Cher Public

The Quantification of the Diva: Upon Reflection

Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who are the greatest divas (Classic and Contemporary) of them all?”

And the mirror replied, “I’ll tell you right after the jump!”

What a week it’s been, cher public, and La Cieca (speaking on behalf of herself and Jay Caspian Kang) only hopes you’ve been enlightened by our little étude as much as we have found pleasure in bringing a little joy into your humdrum lives.

The scores have been tallied, and all that is left is to view the bubble graphs.


So, now that everything is settled, La Cieca is ready to entertain questions or to…. what’s that? You say the bubble graphs are less than clear in delineating a winner or winners? Oh, well, you’re right, of course, but aren’t all those colorful little bubbles lovely? How they remind La Cieca of the poster for the 1971 revival of No, No, Nanette!

Dear Loni Zoe Ackerman—whatever is she doing with herself these days? ….Oh, yes, of course: the diva rankings!


1Leontyne Price830
(tie) 2Montserrat Caballé825
(tie) 2Renata Scotto825
4Leonie Rysanek820
5Jessye Norman800
6Régine Crespin770
7Tatiana Troyanos725
8Joan Sutherland710
9Christa Ludwig640
10Marilyn Horne580
11Hildegard Behrens520
12Mirella Freni495


1Edita Gruberova725
2Angela Gheorghiu705
3Anna Netrebko690
4Karita Mattila680
5Renée Fleming675
6Cecilia Bartoli605
7Waltraud Meier590
8Dolora Zajick530
9Joyce DiDonato520
10Natalie Dessay480

So, what have we learned, cher public?

Well, to begin with: it’s easier to be an older diva than a younger diva. Age adds to the “legendary” quality.

Retirement from the hurly-burly of the operatic stage perhaps adds a luster of soft focus to a diva, glossing over flaws that may have been more apparent when witnessed in real time.

Emotional Journey counts for a lot. Kunst and Stimm are about equally important, but you’d better have a lot of one or the other, or you’re no diva.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t be stingy with the Scandale!

La Cieca now invites the cher public to discuss the rankings, about which she is sure you will all be in complete agreement.

(Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera)

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

  • La Valkyrietta

    It is difficult to decide on a diva. Divas definitely divide devotees. Danke for the diversion.

  • parpignol

    I believe in Gruberova as a great diva, but want to note how sad it is that we so rarely get to hear her in the US; I last heard her sing in Puritani in New York twenty years ago. . . has she sung more in Chicago or San Francisco? and is it her decision to remain mostly in Europe?

    • CruzSF

      I’m shocked to find no mention of her in the SF Opera archives.

    • richard

      I had a ticket to hear her in Puritani also but she cut the run short and cancelled the last few performances.

      She appeared sporadically at the Met, first a few QotN performances, then a run of Ariadnes. Then nothing for about ten years. She returned for Lucia, then Traviata
      (Carlos Kleiber was the conductor but he cancelled a few performances and Madame was not pleased.
      Finally a truncated run of Puritani.

      There were reports she would appear in the Met’s Semiramide production but that never happened.

      That was all in NYC but she did appear on a MEt tour of Japan as Zerbinetta in the mid 90s.

      I was never a huge fan; I liked her in the Mozart virtuoso rep (QotN, Abduction, the almost impossibel to sing concert arias) but liked her much less in bel canto and Verdi.

      She has a typical Eastern European type vocal production, there is a reliance on squeezing out notes rather than a smooth flow in a classic legato fashion. She also tended to scoop and betwwen the squeezing and the scooping, this introduced all kinds of extra harmonics, it was sometimes a delayed reaction to finally determine which pitch she was actually singing.

      She didn’t do this all the time but enough for it to register as a mannerism.

      But I think she concedes ownership of Zerbinetta to no one. Both singing and acting she was just superb.
      she sang the part brilliantly. The three really excellent Zerbinettas I’ve heard were Grist, Grubbi, and Dessay but Guberova was my clear favorite.

      One detail that was just so brilliant about her stage business was in the little section after the big aria. It morph’s into the commedia del arte section but before that Zerbinetta has a series of staccati.
      Gruberova sang the staccatti while making a poking motion in the air timed to each note. It appeared that Zerbinetta had a bunch of balloons and popped each one to coincide with the notes. It was an extremely charming piece of business.

      • peter

        I was at Gruberova’s Met debut (Queen of the night, 1977) but that was the only time I heard her live. She was an unknown quantity to American audiences at that point. I remember distinctly finding her vocal production kind of odd, how she would swell her high notes from soft to loud. Once or twice, I would have found it interesting but not every time she sang a high note. I never followed her career but when I just checked the Met database, I was surprised to find that she did several Traviatas in 1989. And for those ballet fans, the dancers were ABT stars Cynthia Harvey and Fernando Bujones. It looks like it was a new production. Was it actually mounted for Gruberova?

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          Carlos Keliber demanded her. She fled. Then he fled. She was not popular in NY, though the story might be different now. She had a lot to offer in the Puritani(s) including endless breath and rather sec but in its way sensational fiorature.

        • richard

          I once heard someone comment that Gruberova’s swell/unswell thing made her sound a bit like a fly buzzing around your ear. Her of course was very wicked but…….

        • parpignol

          hard to remember the details after all these years, but I do remember that she was sensational in Puritani, with brilliant bel canto style and technique, and that otherwise it was quite an uninteresting performance in a dull production, but the house went crazy for Gruberova, and rightly so. . .

  • CwbyLA

    since Renee is gracing this thread with her picture, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed her Strauss songs at the Last Night of the Proms. I haven’t had the chance to listen to them until now. She really interprets them beautifully.

  • The Vicar of John Wakefield

    If the impertnent young person posting “bravely” under a Spanish name is an Englishman, he should be ashamed. Have you no history, man? Does 1588 mean nothing anymore?

    Jurinac was white hot only when coached at Glyndebourne. Otherwise Dame Janet in sensible shoes under Sandy Gibson was the best Composer.

    • armerjacquino

      My name’s Jon Taylor, Vicar. I’m in the Cher Public FB group. So, tell me, what’s your name?

