Cher Public

Measha of a muchness

measha_amazonIn Measha Brueggergosman‘s newest DG release, “Night Songs…” Oh… sorry! That was Renée Fleming‘s beautiful 2001 Decca release of similar (occasionally overlapping) material. Let me try that again.

“In the Still of Night…” Oh… sorry! That was Anna Netrebko‘s voluptuous CD of Russian songs released earlier this year. 

Okay, third time’s the charm, in Measha Brueggergosman’s other-sopranos-have-been-there-and-done-that-better CD, Nights and Dreams, there isn’t a single track that isn’t marred by a fluttery, unsupported vibrato, suspect pitch, awkward (sometimes downright ugly) attacks at the top of the staff, and the lack of a true pianissimo.

Singing most of the time in that same “tremulous mezzo-piano” I remarked on in her recent recording of Wagner’s “Wesendonk Lieder,” any musical or textual insight Ms. Brueggergosman might have is compromised by her completely mediocre vocalism. Frankly, I’ve heard better singing at any number of college voice recitals.

There is one novelty in the program; an alternate version of Liszt’s “Oh! Quand je dors.” The song itself is not nearly as good as the version we all know and love and she doesn’t sing it very well.

Throughout, pianist Justus Zeyen‘s cool virtuosity is a welcome distraction.

  • judycadanna

    Well-- set phasers on scathing.

  • phoenix

    Wendy, congratulations… this is A perfect example of a lesser-is-better review. Further details are obviously not necessary.
    And this comes from a fan of Measha, so be flattered Wendy!
    Of course Measha has nothing but “business” doing this kind of mid-20th century deja-vu “Star” album nonsense, but as you so tellingly pointed out, neither does Netrebko nor Fleming, both whom came off just as ludicrous.
    Measha is best in live OPERA & live symphonic/vocal performances, a bit less so in live recital (but all of her early live recitals broadcast years ago on CBC Radio were much better than what you are describing here).
    I liked Measha best as Madame Lidoine (Vancouver 2005) and last month what I saw & heard of her as Jenny in the trailers of Weil’s Mahagonny (Barcelona 2010). Measha didn’t do the broadcast I heard on Radio Nacional de España.

  • luvtennis

    Wow. I thought this was the poorest review that I have ever read on Parterre. I can understand not liking the recording, which I have not heard, but your review tells us nothing meaningful about either the album, which is the point of the review, or your tastes, which might provide some clue as to your dislike of the performances.

    Case in point, the reviewer of the LOC suggests that Nadja Michael is an acceptable, perhaps even more, Lady Macbeth -- with some sort of feline sensuality and a strong powerful voice. ALthough I think find that bit of detail wholly inadequate as a critical account of a major operatic role at a big house, at least it informs me of one important fact: We do not share the same taste in singers. I will therefore avoid Actfinve’s reviews in the future. Chacun a son gout!

    This review tells me nothing other than that does not think highly of recent efforts by Netrebko and Fleming (not sure what the relevance is to this recording) and that she thinks that Bruggergosman sings less well than some college singers she knows. Since she doesn’t say what college or what repetoire, even this bit is unhelpful and leaves me feeling that the real pan here should be for the reviewer.

    • louannd

      Thank you for making a detailed response about what is missing from a review -- Very educational.

  • armerjacquino

    OT: Galina Vishnevskaya is 84 today, and many happy returns to her. In a year when we have lost so many wonderful singers, it’s nice to be able to celebrate one of the greats who is still with us.

    • phoenix

      Did anybody see Vishnevskaya at the Met or at the Bolshoi? I only saw her once as Tatyana in Eugene Onegin. She had a very large voice for a so-called “lyric” soprano.

      • richard

        I saw her in her single Tosca at the Met. It was a very thrown together performance, I suspect she didn’t have a lot of rehearsal an in fact the costume she wore in act 1 didn’t look completely finished.

        She pretty much did her own thing, it was a large scale, freewheeling performance with lots of very
        “dramatic” singing and stage business. James King and Ingmar Wivell were Cavaradossi and Scarpia and they mostly just stayed out of Galina’s way.

        I also saw her in a BSO cocnert Eugene Onegin which was much less “dramatic” and actually showed a bit more the wear and tear that vishnevskaya had accumulated by the mid 70s.

        But the Tosca was a lot of fun.

        • phoenix

          Thanks! I guess Vishnevskaya was a spinto leaning “forward” rather than “backward”.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Nice memories, Richard. Vishnevskaya always makes me feel very sad, somehow -- if ever the adjective ‘plangent’ were appropriate to describe a voice, it would be in her case. Often, I find her just too plain wayward, but there is still some inherent quality in her timbre that moves and touches me. It works as Tatyana, of course, but it really suits Lisa moaning about how unfair her life is, and Lady Makbyeth expostulating on the subject of the lake just before she lynches that slapper.

