Cher Public

Vergin territory

puritani_glyndebourneIncredible, but true, I Puritani had not been performed in Great Britain since 1887 when Glyndebourne decided to stage it in 1960 with the main intention to showcase Joan Sutherland, who had been catapulted to international superstardom one year earlier in the legendary Lucia di Lammermoor at Covent Garden.

Furthermore, Vittorio Gui, who had already been introducing the Glyndebourne audiences to Rossini, was eager to add more belcanto works to the repertoire of that opera company. This effort is now documented on the CD just released on the Glyndebourne Enterprise label.  

The first thing that caught my attention is the butchery that Gui did to the score.   Not a single piece, with the exception of the Larghetto maestoso “Oh vieni al tempio” at the end of act I, escapes his scissors.  Small and big cuts abound everywhere.  At the beginning of the opera only half of the Prelude is performed; the whole instrumental introduction to the Allegro sostenuto marziale “Quando la tromba squilla” (about 25 measures) disappear, and the chorus itself is severely reduced.

Dame Joan apparently did not yet have sufficient star power, because even much of her music is slashed: the whole daccapo of her Act I duet with Giorgio is missing, and two big cuts in her Polonaise total over 80 cut measures.   In her Mad Scene, both the tempo di mezzo and the daccapo of the cabaletta are pruned.  This is the exactly kind of horror that very soon led La Stupenda to decide to drop her collaboration with any conductor other than her husband.

I could continue and list all the excisions, of which I have duly made a note, but it would be redundant and fastidious.  I will point out some of the most Draconian cuts as I comment the performances of each singer.

Gui, his blood-curdling editing choices notwithstanding, is quite good: graceful, elegant in the most lyrical moments, tense and suspenseful in the Allegro agitato assai of the dramatic conversation between Enrichetta and Arturo, and almost terrifying in pages like the storm at the beginning of Act 3.  He pays attention to details that are often overlooked, such as the Act II tenebrous brief ensemble “Quaggiù nel mal che questa valle serra”, an Andante of Gluckian tinge.  He likes it so much that he repeats it immediately before Elvira’s “O rendetemi la speme”, eliminating the horns and bassoons introduction written by Bellini.

He also proves to be one of those old school Italian conductors able to assist the singers, complying with, and often foreseeing their intentions.

Dame Joan is simply marvelous.  In the first act duet with the bass, she throws herself with gusto in the difficult agilità di forza that characterize this piece, produces two perfect consecutive trills on the G and A on the words “di dolor” and ends it with a huge, endless high D.  That she sails spectacularly through “Son vergin vezzosa” comes as no surprise, while more unexpected turns out to be the heartfelt anguish she communicates in the Act I finale, with a piercing, desperate F flat on the word “ahimè”.

This early in her career, the Australian soprano was clearly trying to pay a closer attention to her fraseggio, while in subsequent years the vocalist increasingly and unapogetically prevailed on the interpreter.  Even her diction, always her Achilles’ heel, was here much brighter and more comprehensible.  She is hardly a vocal actress, but her effort to articulate cannot be denied.

In 1960 both ends of her extremely wide range were equally strong.  In “Oh vieni al tempio”, the two octaves descent from high C to low C is stupefying.  Surprisingly, she does not conclude the first act with the high B flat written by Bellini, opting to end on an octave lower.   Another absolute rarity for Dame Joan is the small crack she experiences in the cadenza after “Ah tu non sai che più nol temo” in Act III, where for a fraction of a second her voice breaks on a high C sharp:  an insignificant incident in an otherwise flawless performance, in my opinion superior to both her studio recordings of this opera, which are however generally preferable for the reopening of the cuts.

Giuseppe Modesti (Giorgio), distinguishes himself for the handsomeness, if not for the volume, of his bass.  He is elegant, noble, paternal, and especially emotionally involved.  He invests his act II romanza with ductility through tasteful fiati rubati, rallentandos and messe di voce; his high Es flat are round and secure, while the conclusive low A flat turns out rather faint.

Ernest Blanc, at the height of his power, is a notable Riccardo.  His baritone is homogeneous, warm and rich, with a bass-like low register (the low A flat on “per anni ed anni” in his cavatina, a real hurdle for most baritones, is here perfectly supported and sonorous), as well as a confident top: both the high G at the end of the cabaletta (whose daccapo is eliminated) and the A flat concluding “Suoni la tromba” are notes that could peel the paint off the ceiling.   The only problem in this duet is that Blanc sounds more of a bass than Modesti.

With a cultivated legato, Blanc is a true gentleman, a chevalier, who elicits sympathy.  His pertichini during Elvira’s mad scenes are heartbreaking; the gorgeous phrase Bellini writes for Riccardo (“gli occhi affisa sul mio volto…”) is haunting in Blanc’s rendition, with a sweet E flat piano.

Blanc was active in a time when opera in France was mostly sung in the vernacular language, and his relative unfamiliarity with the Italian language is here and there manifest.  Other than this, his Riccardo is one of the best I have heard.

The fly in the ointment is the Arturo of Nicola Filacuridi.  The Egyptian-born Greek tenor, who Italianized his name as it was still fashionable in those days, is already slightly flat on the very first note of “A te, o cara”.  The famous C sharp lasts exactly a semiquaver.  I suspect he did not do it out of respect of Bellini’s notation (that’s how the composer writes it), but rather because he was unable to hold it longer.

Already facilitated by the huge quantity of cuts (for instance, more than half of “Non parlar di lei che adoro”, with all those Gs and As, is expunged), he sings the rest of the score looking for a compromise after the other.  In “Vieni fra queste braccia” (where over twenty measures of music vanish), he ducks the high D, while in the daccapo he switches parts with the soprano, who caps it with a glorious high C, drowning completely Filacuridi’s smallish voice.  In “Ella è spirante”, not only he does foreseeably skip the high F in altissimo, but does not even attempt the high D flat.   Furthermore, he often shuffles words when singing above an A, making sure the high note falls on the vowel E instead of A or O.   In a few words, an Arturo who can barely make it to a high C sharp is simply fraudulent.

Dame Joan’s frequent co-star, Monica Sinclair, sings Enrichetta, and bass David Ward is Lord Walton.

A final curiosity:  the CD cover lists British tenor John Kentish (Bruno) as the third name after Sutherland and Filacuridi, and omits Ernest Blanc altogether; the inside booklet places Kentish’s name at the very top (even before Sutherland!).  I would not be surprised if our own Vicar of Wakefield had had a hand in it.

  • Will

    As a kid, I grew up in the 50s with all the standard cuts. I even wondered how Don Carlo, of recent discussion, while a perfectly nice opera could be the sort of thing Verdi had decided would be his swan song, at least for a while.

    Then the revolution and the cuts were opened, the shape of works could be discerned at last. The really complete recordings flooded out of the studios and shamed opera houses and lazy stars into performing what the composers had actually written.

    To this day I dislike cuts in anything. I never understood why some opera lovers would scream in protest over an opera being updated in production but defend cuts because they got you to the mad scene faster, or because the thought something Wagner or Verdi had written was “boring” (as if). It made no sense — performing the opera “as the composer intended” should, I thought, apply to the score most of all.

    • Wonderful review. This I must get, warts and all. I don’t mind cuts in those old recordings/performances. I despise them today and groan when I hear cadences or da capos shorn of their beauty and power, but somehow can take it on “old” performances. Joan and Nicola certainly make a handsome couple on the cover!

      I have to concur with Will regarding those who freak out over updated/non-traditional productions while not minding the music hacked to ribbons! Crazy, that.

      • I’ve said it before I’ll say it again, the freaking out over Regie is all about nostalgia, plain and simple. Which is why the cuts don’t matter to people, they are also what they probably grew up with. Or they grew up not going to the opera and only hearing recital LPs or something. Regardless, a whole host of faux logical argument can be used to cover up nostalgia.

        • mrmyster

          OpNeo: Nonsense, me laddie, nonsense! Regie is like anything else- there is good Regie and there is bad Regie. And, by the way, is there
          something wrong with nostalgia? Is there? What?
          I do not object to intelligent well-pointed Regie, if it does no harm to
          the vehicle, and sometimes there can be insights. I remember 10 or
          more years ago seeing a Tosca at ENO that was set in Mussolini’s
          Fascist Italy -- hardly Regie of any kind, but certainly an up-dated
          production, with English singers nobody has heard of before or since,
          though they sang very well, and I enjoyed it. It CAN work; but it does
          not very often work, and when it is done mindlessly it is quite an
          offense, or should be, to intelligent, well-informed opera lovers of
          any age. That is my message to you. I hope it does not make an
          old fogey of me, but if so -- well OK. See you in the retirement home
          one of these decades. Be happy, don’t worry. ###

          • Arianna a Nasso

            I’ll take the bait re: what’s wrong with nostalgia, or rather too much nostalgia.