      • mrsjohnclaggart

        Isn’t the name German aus Fidelio, the line is spoken by Vater Rocco, no? I don’t read this man anymore, since he refused to meet me in Piccadilly and bring Harry Windsor along.

    • armerjacquino

      No? Thought not.

      Carry on with the tired, nasty, witless gag you’ve been flogging for five years, internet warrior.

      • The Vicar of John Wakefield

        My solicitor has told me an admiral on the retired list should never give his name in a public forum such as this. All kinds of elements may be present-- even nancy boys, it seems.

        Flogging went out in the Royal Navy in 1881. Pity.

        • armerjacquino

          Aw, look at that, you done a joke.

          So anyway, might I be allowed to express an opinion from time to time without you chiming in with your schtick? It is of course hilarious when I say something about, say, Sylvia Geszty and then you come in with something hilarious about April Cantelo or whoever, but mainly it’s dead boring and a bit cunty.

          I was under the impression that judging people on the basis of ethnicity was, you know, not on.

        • Only for sailors, Vicar. It is still counted as a curious but delightful diversion by a select number of British Parliamentarians and in the House of Lords it is still viewed as an essential artform.

          Besides, Clark Gable and Arnold Schwarzenegger would have borne the lash much better than Rod Stewart or David Beckham.

  • jeepgerhard

    Dear, dear Cieca quoth: “So, what have we learned, cher public?”
    Reply: “What IS it with you queens and GRUberOva? I just never got her. Her Salzburg Norma, as revealed in fragments (broken glass fragments, that is) on YT was horrifying, but friends who were there are still kvelling about her and her Druidess. But congrats to the great, late TT for being the top MEZZO diva among the classiciste. A singer I know (who didn’t make the cut) commented: “I’d have liked to thank all the little, little people who should have helped me achieve such a GRAND and DIVALICIOUS standing with my beloved, dear, dear public. I know I must SERIOUSLY get to work on being drag-able. What’s the correct term? I need to start adding major hair pieces and a scandal.”

    • I’m there with you, Jeepgerhard.

    • scargo

      Here’s another with you jeepgerhard. I don’t get it about Edita. She’s fun to watch, but the singing is not up to some of the others on the bar chart.

    • But of course,

      “you had to see her live”

      • richard

        No. It didn’t help. (Except for Zerbinetta)

        Violetta and Lucia???? Ugh.

        • armerjacquino

          She certainly was incredible live as Zerbinetta. I saw her play the part at CG in 1988 or so and she kind of spoiled me for anyone else.

          I won’t mention who was Ariadne that night, lest I sound monomaniacal.

    • I can’t completely enjoy Gruberova’s singing. She doese some things that are astouncing but overall, I don’t like the way she “squeezes” the tone. And that that white-sound delivery on the notes drives me a bit crazy. I once bought an arias disc (“Bel Canto Queens”?) and thought that I would enjoy it a lot. I just didn’t want to listen to it after a couple of tries. But, I still feel that I haven’t given her a full chance. I will relisten to that CD and see if I have a revelation.

      • NYCOQ

        Kashania it definitely is not worth another listen to. I purchased the same cd about 15 years ago and I just couldn’t get through it. Thank the Goddess the Sills 3 Queens were re-released shortly afterwards. Not a Sills fan, but I needed something to wash Gruberova out of my ears.

      • La marquise de Merteuil

        Kashania, you are right about EG and bel canto. It is just horrid. But her Mozart live recital with Harnoncourt is DEF a must have -- the things she does in it is unrivaled -- and of course most of the music is unknown and really worth having/knowing.

        Sills is marvelous in the 3 Queens -- but let’s face it it is the equivalent of Hildegard singing Italian works. Something is just not working. IMO of course. In the German wing she is at the top of her game when she was in her prime.

        For bel canto I think Callas, Gencer, Montse (when she can be bothered to sing), are tops. Of the new genration Gutterez (sp?) is a great hope.

    • CwbyLA

      completely agreed. Her Zerbinetta is astounding but bel canto roles are full of mannerisms. I prefer Leontyne’s or even Renee’s mannerisms to Gruberavo’s.

  • scargo

    OK, a little dissension (you did ask for it). I like the Classic Divas listings (although I would have put Montse first). Q: Was Birgit no longer singing then?

    Why is this site so anti-Garanca??? Mezzo’s are listed, yet she’s not. Isn’t she THE Carmen these days?? (OK, I love her voice, and she’s not bad-looking).

    Why wasn’t she on the nomination list??

    Finally: I will never understand this site’s fascination with JDD (Is it just one fan with a lot of time and votes??). She’s a lovely person and a good actress, but —

    Otherwise, thank you so much for a fun and fascinating glimpse at the superstars of yesterday and today.

    • CruzSF

      Finish that thought, scargo: “She’s a lovely person and a good actress, but — ” But what?

      FWIW: I voted for each of my faves only once. So there must be someone else out there who likes her. I’ll note that she did come in 2nd to last place, so I don’t think this site is THAT fascinated with JDD.

      • No Expert

        Howdy CruzSF, I think Parterre is definitely JDD territory. Maybe we are at the start of one of those classic rivalries with the fans of one diva not getting with all the fuss is about the other diva. This time it’s JDD vs Garanca.

        • Seems to me Granca is a singer with a very good voice and very good technique who looks great and does whatever is expected of her. But I have yet to see from her a flash of individuality, of real immersion in whatever role it is she’s portraying. So far I’ve seen her Charlotte, Carmen, Angelina, Dorabella. The Dorabella was very interesting for being less flighty than usual, but now I attribute her to being a “cold” and effective stage persona rather than individual. I’m impressed in many ways but am left cold.

          JDD is very different IMHO. Until she records Nuits d’Ete and it will be mediocre to OK and I’ll get over her. But till then…

        • CruzSF

          What about those of us who get the fuss about both JDD and EG?

      • pernille

        Thank you CruzSF for pointing out that some of us are both JDD and EG fans. They were both fantastic Cenerentolas, fabulous Romeos -- so why have to pick one over the other? Their repertories are most likely diverging so thank goodness we have two first rate singers to fill the many mezzo roles out there.

        • CruzSF

          Exactly. I have a difficult time imagining JDD as Carmen, e.g.

