Cher Public

  • antikitschychick: correction: she did take a break after the first aria and the orchestra played the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana.... 9:16 PM
  • m. croche: Heartwarming news: Meredith Monk, composer of the opera “Atlas” ;, dancer, choreographer, composer, and filmmaker,... 8:59 PM
  • antikitschychick: hey Camille, sorry for the late reply; had a long day lol. I was planning on renting binoculars since it’s only 5... 8:32 PM
  • Quanto Painy Fakor: This is a treat to run in the background http://mariinsky.t v/n/ 7:38 PM
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  • moritz: Camille, the article states: “Three North American critics abstained from voting on the basis they felt that had not seen... 6:38 PM
  • Camille: An even more surprising list, not a U.S. paper in the bunch, neither is MB on the list. Danke, moritz! 6:04 PM
  • chicagoing: Thanks to you and all who replied. There is a single center box seat available which I was considering only because I am... 6:00 PM

The Quantification of the Diva: Part the Third

traviata_gheorghiuAnd now, cher public, let’s put today’s singers, the Contemporary Divas, under the microscope. How do they stack up?

Emotional Journey

Yes, there are (many) nights when she phones it in, but when Angela Gheorghiu decides to take the audience on an Emotional Journey, a queen could ask for no better tour guide.

Jay Caspian Kang: “From 6:42 on in this video, she really does morph into another being, someone who doesn’t quite follow the same laws of physics as the rest of us. Maybe a later version of these rankings could examine what exactly happens when the diva starts to get all incandescent and then starts fucking shit up? It’s like she just went up a level in Dungeons and Dragons.”


MD-STIMM-redAt any given time during a golden era there are perhaps four or five truly great voices; in our own less generously endowed epoch, Dolora Zajick reigns supreme as exemplar of Stimm.


MD-KUNST-yellowA generation’s definitive Kundry is by definition also its supreme practitioner of Kunst:  Waltraud Meier. (Note that in the course of this study we have observed the Kunstdiva in two somewhat different stages of her metamorphosis: standing immobile next to a grand piano, and crawling in a frenzy across a mirrored stage floor. The only immutable aspect of the Kunstdiva is her caftan.)

Iconic Moment

MD-ICON-DARK GREENJCK: “This should have been narrated by Scott Hamilton. It’s like watching Surya Bonaly do fifteen backflips in a row in Olympic competition, not giving a shit that the judges aren’t allowed to score them as legitimate jumps. On the last backflip, she catches a bit of an edge but holds…HOLDS! On! Also, 1:03 would’ve broken the scale for the pop divas hand gestures scale. Even Mariah would have run out of notes to point out!”

La Cieca replies, “Fan or no fan, you have to admit that Cecilia Bartoli has trademarked The Cenerentola Show. (La Cieca adores how the bootleg camera does its own merry jig in time to the diva’s “Sparkle, Neeley, sparkle!” body English.)

Cult Status

MD-CULT-ORANGEIt’s still a bit early in Joyce DiDonato‘s career to grant her full Cult Status, though this performance may well mark the turning point. She’s singing no differently (i.e., with uniform excellence) than she did before breaking her leg, but now she’s That Girl with Spunk.

Mr. Kang, who has delighted us so often at Free Darko, also may be heard tweeting at maxpower51.


  • luvtennis says:

    Just in case anyone cares, I can say that Zajick wins hands down in the Diva as cool homegirl contest. I had the great pleasure of spending a few hours gabbing with her and Susan Dunn after a performance at the Cincinnati May Festival. At that time, I had high hopes for Dunn!!!

    Anyway, Dunn had some really funny observations about the absurdity of the business, especially the recording side. (As well as some really choice observations about her then competition which cannot be repeated!)

    Dolora was just too cool. Down-to-earth, wise-cracking, insightful. I just loved her.

    • Big Q says:

      Dunn must have been dishing Millo, and I’d love to know what she said. For a few years they were THE contenders to be the next big Verdi soprano. Whatever vocal disaster happened to Dunn, you can’t hear it in the few YouTube clips of her. A tad placid, perhaps, but her beautiful and intelligently deployed voice won me over. And Zajick simply rocks. No surprise that she’s smart too.

