit hovering above it. Yes, these are autocratic interpretations, with little individuality allowed. But I think Mozart, being first and foremost an ensemble composer, and working through the acts towards the finales (culminating in 30-minute monsters in Zauberflote), asks and merits this kind of treatment. This, at least, is what I am looking for in a Mozart performance: a cohesive, unified, symphonic-dramatic view. This is what I get in a Gardiner performance, and for that I am grateful.

        • luvtennis

          CF:

          We must be listening to 2 different conductors. I hear don’t hear anything in Gardiner’s Mozart much beyond a second rate conductor desperate to justify the position bestowed upon him by his record company and agent.

          Gardiner is a minor figure whose current public stature is largely a creation of his agent.

          Didn’t you know that?

        • armerjacquino

          ‘Didn’t you know that?’ is always a dangerous question to append to a statement of opinion.

        • Margiono’s infinitely humane and warm Elvira (such a beautifully slow, luscious, humane tempo for Mi tradi!)

          Ja, ja!!

        • No I didn’t know that, and thanks so much for pointing it out to me! Now I’ll have to re-apparaise my Gardiner discography and get rid of some 120 titles. Not only the pathetic studio efforts, like Messager’s fortunio, the Mozart Mass in C minor, the Handel Agrippina, the Beethoven G Major concerto, the Mass in C Major and Ah! Perfido, the Philharmonia Planets and the LSO Rake’s Progress, but also many live recordings, no doubt spliced and remixed ad nauseam, like the Mozart operas, the Monteverdi Poppea and Vespro from Sammarco, let alone the Bach Pilgrimage recordings, no doubt sponsored adn marketed by Universal. and Gardiner’s immense array of publicity army. And also some totally uneccessary DVDs, which, after your constructive critism, now look dismal and redundant on my shelf, such as the Chatelet Troyens, no doubt also spliced and edited from countless performances to achieve a bearable standard, because as experienced live in the theatre it was a sham. Or again the Barcelona Mozart concert.

          Thanks, now I have it all straightened out in a reasonable way.

        • luvtennis

          CF:

          You are so welcome. Doesn’t it hurt to be soooo in the dark about something ;-)

          Seriously, though, I actually love Gardiner’s Beethoven Symphonies and Verdi Requiem, but I do not consider him a great conductor. He has a strong rythmic sense that gives his work a propulsive force that works well in some music, but he has little sense of color, or depth, and some of his recordings of standard rep have been awful (his Berlioz is horrific in my estimation).

          As for Mozart, NO.

          Even a rigid authoritarian like Muti finds more color and warmth in the operas.

          As for Charlotte Margiono, you should know that I started a “Charlotte Margiono Blows the Big One” website during her heyday as Harnoncourt’s singing whore.

          Wow, I have to stop drinking martinis at lunch. They make me aggressive.

        • luvtennis

          Or should it have been “the Small One?”

          Anyone ever gotten close enough to old Nicky to know?

        • I don’t find Margiono’s sound very appealing but her Elvira is passionate and exciting. And the “Mi tradi” is special.

        • http?://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVQn82VOzqA

        • Bah

        • Buster

          CerquettiFarrell -- every time I see this clip, I regret having missed Charlotte Margiono in the Gardiner Don Giovanni. I only got to hear her Donna Elvira in the fascinating Jossi Wieler/Sergio Morabito Don Giovanni -- and luckily she was still very good, but not as good as in your clip:

  • Tamerlano

    Harry, I agree to a certain extent. Battle was one of my first “divas” along with Te Kanawa and Callas. As a 12 year old opera princess, Battle’s looks, easy to listen to voice, and pretty frocks were what I loved. I thought she was the “shit”, so to speak.
    Being a soubrette is a tough lot though. She was never going to be a Gilda (like Grist was) or a Manon, or a Mimi…the voice was pretty, small and girlish, nothing more. I think that is why all the strange cooing and boccal manipulations starting happening…a sort of desperate attempt to make something out of nothing, really. It’s like trying to turn cotton candy into filet mignon…ain’t gonna work.
    Still, in her prime, there was a simple innate musicality and personal charisma that took her far. She was never a musical intellect. Still, listening to that very early clip of her singing Handel, I can’t help but notice how absolutely simple and beautiful it is. Also notice how much better the voice was put together then, with a remarkably easy dip into a surprisingly rich lower register. I get the feeling that, with singing so much high rep, she basically burnt the lower register out.
    A polarizing figure, indeed, but whenever I need to remind myself why I liked Battle, I go to the opening phrases of “Chiedi a l’aura lusinghiera” from “L’elesir”…

  • Bill

    CerquettiFarrell -- Hagley seems to be a splendid
    Susanna -- I have never seen her.