        • richard

          I couldn’t agree more in prinicpal. I’m not nuts about comparing singers in the first place, and I don’t see the need to pick one singer over another. Why? What does it accomplish?

          If you have two singers that operate on an advanced level, why not just appreciate both for their best qualities. And this from someone who is not particularly a fan of Garanca. But I can see why others would appreciate her.

          The EGvsJDD makes about as much sense as the
          Bumbry vs Verrett, or to go back further, Callas vs Tebaldi (in my mind that whole “pick one diva” deal was incredibly stupid. I loved both of them for the wonderful qualities they each had)

    • Krunoslav

      Garanca is hardly THE Carmen even if she gets cast as Carmen in major houses. She wasn’t very good at the Met. Pretty, yes, beautiful voice, yes, actress, no

      She has very little ablity to connect with text at least not in Italian or French. Have not heard her in German, maybe that’s her thing.

      Whereas JDD is wonderful in the languages that she sings and can really transform herself from role to role- c.f. Dejanira, Eliasabetta in STAURDA, Octavian, Rosina, Idamantes, Ariodante, Sister Helen — all different people, strikingly edged.

      Have ou heard her latest Rossini album?????? Go enlighten yourself.

      • MontyNostry

        Garanca’s voice is more impressive per se than JDD’s, but as soon as I hear her I feel slightly bored, while JDD captures my attention and imagination. Garanca is an accomplished singer, but JDD is more of a life-enhancing artist — even if I do occasionally wish for a more resonant, fuller sound.

      • No Expert

        Garanca’s Carmen was definitely different. She wasn’t your typical sassy, sexy or savage Carmen. She was more like Carmen as icy dominatrix. Maybe that was an acting choice, maybe that’s just her personality. But it worked for me.

        • I have to say that I found Garanca’s Carmen far too eager to spread her legs. She seemed to do it in every frigging scene! Aside from that, I thought she was veryconvincing. A lovely voice and a compelling dramatic performance (even if the singing itself lacked much individuality).

        • richard

          Well, yeah I thought she overdid the “sexy” aspect but in general this was part of the problem I had with Garanca’s Carmen on the telecast I saw.

          She started at maximum level with everything, sex, aggression, taunting and it left her no where to go. No room for developing this very, very complex character.

          I like to see what Carmen does with the quintet and big ensemble(“bel officier”) in act 2. It’s very “opera comique” and it’s a chance for Carmen to back off and show her witty, or at least sarcastic side. It gives some room to develop the character.

          Garanca sang all this music in the same relentless, hard, tough manner she sang in act 1. So when she came to the card scene, she was singing with the same hard tone she had been using for the first two acts. So there is very little contrast and the card scene went for very little. She had no room to step up the dramatic temperature.

          When she tried to soften her tone in the short duet with Escamillio (Carmen no longer has the upper hand in the drama at this point) her voice lost focus.

          In general Garanca was impressive on the surface but failed at trying to develop the character and as a whole, her Carmen lacked a core. Not bad but I didn’t find her really interesting in the role such as other Carmens who mine more of the different aspects of the character and even different styles of singing.

        • You wanna see une Vraie Carmen, Richard?
          Fascinating, lyrical, sexy in the opera comique tradition?
          You better watch this complete --


        • Here’s a snippet you can watch here

          and in rehearsal

        • I especially recommend to watch the last duet, for I have rarely seen such natural acting coupled with wonderful understanding of the idiom. Carmen’s last seconds alive are chilling to the mar here, as Jose strangles her in this production instead of the usual knifing, and the audience is brought face to face with Carmen’s twitching face and upturned pupils.

      • armerjacquino

        I adore JDD, but I have to confess that the one time I saw her live I wasn’t blown away. However, I’m pretty sure that the production was at fault; the awful Zambello Don Giovanni at CG. If you can’t get a good night with Keenlyside, Ketelsen, DiDonato, Vargas and Persson in the cast, and Mackerras in the pit, it’s probably the director’s fault.

        • MontyNostry

          Ah, that ROH Carmen. Zambello at her most compelling. (**irony**)

    • luvtennis

      Montsy first? -- well there is no accounting for tastes -- unless you have bubble graphs to back you up. ;-)

      But would you really deprive the world of a catfight between Montsy and Teensy Renata????!?!?!?!?! I could make a FORTUNE on the concessions for that one. Montsy would have all the advantages of size and reach, but Renata would have her large shoes as an equalizer.

      Renata vs. Lee -- not as appealing a match-up if you ask me.

    • She’s an extremely accomplished singer, period.

  • Camille


    Wilkommen, bienvenue, welcome back.

    It gets very boring without you so please don’t get peevish and leave as you are my number one fun on Parterre!

    Bisous et bienvenue autrefois--

    • Well, pardon us for boring you! :)

      • Camille

        Oh honey, you don’t bore me +++ you’re a sweet guy.

        It’s just that I am an outsider here @ PB, and I just come for what I can learn from those who are more learned than I. Mrs. John Claggart has a ton of information and great depth of perception and is GRANDIOSA(+) herself. Larger than life.

        I love a lot of people herein and have had many edifying conversations for which I am very greatful.

        It’s just that Mrs. John Claggart is a DIVA, in the old+style sense, and therefore ma favorite!!

        H8ters, flame away—ROAR!

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          Mrs. John Claggart definitely wins the prize for the most compelling post of the year. Please continue and tell ALL !

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          Camille, you are very sweet and thank you to the others who have been kind, not having forgot poor ancient Mrs. John Claggart as the big world has, living as she does in questa tomba oscura (as sung by my sister, Clara Butt, or by nobody’s sister ‘That bad man, Chaliapin’

          — as Mr. Alexander Kipnis referred to him at a recital given by his son Igor. Alex (monstrous but commanding) and I had quite the talk about singers (“you not interested in this ‘tinkle tinkle’?” he asked, meaning Igor’s rather wonderful harpsichord playing, in which I was quite interested at that time).