          • phoenix

            mmm mmm mmm!

          • Belfagor

            saw her in a recital in London’s Wigmore Hall in the ’80’s -- the final encore was the unaccompanied song from ‘The Tsar’s Bride’ -- the one about the bride who waits up and her breasts shrivel and she asks to be placed in a coffin. I’m not sure any of the notes were actually in tune, but she sure froze the blood out of all of us -- spine-tingling.

            I gather her Verdi Lady Macbeth at Scottish opera in the mid 70’s, was all over the place, but thrilling …….

          • If this doesn’t blow your mind to pieces,
            well,

            I honestly don’t know what will.
            It certainly blew mine!

          • richard

            She’s tremendous also in the Verdi Requiem

          • Back in the 50s-60s she was the SHIT!!!

            Also the Katerina Izmailova film. Amazing
            And the filmed Mussorgsky songs and dances with Slava at the piano. Later on, but still mesmerizing.

    • m. croche

      Amen, AJ. As it happens I watched Sokurov’s Alexandra, which was written for her with her essential nobility in mind. How many opera singers have managed that sort of subtle acting for a movie camera?

      • phoenix

        I read about this movie when they first did it. Thanks for posting the clip from it. Very well done, but it brings back sad memories. Not much has changed in these regions since long time ago.

      • armerjacquino

        I must seek out that film. I’ve seen that scene a couple of times and like you I am deeply impressed with the quality of her performance.

        I wondered if it might be the prelude to a late acting career but it seems to have been a one-off, alas.

        • Krunoslav

          Here is the very positive OPERA NEWS review:

          Alexandra (2007)

          With Vishnevskaya, Shevtsov, Gichaeva. Director: Alexander Sokurov. Proline Film, 92 mins., subtitled Elegy of Life: Rostropovich, Vishnevskaya (2006)
          Director: Alexander Sokurov. Svarog Films, 101 mins., subtitled

          Alexander Sokurov, best known in North America for the one-shot technical triumph Russian Arc (Russkij Kovcheg, 2002), stands as one of contemporary Russia’s most skilled and most humane directors. Sokurov’s two latest films, screened at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s outstanding series “Envisioning Russia” (Jan. 25-Feb. 14), showcase an icon of Russian musical high culture, indeed of Soviet cultural history. Galina Vishnevskaya represents a monument of a different sort -- the exiled, retired and returned prima donna assoluta of Moscow’s Bolshoi Opera, a native Leningrader who barely survived the wartime Nazi blockade to begin her ascent to greatness singing operetta in her early teens.

          Alexandra is not Vishnevskaya’s feature debut. In Mikhail Shapiro’s 1966 film of Shostakovich’s Katerina Izmailova (Decca DVD, reviewed Nov. 2007), working alongside film actors, she alone did her own singing; her performance is spectacular. So is her work here, surely the most moving non-singing cinematic characterization by an opera singer since Jarmila Novotná’s in The Search (1948). Widowed, the forthright older woman travels far under difficult conditions to visit her grandson Denis at a Chechnya-like front (filmed in Grozny). Denis -- a rangy, taut killing machine (and self-described ladykiller), well embodied by Vasily Shevtsov -- seems to her a mystery. Why isn’t he married at twenty-eight? Why doesn’t he read? What does he know how to do but kill? At times the images and cinematography convey a kind of stylized eroticism in their relationship -- and indeed in the way all of the affection-starved, decontextualized young soldiers stare at Alexandra, as if at some mythic amalgam of Russian wife and mother.

          Though Vishnevskaya’s performance is devoid of vanity, her clothes simple and old-fashioned and her face free of evident makeup, she remains a very handsome woman capable of a powerfully searching gaze. This manifest moral and physical strength contrasts with her recurrent exhaustion and occasional moments of seeming befuddlement. This combination of attributes holds her in good stead whether she accidentally strolls through an unlit mine field or takes an unauthorized off-base trip to the local market in a nearby devastated town. Though the film shows no bloodshed whatsoever, Sokurov always allows the potential for violence (including kidnapping) to brew. The resentful attitudes of the village youth and men contrast with those of Malika (Raisa Gichaeva), a former teacher -- itself a flag of a certain Soviet code of shared humanism -- who hosts the exhausted Alexandra. Their briefly etched bond resonates with their common destiny (Alexandra is of the generation of World War II) as witnesses to war.