            I strongly feel one needs to be aware of the history of opera performance to fully appreciate and evaluate what one sees today, both from audio and video recordings and from the rolodex of performances one accumulates over a lifetime. One can enjoy opera without this -- the majority of the public probably does -- but not as richly as those of us with that information.

            For me, when I hear “nostalgia” I think of those people who constantly live in the past, how much better everything was back then and how inferior everything is today in comparison. The problem with that is that the past is behind us. Nothing positive can be gained by spending a significant amount of one’s life not being in the present. Period. Ask any mental health provider.

            Do I believe the standard of, say, Verdi performance is well below the standards of the past? Of course. But I still can enjoy a good performance of Verdi today, one which provides me a pleasurable and positive experience, while knowing it does not meet the level of a 1950s Tebaldi-Simionato-Corelli-Bastianini-Serafin performance. Too much nostalgia brings too much negative energy into one’s life, and that’s what the problem can be with nostalgia.

          • louannd

            Mr. “intelligent, well-pointed Regie” -- I say Amen to that.

        • Arianna a Nasso

          Very good point, ON. I also find the Regie resistance often coming from those who claim opera is about the singing (not the music, certainly not the drama) -- those who go to the opera to see Gheoghiu, not to see La Traviata. While they are entitled to view opera that way, they often refuse to allow that others may feel the music or drama are equally or more important.

          • IdiaLegray

            The problem with much regie is that it ignores the drama as written to substitute another drama that is not always appropriate to the music. It places the director above the libretto and often ignorant of the music.

        • richard

          ON, this is too simplistic a view. I’ve been around a long time and I like good singing as much as the next person, but it isn’t a be all or end all for me.

          I also love to go to the theater and see a very tightly directed show where I understand why the characters are doing what they are doing and singing what they are singing. And there are plenty of directors that can pull off this kind of thing. And really whether it’s traditional or Konzept or minimalist, as long as it works for me, I’m willing to go along.

          There is lousy regie, with directors doing nothing more than repeating some once new devise to create a sensation. Director X sees a photo of director Y using Mickey Mouse heads on the singer for Forza and decides to use them for his Tannhauser production. This is as old, stale, and meaningless as the 23rd revival of a musty old Tosca production that is staged via some decaying notebooks by the 4th assistant stage manager.

          Shit is shit whether it’s old shit viewed by young people or new shit viewed by young people.

          • richard

            sorry last line should be…”new shit viewed by old people”

          • I agree, I should have been more specific. Bad directing is bad directing. Weird pacing, a lack of focus, none of these should be excused because its regie and too cool to keep the audiences attention. And if thats the basis of the critique, than fine. But to even make that critique you have to accept that validity of even the premise of the production, and maybe there are ways it could be done to make it a better show.

    • Niel Rishoi

      Will, I agree. It’s hard to believe such wholesale pruning was at one point so drastic. But they still prevail today: the commercial Dessay SONNAMBULA, which incidentally, boasts “restored” status, is loaded (er, UNloaded) with cuts. WTF?

    • Angelo Saccosta

      The conductors in those days thought they were doing the composer a service in making the music more “linear,” Gavazzeni’s term, I think. Let’s not forget they had all come of age in the time of verismo and Wagner, when the notion of music for its own sake and in full observance of the “convenienze” had become passe’ along with the ability to sing it. Then along came Joan and the rest as they is history.
      Just look at what was was done even to Verdi’s “big three” Rigoletto, Trovatore, and Traviata. I know of no performance from the period that has not lost many minutes of music.

  • Harry

    I am curious. Whatever happened to Pierre Duval the tenor on Sutherland’s first (Decca/London) studio recording of I Puritani? We never seemed to ever hear of him, after that time.

    • Camille

      I always wondered about him too, Harry, and wasn;t he on another recording as well?

      • papopera

        According to Canadian Encyclopaedia Duval (born Ovide Coutu in 1932 ), toured in Europe, South America, USA and Canada. He sang in Puritani at Philadelphia in 1967 and with Beverley Sills in the same opera at Ottawa in 1974.

        (The comments about Filacuridi confirms what I always thought about him: the biggest fraud around together with Kurt Baum.)

        • mrmyster

          Papo: What you say is true, BUT Kurt Baum on a good night
          did have a really splendid top range, especially the high-C,
          which was his trademark for many years. Otherwise he was
          less than appealing. He did play a good game of tennis, I

          • papopera

            Yes, I have had the unfortunate treat of seeing him at the old Met in Trovatore. He held that last note in Di Quelle Pira for three hours. It was a very entertaining performance, not meant to be funny really but still…Baum !

  • Arianna a Nasso

    Great review, EF. Could you clarify the term fraseggio? Online translators say it means phrasing, but in the context of your review, that doesn’t quite make sense. TIA.

    • I think phrasing is a good approximation of fraseggio. What I tried to convey is that early in her career (and this seems to be the general consensus) Sutherland appeared to pay more attention to expressing the meaning of the text, while later on her priority focused, by her admission, on mere virtuosismo.

      • And this also explains the graudal weakening of her notes below the stave, the relative strength (in the present recording) of which you have wisely commented.

        • Harry

          Back in the 60’s people were predicting that her voice would not last. As we saw, Sutherland gradually eschewed diction to be able to keep her high register. By the 80’s one could not understand what she was singing as well as just hearing a ghost impression of her original voice. I prefer her first versions -- be it Rigoletto, Lucia, Puritani, Norma, Sonnamubula etc. Why she put out second recorded versions of so many of her operas, I found puzzling. The excuse was always claimed as ‘deeper interpretation’! Of what? The diction was always worse than any of her first attempts at the same opera..

          • Yahiyka

            Surely most of those second recordings were at least as much about recording Pavarotti as giving Sutherland a second shot at Gilda or Elvira.

    • If I’m not much mistaken, fraseggio simply means phrasing.

      But what are pertichini?

      Great review. I love Blanc and am always happy to read glowing opinions of his singing.

      • Pertichini are interventions, interjections of other singers during the solo aria of a singer. A te o cara is a perfect example: Arturo sings the main melody while Elvira and the others contribute with their own melodies, more or less developed. It is interesting to note that technically A te o cara is not an aria. Bellini does not call it an aria. He calls it “quartetto con coro”. Arturo’s only “real” aria for Bellini is the Romanza “A una fonte afflitto e solo”.

        • Camille

          Grazie, Cavaliere Farnese. I, too, disgraziatamente, had forgotten about pertichini.

          I hope you received my missal on Poplavskaya. She’s just very much an odd duck. The more you try to analyse her, the more she escapes you, la sfinge.

          • Yes, I read your assessment of gazpazha Poplavskaja with much interest and I agree with it.
            Regarding the “vergin vezzosa”, I have always heard that Callas, in one of her first Puritani in Venice, sang “Son vergin viziosa”, as an inside joke, but for some reason I cannot picture Callas doing that.
            Gino Bechi on the other hand was doing Tosca in Germany and sang “tre birre, una scamorza, va Spoletta…” This is for sure, because he told me so.

          • Camille

            LOL!! That is wonderful. I would want due scamorze, though!

            I hope, mio Cavaliere, that you have found your way to Mario Batali’s EATALY, down on 5th Avenue near the Flatiron Building. It is a lot of fun. Qua se magna ‘bbene!!!!!

          • richard

            Yes, I heard the same vezzosa/viziosa story but as I heard it it was an error in pronunciation. She had only been living in Italy for a little more than a year and was picking up Italian in bits and pieces after years of living in Greek or English speaking countries.

            Callas was also learing the role of Elvira in a matter of a few days in addition to learning to speak fluent Italian. I think the error was in a rehearsal.

      • MontyNostry

        CF, out of the blue, BBC Radio 3 just played Anita in Casta diva (with Gavazenni, I think). Divine. And to think that just the other day they played Bartolo singing it in her pitiful little microphone-oriented voce soffocata. Don’t you think that today’s opera public is, to coin a British term, having its plonker pulled if Bartoli is supposed to exemplify bel canto?

        • MontyNostry

          … and the chutzpadik BBC presenter. who vaunts her first-class music degree from Oxford, noch, seemed to think that Anita’s surname was Cicchetti rathe than Cerquetti.

          • manou

            chutzpadik -- another quaint little British term…

          • armerjacquino

            This horror at mangled Italian might be a little more credible if you could spell ‘Gavazzeni’… ;-)

          • MontyNostry

            Sorry, armer, as usual I stand corrected before you, as does everyone on this board. It was the excitement of the moment.

          • MontyNostry

            … and while I’m at it, I left the ‘r’ off rather too. Spanking is in order.

          • armerjacquino

            So you slag off someone’s pronunciation, and that’s fine- but if I point out the irony of your cocking up your spelling in doing so (complete with nice pacific smiley on the end) I get some heavy-handed sarcasm?

            You’ll have to send me your rulebook, I’m clearly rubbish at guessing them.