          On the strength of Alex wanting to talk to me about all the singers he had heard in person and I knew from records I got invited to a party afterwards. One day I will relate to the few with an interest, his tales of my adored Battistini (he couldn’t believe one so young as I was then knew ALL the records but then, Old Mr. Kipnis had seen many a phenom in his time and even been one but had NEVER seen the like of young Billie Pudd — my maiden name. Of course on discovering that I had both his released recordings of ’tillim bom’ and two outtakes from the Columbia sessions and all his Wolf Lieder he was the more amazed, having in his turn felt forgotten.

          I do love Gundie and know a story about her that I will hesitate (for once) to tell. I first saw her as Eva at Salzburg and was amazed at how her voice opened up and how beautifully and limpidly she phrased. Why, “Selig” opening was almost as beautiful as Maria’s (Mueller).

          Then I saw her often in Vienna where she was often boo-ed especially as Fidelio (not perhaps her finest hour live, but I’ve never heard anyone sing it easily except the greatest Birgit who tried to feel it but would have grabbed poor Senor Pizarro by the throat, strangled him slowly and thrown his body into the moat, so the ‘heroism’ of the trembling girl, at the end of her tether, pulling a gun in desperation didn’t quite, shall we say, land.)

          That first Fidelio I was in standing and those around me began to boo Bernstein as he made his way to the podium. But I had seen these same people cheer him to the echo at the Wiener Philharmoniker. “Why are you booing when you cheered him earlier?” “Because that filthy Jew is killing our Beethoven in our sacred opera house.” The horrors!

          I saw her do Rosalinde, Ariadne, Countess Capriccio, Countess Figaro, Arabella (she was no della Casa the ONLY Arabella but on her terms was nice though Varady and Popp had more distinction), Marschallin, of course Sieglinde four times I believe (booed four times not by me and a helluva lot better than Hildegarde Hillebrecht)and Elsa (crooned a lot but I adore that awful record with Jimmy King, Gwynnie God Help ye where’d that sound come from, under the mad but wonderful “I take my tempo these eight bars then I slow down for four bars and then change my beat for six bars and where am I” R Kubelik whose conducting I always adored even when rolling my eyen (all six).

          I also love her late record of Strauss Songs on Virgin — older voice, with the frailty of vanishing sweetness, it has some London pickup (not our own Amerjaquino, surely) playing Metamorphosen (psst! find the Beethoven quote) led by someone named Stamp. I hesitate to say you can download it at Amazon for the compression of sound is hard to bear and quite falsifying.

        • Quanto Painy Fakor

          Do you mean at Kipnis recorded the Strawinsky ’tillim bom’ ?

        • Nerva Nelli

          Dame Claggart, didn’t you once tell us that Herbie von Carrion had a thing for Frau Janowitz’ husband?

        • I was only joshing you. And I agree that Mrs. JC would score the highest of us all in the Kang Method.

        • We are too boring to roar dear Camille. We shall just continue to shrivell with embarrassment and internalise and wonder …why us? Whatever did we do to deserve this and where did we go so wrong??

    • manou

      Dunque gli estinti lasciano/Di morte il regno eterno…

  • Bill

    For those who disparage Gruberova in some of her
    later Bel Canto offerings, there are other roles in which she was wonderful -- Adele in Fledermaus, brilliant comic timing and great fun to watch -- a very able chambermaid. Then her Giunina in Lucio Silla in Vienna -- the most splendid coloratura one can imagine sung with limpid tone, also her Manon was one of he
    best I have seen (and I go back to de los Angeles, probably my favorite), her Constanza was superbly
    vocalized -- her Aminta in Schweigsame Frau -- a true highlight. There is more versatility in her range of roles (also Sophie, Norina, Donna Anna, Glauce, Fiakermilli, Oscar, Rosina, Olympia etc.) than many people remember. Yes, she is mannered -- but very
    distinctive. I believe she did sing some Lucias in
    Chicago one season only but earlier on it was said she was not fond of flying which hampered her USA career -- but then more recently, she seems to sing in Japan every season and is quite popular there and that is a long flight.

    Regarding Garanca, her Octavian is the best I know of today, stunningly acted, gorgeously sungm not at all bland. Garanca is the only Octavian I can recall who is a blonde in the first act. (who knows about Jeritza ?) Garanca has more upcoming Octavians in Vienna in future seasons, also Charlotte, Sesto, Carmen, Dido in Troyens and even rumored a Donna Elvira though having heard Susan Graham pant her way through Elvira a couple of seasons back at the Met, I am very sceptical of any Mezzo Elviras. But then generally I am not fond of Mezzo Zerlinas either --

  • Bill

    Mrs. Claggart -- finally back and, as always, the most readable and entertaining of those on this blog.

    I too was fortunate to experience many performances of Janowitz from her first Bartered Bride in October of 1965 to her final performance at the Staatsoper, an Ariadne in May of 1990 -- they gave her a commemorative wreath after her performance and announced it as her farewell which was not previously
    known to the general public. Even that late in her career she sang radiantly though with some hardening at the top. Aside from the marvelously creamy sound she emitted, her enunciation in German was extraordinarily clear and precise. One could understand every word. Her lieder was gorgeously sung though not quite at the exalted level interpretively of a Seefried or Schwarzkopf -- and Janowitx was the obvious replacement of both in Bach Passions, Haydn Oratorios, Mozart Masses and Requiem, Beethoven’s Ninth and the Brahms Requiem. Janowitz’ Fidelio or Sieglinde was poles apart dramatically and vocally from that of a Rysanek, but Janowitz was always extremely musical, was generally very much on pitch and her middle voice was one of the most sumptious of her time -- and I love her Four Last Songs though the soprano I gravitate to the most often in those inspired Strauss songs was the first I ever heard on record, Lisa della Casa.

    • Krunoslav

      “Janowitz was the obvious replacement of both in Bach Passions, Haydn Oratorios, Mozart Masses and Requiem, Beethoven’s Ninth and the Brahms Requiem”

      Bill, what about Helen Donath? Edith Mathis? They did any number of these works under the great conductors-- and superbly, too.

      • Buster

        And let’s not forget Agnes Giebel, who kept singing into the nineties.

        I love Janowitz most in Lieder too: all four of her Schubert CD’s with Irwin Gage, and the Hüttenbrenner/Schubert live recital from Salzburg in particular. My favorite opera recording of hers is Pamina.