  • NYCOQ says:

    OK I am just going to say it -- am I the only one who finds Radnovsky’s voice ugly? Yes, there is the technical assurity and she seems to be one of the only Verdi sopranos out there these days, but whenever I see hear her perform it’s like nails on a chalk board. Definitely no vocal “glamour”. Which may be the reason Gelb dissed her in the beginning until he realized he had no other Verdi soprano to put on stage. If anything she qualifies for cult status -- a singer with a medium-to-small, but rabid group of fans.

    • OpinionatedNeophyte says:

      The voice can be very metallic. But she also has the ability to sing with great warmth, but it is clearly a major struggle for her to do so. Here is excellent for her in terms of just trying to create a beautiful sound and she doesn’t always succeed. But its on average her best work, she’s trying! And that breath control is pretty damn astounding on an intellectual level.

      • This is very successfull. Intelligent, the voice sounds well integrated, every t is crossed text-wise. She has obvisouly listened to many recordings and worked hard on the style and she knows what to emulate and which mannerisms of other Toscas to leave behind. The top sounds pretty easy and well supported. But something is still missing which I can’t put my finger on. I have yet to hear her do a complete role.

        Here, for example, is what should have been a travesty, yet quite, quite glorious. Despite the fact that she sings vuuusuu dartooo and cosuuuu. But there is individual response and the voice, not used to this kind of rep, revels in the opportunity.

        • armerjacquino says:

          CF, just for fun…

        • What a peculiar sound that girl made!
          Thanks for this. I never knew it existed.
          Actually, there are some interesting things and she visibly responds to the passion. Something in the music helps to open up the bottled sound and the climax is quite thrilling. But whatever text she sings, only she knows. Ah well.
          Anyway, I think the Sutherland in on a different plane of achievement.

        • Harry says:

          What you would call a nice performance fit for a concert, with a perfunctory Scarpia lurking in the background. But where is there signs of emotion and stress, the doubt , all that ‘inner personal questioning and dismay’ by Tosca at that point of the opera -- which, that aria is all about? Nowhere to be seen!

        • luvtennis says:


          Interesting how we respond differently to languages. Frankly, I will occasionally notice a performers use of words, but for the most part it is not a big issue for me.

          I have always found the “words” in opera to be the most disposable part of the artform. After all they were written by hacks, for the most part. Da Ponte, Hoffmanstahl (sp?) and Boito are a case a part for me.

          And remember, most of the operas that we love today achieved their fame in performances in the local vernacular. Local audiences didn’t care one bit that Verdi was performed in English or German. The powers that be ultimately put the kibosh on that, but it reminds me that words and language have often been the poor stepchildren of the art-form. And usually for good reason.

          I guess I relate to the human voice primarily as the first and still greatest MUSICAL instrument.

        • rommie says:

          she is missing the fire under her ass. i remember making my friend listen to a bootleg of her trovatore and he said she needs to loosen up a little…and speed up her tempi!

        • Liana says:

          But according to this reasoning, the singer could in fact sing anything; since it’s not important. Plus, if we dispose of the words, opera will not be opera anymore. And isn’t it an important part of the artistry, to interpret the text properly, to render the feelings, the drama etc, to stress what should be stressed? As for languages, I’d say the language does matter, since each one has its own melody, and the music was written in accordance with it; it’s why I hate operas in translation. They always give me a strong impression of dissonance between the words and the music. Plus, for many composers words were important, and very much so.After all, Boito was very faithful to Shalespeare in Otello, and for modern composers, like Britten, the libretto was nearly as important as the music itself.

        • marshiemarkII says:

          LuvT, you think Wagner’s words don’t mean anything? The glorious play with words that he makes in the Liebesnacht, as one of probably thousands of examples one could bring, or the words to the final scene of Siegfried (Lachende Tod), or the Heiliger Goetter Himmlisches Lenker sequence in Act II of Goeterdaemmerung, or the erschaute eure ewige schuld, meine klage hoert du herherstes Gott imprecation in the Immolation, that IS what opera is really, and no singer that doesn’t pay attention to that could be called a great singer.

        • CruzSF says:

          The language matters to me, too. Even if some (many?) of the librettists were “hacks” (I’m not sure I agree with luvt’s characterization), the composers wrote the music to match the words they were given (or in Verdi’s case, the words upon which he insisted). As Liana points out, languages have their own rhythms and musicality, and translations often can’t duplicate them.