          • MontyNostry

            I’ve been speaking Italian reasonably well for 30 years, but I find it an awkward language to type. I acually took the trouble to check the spelling of Maestro’s name on Google, but it still came out wrongly under my fingers. It was clearly my ever-increasing irritation with Radio 3’s presentation style that was getting the better of me. And I find the use of emoticons covers up a multitude of sins. I have a highly manipulative client who uses them inveterately to cover up the fact that she is bleeding me dry!

        • MN -- I love Cerquetti’s official DECCA recital, however, judging by several of her live recordings, the decca engineers did a particularly lousy job in capturing the timbre and the opulence of the sound.

          Here’s the studio version of the Bolero :

          Here’s the live recording :

        • Mademoiselle Camille, so far I have tried to stay away from Eataly because I am on a strict and constant food regimen, but next week I have guests from Europe so I will have to take them there. I’ll go blindfolded.

          • Camille

            Mio care ed egregio Signor Ercole,

            Mi dispiace tanto per Lei!

            Is it not possible to at least enjoy un caffe at the Illy Bar?

  • Camille

    Oh, I am just thrilled to know of this release. There is just nothing quite like jeune Sutherland! As I was never that happy with her Decca recording of this same opera, I look forward greatly to hearing this one.

    • luvtennis

      I have just got this from Amazon last week. I hadn’t listened to it til today since I was travelling in CA on business.

      The cuts are deplorable, but Gui, as was so often the case, is superb in this rep. There is none of the orchestral heaviness that you too often find in this rep. Gui understands intuitively perhaps that Bellini came BEFORE Wagner, Brahms and late Verdi. The orchestra must be flexible, transparent, and utterly supportive of the singers if this music is to make it’s points. Gui delivers.

      Dame Joan is glorious. This is singing free of all taint of verismo. The tone is entirely on the breath. As a result, the legato is perfect. She never forces the tone so the upper register pings like a choir of harps. And the bravura is intensely musical. Her shaping of coloratura is so masterful that every run makes musical sense. She understands finding the right contours or shape of the bravura line is as important as hitting all the notes. Singers like Gruberova might occasionally be more accurate, but too often they fail to capture the proper shape of those runs. Indeed, Edita can make even the most accurate coloratura sound clumsy and unmusical because she lacks Sutherland’s sense of line (Anderson had the same ability although the voice was not as beautiful as Joan’s)

      And the trill. Jeepers.

    • luvtennis

      I have just got this from Amazon last week. I hadn’t listened to it til today since I was travelling in CA on business.

      The cuts are deplorable, but Gui, as was so often the case, is superb in this rep. There is none of the orchestral heaviness that you too often find in this rep. Gui understands intuitively perhaps that Bellini came BEFORE Wagner, Brahms and late Verdi. The orchestra must be flexible, transparent, and utterly supportive of the singers if this music is to make it’s points. Gui delivers.

      Dame Joan is glorious. This is singing free of all taint of verismo. The tone is entirely on the breath. As a result, the legato is perfect. She never forces the tone so the upper register pings like a choir of harps. And the bravura is intensely musical. Her shaping of coloratura is so masterful that every run makes musical sense. She understands finding the right contours or shape of the bravura line is as important as hitting all the notes. Singers like Gruberova might occasionally be more accurate, but too often they fail to capture the proper shape of those runs. Indeed, Edita can make even the most accurate coloratura sound clumsy and unmusical because she lacks Sutherland’s sense of line (Anderson had the same ability although the voice was not as beautiful as Joan’s)

      And the trill. Jeepers.

      • Camille

        THE KILLERTRILLER -- Dame Joanie!

        Nothing ever like it, except maybe Selma Kurz, at least in my hearing experience.

        Goody Gumdrops!!!
        Now I now what to get for Christmas!!!!! or Hanukah or Kwaanzahhhhhhh. Thanks for your input, mr. luvtennis.

        • Verdilover

          Patti does unforgettable trills in the recording of “Ah, non credea”. In spite of her age, a most wonderful redition.

  • Camille

    oh, and my husband has told me I had better apologize about that *KISS* on the chat, ‘specially if it created havoc with anyone’s recording. As an ignorant Chat Vergin, I knew not what I was doing. Perdona! Pieta!

    • manou

      …e fu quel bacio rivelazione fu’na passione…

      Camille -- it seems your husband keeps you on a tight rein?

      • Camille

        He tries, but does not succeed.
        I have to play along once in a while to make him feel good.
        You know, la donna e nata scaltra!!!!

        • manou

          Ahi! dottore, è troppo scaltra: più di te costei ne sa

    • Jay

      Camille, ancor un con baccio tu sei un vergine vezzosa.

      • manou

        Scusa, ma se Camille e ancora vergine, cos’avra combinato il suo marito?

        • Jay

          Lei è vergine quando suo marito è fuori città. Poi diventa La Vestale, non è vero?

          • Camille

            how’d ya know, Jay!

            And sometimes,

            SON LA GIOCONDA!

        • Camille

          il mzrito ha i cazzi suori, non ti preoccupare, gentile signora!

          • Camille

            oops, mArito!!!


          • Camille

            So sorry, I am the daughter of La Cieca and suffer from myopia, so I didn’t see the second spelling error, to wit: cazzi SUOI

          • Jay

            E fa il suo canto del gallo?

          • oedipe

            At first I thought it must be “cazzi suoi”, then I concluded that “cazzi suori” would not be out of the question around here.

      • Camille

        are you calling me a vexing virgin? a vicious vestal? or a vixen in :”Beyond the Valley of Super Vixens”?

        • manou

          vezzosa = carina (cf vezzosità)

        • Jay

          Virtuous vessel?

        • manou

          Speriamo almeno che il suo marito non le canti mai La Vestaglia :

          • Camille

            Io sono una virtuosa vergine vestale vezzosa, vasallo della man!

            I love San Remo. it’s cheesy sleaze at its greatest!

  • richard

    This is a fascinating review and led me to dig out my old, scrappy copy of Sutherland’s first bio, written by Russell Braddon in 1962. This dwells a bit on Sutherland’s Glyndebourne history, she first sang there as the Figaro Countess around 1956 but wasn’t reengaged. According to this somewhat flakey biography, the reason given was Joan’s horrendously bad teeth which were visible at all points in the tiny auditorium (Was this true? who knows, the work is very odd, Callas is depicted as speaking using some Aussie slang.)

    Evidently this Glyndenbourne engagement also coincided with the recording sessions for Art of the Prima Donna, one of Sutherland’s most successful aria collection releases.

    Again, in skimming the book, evidently the Bonynges weren’t so happy with Gui’s cuts in Puritani but didn’t have the weight to do much about it. Not so the following year when Sutherland was to make her Scala debut as Beatrice di Tenda, which she had sung for AOS in NY. The Bonynges learned Gui was making major cuts and dropping the final cabaletta. This time the Bonynges put there feet(?) down. No major cuts in Beatrice. It was a standoff and the opera was changed to Lucia. Sutherland had a huge success but wasn’t allowed to wear the bloodied costume in the mad scene. It had to be cleanup for the Milanese audience.

    • Camille

      yes, richard, I think the tooth thing is more or less the case because it was thereabouts that she went to, I think, David Webster to get the enormous sum of money, pounds of pounds, to get her teeth fixed.

      I wish I still had that book, as it is written before the beatification of the Dame of the Empire, and as such, less self-conscious, than, say Norma Major’s.

    • Regina delle fate

      I think this biography is incorrect, because Joan certainly sang one of the aspiring prime donne in Glyndebourne’s production of Der Schauspieldirektor -- and I also have a feeling she sang Donna Anna there before recording it with Giulini in 1959 -- and I doubt if she would have done that role there after having sung Elvira in Puritani. As you say, a flakey biography.

      • rapt

        According to the Braddon bio, Sutherland was engaged for Der Schauspieldirektor after her teeth were fixed; a later reference to Glyndebourne also suggests (the sentence is vague) that she sang Donna Anna there in the late 50s.

        • Camille

          About Donn’Anna; her role debut occurred in Vancouver, B. C. on 26 July, 1958, et seq. She subsequently sang it again in Dublin, Ireland on 24 November 1958, et seq., in Vienna at the Staatsopera on 14 Septemeber 1959, in a concert performance in Royal Festival Hall in London on 18 and 20 October 1959. That takes care of the fifties, so no performance of Donn’Anna at Glyndebourne then. The Elvira in I Puritani performances commence on 24 May 1960. The Edinburgh performances of same commence on 24 August 1960 to continue to 10 September. pp. 440-442

          I note that the performances of I Puritani were broadcast on 18 June 1960 from Glyndebourne and 8 August from Edinburgh. Page 442.

          • richard

            Camille, in the Braddon bio, as much as it can be relied on, the Glyndebourne Donna Anna were the same summer, and immediately following, the Puritani that the esteemed Ercole reviews for us. Braddon comments that 1960 held a busy summer for Sutherland ; the Glyndebourne Puritanis and Don Giovannis as well as the recording sessions for Art of The Prima Donna

          • Camille

            Yes, richard, that is correct, for 1960, which is not the 1950’s, as refferred to above by rapt.