          Alexander Burov’s striking cinematography keeps the visual palette of the military world stark and washed-out; Alexandra and the largely feminine sphere of the market provide contrast. Alexandra plays at New York’s Film Forum from March 26 to April 8, with a general release beginning in Los Angeles on April 11. It richly deserves wide audiences.

          The documentary covering a joint biography of Mstislav Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya has interesting segments -- descriptions of their heroic hospitality to Solzhenitsyn, leading to their expulsion from the U.S.S.R.; conversations with Rostropovich about Prokofiev and Shostakovich; and footage of the soprano as Lisa and Aida (with memorable “Walk like an Egyptian” plastique). In present state, it is badly edited (endless footage of Vishnevskaya coaching a very good student as Rimsky’s Lyubasha, intercut with Rostropovich rehearsing with Ozawa and Penderecki) and weakened by inadequate supertitles: not only solecisms such as “War and the Peace” and “Fiançé of the Czar” but several outright errors. Sokurov’s knowledge of the music world appears shallow; he seemingly accepts at face value Vishnevskaya’s estimate (apt for the context of an anniversary toast) of her husband -- unarguably a supreme cellist and a brave figure in cultural politics -- as “the greatest musician of the twentieth century.”

          Some of Sokurov’s voiced-over certitudes are mystifying. At one point, he says he knows what Vishnevskaya is thinking, looking at luminaries at the anniversary dinner, then cutting to her as Katerina Izmailova, killing herself and the tramp Sonetka rather than letting her “husband” carry on with such a rival. Sokurov’s idea of the soprano’s rage at what she lost leaving Russia seems fixed. He elides the fact that she did not -- except to a Russocentric “there-is-no-life-without-Verona-wall” mind -- cease to have a career in 1974. Vishnevskaya subsequently appeared in opera in Vienna, Paris, Edinburgh, San Francisco and (just once, as Tosca) at the Met; concertized with the Boston Symphony and Rostropovich’s National Symphony (overpraised by Sokurov); and recorded extensively. This musical pair are a potentially stunning documentary subject. Ideally, Sokurov could reedit his valuable material into something better shaped and more meaningfully presented.

          DAVID SHENGOLD

        • grisha

          The whole movie is available on YouTube in 6 parts.

  • Clita del Toro

    After reading the review of Macbeth on Parterre, I thought I might go to the last performance on the 30th.
    I must say that Michael sounded awful in Millennium Park where she sang excerpts from Macbeth with Hampson.
    Now, I don’t, however know whether I can trust the reviewer of Macbeth regarding Michael’s performance. What should I do???? lol

    • louannd

      You should go darling, the set look fabulous!

  • phoenix

    no further details necessary for me because I have heard her latest recitals b’dcast from Schwetzingen, Wiener Konserthaus, etc. & I know what Measha sounds like in recital nowadays… almost exactly the way Wendy described it in her review of DGG album. Measha is crooning & i ain’t swooning…
    —> but in all fairness many have not been following Measha for a long time, not familiar with her recent recital work, so another type of review certainly would be called for luvtennis. Below is a writ from the October 25, 2010 Toronto Edition of “theStar.com” by John Terauds, Entertainment Reporter:
    “Toronto soprano diva Measha Brueggergosman has turned to the night for this wide-ranging disc of intimate music for voice and piano (exquisitely played by Justus Zeyen). The 21 tracks include German Lieder by Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Liszt, Wolf and Strauss, French melodies by Fauré, Debussy, Duparc, Chausson, Hahn, Poulenc, Spanish songs by Montsalvatge and de Falla, and a sensuous Portuguese piece, “Anoiteceu,” by Francis Hime. The disc closes with the short and sweet “Sleep,” by English composer Peter Warlock. It’s a box of miniature treasures, nicely organized to vary mood and tension. Brueggergosman floats each song expertly on wafts of graceful melody. Every nuance is carefully tuned and timed. Despite her expansive interpretations, there is something a bit too tightly controlled about the singing, which sometimes makes Brueggergosman’s voice tremble. As nice as this disc is, it’s missing the last ingredient in this diva’s magic: seeing her live – and uninhibited – onstage.”

    • luvtennis

      Actually, this one doesn’t do it for me either.

      Oh well.

      How about this?

      “Brueggergosman’s voice seems affected by her recent illness. Due perhaps to some problem with her breath support, the tone appears to waver at times, and there is an tremolo that is too fast to count as a wobble, too intermittent to signal a new vocal method, but too insistent to be deemed an expressive device. The basic sound of the voice remains unchanged from that exemplified in her recent Berlioz recording. Perhaps her voice needs the support of a full orchestra to make its best effect.”