        I agree with mrsjohnclaggart on the special attraction of Janowitz’later work -- she kept singing a handful of recitals every year until 1996 -- best example:

    • stevey

      Wonderful reminiscences, as always, of two of our favourite ‘Parterre-ians’- Bill, the paternal, wizened, ever-so-knowledgable Grandfather of this site, and dear Mrs. John… (and why is it whenever I read Mrs. John’s posts it’s Hermione Gingold that always springs to mind???)

      • mrsjohnclaggart

        Stevey I am somewhat curt about you below (?) but thank you for your remark above(?). You cannot help who you rush to defend, it may even be a courtly and thus noble part of your being. I am just truly a hater and when I hate — well, sometimes I am carried away. I have not been called the Boston Strangler of Opera queens for nothing. (He was never caught. Albert (!) DeSalvo apparently confessed just so he could enjoy the easy life in prison, which evidently he found orgasmic becoming a participant in Mafia organized orgies.) The occasional Albert has all the luck.


    The implications and the innuendos make it painfully clear to whom you are referring. The lady in question has done nothing to merit such egregious mistreatment. Would you be so kind as to justify your behavior?

    • manou

      Betsy -- there is absolutely no pain involved. I am perfectly happy to be insulted by an elderly widowed lady whose elucubrations read as if written by a dotty aunt affected with a mixture of Tourette’s syndrome, coprolalia and logorrhoea -- not to mention false memory syndrome.

      I am unperturbed, serene and even entertained.


      • mrsjohnclaggart

        Intrigue: two losers wander in a mist inhaling their own scum. Their status, boredom. One has recourse to several dictionaries and misuses big words found there, the other, has spent the week getting ready for the 10th grade health classes — “and this” it says removing the rubber contraption it wears routinely on its head, “is a condom.” Seeing the real face for the first time, students run screaming in horror.

        “Let’s find a list,” says the first with her dictionaries, “where no one will know anything. We will know nothing as well but who will know? Can we pretend to be opera lovers, chamber music lovers, cinema lovers, visual art lovers, literature lovers — which?”

        “None,” burps the first, “we are ignorance in action. Though some in this Podunk town think my inane non sequiturs are ‘witty’ —

        “Well,” says the other, “there are idiots everywhere, with my dictionaries and your non sequiturs we can take the opera list in. They never know anything, we’ll be right at home”.

        Crisis: there are people on the opera list, many, who know things and they see these creeps for the horrors they are and are shocked and saddened that one has reproduced two of tomorrow’s suicides, and the other ‘teachers’ tomorrow’s dumber than yesterday’s electorate.

        “I am amused,” says the mother with the teeth below, “and can always call someone who knows far more than we can ever know and has actually lived a life in the big world, unlike me, not supported by a husband with a steel penis, a liar. Opera people are fools, they will believe me.”

        “You’re right, only bears get fingered,” replies the other.

        “Ha, ha, ha, ha, witty, so witty, we are so witty,” says La Mère coupable. “Here’s a piece of my shit I am flinging it at you cybernetically.”

        “Mercy for merde,” cries the high school teacher.

        “As in merci,” cries the mother, “I get it! Oh, what wit and how I will dazzle them with my pretension, I will be LOVED, we will be ADORED on that opera board.”

        “I have to teach health again next week, what’s a cervix?”

        “Why, I am. Now let me play scrabble in French with my younger daughter. With one vowel. Never too early to teach pretension. It is the best way to hide stupidity as I have learned in my pointless life — pointless except for bringing two little girls who will live in continual pain to being. And oh, warning, there’s someone who has infinitely more experience of life in general and the arts in particular than we can ever hope to on this board. Me with my dictionaries and you with your pseudo wit and free over compressed hence distorted pirates might not be able to compete. We drove her off before, let’s do it again.”

        “On your older daughter’s horribly scarred head — I wish you had had that cesarean — I swear. This time we will annihilate Mrs. John Claggart!!!”

        Final: Suspense. Can they succeed?

        • manou

          …a dotty old aunt with the courage and probity to haunt the chat room with a series of different aliases -- like the proverbial spectre at the feast.

        • stevey

          Uncalled for, Mrs. John. Uncalled for….



          I suppose that might be construed as justification.

        • CruzSF

          Well, Camille is happy you’ve returned, at least.

        • m. croche

          I am reminded of a letter that ran in the NY Review of Books some years ago:

          “Craft’s bile boils over finally into ignorant pettiness, as he carps about Rockwell’s grammar. Quoting the words “political and moral correctness is,” Craft adds a sneering “sic.” But Rockwell’s usage is perfectly sound. Two adjectives may modify a singular noun without transforming it into a plural. I might write of “the erudite and snide Robert Craft” without referring to two different Crafts, however much I might wish they were.”

        • Buster

          I vividly remember Mddle Camille’s galant defense of another Mddle here, including a reprimand. A galant one, but a reprimand nevertheless. She stood up to mrsjohnclaggart when she felt enough was enough, giving, as it were, the good example to all other posters here.

      • stevey

        I bow before you, Manou. How sublime! :-)

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          One different alias, dear. Enough to see you for the pretentious, self important, arch, grotesquely coy, really stupid and totally uninformed bully you are (“we have bodyguards,” was the first thing you chatted or shatted at me. You had no idea who I was. And such imagery in a chat room? Even had I been offensive and I was so inoffensive you were confiding parts of your life in short order, you can simply leave a chat or ignore a bore. Bodyguards? Fool.)

          And I got to see your compatriot as a pathetic nonentity.

          And there was no ‘feast’. It was we three, a great queen and two dying cockroaches. An ending worse than Cleopatra’s. “Where’s the figs?” I asked in desperation. “Somebody put a hand on my asp!”

          After a time, humans (other than me) trickled in. It was amazing eventually to cyber meet someone who doesn’t contribute regularly who knew all about the French Baroque and was interesting in writing about it off the cuff. He drove you and your little pal away. Oh, and just to be clear, in locating the lump from your rump as a high school teacher, I am not impugning what people do for a living. The Lully/Rameau/Francois Couperin admirer taught kindergarten, he was wholly a delight and very smart.