            The performances of Don Giovanni ran from 1 July through 5 August 1960. The performance of 24 Jly being broadcast. page.443.

          • rapt

            Thanks for clearing that up, Camille. I didn’t have a more authoritative source available, and inferred the late 50s date from Braddon’s vague references to Ebert’s direction at Glyndebourne as part of the anticipation of her Vancouver Donna Anna; but I now see I got it wrong.

      • Camille

        Last night I got out “A Prima Donna’s Progress”, entertaining travelogue that it is, to consult with Aunt Joanie, and I found that on page 58, she commences recounting the problems with her teeth and the resolution thereof, which began after David Webster accorded her the royal sum of 1,000 pounds, to have them totally redone by Henry Pitt Roche. This occurred after her initial success as Gilda at the Garden. Checking the chronology in back I find that Rigoletto ran from 8 May to 1 June, 1957. The above-mentioned performances of Der Schauspieldirektor (which I seem to recall having read about in the long ago Braddon biography meself) occurred in 1957, from 5 through 23 July.

        Elsewhere, whilst remembering the debacle with the Met regarding Die Entfuehrung aus dem Serail she said this:

        “Back again to New York for the long-awaited ‘Great Performers at Lincoln Center’ concert with Luciano, Ric and myself. There was a huge amount of publicity for this event, with joint and personal coverage in the newspapers about our early lives and future plans. Some of the New York press broached the subject of my cancellation (many months in advance) of the proposed performances by me at the Met of Constanze in Il Seraglio (sic). Although I had wanted to sing the role much earlier in my career for Glyndebourne, I had been deemed ‘too big’ for the production on their stage! Some twenty years later I was asked to do a long run of the opera (about thirteen performances) at the Met, plus the tour. After studying the role carefully for some time I felt I was unable to sustain the tessitura for so many performances in a large house like the Met (and some of the tour venues) without problems and possible last-minute cancellations. So Ric and I thought it was better to withdraw, giving plenty of time to find a replacement. The Met then, seemingly out of pique, cancelled performances of The Merry Widow which had been agreed upon and the Semiramide production planned with Marilyn Horne--with the management saying the three production had been a ‘Package Deal’. There had been no mention of this to us but the result of the situation was that I did not perform an opera at the Met between the end of March 1978 and the beginning of November 1982.” page 316, para. 3.

        Interesting, fellows, eh?

        • richard

          My own impression is that the Met was having their arm twisted for the Sutherland Merry Widow and that they really didn’t want to do it.

          It may have been viewed as a tough sell. I was surprised at the Esclarmonde performances in 1976, tickets were easy to come by and the houses were not packed; the previous Sutherland (particularly with Pav) productions and revivals were a very, very hot ticket. But even Sutherland couldn’t make the tickets vanish for Esclarmonde.

          Personally I don’t care for Viennese operetta so I wasn’t heartbroken to see Widow ditched. But I’ve felt all along that the Met Esclarmondes and the 1978 Don Giovannis marked the end of Joanie’s really productive period, at least in NYC. The AFH concert with Horne in 1981 did have some fine moments.

  • Dawson

    Is there any truth to the rumors about Sutherland and Sinclair? I’ve often heard they were much more than colleagues.

    • Harry

      While Dickie was doing ‘the light fantastic’ all over the place.

      • Jay

        Having sat in Sutherland’s box when the Met was on tour with Dickie’s then-boyfriend, it was all very civilized.

        • messa di voce

          Please tell us what Sutherland’s box was like.

          • Jay

            Sutherland’s box was very spacious. Room enough for four, even though only two of us were in it that evening.

  • Avantialouie

    This is a fine review, but permit me one quibble: “This is exactly the kind of horror that very soon led La Stupenda to decide to drop her collaboration with any conductor other than her husband.” Her husband, alas, perpetrated many such horrors himself. “Alcina,” “Les contes d’Hoffmann,” and “Semiramide” come readily to mind. To further Joan’s career was always Bonynge’s primary objective. Respecting the integrity of the works he conducted was a lesser concern by far.

    • Harry

      Avantialouie: Notice how Bonygne was very sympathetic to Sutherland in many recordings yet uncaring of many of the other cast. If an opera had a ballet interlude…he then become a first rate conductor.

    • armerjacquino

      I hadn’t realised that she simply stopped working with other conductors- when was that? I can only think of Mehta and Hogwood as exceptions (on record at least) from the mid sixties onwards.

      • Buster

        ArmerJacquino: for your collection:

        There is more Wildbrunn on youtube since a couple of days, including the most wonderful Immolation scene.

        • armerjacquino

          Thanks so much, Buster. What a lovely solid, secure, radiant voice. I’d heard the name but never the voice.

          • Buster

            My pleasure -- glad you love her too.

      • richard

        AJ, I think it was pretty much about 1965, as you guess.

        Using her NYC performances, which is the part of her career I’m most familiar with, her last non-Bonynge performance was in 1964.

        There was then a two year gap in her Met appearances( complicated negotiations with Bing over her new conductor of choice, I wonder????) and when they resumed, Ricky was on the podium where he remained for the next 20+ years of Met performances.

        In one way, I’m sure it was important for Sutherland and it worked well. But I always disliked him, more than anything else for his very fussy way of interpreting music. I wonder which gave him a bigger thrill, a tall , blond surfer type or a series of tinkling chimes used as a coloring devise in an opera overture.

      • Cocky Kurwenal

        There was also the Verdi Requiem for Solti, but maybe I’m splitting hairs -- I think it was 1966. Still, her restricting herself to Bonynge had already established itself by then, so to me it sticks out as an anomoly.

      • iltenoredigrazia

        By 1964 Sutherland started asking for Bonynge as conductor. I believe their first Puritani recording was Bonynge’s first recording. (First conducting engagement?) He conducted her in the Australian tour in 1965. I remember the gossiping at the time on whether Sutherland was “demanding” Bonynge as conducting, part of a package deal. Bing engaged Bonynge to conduct her in Lucia during the first season at the new Met (66/67) and went public claiming that it was NOT a package deal, etc. That season she also sang in Don Giovanni at the Met conducted by Karl Bohm. But I believe that was the last time she sang in public with anyone else conducting. She was later scheduled to sing in the new production of Abduction at the Met conducted by Levine, but she then withdrew claiming that the role was no longer comfortable for her. Would that have been the case if Bonynge had been the slated conductor?

        • Camille

          May I direct your attention to an article written on Cafeteria Rusticana, in which the author--in a memorial to the recently deceased Dame--recounts a story of a performance of Norma he attended in which an occurrence led him to theorizing upon the true reason for Sutherland’s insistence upon her husband conducting. It also humanizes her in a way which, I think, is necessary for us all to recall, once in a while.

          • iltenoredigrazia

            Sorry, Mmme La Cieca, but the Abduction production was announced from the very beginning to be conducted by Levine. At least a year before Sutherland dropped out.

        • richard

          ITDG, you are right about the Sutherland/Bohm Don Giovanni at the Met. I forgot about that one; that was slightly before my own history with JS/RB. The first time I saw Sutherland was in the Met’s 1970 Norma and I never heard her sing without Bonynge conducting.

          I really believe that overall his guidance was very important for her and she may never have really become the soprano we all know without him. But as in all situations like this with an all or nothing kind of overlay, I can still question some of the choices that they made jointly. And also as Sutherland’s career entered it’s declining phase would she have been better served with moving on to different rep (Well I know, she did a little bit e.g. Adriana and Suor Angelica but those were hardly naturals for her).

          Still, overall I would say that Bonynge’s influence on Sutherland was for the most part very successful. It’s easy to do Monday morning quarterbacking with specific details; hindsight is usually 20/20.

        • operacat

          I had heard that Sutherland backed out of the ABDUCTION because the Met backed out of doing a production of THE MERRY WIDOW for her. Can anyone verify? Sutherland disappeared from the MET for several years after that reportedly angry with the management (I believe it was 1978 -- 82; the new production of ENTFUHRUNG was in 1979).

          • Arianna a Nasso

            Sutherland’s bio says that she backed out of Abduction when it became evident several months in advance she couldn’t sing the role comfortably for all the planned performances at the Met and on tour (I believe it was to be a role debut). The Met in turn cancelled Merry Widow and Semiramide with Horne, claiming this was a package deal. It’s a shame the Met chose to be so petty when a singer over 50 realized that her powers were diminishing. The Widow was no great loss, but it’s a shame Horne had to wait another decade to sing Arsace at the Met, by which time she was no longer in her prime.

          • richard

            What I heard is that the MEt and Sutherland had a three opera contract Abduction, Merry Widow, and Semiramide with a reunion on stage with Horne.

            Sutherland decided a bit closer in that parts of Abduction were no longer comfortable for her and wanted it dropped from her schedule and Merry Widow moved up in it’s place. Met disageed, no Sutherland Abduction, no Sutherland MErry Widow.