      Or

      “The voice as heard on this recording can only be described as technically troubled. Whether due to her recent illness or some other more deepseated technical issue, the basic sound is no longer steady. Pitch wavers unacceptably and there is no compensating improvement in expressiveness, agility, volume, etc, to offset the new unsteadiness.”

      Or

      “The new MB cd will be treasured by her fans. There seems to be some issues with the steadiness of the sound (due perhaps to her recent illness?) -- at times the sound is affected by a pronounced tremolo -- but the timbre that we treasure remains intact -- a basically dark, dense sound with glints of brighter tone that brightens nicely on top. Compact, solid yet pliable.”

      • phoenix

        Gaaaaad! Is that what happened?

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        Has Brueggergosman, by any chance, been ill recently, Luvtennis?

        • richard

          What tipped you off to that????????

        • luvtennis

          I had heard that her weight loss stemmed from some fairly serious medical issues.

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    I’d question whether Wendy was the best person to write this review, given that she, and we, already knew she didn’t like the artist in question.

    That said, for somebody to say the emperor has no clothes once in a while is absolutely necessary -- that an artist who has a recording contract with DG is apparently just not very good at singing, with no redeeming features, needs pointing out if it is indeed the case. The trouble is, it so often comes down to taste, and one critic’s ‘fluttery, unsupported vibrato’ is another’s rich creamy timbre.

    • phoenix

      agree! the emperor always has a new set of ready-to-wear … likewise we all hear with a different pair of ears.

  • Clita del Toro

    I should add that my problem is with the LOC house. If one sits in the balcony, the stage seems sooooooo far away (I could barely see Kaufmann and Dessay in Manon).
    I hate to pay near $200 for an orchestra seat if Michael’s performance is lousy??

    • phoenix

      I sat in the side section of the front row at LOC(before they “renovated” it into the Ardis Kranick Auditorium) and I could hardly hear the singers even when they were right in front of me.
      And no, I was not old at that time, it was way before I reached 50 & there was nothing wrong with my hearing.

    • louannd

      Binoculars? I have a free pair of opera glasses I’ll send you that I got for re-subscribing to opera news. :)

      • phoenix

        How about a free hearing aid with a year’s set of batteries included?

  • Clita del Toro

    Yes, a friend who heard JDF in both houses, the Met and LOC, and from approximately the same distance from the stage, said that he sounded louder at the Met.

    Thanks louannd, but I don’t like to use binoculars at the opera.

    • PokeyGascon

      I will be at LOC on Saturday the 30th in the seconf balcony binoculars in hand.

  • Oy, what a perfectly horrid little recital this is! Thank you, Wendy, I bought it recently and your review helped me make up my mind and give it away!

  • Dawson

    This is not a review. It’s just a badly written grievance.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    Will get a chance to hear Brueggergosman sing Mahler at CSO this week.

    Also, folks aren’t making much noise about Kate Royal making her Met debut this season.

    • phoenix

      Well! with all these “Kate”s’ running around, how can we keep track of them: Lindsey, Aldrich, Royal, etc.

  • Krunoslav

    After a promising beginning, this career is surely one of the biggest frauds going among “recording artists”.

  • WindyCityOperaman

    Measha’s CSO debut seemed out of sorts, sorry to say. Looking wonderful, appearing in a mirror-silver gown and barefoot (!?!) she performed four songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Balance problems at Symphony Center -- she seemed underpowered and choppy in the humorous songs, and unable to sustain a reliable legato in “Urlicht”. Flashes of the voice are attractive and exciting, but there is too much middle-of-the-road singing elsewhere. I was in the gallery where it’s my understanding voices don’t project very well (people at Bartoli’s recital a few seasons back said she was inaudible up there). Like a lot of divae of late she doesn’t hold herself “quietly” while singing and squirms and shifts a lot. Whatever happened to the singers who would stand erect with the vocal mechanism working “internally”?

    • Camille

      “Whatever to the singers who would stand erect with the vocal mechanism working’internally'”?

      They all died.

      Don’t feel bad, Mr. Chicago “My kind of town — it’s one town that won’t let you down!”-- Ms. Mishmash put on the same kind of show -- great dress, queenly airs, tremulous mezza voce unsupported nothingness, in her Carnegie Hall apparition last year with Maestro frankly worst-than-most. They make a good pair. I had no idea I’d seen a “star” and thought she was some girl who had wandered into Carnegie in her best prom date dress. Who’s to blame for this? I do gather that she has a heart problem — occasioned by the dramatic weight loss perhaaps, and for that I do empathise. But voce? Gimme good old Anna, who PUTS OUT!