The Quantification of the Diva: Part the First
We begin our Kang Method statistical analysis of That Which is Called Diva with a dozen Classic Divas: Hildegard Behrens, Montserrat Caballé, Régine Crespin, Mirella Freni, Marilyn Horne, Christa Ludwig, Jessye Norman, Leontyne Price, Leonie Rysanek, Renata Scotto, Joan Sutherland and Tatiana Troyanos, henceforth called by first name or nickname as applicable. Our first report will examine the five “major” qualities of diva.
The divas are compared according to scores assigned by La Cieca’s panel of experts, then we see an example of the quality discussed. (Please note that the diva featured in the video clip is not always the one achieving the highest score on that criterion.)
As John Yohalem is reputed to have written at least once, “Saying Leonie sang sharp tonight is like saying Leonie sang Strauss tonight.” Imperfect in practically every way a singer can be imperfect, and yet an artist of overwhelming visceral power, Leonie Rysanek is the exemplar of the Emotional Journey.
Oh, yes, they had voices then, no doubt about that, but as a paragon of sheer vocal glamour, Miss Price won unanimous laurels from the panel. Note in particular at 5:30 how she not only sits on but walks on that coruscant and interpolated high D-flat!
Though Christa Ludwig is infinitely less mannered than certain divas whose names are generally snarled through clenched teeth (and whose singing was generally snarled through clenched teeth, come to think of it), our scientist/opera neophyte Jay Caspian Kang is fascinated by the “odd, cyborg-ish quality to her emoting.” He adds, “Her face is so big and Muppet-y that any nuance will be amplified, clearly mapped out…. For a pop comparison, Mariah Carey has a Muppet face, but doesn’t utilize it properly. Celine’s wish in life has always been to have a Muppet face, but the God of Canada left out broad cheekbones on that one. It does seem, though, in Opera, where the face must be taken in from afar, this Muppet face would be even more vital to conveying nuance to the entirety of the audience.”
The iconic moment is (not to put too morbid a spin on it) the bit that will get played at the memorial service and on the CNN special report “The Passing of a Diva: America Remembers.” And this is exactly how we will remember our Jackie: five minutes of killer Rossini, followed by a nice relaxed kibitz with Johnny Carson and Shecky Green.
(Jay adds: “That dress… it’s like UPS designed a thong for their carriers, scaled it for a 200 foot giant, cut a hole in the center and then dropped it over Marilyn Horne’s head. How does one sound so confident while wearing that?” La Cieca guesses, “Maybe she was planning a brunch on her own behalf?”)
Lately Renée Fleming has taken to calling herself “The People’s Diva,” or perhaps it is more accurate to say that Fleming’s publicist has been calling her that, and Fleming hasn’t bothered to object yet. But the point is: anyone can worship “The People’s Diva,” it’s like going out on a limb and saying your favorite breakfast is French toast. The mark of a true opera queen is finding and adoring someone who either drives her fans bats by not showing up for performances (yes, I am talking about you, Montse) or else is simply a little more out of the mainstream. Tatiana Troyanos had everything a diva could want (including great hair) but among the most sumptuous of her gifts was her Cult Appeal.
Be sure to join us tomorrow for part two of “The Quantification of the Diva,” in which we’ll find out if Grandezza and Drag Imitability are mutually exclusive.