          And then there was JustAnotherTenor who was witty and sly and had intelligent things to say about Poulenc and Weill. And Clita — he (assumption of gender) and I emptied the room when we started to talk of Moedl.

          There are very many decent people here, some quite smart and not all admirers of poor Mrs. John who has ever divided opinion, as see the nonentity above, presumably your vaginal dentist, cheering you on.

          So I have for the nonce returned. We’ll see. The owner of this site sided with you and that cretin from the provinces last time as you attacked me. Perhaps things will fall differently this time and perhaps not.

          But in a few days a number of delightful people have seemed to make it worthwhile. And this will be the last time I answer you — you are a preposterous horror as is that odious dumbelle, your enabler. Let’s see if I can enjoy myself without reference to you twain and those who snort at your idiocy. There are many others…

          And really the young people I know blanch at the use of emoticons. It seems so, I don’t know, AOL circa 1995. Is that a confession of special needs or simply a moronic cri de coeur?

        • manou

          “I am the Hate that dare not speak its name.””

  • How wonderful to return to one’s favourite box (after being away for a few days) and see so much has happened -- including the momentous return of Mrs John Claggart, and the crowning of La Price as (a or the) Diva assoluta and absolutely, forever amen.

    Mrs John’s life has been so crowded with incident, wonderful experiences and associations, just reading her makes me feel totally inadequate and lazy beyond all measure. She has gone on from a life of debasement and abuse at the hands of a monster, to acceptance in the upper eschaleons of society and into the corridors of power. I don’t know of anyone other than Hillary Clinton who has done that.

    If ever there was annual “Diva Awards” on Parterre- I would have to nominate Mrs John, as leading contender probably covering several categories. Betsy Ann would undoubtedly be nominated for several also- including “Diva Congeniality” -- with MarshieMark a contender for the “Undying Loyalty Award.”
    The Vicar would surely come under a “Weird Foreign type” category” and Kashania would have to be a worthy contender for “The Consistently Decent Award”.

    Harry, dear Harry with his bile cart- who else but he could possibly collect the ultimate “Cranium Coitus Award” -- (for one with “something going on” in the head).

    Forgive me for not mentioning more of the many worthy contenders (mrmyster, armer, iltenor, Kruno) to name but a very few… just a few….but I have already exceeded my rant limit… (stand by for new rave courtesy of winner of the Cranium Coitus Award…

    • Harry

      Being of such generous nature, I feel I must reciprocate, Ruxton. Noting of course all those ecstatic forms of social runt misplacement, you displayed over five paragraphs. You therefore richly deserve and should be awarded the Stalking for Pork award( with 2000 points no less). For forever being embarrassingly simpering and sucking up; trying to imagine yourself getting a phantom F…k with any unfortunate ‘love’ target you fixate and then fancy. Marshiemark appears to be the latest. One naturally suspects what ‘Ruxana’s’ secret desire really is. It appears it is desperately ‘seeking the rough end of a pineapple’ first. It could then squeal and claim special diva status..’a G sharp above top C’. Beats the pitch for a retrieved apple ..with forceps’!

      • marshiemarkII

        Hands off my lover decrepit old queen, come back when you can make sense in English.

        • Harry

          Miss Noncomprehending Marshiemark a role she inhabits when perplexed, always falls back on that silly gesture of ‘me, no understand’. That fits! We have a dating pigeon pair: Marshiemark & Ruxton now casting as (Gunther & Gutrune in the Hall of the Gibberungs).

          Can anyone comprehend, when marshiemark goes into volumes of vaporous rapture about that ‘fake Wagnerian version’ of the great illuminating Florence Foster Jenkins? .Telling us the numerous times, dates and places they have to cart her, this Ms Marshmark to the rest room. To both revive and re-compose herself from all those tiring toxic sonic onslaughts, she had just exposed herself to. She did it ‘to herself’. It is medically understandable , this condition. We all know just how much, ones’ ear drums can only stand. If exposure continues under such determined situations, the nonsensical ‘ga-ga stage’ sets in: wild raving, exhaustion and dribbling from the mouth are the next noted symptoms. It appears it has now reached a further advanced stage -- a stage a.k.a ‘musical syphilis’. Fact: we all knew Hilda B. in each of her performances always consistently gave Wagner, yet another one of her hideous vocal hidings. News?


      “… I don’t know of anyone . .”

      Well, for starters, Poppaea, Eva Peron, and Cinderella.

      • Good point Betsy Ann -- but dont cry for Eva!

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Scooby continues his crusade to keep us all healthy and our divas svelt and muscular:

    • Harry

      Q.P.Y. : Scooby must not have heard about that song from Sondheim’s Company : here, retitled ‘The Ladies Who Crunch’. What is that famous line from that song?… “Does anyone still wear …a hat!”

      Could this only happen, to a ridiculous looking self promoting Muscle Mary , possessing a shrunken elongated head totally out of proportion, resting on a heaped up pile of diet steroids?
      But now at least we know , what a dinosaur would have really looked like, if hats were in fashion -- during their reign.

  • La Valkyrietta

  • La Valkyrietta

    Richard Wagner would have loved this clip, I surmise.

  • Niel Rishoi

    First off, so glad to see Mrs. Claggart back on here. The best writing, viewpoints and insights.

    Shocked is the word, no other word for it ~~ that Gruberova placed #1 in the contemporary divas poll.

    This despite:

    1. She’s not the hot new glamour star
    2. She has no PR to extol her prominence
    3. She hasn’t been in the US in almost 20 years (how many people from abroad look at this site -- La Cieca?)
    4. She’s one of the most notorious of the vocal standards “rules-breaker” -- and probably one of the most controversial.

    I had the best laugh in a long time when I saw Gruberova had garnered the highest grade for drag imitability -- she HAS arrived!

    Bill provided the most reasonable summation of her career and facets, but I also greatly enjoy the feedback from others -- it’s actually the critical notations that I gather the most value from. It gives me more to think about in terms of staying objective -- favorites are favorites, but it always serves to remain open minded and receptive.

    That said, if I had to name Gruberova’s greatest achievements, it would be her 3 volumes of Mozart Concert Arias: the first on DG under Hager from 1980; the second, on Decca under Fischer, 1981, and third on Teldec under Harnoncourt, 1991.