        • richard says:

          Perhaps the single biggest difference between the human voice and all the other musical instruments that play in the orchestra is that the human voice can use language as a component of it’s music making. And for me one of the great distinctions of opera singers (or even popular singers) is their ability to use language to add depth and color and expression to their singing. It’s an option the other instruments don’t have.

          I think the issue of original language vs vernacular is a different discussion.

        • mrmyster says:

          CerFar: I think you can put your finger on what is missing -- diction!
          I surely agree the voice is solid, and there is always lots of ‘room
          at the top,’ which I find a comfort, and she is even moderately
          expressive with facial muscles etc., but there is no love of words.
          It’s classic Sutherland — love of tone, musically sound, but what
          of the words? She does not love them, make them live — I keep
          having the feeling if only she’d open her mouth and make those
          Italian vowels sound ‘warm.’ It would help so much. Is that Tito
          Gobbi standing behind her? Golly!
          You know, Welitsch was a famous and celebrated Tosca — I
          actually heard her in the theatre and she was thrilling — but
          her diction was even worse than Sutherland’s, and you can
          hear it on her Vissi d’arte recording — mush! Yet, she was so
          crazy and took so many risks it did not matter. Here Miss
          Tea-Party Perfect needs to do something a little less lady
          like; maybe that’s another part of the equation that you miss.
          (I do too.)
          I wonder how J. S. is? Totally recovered from breaking both
          legs in her Swiss garden? I hope it did not compromise her
          on-going health. I want her to be happy and well.

      • armerjacquino says:

        I always think the argument about singing in the vernacular is overstated. There are so few houses which do it. It’s easily enough avoided.

        • Liana says:

          At this point, I can’t resist embedding this clip. How do you like the torrero’s aria in Polish :) ?

        • armerjacquino says:


          I’ve got a recording of ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ in Russian somewhere.

        • richard says:

          There was a guy who did a lot of work collecting opera recordings and putting them out in MP3 format on CDROMS. His name was Mike richter and he was really active on a lot of internet opera sites back in the 90s. Sadly his health is very fragile these days but I do have maybe 2 dozen of his releases.

          He would occasionally specialize in unusual themes. Interested in a whole slate of Delibes/Gounod/Verdi/Puccini/Rossini/Mozart sung by an amazing array of Soviet singers….but ALL IN RUSSIAN? This CDROM is beyond amazing. You haven’t heard anything if you’ve never heard Dolukhanova in Cenerantola or L’Italiana or Vishnevskaya in an incandescent Libera Me from Verdi’s Requiem. Or Kozlovsky as Lohengrin.
          23 complete operas for 9.99. I’m serious


          I have no connection other than a happy collector.

          Another favorite in this series in opera from the PAris Opera 1948-1976 containing a lot of historical material with a lot of French Opera sung very differently than we hear today

          I have some other titles such as a three CDROM set of opera from the San francisco Opera that Mike had to pull because of a tussle with the lawyers from SFO.

        • armerjacquino says:

          Plus I don’t mind opera in translation if it means I get to hear singing as exquisite as this:

        • armerjacquino says:

          Richard- that’s where my Russian Nozze comes from. I’m a bit of a Vishnevskaya nut. I have the Munich collection as well.

        • MontyNostry says:

          Ooh dear, too Schwarzkopf meets Seefried for me, I’m afraid.

        • luvtennis says:

          Not trying to be a parade wetter, but have you actually read up on the performance history of virtually every Italian opera written in the 18th and 19th century?

          I really don’t see how anyone familiar with that history can argue that the words were all that important. At most they were vehicles for the notes and melodies being sung. Not always the case, but very often so. Wagner and late Verdi were certainly special cases, but even their works were often performed in whatever language would bring out the most butts.

          Much of the obsession with the words is a very recent phenomenon. I think. Otherwise, how on earth could Melba have been an Empress of the Golden Age? ;-)

        • BETSY_ANN_BOBOLINK says:

          . . . not to mention the “Compare-and-Contrast” session with five or six different performances of Mozart and Salieri. A topic guaranteed to get you seated at all the right tables.

          Since this is likely to appear almost anywhere, I intend it to be part of the Mike Richter tribunal convened somewhere above.