            So Sutherland decided, no Met Sutherland.

            Abduction went on with Moser (who was very variable), Semiramide waited about ten years and MErry Widow, which evidently the MEt had little desire to put on, waited until 2000 until finally done as a von Stade/Domingo vehicle.

            It was too bad about those years we in the US lost with Sutherland, for me that was the point of no return . I thought the Lucrezia Borgia she sang at the ROH in the late 70s was still in the category of very late prime Joanie. But after 1980, no I’ll pass.

          • I think the way the story went was this: the proposed set of projects with Sutherland/Bonynge was Entführung (Fall 1979)/Semiramide (spring 1981)/Merry Widow (?). Then Sutherland had cold feet about the Mozart mostly because of the “Traurigkeit” “Ach ich liebte” which is always a difficult sing for any soprano, and until fairly recently it was very often transposed down. When she backed out of the Mozart, the Met lost interest in Merry Widow, and for whatever reason Semiramide fell by the wayside. The Entführung production went on as scheduled with Edda Moser as Konstanze, and presumably the 1981 revival of L’italiana was a way of using Marilyn Horne’s dates. (Sutherland and Bonynge, along with Horne and Pavarotti, did a concert in New York in March 1981).

            There was a revival of Entführung in the spring of 1982 that might have filled in the dates of a Sutherland/Bonynge Merry Widow?

          • Traurikgeit? Or Ach ich liebte? I’ve heard several versions from the 50s of Traurigkeit, none of them transposed.

            Ach ich liebte, on the other hand, is a killer and was often transposed, if sung at all (cf Lois Marshall for Beecham, transposed a whole tone).

          • Sorry, “Ach ich liebte,” obviously.

          • Krunoslav

            That DON PASQUALE lackd star power because Sills had decided to retire; originally they were expecting her ro return and do Norina. Not that she was very good in 1979, but it would have sold more tickets than Roberta Peters, a very, very good Norina in 1955.

            David Rendall as Ernesto? He was acceptable in Mozart roles, but this counts as “Vicar casting”, especially when the alternate for one or two shows was the capable Dalmacio Gonzalez.

          • Krunoslav: You’re right, and I’ve edited my response to reflect a more likely possibility, i.e., that the planned Merry Widow dates were filled out with a revival of Entführung.

            Sills says she was booked to do Gilda at the Met in the winter of 1979-80, and a return as Norina would fit exactly into a month-long gap in her spring 1980 schedule.

            The two possible projects I could see for Sills in the 1980-81 season (she says she was booked solid three years in advance when she decided in 1979 to retire) would be the revival of L’elisir d’amore (a telecast opposite Pavarotti) or the new Traviata (she claims in her second autobio to have been promised a new production of this opera with Domingo and Levine conducting.)

          • iltenoredigrazia

            I was told by someone working in the cast dept at the Met back in the early 1980’s that the Semiramide got screwed up because somehow the Sutherland’s and Bonynge’s had it scheduled for different times. When the error was found, it was too late to get things adjusted. Again, that’s what I was told by a reliable source, but I still question how that could have happened. Did Bonynge have that many (any?)gigs at that time without Sutherland?

            This person also told me that Abduction had been scheduled on its own. The Semiramide and Widow were a package of two and when the Semiramide fell through the Met dropped Widow too.

            Relations between the Bonynge’s and Met manager Chapin were not very cordial. Chapin originally offered a new production of Puritani to Sills for her Met debut. When Sutherland heard of it, she hit the roof. She had been begging for Puritani from the day of her debut and told Chapin that she would never again appear at the Met. I believe Sills herself questioned the choice. Eventually, as we all know her Met debut was in L’Assedio di Corinto. And Sutherland got her Puritanit the next season.

          • Arianna a Nasso

            La Cieca -- I thought the Traviata with Levine, Domingo, and Milnes was to have happened in the mid-70s (not sure if it was to be new). Sills remained but with Stuart Burrows, Ingvar Wixell and Sarah Caldwell. I wonder if Sills could have sung Traviata still in 1980, given how she talked about gradually dropping the more dramatic, high stamina roles following her tumor removal.

            Very interesting to hear about the Met Rigoletto plans (it would be great if details like this could be footnoted in the Met Archives for those performances). The EMI recording now makes more sense. One wonders if she was to have sung the telecast with Pavarotti in 81-82 instead of Eda-Pierre. And was someone more commercial than Louis Quilico to have sung that telecast as well?

          • Krunoslav

            As I recall, that RIGOLETTO broadcast was meant to be for Milnes, who was indisposed for some time.

          • Gualtier M

            I also heard a story that Sutherland was in a meeting with Joan Ingpen and other Met administration high-ups about repertory. Joan suggested the Met give her “Adriana Lecouvreur” (a revival) and Joan Ingpen interjected “Isn’t a little late in the day for that”. Which was really a stupid thing to say on many levels. Actually the role was too low and too text and acting driven for Sutherland’s gifts -- a case of miscasting. The role was too easy for Joan at that point. However, Joan became furious and stormed out of the meeting.

            I have also suspected that Levine and other major conductors running houses were not pleased with the Sutherland/Bonynge combo and the way they could use star power to bring in operas like “Esclarmonde” that the Met wouldn’t ahve otherwise touched with a 10 foot pole. Levine never supported Joan publicly in print and probably felt threatened and resentful of the Bonynge’s influence.

      • mandryka

        She did some wonderful Don Giovanni performances under Karl Boehm in 1967 or so. Siepi, Lorengar, Corena, Uppmann. I had the broadcast tape for years. it’s a real spoiler

        • Feldmarschallin

          Well for what it is worth, Diana Damrau once told me that she finds the Ach ich liebte, the easiest of the three arias. So I guess every singer has a different take on it.

      • Tubsinger

        Joanie was permitted to sing in the Vienna Solti Verdi Requiem with the bel canto cast… as opposed to Giulini’s overrated Philharmonia version, with the “Merry Widow” cast. The former was, I think, around 1967 or 1968, as Luciano was in it.

        Solti’s version is not my favorite, but it’s a tough work to bring off on record. There always seem to be compromises somewhere. I think Dame Joan may have been a tad miscast. But not as badly as Schwarzkopf was.

        • Yeah I think you got it right. Walter Legge allowed his wife to ruin two potentially great recordings. Though I have to say I’m not very fond of Giulini’s EMI version. And to think that back when de Sabata recorded his version EMI had two potentially magnificent sopranos for this part -- Rysanek and Jurinac! Thank God we have a VERY good Rysanek version live with Karjana from Salzburg, the tone is glorious and she is very well behaved there.

          Sutherland was, I thought, completely miscast too. Not because the voice wasnt appropriate but the whole style is alien and in the Libera me incantation it sounds ludicrous and out of sorts. The whole project sounds good on paper but it is such a cold, efficient performance, Solti not having a clue how to warm up the music from within.

          • Feldmarschallin

            yes what were the stupid conductors de Sabata and Giulini thinking when they accepted Schwarzkopf. I guess you know more about music than they did.

          • Belfagor

            As a student I went to a dress rehearsal (can’t remember what) of a big choral work with Solti conducting -- sat at the back near the choir. I’d heard the Solti ‘Ring’ by then and so was very excited to see ‘the great man’ in action -- couldn’t believe the contempt and hatred that poured out from the orchestra -- brass players muttering ‘not loud enough Georgie-boy?’ and much more stuff like that. He was known as the ‘screaming skull’ -- and one sensed that the orchestra (LPO) despised him and regarded him as a charlatan -- so what do we know?

          • Nerva Nelli

            With the troll Walter Legge holding purse and recording career strings, I don’t imagine anyone had much choice about “accepting” for offered projects the once and future Frau Doktor Schwarzkopf.


            I can’t *imagine* that de Sabata would not have preferred Tebaldi in 1954, if that could have been handled contractually.

          • manou

            I always thought Walter Legge was Jewish -- not a very good connection to Mengele.

          • Harry

            Feldmarshallin: I gleam a sneer in your reply to CerquettiFarrell
            over the discussion of Schwarzkopf and the Verdi Requiem. One should remember that at that particular time, Legge(Schwarzkopf’s husband)had really big clout at EMI .It would not have been just, whether Guilini or de Sabata ‘knew more about music than someone else’ and then they ‘just decided to use Schwartzkopf’. Legge would have made that decision and if those two conductors challenged…I am sure their future EMI engagements would have been on the line, somewhat. Legge went on, and even tried to dismantle the Philharmonia Orchestra. After the ruckus settled , its playing members took over and formed their own autonomous organization: becoming ‘The New Philharmonia’.
            It was publicly well reported/ documented where Sit Adrian Boult- when conducting the original Philharmonia in concert, also happened to make an public stage announcement denouncing the intended dismantling action. Mr & Madame Legge-Blackhead who happened to be in the audience, took great personal slight ‘at this affront’. They stormed out in displeasure! So much for the Legges caring about anyone else, except their own sense of self aggrandizement. Her over focused constipated voice…let’s be blunt and actually say it properly for once….she always sounded ‘like someone had shoved a steel carrot up her arse- broad-side’

          • Nerva Nelli

            manou says:
            December 6, 2010 at 10:31 AM

            I always thought Walter Legge was Jewish – not a very good connection to Mengele.