    I would agree that Seefried was a Zwischenfach though she began more or less as a high soprano (Nanetta,
    Agathe, Marenka, Michaela, Butterfly, Marzelline, even Donna Anna under Karajan -- but then also Hansell, Iphigenia), -- even in the earliest recordings from 1943 Seefried had a very enviable middle register and no problems with the low notes as Fiordiligi. Later, after childbirth, the high C’s hardened somewhat and even later were no pleasure though she sings the higher soprano notes as Mignon recorded as late as 1965 or so. That is why she was so successful as the Composer or Octavian, later Poppea or Dido and eventually in a role such as Judith in Bluebeard’s castle. Karajan had planned a Carmen with Seefried in the title role for 1965 but he left the Staatsoper in mid 1964 and the new production never took place. In 1966 it was replanned but under Maazel with Ludwig and di Stefano who was ultimately replaced by King (and he exquisite Pilou sang Michaela)

    Jurinac also had a wonderfully vibrant middle voice which is why she was often cast as Dorabella or Cherubino or Octavian early on -- she also considered taking on Carmen but it did not happen.. De los Angeles was another soprano of this ilk and her recorded Carmen remains my favorite -- she was a radiant Melisande. All three had sumptious middle voices, no register breaks, avoided chest tones, (or did not need to apply them to get into the depths) and had long careers. As their voices deepened, they omitted roles which were no longer suitable. So maybe Storace’s voice was also of a similar coloring, a soprano timbre with a gorgeous middle voice and an enviable lower register. Would not Crespin (with a larger voice) fall into this category? Maybe Norman. I do not know who today has this special vocal coloring, though some current Mezzos such as Garanca may come close.

  • There is an adjective in Italian that for me summarizes Kathleen Battle: leziosa. Mawkish, insincere. Another one: stucchevole.

  • Bill

    Re Seefried -- It is so -- After the birth of her second daughter (the actress Monica Seefried) in 1957, her second Caesarian, Seefried’s voice lost some of its freshness and luster (many said she performed too late in the pregnancy and too soon after the birth) and in 1958 she already experienced some vocal difficulties and thereafter one noticed continued vocal deterioration and she was forced to relinquish some of her best roles from that time. It may also have been that her technique was not as well formed when she was engaged by Karajan at the age of 19 -- plus in those days some of the singers were forced to sing major roles on consecutive nights (which rarely happens these days). That said, Seefried’s 1969 Salzburg lieder recital on Orfeo is quite fine, and a tape I have of her last Octavian in Vienna (with Jurinac as he Marschallin) )in 1970 , though not in the best sound, finds Seefried in better and fresher voice than her 1958 DGG studio recording of the role. Her long career was carried in its later stages more by her intelligence, musicianship, interpretive ability and artistry (plus her charm in recitals) than by sheer vocal means. Karajan indicated in an interview with Richard Osborne circa 1989 just after Seefried’s death that “Seefried was one of the most gifted singers I ever worked with.”

    A new CD has just come out in Europe with some of
    Seefried’s early renditions (mostly in German) of
    Mimi, Michaela, Suor Angelica, etc. plus extracts from a 1944 Verdi Requiem and 4 Strauss songs with the Boston Symphony in 1954. Another new CD offers
    some Handel from 1943 and 22 lieder of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch from 1951. Still another CD on Orfeo offers a full range of previously unreleased lieder from 1944-52 and one can now also find her 1960 Verkaufte Braut and her 1960 Wildschuetz from the Staatsoper also on Orfeo.

  • I AM Irmgard Seefried. Nuff said.
    Her desert island recording for me is Vado, ma dove from 1950 with Harry Blech. Perfect 4 minutes, and nobody sings it like her.
    Am I the only person to think that, as two zwischenfachs, Seefried and VDLA have similar timbres?
    Crespin and Norman were more of a Falcon, a 19th century dramatized version of the 18th zwischenfach.

  • Bill

    CerguettiFarrell -- No you are not the only one thinking Seefried and Victoria de los Angeles have
    similar timbres -- I noticed this in the early
    1950s and still feel that way about them. And both had marvelous personal charm and great warmth and naturalness in recital.
    Indeed sometimes when I listen to the later Seefried and Janet Baker I find similarities between the two of them as well, in timbre.