        • CruzSF says:

          Well, luvt, you got me. I’ve only read “Divas & Scholars,” and it mostly covered Rossini & Verdi, plus Donizetti & Bellini. My memory is that Rossini and Verdi WERE interested in the words, and that Verdi was against translation of his works in some cases. But other than that, I think you must be more widely-read than I.

        • manou says:

          A warm welcome back to our very own Divissima, La Bobolink, making a much awaited return with one of her gnomic pronouncements.

        • Indiana Loiterer III says:

          I really don’t see how anyone familiar with that history can argue that the words were all that important. At most they were vehicles for the notes and melodies being sung. Not always the case, but very often so. Wagner and late Verdi were certainly special cases, but even their works were often performed in whatever language would bring out the most butts.

          There’s major confusion here. On the one hand, you claim that words aren’t important; a great singer can presumably sing vocalise without detracting from an operatic performance. On the other hand, you acknowledge that words got translated into local languages until recently; which might suggest that audiences were concerned enough with the words that they wanted to know what was going on. This would seem to suggest that words were dramatically important enough to translate.

          “Caring about the words” doesn’t necessarily mean caring about the phonetics of the original language. It does mean caring about the dramatic significance & impact of the words being sung, especially when the composer has taken care that they will be understood in whatever language they’re being sung in. (n that respect, I prefer the term “declamation” tot the term “diction”. Diction is what secretaries do; declamation is what actresses do.

        • BETSY_ANN_BOBOLINK says:

          Ta, Manou, but I wasn’t really gone; just reduced to “Read Only” status for a few days. Got a question for you, as a bi-lingual. The translation of the recent ENO Faust has been shredded as archaic and risible. Is the original French that much more palatable to listen to? “Salut, demeure chaste et pure” strikes me as being rather oompy-poompy.

        • BETSY_ANN_BOBOLINK says:

          Liana, just from the sound of the language, I find it distinctly more martial, less suave by comparison. Of course, the real question is “How do you like it?”

        • marshiemarkII says:

          Liana I just can’t resist, you once claimed to be a spanish speaker, so you should know it is toRero, no double rr there, or the more common usage for the name of the opera aria, toReador [song]. Both mean roughly the same, as you surely know, bullfighter :-) welcome back!

        • Liana says:

          Thank you, mmII. But I never claimed to be a Spanish speaker, since my knowledge of Spanish doesn’t go beyond Buenos Dias and gracias. Therefore,I feel entitled to spelling mistakes :) . BAB, I agree with you; for me, too, it’s much more belligerent than the French version. I definitely prefer the original, though; Carmen in Polish is downright weird, and doesn’t go very well with the music, IMHO.

        • Ruxton says:

          mrmyster- la Joan is still far from well at this time. She gets up for a short time each day but soon returns to bed. She has been through a very torrid time and we can but wish her well.

      • stevey says:

        I love that ‘Vissi d’arte’…. try this out. Equally gorgeous, and for me as sad and poignant as this aria should be

    • brooklynpunk says:

      NO…you are not THE ONLY ONE…..!!

      ..OTHER then in the VERY begining of her Stage career…I have yet to real understand the praise Ms. R receives , from many people whose opinions I respect…

    • Feldmarschallin says:

      no I find her voice ugly as well. She reminds me of late Plowright actually sometimes. Late Plowright.

      • MontyNostry says:

        But Plowright never really had comfortable top notes. (I think she was always really a high mezzo, personally — an Eboli and Amneris, rather than an Elisabetta and Aida.) Sondra can blast ‘em out.

        • richard says:

          Thank you. I always thought that Plowright’s top notes were “on loan” and not really free sounding at all. I first heard her on a video Mary Stuart with Dame Granite and thought that Plowright sounded very foggy while honking out her top notes.

          And I bought her video Suor Angelica only to be really disappointed, the top wasn’t free at all, she took all the lower options, cutting all the high Cs and even some Bs, while sounding very dark in color.

          But I’ve heard many comments that mention how really spectacular her top was, with references
          to really high top notes, like E’s and Eflats.
          It seemed like I was a party to a big disconnect. It’s good to know someone else was hearing what I was hearing.