    Whereas in bel canto Gruberova requires some adjustments in acceptance, in Mozart opera seria the voice is just about as right as can be.

    In the first set under Hager, she does the Aloysia Weber-Elisabeth Wendling arias -- Popoli di Tessaglia, Ma che vi fece o stelle, Mia Speranza adorata, No che non sei capace, among others. Here, in her youthful prime, she stuns the listener with some of the most hair-raising singing to be heard on record. Bars and bars of the most viciously difficult coloratura ever, octave leaps, the highest of tessitura throughout -- and she sails through them with nonchalant aplomb. but she also brings great meaning to the texts -- Popoli in particular is magisterial and infused with great meaning and pathos. This contains her first rendition of Vorrei spiegarvi o Dio -- and it is better than the later one. She negotiates the line quite persuasively, doing these superbly handled dynamic variations.

    The set on Decca has her singing more lyrical, but no less difficult. This one captures her voice most congenially -- in fact her tone is quite beautiful here. Schon lacht der holde Frühling is sparkling and tossed off joyfully; the Per bel’idol mio graceful and poignant; Alma grande e nobil core sung with gusto; the Voi avete un cor fedele unbelievably fluent and suave.

    It is perhaps the live recording under Harnoncourt that is the most remarkable. In the first place, Harnoncourt shows why he is a cut above most conductors in Mozart: he actually has an original intent and approach, and makes choices that are anything but routine. For example: the intro to the aria “Sperai vicino il lido”, whereas Hager (and others) just beat time, the staccato accompaniment literal, Harnoncourt brings a far greater sense of dark urgency to the rhythm, and to the FP markings throughout, which depicts the stormy seas simile of the text to the emotions of the character. In other words, this is a true collaborative effort between conductor and singer.

    Gruberova, 45 here, was caught just at the right time: some of the sections where the tessitura hangs up there are starting to challenge her, whereas 10 years earlier it was cakework. But: the virtuosity, the breadth, and artistic intent is so much more indelible -- in fact, often quite staggering.

    The most brilliant piece of singing is in the Ma che vi fece o stelle. This being a live recording (too bright and prominent, by the way), you hear how large the voice is, and the velocity of the coloratura is something to be heard. In the middle section, she takes the concluding phrase of it all in one breath -- the high C done on the most perfect messa-di-voce, we’re talking textbook example. The repeat of the A section, a variant on the first, is mindboggling: and the held high F is huge and exciting.

    But it is the care and attention to the text as it corresponds with the music, that marks Gruberova’s work here. There is a Callas-like ability to infuse certain phrases with acute memorability -- for example ‘ma quel pianto anima mia’ from “Mia speranza adorata” -- sweet, beautifully poignant, tragic. The return to the A section of “Voi avete un cor fedele” is done with a supreme sense of irony.

    The “Vorrei spiegarvi” is something between the spectacular and a misfire. Her control and dropping-in of vocal effects is phenomenal, but the tempo is too slow: it causes some gluey legato and the tone becomes straight and vibratoless at times.

    It is to these collections that I would send any opera buff as a representative of Gruberova’s art. I would supplement that with her Zerbinetta -- but in the film, now on DVD; neither the Solti and the Masur audio quite capture the magic. Then there is her Bach cantatas, recorded in 1978 -- the “Jauchtzet Gott in allen Landen” is quite accomnplished, sung with gleaming tone.

    After all that -- I’d give a painstaking set of recommendations for her bel canto work -- most of them bootlegs.

    • operadunce

      As with the classic divas, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

    • Tamerlano

      Thanks Neil! That live recording was my favorite CD for about a year. I used to do my math homework to it…not that it helped any, mind you. It’s an astonishing album from beginning to end. I DO agree that the “Vorrei” is a little fussy and too slow, but the “Ma che vi fecce” is incredible. It’s an unholy nightmare of an aria and she sails through it, the notes dispatched like perfect pearls.

  • La Valkyrietta


    • OpinionatedNeophyte

      Indeed, thank you all for the Gruberova recs. I’ve always thought her sound was too ice queen, but the clips posted here, especially the Robert Dev have caused me to completely re evaluate.

  • Niel Rishoi

    La Valkyrietta, thank you for posting the 1980 Hager of Gruberova’s ‘Ma che vi fece o stelle’

    I found the YouTube clip under Harnoncourt 1991:

    if you use your mouse and move it to 6:53, you will hear the incredible one breath on a long phrase, and the high C on the messa-di-voce. You will hear more reaching than the earlier version, but the later is more enriching interpretively.

    I also include here Edda Moser’s version from 1973:

    Moser has a big exciting tone, the top pealing: but as you will hear, she precedes most of her top notes with an aitch -- ‘ha’ -- and the fioriture is aspirated, breaths taken in between passages.

    • Nerva Nelli

      Brava Edda Moser! Gruberova’s scooping, toothpaste-squeezing in place of legato and failure remotely to animate the text grow wearisome to me very swiftly.

      “We’ll just have to disagree.”

      • Niel Rishoi

        And you consider aspirates and chopped up lines appropriate, Greg?

        • Nerva Nelli


          Who is “Greg” and why do you have the effrontery to use what you presume to be someone’s real name on this site?

          Almost as rude as someone who wraps himself in the mantle of decrying un-PC epithets shutting up the poor deluded Vicar with “c*nty”, not exactly a feminist term of art.

          And yes, I prefer aspiration to the slitherings of Bratislava.

        • armerjacquino

          I ‘decry un PC epithets’ now, do I? News to me.

        • Nerva Nelli

          ” armerjacquino says:
          September 24, 2010 at 10:07 PM

          I was under the impression that judging people on the basis of ethnicity was, you know, not on.”

          There was another Briitsh slang term he used for foreigners that sat ill with you- no idea what.

          I actually agree with you on this, but to turn around and unleash “c*nty” on the Vicar seems a bit contradictory…

        • armerjacquino

          Yeah, that’s definitely the same.

        • Nerva Nelli

          Yeah, ask some women friends how they feel about the term.