            Nor, one would have thought, to Dame Dr. Betty, nor to von Karajan, nor to the anti-Semitic Nikolai Medtner. And yet…

          • MontyNostry

            I do sincerely hope that Legge wasn’t a secret Jew. He always sounds like a seriously right-wing old racist to me and the way he scavenged in immediately post-War Germany has never endeared me to him. It doesn’t help, either, that he gave the nickname ‘Monostatos’ to his producer Suvi Raj Grubb. What’s more, in the post-Legge era, with pseudo English gentlemen like Peter Andry running the show, EMI was not exactly the most sympathetic environment for anyone who was not Anglo-Saxon or male.

      • quoth the maven

        She also recorded the Verdi Requiem with Solti.

    • May I say that I’m far from happy with Bonynge’s total rewriting of Gilda’s part in Sutherland’s second recording? This is a particularly horrid case of Mr. Sutherland’s tinkering and meddling with great music. Verdi had a clear dramatic intention when he wrote Gilda’s part the way he did, he even didn’t write a cabaletta in order to musically weaken the character : in the first two acts she is a victim. NO need to add top notes and make the music more brilliant.

      • richard

        Bonynge felt free to make whatever changes he felt suited Joan and made her look the best.

        But to be a bit fair, you have to put this in context of the time. Theses two were really based in the 60s(with background from the 50s) and in that time period there was very little interest in authenticity. Nor was it considered anything of real value.

        All music, particularly older music, was felt to need a helping hand to soup it up and make it more palatable to audiences .

        So you have all the cuts and rearrangements in early 19th century scores such as the Puritani but
        that was nothing compared with the improvements made on baroque pieces.

        I first heard, and was thrilled to, Poppea in Raymond Leppards’s version and in Giulio Cesare in the version done by the NYCO. I had no idea how the pieces had been distorted, I was just blown away by the beautiful, and yes, very lush, music.

        But very few at the times thought that this was anything wrong. Authenticity only gained some value a few decades after this.

        • True, but Rigoletto (as opposed to other bel-canto composers) was rarely re-written even in the gay 1950s or 1960s.

          • richard

            But part of Bonynge’s sensibilty is that music exists to be rewritten. I’m not being facetious. I believe he thought he was really being progressive souping up stale old pieces that had been untouched for decades.

            This is from interviews and discussions from the period. It seems absolutely crazy now keep in mind that in this period a lot of old forgotten pieces (mostly bel canto but also baroque) were being unearthed, given spanking new clothes (ala mode of course!) and were being embraced by contemporary audiences. And there were few sacred cows…juice up Verdi a bit? Wow who would have thought of it!

            Again I’m being serious, I was a teenager in this long ago era and it was really sort of thrilling that these old moldy pieces (to be fair, many only existed in old corrupt editions anyway) were being treated to a fresh re-outfitting.

          • calaf47

            Then you need to relisten to the Met broadcasts in the 50’s and 60’s when Gilda was allowed an interpolated high E at the end of “Caro Nome” and the high Db at the end of the “Quartet”. This also was true of the LP recordings with Peters/D’Angelo/Gueden.

          • richard

            Yeah, really this went back earlier than the 50s. Maybe it was less common then, but in the 40s, Bruno Walter souped up Forza at the Met, using the overture as an antr’act and doing massive cutting and rearrangements of Act 2 and 3.

          • Not only Walter. Mitropulous too! And currently Mehta at the Wiener Staatsoper. I think that shifting the overture until after the first act makes perfect sense dramatically. The first act is more of a prelude and sets the action. I don’t know whether there is a precedent for doing that back in Verdi’s time but as a musical director I would have done the same.

          • Arianna a Nasso

            CF -- Not sure it was Mitropoulos’s idea to rearrange Forza. My pressing of the 1953 Florence performance starts with the Overture. At the Met, he may have been compelled by Bing to move the overture since that is how the production was inaugurated in 1952 under Stiedry: Act 1, overture, Convent Scene (the Inn scene was eliminated until the mid-70s at the Met). As with Don Carlo, there once were many ‘standard’ cuts in Forza.

          • iltenoredigrazia

            I’ve always heard that the Forza version at the Met in the 1950’s was Bing’s idea. Most operas were shortened at that time, including all of Wagner’s.

          • luvtennis


            I think Sutherland’s Caro Nome is not really very different from that sung by Melba, Tetrazzini, and Galli-Curci.

            We tend to approach middle period Verdi from a much more musically severe context than those who sang in the decades after it entered the rep.

            Good lord, Tetrazzini added staccati high cs to everything she sang, including the Lord’s prayer and God Save the Queen.

            Dame Joan approached the role in the same manner, and I have no problem with that. The music can stand the approach, and an argument can be made that those Golden Age ladies were a little closer to the original performance traditions than we are today. Hell, starting with Jenny Lind, there is almost an overlapping unbroken string down to Galli-Curci of sopranos have taken a virtuouso approach to middle period Verdi. Interestingly, our GOlden Agers, Joan, Lee, Sills, all went to great pains to take OUT the verismo-influenced performance traditions that came to the forefront in the years following WWI.

            That said, I much prefer Joanie’s first Gilda. The singing is terrifyingly beautiful.

          • MontyNostry

            I love many things about Joanie, and I’m all in favour of a proper lyric with coloratura as Gilda rather than a little squeaky thing who struggles in the bigger music, but I always have serious trouble imagining her in the role.

          • richard

            MN, you should have seen the size of the sack they had to use in Act 3!!!!

          • MontyNostry

            Most ungallant, Richard! But didn’t Monsterrat also sing Gilda on occasion?

          • LT -- context for context!

            You’re right about the Belle Epoque interpolations and in a way Bonynge’s rewrites echo a lost age. However, it is perfectly appropriate to interpolate on a 78 shellac side, I wouldn’t have had a problem with a rewritten version on the Art of the Prima Donna recital, for one.

            In my opinion it is completely inappropriate and irrelevant to conjure such a version in the middle of a complete 70s version of the opera.

            It is particularly odd in the face of DECCAs attempts at achieving a kind of urtext, complete catalogue from the 50s henceforth. The Decca opera recordings were fuller than any other version, certainly the Legge-masterminded recordings. DECCA recorded the first utterly complete and uncut Rosenkavalier and Salome. I believe that their Molinari-Pradelli version of Forza is the first completely uncut version to have been recorded. Ditto their Figaro with Kleiber (preceding Gui’s recording by a few months, I believe), had reinstalled the 4th act arias for Marcellina and Basilio. Their Pritchard Lucia and Traviata were very full, admitting cabalettas for tenor and baritone and having 2 stanzas each of Violetta’s act 1 and act 2 cavatinas. Examples are abounding.

            So hearing the kind of 19th century interpolations on a complete DECCA recording from the 70s was weird and a throwback.

          • richard

            I don’t know about Caballe, but I saw Sutherland in the part. She was a TALL lady to be put in a sack and dragged onto the stage.

            Actually I liked her Gilda quite a lot, she sang it as a mostly lyrical part, which to my mind it is, with enough sweep for the last act. I vaguely remember an enterpolated note in act 3, not the old fashioned traditional dflat at the end of a quartet but during the storm scene instead.

            But it was a long time ago….

          • armerjacquino

            CF- Are you sure the Basilio aria is on the Kleiber Figaro? Don’t remember it being there but I could well be wrong. I actually don’t mind when it’s cut- I find it tediousish.

            Hilarious though that for that recording they decided to reinstate Marcellina’s aria, but have it sung by Susanna…

          • AJ -- it’s there allright (sung by Murray Dickie)

          • Krunoslav

            The Met’s 1950s and ’60s Verdian cuts were Bing-sanctioned, but he derived then from the work done in the 20s and early 30s in Germany to make middle Verdi more into “music drama”.

            How those arrogant shitheels (I include Herr von Karajan)could cut the second verse of Elisabeth de Valois’s first aria and the middle of her second aria is just beyond me..

          • BTW just remembered that DECCA had their fair share of shredding a score to tatters -- the first Bohm Cosi comes to mind. Nevermind the traditional cuts within the finales, the 1st quintet is deprived of its repeat, really essential to its form and architecture, I was really astounded when I heard this for the first time. And of course Bohm’s studio FROSCH had the usual stage cuts. But it was very much a live-studio recording, just bringing the stage performance into the studio, by special request of the artists. They weren’t paid for their efforts, too.

          • luvtennis

            Have you heard Roberta Peters Gilda or Lina Pagliughi?

            I think Caro Nome was ALWAYS sung with the embellishments, CF.

            At least, if the soprano in question had the technical goods.