          I’ve heard a rumor (I think from Parterre’s Impossible Disks) that a studio Traviata was recorded with RP but never released because of Act 1 “problems”

        • armerjacquino says:

          A Plowright Sempre Libera doesn’t sound like much fun. I do think her Leonora for Giulini is very fine, though.

        • MontyNostry says:

          Plowright did do sessions for a Traviata with Giulini, but ‘Sempre libera’ turned into a Frankenstein job because of all the splicing that had to be done and the recording was never completed, I believe. She and Giulini had the same very manipulative PR person at the time who had all sorts of stuff going on with the DG’s then head of A&R … Plowright certainly had impressive vocal material, but she was somehow never at ease as a singer. She did an impressive Principessa di Bouillon opposite Miricioiu in concert a couple of years ago, but she still looked somehow uncomfortable with the process of singing and being on stage.

        • Harry says:

          And who can forget Plowright’s soprano contributions in DG’s Forza del Destino. If only….???!!! It should have never seen the light of day. England’s reat ‘soprano’ hope for while it lasted. or should I say blasted.

        • At least she had the dark, mysterious grandezza that I associate with the best interpreters of the role, and sang a very musical and moving duet with Padre Guardiano (IMHO one of Verdi’s most inspiring moments) Which is much, much more than you can say of Mirella Freni, who recorded it around the same time and did a nasty job. However, Plowright is best remembered for her ENO Desdemona and Elisabeth I and her Verona Leonora.

  • Harry says:

    Just the first few strains of Janowitz’s ‘tubular vocal delivery’ in something like Puccini with that clip, put my teeth on edge. The vocal production is just blatantly wrong. At the same time I can see why she was successful as Strauss’ Ariadne.

  • Salomanda says:

    I enjoy Janowitz’s Lieder recordings, and stuff from Der Freischutz (one of my top 5 all time favorite operas) and Oberon, but I can’t really deal with her in any other rep.

    Somewhere in my house is a recording of her doing VLL with Celibidache conducting, and I don’t recall what happened but either she or he got waaaay off track, resulting in a mess.

    Not a huge fan, but I don’t hate her either.

    • peter says:

      Janowitz’s recording of the 4 Last Songs with Herbie the K is quite beautiful. No train wrecks but a very ethereal other worldly sound. She did other worldly very well. It’s an acquired taste but for pure beauty of tone she did some stunning singing. It’s damn silly to listen to her Puccini unless you want to hear everything she sang.

      Another singer who reminded me of her but with a lot more excitement in the voice was Mechtild Gessendorf.

      • armerjacquino says:

        I’m not going to make any great claims for that Vissi d’Arte, peter. I’m well aware that it’s just a curiosity, despite some beautiful singing (Stich-Randall’s is even more so; she sings it as if it were Bach).

        Don’t write off Janowitz in Puccini altogether though. She’s a damn good Mimi in a Vienna concert version with Cossutta, Rothenberger and Panerai. Interestingly, I’ve played it blind to several friends and asked who the singer might be and the usual guess is early Scotto (!)

        • peter says:

          I’ll have to listen to that sometime. Janowitz also sings very beautifully in that Don Carlos with Corelli.

        • armerjacquino says:

          She’s a lovely Boccanegra Amelia, too, although I rarely listen to that recording as I’m allergic to Eberhard Waechter.

          I wonder if anyone ever recorded any of her stage appearances as Aida? I’d be very curious to hear one. Temperamentally all wrong (which never stopped Margaret Price) but bits of O Patria Mia, ‘La, tra foreste vergini’ and the tomb scene would be very gorgeous, I think.

      • marshiemarkII says:

        The Janowitz recording of the VLL is simply THE most gorgeous of them all, and yes I do know and like Della Casa (with Dr Karl The Great of course) and the divine Flagstad, but Janowitz is sublime in a way only she can be in that music. Anna Tomowa-Sintow is a very close second, her more metallic timbre exciting like hell. Karajan called her the most perfect voice. But still for sheer ethereal beauty only Janowitz! I love her sound, so I also like her in Italian but I grant that that is more of an acquired taste and wouldn’t want to argue too fine the point.

        • armerjacquino says:

          I agree about the VLL, although I also love Della Casa and Mattila in that piece. I heard a MIRELLA FRENI(!) VLL the other day.