          In (relative) fairness, it may be in wider use (and thus have have less poisonous reosnance) in the UK than in North America.

          Or basta!

    • La Valkyrietta

      Thank you, I enjoyed these.

    • richard

      Moser has tremendous grandeur in this scene. Much more than any of the other versions I’ve heard.

      I don’t hear any blatant aspiration, it’s a puff of breath between notes, not phrases, and while Moser, like almost all coloraturas, articulates her high notes, I don’t hear it as aspiration.

      But it seems these days any soprano singing Gruberova’s rep uses aspirates, except for , well you know who….

      • peter

        God, I love that Moser album. I remember when it first came out. She is absolutely thrilling.

        What I don’t understand is all this talk about aspiration as if it were a dirty word. It is a style, not a deficiency. Didn’t Caballe and Horne both aspirate their coloratura?

        • richard

          Here is Stefan Zucker discussing the use of aspiration in articulating coloratura:

          Here’s most of the really pertinent section:

          o obtain precise articulation of florid passages Araiza aspirated. Many listeners—and some reviewers—find aspiration unendurable, yet musicologists and performers point to period writings suggesting that in the 17th and 18th centuries aspiration, or at least “detached” singing, was accepted practice. My own experience is that the clarity of articulation achievable with aspiration can prove useful in certain contexts. In special cases aspiration is highly desirable.

          I think it becomes a fine line and personal taste is involved. For myself, I become turned off when I hear a tiny puff of breath (identified by a clear “h” sound) before a note. In this case there is a distinct break between the notes, legato is disabled.

          Giulietta Simionato, using standards from a different, verismo filtered era , aspirated her passage work blatantly.
          Listen to the final section from 5:50 or so on

          The notes are separated by breathy puffs. this is blatant. What more modern singers
          do is , as I wrote, a matter of taste.

          Actually what bugs me more is aspiration used as a way to sing two notes on one vowel. This occurs, not in florid work, but in simple phrases and was a flaw of verismo trained singers, common in the Italian singers of the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

          An example of Tebaldi was posted recently singing her aria from William Tell with aspirates

          But the practice isn’t dead….

          Hear Villazon sing “Ombra mai-HE fu”

          The kind of aspiration that bothers me more than mechanically articulated coloratura.

        • luvtennis


          I feel you are channeling me. Or is it Mathilde Marchesi….

          Glad you understood that my post of the Tebaldi Selva Opaca was not to trash her so much as the vocal school that so greatly affected 2 or 3 generation of Italian singers.

        • richard

          Yeah, the aspirating was part expressive devise part crutch to get past the trick of singing two notes on a vowel.

          Tebaldi was certainly not alone in this, but in later years she toned done the practice in her singing.

          Even a singer such as Carlo Bergonzi, who I consider a singer with great taste and style would occasionally resort to an aspirate

          Hear him in Tosca Act 3, at around 1:36 sing
          “le bel-HE le-He for…”

          This was 1959. But Bergonzi was a singer that worked at his craft for his entire career. He must have realized that the effect was no longer acceptable for in 1981, he smooths the same phase out. The top notes are weaker, the tone is drier, but he has worked on making the phrases smoother and more polished.

          Same phrase at around 4:30

      • Tamerlano

        Rancatore really nails it, too, I might add. This is some damn impressive singing.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      This isn’t the first time Mr Niel Rishoi has attempted to big up Gruberova by posting a comparison performance of an aria and hoping we’ll find it wanting, only to have it backfire. Gruberova’s is good, Moser’s is better by most conventional measures. Even if Gruberova’s coloratura is faster, Moser’s is fast enough and brilliantly accurate, the top approached without the scoops, the phrasing grander and more authoritative, the tone more refulgent and varied(notwithstanding my comments below about the beauty of Gruberova’s timbre). Gruberova was very good, so were lots of other singers, can we please stop this tedious attempt to set up Gruberova as some kind of nonpareille exemplar when, truth be told, she’s an acquired taste who requries our indulgence to get over her mannerisms? I read an interview with her once wherein it was divulged that the intendant of the first major opera house in which she worked didn’t really like her singing very much and felt disinclined to let her have major roles. The reader was meant to be aghast at how he could ever have thought such a thing, but I don’t find it difficult to understand.

      • Niel Rishoi

        I took a stand here. This is what I believe. I read the scores. There are no aitches preceding notes in scores. However, portamenti is an accepted commodity. This person, who cowardly stands behind a clever alias, thinks his rules on singing invalidates my views. Then he insults people who thinks Gruberova “requires indulgence” and worse, is an acquired taste. This is the most puerile kind of view: that he thinks this, therefore it is universal.

        I’ll be watching your postings, Mr. Cocky. Any stand you take.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Niel Rishoi, you criticise me for posting an opinion as if it is a fact, a dreadful habit which inevitably prevails on a site like this, but I did so in response to you having done pretty much the same thing. A few weeks ago it was Casta Diva with Sutherland as your comparison we were all supposed to find utterly inferior, and now it is Moser in this Mozart piece, albeit stated less emphatically.

          Here is an opinion: there is nothing wrong with mildly aspirated coloratura such as that performed by Moser in the clip above. Here’s another, shared by many: Gruberova’s singing is mannered. I think I am not the only person who doesn’t acknowledge the shortcomings you identify in Moser’s performance as significant enough to worry about, and who prefers it to Gruberova’s because of the latter’s idiosyncratic delivery, impressive though it is.

  • La Valkyrietta

    Does anyone remember the Sonnambula we were subjected to at the Met? All we needed was Edita and some sense, or some insanity in the honest to goodness opera way.

  • ines

    Well, on Gruberova I’m amazed too.
    A Zerbinetta-Olympia singing ( miagolando) Norma and Anna Bolena…
    Didn’t we learn anything from Callas.
    And having just listened to W Meier on the MET 125-gala
    as Carmen she really is ‘The Ugly Voice’

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    This Gruberova business is intriguing and surprising. I have big problems with her recordings, but was forced to re-evaluate when I heard her live in recital at some point within the last 2 years and discovered how amazingly beautiful her sound is live. I still hate the mannerisms which have become unbearably pronounced, but I certainly agree now that she is a vocal force to be reckoned with.