            In truth, the sort of Gilda sung by Gruberova or Cotrubas would have been considered grossly inaduate in virtually every era up to the present day?

            Even today Laura Claycomb sings the role with all the Sutherland embellishments -- she even goes for the e-natural at the end.

            June Anderson did the same thing in her Decca recording conducted by CHailly!!!!!

          • LT -- you make me want to take out all my Rigoletto completes and start comparing Caro nomes! Unfortunately or not, most complete recordings I have are with more lyrical Gildas -- Serafin (Callas, don’t like her 1st act), Kubelik (Scotto, perhaps the best Gilda I’ve heard), Sinopoli (Gruberova, a coloratura exception but powerful enough for the 3rd act), Giulini (just for Cotrubas, as I think the musical direction hangs fire and Cappuccilli is very bland) et al. Cellini has a soubrette Gilda in Berger but I think at that stage of her career she sings it pretty much straightforward. I have the earlier Sutherland studio under Sanzogno but it’s not a good recording, Sutherland possibly excepted. I most certainly don’t own the Bonynge / Pavarotti version. I’ve heard the Caro nome a few times and the decorations grossly trespass the taste boundary, it’s a downright rewriting. But I might need to listen to it again and maybe I’ll stand corrected.

          • armerjacquino

            Anderson does something incredible in ‘Caro Nome’ on the otherwise forgettable Chailly set- the coloratura climax before the last ‘caro nome, tuo sara’ is just breathtaking, otherworldly. I love Grist in Caro Nome, too, although she’s fairly heavily engineered when it comes to the Storm Trio.

            I will duck and cover here when I say my favourite studio Gilda is Gueden.

          • richard

            Little squeaky coloraturas often are swamped in Act 2/sc 2 and then in most of Act 3. It doesn’t hurt to remember that the first Gilda also sang Abagaille, Elvira in Ernani and Luisa Miller. So I doubt that Verdi envisioned a soprano chirping her way through the role.

            And Toscanini cast Milanov as Gilda when he programmed Act 3 in concert.

            Sutherland did sound good as Gilda. But she had the voice for Act 3 as well as Act 2.

            Maybe the chirpiest Gilda I ever saw was MAdy Mesple. She sounded very pretty in Caro Nome but after that might as well have gone home for the evening for all the good she did.

        • Jack Jikes

          Richard -- beautifully put. The Leppard corruption are still in my blood. I miss his fanfare at the end of Seneca’s death scene in Poppea.

          • mrmyster

            Miss Peters’ Gilda was a study in mechanical accuracy and
            pungent sometimes piercing tone, though not offensive.
            Highly ornamented, as everyone is saying; interestingly, in
            her later career, she sang it a lot in arias evenings with
            orchestras. She was a shrewd singer; she cut out the more
            difficult ornamentation and added some easier stuff to
            “decorate” it. Peters handled her career very well; she was
            content to sing a relatively few roles and did not over sing;
            she did over stay just a while, but divas are divas. She’s
            a nice lady now living in Florida, I believe, having shaken
            the golddust of Scarsdale off her slippers.

      • Harry

        CerquettiFarrell: It was a woman called Dyer of L’Oiseau Lyre (a part of the Decca label)that originally pushed Joan S. for all those recording contracts. I have to agree about Bonygne’s ‘style’. The second Sutherland Rigoletto (with Milnes)as just one glaring example -for the entire first Act -- Bongyne made it rhythmically sound, like it was entirely written by Donizetti! Any doubters out there …should, go listen! As a serious conductor, he was regarded as a joke.
        Perhaps he should be given credit for resurrecting a few forgotten operas in which Sutherland could shine. But yet, he also betrayed aspects of that old trick device: conductors that ‘tinker with scores’ not necessarily to improve, but to cover up any of their own shortcomings, as conductors’. Plus, be able to claim for, their own sense of ‘special expertise’ in such matters.
        It quickly became, simply a case of ‘You wanted Joan…you(HAD TO) take Bongyne… and you will f#*king like it’! When she stopped performing , his big star status went completely off the cliff. His clout with recording companies also suddenly vanished. How strange???!! Let’s all imagine for a moment ‘if he never had Joan’ to push his band wagon….the best he could have become, was a nice Ballet conductor. Something that he was undeniably good at. The so called great Sutherland /Bongyne musical marriage union was a career choice………pure and simple….just that! Read between the lines: and that also answers quite a few other of the more prickly questions, asked here from time to time.!

        • Still, the Esclarmonde is well conducted by all accounts (well perhaps he wasn’t the only hand in the studio). And the Semiramide (however tinkered) is sensibly paced and wonderfully excecuted by the LSO. I’m sure there are further examples. Largely though, I agree with your opinion.

          • Belfagor

            I disagree -- follow Esclarmonde with even a vocal score and you see that it is all over the place. A real shame, as there is such orchestral invention in that piece that doesn’t register as clearly as it could -- listen very closely to such a highlight as ‘Esprits de l’air’ and the attack is not unanimous enough, and the ensemble is rocky.

            In the theatre it was worse -- I remember him forgetting to cue the final chorus ra-ra in the Epilogue at the Royal Opera -- they didn’t come in and everything fizzled…..and the Trovatore I saw never once were the florid decents in ‘Vivra’ together -- not once!

            Should have remained a coach……

          • Thanks Belfagor. I don’t have a score so obviously never noticed anything. It sounds good I guess.

      • mrmyster

        Monty -- Legge was not a secret Jew, everyone knew he was
        Jewish, not that it matters, but the high irony is that he was
        married to La Schwarzkopf! Why didn’t he just marry Tiana
        Lemnitz and go for the real thing? Besides, Lemnitz was
        three times the singer Elis. was, to my ear. Once you’ve
        heard L’s Octavian on the Krauss DGG recording from the
        1930s, there is no other Octavian.
        Or, am I being too nostalgic? :)

        • MontyNostry

          Would Lemnitz have been the rather quavery soprano on the Nazi-era Mozart Requiem from Berlin that I hear an extract from on the radio the other day?

          • MontyNostry

            Of those ‘schlank gefuehrt’ Germanic sopranos (a sound that isn’t much to my taste, but that might be a matter of non-musical associations), I have to say that Gruemmer always sounds by far the best.

            I don’t know if Cebotari’s sound counts as Germanic (I know she was Bessarabian by birth), but she does always sound rather thrilling.

        • Mrmyster -- I second your appreciation of the Nazi Lemnitz. Didn’t Krauss record Rosenkavalier twice? There’s one with Ursuleac from 1942 or so, a recording which I will never have for reasons other than musical.

          Lemnitz’ Octavian is very special, though I have affection for Minton’s as well. Lemnitz sounds great even on the late Ortrud-Elsa duet with Klose. I’ve heard she was a despicable woman besides being a Nazi, but nevertheless a great singer. However, in the same fach I much prefer Maria Reining. I’ve said it before but it’s such a pleasure to mention her again and again :)

          • MontyNostry

            CF — I am just having a listen to Reining (Pamina 1941). Were those little scoops into notes her particular trademark, or did other sopranos of the time do it too?

          • Monty -- I never listen to Mozart recordings before 1950 if I can help it -- either this or Busch’s studio operas for EMI. The scoops you mention are certainly a period practice, vanished after WWII. Everybody does it, even Flagstad before the war, except Rethberg perhaps.

            You want to listen to Reining -- I’d suggest Elsa, Eva and the Strauss stuff before 1950.

          • I mean -- Busch’s studio casts are stylistically excellent IMO. Especially Souez, Helletsgruber, Nash and Baccaloni. Busch was way advanced of his times.

          • Buster

            The Octavians for Krauss were the excellent Georgine von Milinkovic (1944) and Lisa della Casa (1953). Lemnitz sings Octavian for Kempe, but I have never heard that recording.

          • Compare and contrast -- Elsa --



            By way of comparison, Rethberg sounds much more ‘modern’. Its almost as if she doesn’t belong in her period.

          • MontyNostry

            Having had a quick YouTube listen to Lemnitz (Porgi, Amor), I am pretty sure it wasn’t her on that Mozart Requiem. It was a soprano with a more ‘flappy’ sound. I will do the compare and contrast for her and Reining a little later. Thank you for the pointers. Talking of vintage singers, I just had a listen to Seinemeyer. I like her (and she sounds quite modern), though the top notes sound a bit narrow and thin — maybe it’s a matter of recording technique. When it comes to Rethberg, I have to say she has always left me a bit cold, but maybe I need to try harder.

          • Buster

            Elsa, for me, remains Elisabeth Grummer’s greatest achievement:


          • Buster

            Never heard a dull recording by Meta Seinemeyer. My favorites are the last records she made -- Sieglinde, and a couple of songs, including this one:

          • richard

            Both Lemnitz and Reining sound a bit slurpy to me but Lemnitz seems more pronounced to the point where a lot of her recordings sound almost slithery. Very pure tone though once she finally gets on the notes. I like Reining a lot but don’t listen much to Lemnitz.