        • MontyNostry says:

          I believe there’s a Grace Bumbry VLL somewhere. Much as I love La Bumberina in the right repertoire, that doesn’t really bear thinking about.

        • armerjacquino says:

          You never know. She studied with Lehmann, remember, and recorded some lovely Schubert.

        • MontyNostry says:

          Grace is fab in certain lieder (her late-period Wigmore recitals had some truly glorious moments), but I imagine there were some dodgy gear changes and lunges at top notes in Fruehling and Beim Schafengehen.

          Particularly dear to my memory are live VLL by Margaret Price (Paris 1981) and Lucia Popp (London 1983). Christine Brewer (London 2004, I think) was rather wonderful too.

        • armerjacquino says:

          I’ve got thirty-odd recordings of the VLL but have only seen them live once…

          …with Maria Ewing.

        • MontyNostry says:

          In which case, armer, I can understand your preference for the safety of recorded versions.

        • Ah, the Karajan / Janowitz VLL. Yes, lovely sounds from the lady, but honestly, can you bear the tempi and the fact that between Karajan and the recording team, the various musical strands are mushed and it all sounds like something recorded in the bathtub? Ah, where are the triplets (later duplets) in flute+first violin playing flageolette, depicting Hesse’s falling leaves in September? It’s all mushed up here. And where’s the humanity?
          My desert island VLL are Jurinac / Busch, Popp / Tennstedt, Isokoski / Janowski and Tomowa-Sintow / Karajan. The autumnal Karajan is infinitely better here than previously with Janowitz, and for those who have quirks with ATS’s “slavic” vibrato, please remember that the composer himself preferred this kind of Slav timbre :

          On video the tie is between Popp / Solti, Isokoski / Oramo and Margiono / De Wart.

        • MontyNostry says:

          CF … As you know, I always have the greatest respect for you and your amazing knowledge, but Mesdames Cebotari (who was obviously very exciting) and Ursuleac (never quite sure about her, but she has something) were, of course, Romanian — which doesn’t make them Slav!

          As I’ve said on here before, it always interests me how many Romanian sopranos tend to share something in the timbre … Zeani, Cotrubas, Varady (I think officially Romanian rather Hungarian), Miricioiu, Gheorghiu — they all have a little ‘catch’ in the sound that links them.

        • Thanks so much, honestly, Monty. And you got me there. Well what I perceive as “Slav” quality is basically a wider vibrato, with greater ondulation (?) around the basic note. I instinctively and perhaps subjectively associate this kind of vibrato with Slavic singers. ATS is such a singer. Though I knew that both Ursuleac and Cebotari were Romanian, I remember the first time I’ve heard them and way very surpried by the wide vibrato, this in clear contradiction which the focussed sound which nowadays is considered to be an essantially “Straussian” voice -- i.e. Della Casa, Reining, Fleming, Janowitz.

      • marshiemarkII says:

        Peter where on earth did you ever hear Gessendorf sound like Janowitz???? Admittedly I have a single data point. It was a performance of the Fliegende Hollaender at the Met in 88 or 89. It was meant to be a new production for Marton (along with the NP of Salome) with revivals later for Behrens. Marton took a good look at the score and ran 1000 miles in the other direction, so they brought Mechthild Gessendorf for the prima. Behrens asked me to accompany her to one of the performances, so she could see the staging, in anticipation of her revival in 92, so we went. I was horrified at the vileness of the singing. Behrens was much more circumspect, but didn’t have much to say. I do not believe Gessendorf came back to the Met after that.

        • armerjacquino says:

          She surely did. I heard her as a glorious Marschallin on a Met broadcast in the early 90s. She was a lovely singer.

        • peter says:

          She sang the Marshallin, Sieglinde and maybe some other roles at the Met. It was sort of a reedy flute like sound, not that far a sound from Janowitz. Everyone hears things differently. I won’t go into what Behrens sounded like to me (although I did like her early on).

        • marshiemarkII says:

          All right fair enough, maybe Janowitz would not have sounded that wonderful herself had she essayed the Senta then :-)

          In fact, in Bach (and Handel) I think that Janowitz is the voice they play daily in heaven when God goes to Mass, really :-) , and in Mozart (the Contessa especially), and whatever she did of Strauss (Richard and the Johans). But I do not like her as Leonore in Fidelio. She does sound to me over parted an hence missing the ecstatic, sublime glory that is that music. So no one is perfect, right?