            The Konetzni sisters also gave the notes a little push going up and then going back down. It’s a mannerism of the era.

            It’s true Rethberg didn’t share that and sang much more cleanly but then there is often not much to her recordings than a really clean, neat tone.

            I love Cebotari a lot but her voice was a whole different thing and more central European than the German ladies. a lot of her stuff was pretty messy but thrilling anyway.

          • mrmyster

            CF, your taste and judgment are, as always, perfect!!!
            I have a sense that Lemnitz was something of an
            undesirable political creature, for there is an anecdote
            floating around that someone asked her about the
            Nazis and WWII, and her reply was: “Ah well, we bet on
            the wrong side!!” The wrong side!!!! It sounds like
            Obama talking about Republicans, only he’d have them
            over for tea and toasted union cards.

  • Jay

    Since this is a “vergin” thread and we discussed film versions of Belasco’s “Girl of the Golden West” during yesterday’s mostly “Adriana” chat, here’s a link to the Jeannette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy musical version:

    La C, thanks for mentioning this film which, as we learned, was the fourth adapation of the Belasco play.

    • mrmyster

      It’s a miserable film; I hated it. Puccini’s
      definitive music always haunts my perception
      any time I see a GGW. As someone here said,
      Puccini used a little less sugar in his FDW, but
      Jeanette added back as she always did. Ugh.
      By the way, did any golden oldie here
      hear the SFO in-English Girl of the Golden
      West played at the Curran Theatre probably
      in late 1940s or 50s, with Fred Jaegel as
      Dick Johnson -- I am wondering who was
      the Minnie? It was not, I seem to have heard,
      much of a success, but I wondered how it
      worked in English translation; that was likely
      the problem.

  • What a fabulous review. My Italian improves everytime I read one of Ercole’s pieces. Believe it or not, I do not have a single Sutherland Puritani and I do love her early-career efforts most…

  • Dawson- the story is poop, pure and simple. Unfortunately but not surprisingly there are some old queens around who for their own reasons like to fantasise about such matters- but I can assure you it’s not true and never was (and I can speak with some authority on this).

    • Jack Jikes

      Please say ‘shit’ not ‘poop’.

      • Harry

        Jack Jikes : I agree. ‘Poop’ used as a term, ,…always comes across, as so super-queeny.

    • Dawson

      But I’ve heard the same rumor about Sutherland and Turangeau…

      • Harry

        I love the joke that once did the rounds: ‘Some diva was supposed ‘to be doing the ladies rooms’ near Covent Garden. By slipping a note
        under the next cubicle wall with the inscription “Who the world’s greatest diva?” , Diva is mortified ….back came the written reply…’Maria Callas’!

    • La marquise de Merteuil

      As a friend used to say:”Don’t argue fact.”

    • Harry

      A degree of Authority? The only real authoritative way for verifying truth about some situations would be for someone to not only witness it but ‘stick their head smack bang in-between the alleged action’ and check it out for themselves. Rather awkward, one would have to think..

      • La marquise de Merteuil


  • Reggiani

    I must jump in here to defend Curt Baum…based solely on one performance of Chenier in Philly, God knows when. He had said in an interview “I love Chenier, I hate (don’t remember). He was like a man possessed, the voice solid and soaring, with high Bs at the end that still live in my memory. No other Chenier, not even Corelli or del Monaco, has matched that thrilling performance by the much-maligned Kurt Baum.

  • While everyone agrees that Bonynge wasn’t (or isn’t? is he still working?) the greatest conductor on earth, he has done a lot for the belcanto Renaissance, and the recovery of a philological, authentic style of singing it. The problem is that most of the times he would apply his knowledge only to his wife. In so many performances or recordings you have Sutherlans singing all her variations etc, while the rest of the cast (Horne excepted, of course) sounded like they were in another world. The Puritani recording is a classic example: Dame Joan embellishes, knows that a corona, or a pause doesn’t mean you must hold the note as long as you like, but it is an invitation to improvise etc, while Pavarotti and the others repeat the daccapos without variations.

    • ardath_bey

      nonsense, go listen to Gruberova’s Lucia under Bonynge, she sings her own special variations.

  • OT (but not too much as it has to do with another famous nightingale). Amelita Galli Curci requested my friendship on Facebook, as Maria Meneghini Callas had already previously done. A bit creepy, isn’t it?

    • La marquise de Merteuil

      LOL. As long as it isn’t Martha Moedl.

    • Actually I had a funny moment when Waltraud Meier requested my FB friendship but at least she’s very much alive !

  • Byrnham Woode

    CF wrote about cuts in DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN:

    “…And of course Bohm’s studio FROSCH had the usual stage cuts. But it was very much a live-studio recording, just bringing the stage performance into the studio, by special request of the artists. They weren’t paid for their efforts, too.”

    Actually, the DECCA studio set under Bohm takes considerably fewer cuts than he did onstage. There is one cut in each act, in the first act it is a shorter version of a duet passage between the Amme and Kaiserin. The third act cut is more substantial, being the quartet of Amme, Spirit Messenger and the Barak couple.

    While these cuts remained common in the theater, a great number more were almost always taken in live performances as they aided the women singing the Dyer’s Wife and the Nurse. Bohm and his singers, Christel Goltz and Elisabeth Hongen, must have felt she could handle them for recording purposes.

    It’s true that the principals agreed to record “on spec”, without being paid as they felt the performance was so vital that it deserved recording. I have read elsewhere that they were paid after the album was released and had earned some money.

    • richard

      BW, I recall a Ludwig interview which dovetails very well with your comments. The interview was discussing the roles she sang, some of which went into soprano territory and she spoke of how difficult they were, particularly Fidelio which I guess always spooked her a bit. And the interviewer brought up Frau, saying that the Dyer’s Wife was considered a tough sing with a lot of high stretches.

      Ludwig came back with the comment that Bohm made it possible for her to sing the role because of the substantial cuts he made in their stage performances; she felt without them, the role would have been impossible. Other than an early performance with von Karajan in a really cut/rearranged version, I guess Ludwig almost exclusively sang the role under Bohm.

  • Camille

    LA CIECA! Who is the lucky winner of the big “DICK JOHNON’ contest?
    You promised us the result today and we are all waiting with bated breath.

    Also, if you are not wearing that Fortuny Frock to the opening of ‘The Girl’ tonight (what, no Caruso?), may I kindly borrow it. No Veuve Clicquot for me tonight, so I shan’t mess up the bodice.

  • Camille

    “JOHNSON”, Sorry--Big KISS!

  • Jack Jikes- you can call it what you like -- I know what I call it.
    Harry -- “superqueeny”- I’m dissappointed. Surely you can do better than that.
    Dawson- I thought you were asking a question- not trying to perpetuate crap. I know it would have titilated the insecure superqueens (thanks harry) who love to think “everyone is gay”- but sadly, no- on this ocassion, totally wrong call.
    Having said all that, isn’t it a pity that some gay guys who of all people, should know better, succumb to “drivel, gossip and innuendo”- and by so doing, use “gay” the same way as those who try to sensationalise and hold it against us?

    • Harry

      Ruxton: Perhaps it is just me but I have witnessed too many pearl clutching ‘tragics’ using the word ‘poop’ as some shrugging ‘poor me’ gesture. Trying to act all genteel. I prefer people really expressing themselves. No holds barred.
      On the other matter of ‘who’s gay’, to any gay that witnessed ‘the struggles to get where gays are today….the only real weapon we really had was ‘Knowledge of Truth’ as a Power bargaining chip.. I am sure that there are many Parterrians here, who share some common dilemma. At times knowing the real truth of certain situations but out of some respect, decide to let others deny that someone is gay or married. Perhaps knowing that person had a kid ‘to legitimise’ the marriage- knowing the kid was by by design -- by A.I.(then) or IVF (today) and not as a medical necessity to achieve the same result. Disclosing such things, using that example -- would hurt innocent people.

      Over the years how many closet cases including those married -- have we come across, where we have seen they have put down open gays to cover their own backside. Tons! Doing so, both in professional and private life and thereby changing the course of the open gay’s life. Well I always found the only way to deal with that was ‘find ways to pull the rug out’. I was angrily tackled ‘for being a fairy’ by one obnoxious drunk and social pariah just 6 months ago, in front of his long suffering wife(female) . Little did he know that I knew, he used to frequent porno cinemas ‘and get up the back’ and engage in the dark with other patrons. Having finally, had enough of this creature I dropped ‘the bomb’. He betrayed himself completely. He then asked “Which cinema was that?” Oops!

  • Harry, I had no choice about using the word “poop” word because it was more appropriate to use. E.g. like much of what you write, it’s so weak and “superqueeny” it doesn’t quite qualify for the “pure shit” category.
    Have a happy day :)

  • Harry

    Ruxton: Your comments reminds of a Queen Bee that has dropped a tarnished spangle and lost her sting in a pathetic attempt, at combat. What would one expect it to say? ‘Oh, poop’!