        • richard says:

          I liked Gessendorf also. She did have that same German tubular, rather instrumental sound that Janowitz has (although I thought Janowitz sounded a bit more metallic…loved Janowitz’s Elsa thought). I heard Gessendorf as the MArschallin and the Empress in Frau. the top notes were ok in Frau but not really stupendous.

          But they was some flaw in her technique, as the 90s unrolled, her top became a bit more unreliable, leading up to an Ariadne where she wouldn’t come out for a bow. From the descriptions I’ve heard of Gessendorf’s Ariadne, it sounded a bit like the sadly notorious recording of Helga Dernesch Ariadne for Scottish Opera. It’s really sad, I can’t call it horrible, but Dernesch simply couldn’t get into her top register at all.

        • peter says:

          I believe there are 2 Met broadcasts of Gessendorf’s Marshallin and interestingly enough she sounds better on the 2nd one. That may have been her role.

        • marshiemarkII says:

          yeah well if the Marschallin was her role then she didn’t have much business singing Senta, but a good Marie Therese should also have good high notes, though not necessarily dramatic edge. As I recall, Mme Gessendorf didn’t have any high notes, and she was dull dull dull.

  • lutennis --
    “Much of the obsession with the words is a very recent phenomenon. I think. Otherwise, how on earth could Melba have been an Empress of the Golden Age?”

    Re melba and text -- I’d never judge the aria recordings, especially not the 1904 ones. She was prone to sing operatic excerpts in studio like a singing machine.

    But try things closer to her heart -

    infinitely touching here

    Or Tosti’s Goodbye

    or the live farewell concert from Covent Garden.

    I have tried to find the infinitely moving Ave Maria from Otello from that same farewell concert, not available on youtube. The voice is a shade of what it once was, yet the emotion contained therein is almost unbearable, again all the more touching for being harnessed and only hinted at.

    Apart from that and regarding diction and pointing of text, I do not think it is a modern phenomenon at all. Rather the opposite, the art of enunciating crisply and clearly, the sublime art of declamation is almost entirely gone. The OBSESSION with text (along with, of course, seamless legato) is over.

    A few examples --

    German school :

    French school :

    Italian School :

    With English / Russian schools the situation is slightly better, in Russia because on behalf of the iron curtain, in England because they wisely maintain the tradition through solid choral training.

    In all these antique excerpts you can clearly and easily transcribe the text from the recordings, despite the cutting of higher frequencies which should interfere with the consonants. Of how many contemporary singers can you say that? Too few -- I think of maybe Terfel, Stemme, Bartoli, Leiferkus, Delunsch, very few. A thinker.

  • mrmyster says:

    I was surprised how “old fashioned” Lubin sounded in this Chopin
    arrangement — all that droopy portamento, even melisma! But,
    what a voice!

    • richard says:

      But early in the 20th century, portamento was much more commonly used than it is now.

      It’s fascinating to listen to Nordica singing the Immolation Scene from Gotterdammerung (if you can bear listening to the Maplesons) and hear all the portamento she used. I think Wagner singing sounded much different than it does today before Cosima “reformed” it in the early decades of the 20th Century.

    • Harry says:

      Agreed! Take Melchoir… I would argue if a singer wants a master class how to sing Wagner…go and listen to that Melchoir/Lehmann /Walter conducted Act 1 Walkure. It is desert island material.. Then even when he was elderly…. that clip in the Jane Powell film Luxury Liner where he does it again. Crystal clear perfect diction still, properly weighted and balanced. Nothing changed.

    • Harry says:

      Now I am sure to throw a tonal tool box full of spanners in the works. I have always been taken aback by Leonine Ryansek’s vocal histrionics. Her delivery always reminded me of someone tending to want to yowl and mote, if given the slightest chance. Like as if , she had just received ‘a good smack on the bum’. The roles she took on, suited her…in ‘that rather characterful ‘signaling emotional distress type of voice’ suggesting a commonality …. Senta , Sieglinde , Electra, Desdemona, Santuzza, Tosca, Strauss’ Empress, etc. there. Though I am not suggesting at the same time, her actual voice was under real physical distress.