Cher Public

  • messa di voce: Carnegie Hall was packed? That’s a surprise. 1:34 PM
  • Porgy Amor: Whatever the merits of the music, that production was abysmal, possibly the worst show of the 2014-15 season. Even the... 1:34 PM
  • Camille: grimoaldo, I have been mulling over whether or not to attend this and your timely intervention and comments are extremely useful... 1:30 PM
  • Camille: perhaps he was the tsarevich in disguise, chéri choux-fleur? 1:28 PM
  • Tristan_und: “Masterpiece ”? Not judging from last season’s Met production. You couldn’t fault the singers... 1:25 PM
  • Camille: That is quite so, at least according to a dear lady I once knew who studied with him. She could not speak of him in anything... 1:24 PM
  • Camille: well, Ciccia, he does sound like an old COOT with his abrupt, brusque and unfeeling reply to an impressionable, enthused and... 1:21 PM
  • laddie: Lovely, lovely review. Your ability to describe her technique and artistry (or lack there of) is much, much appreciated. Thank you. 1:21 PM

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.


  • Ruxton says:

    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 says:

      Please say ‘shit’ not ‘poop’.

    • Dawson says:

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

      • Harry says:

        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 says:

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

    • Harry says:

      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..

  • Reggiani says:

    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 says:

      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?

  • Byrnham Woode says:

    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 says:

      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 says:

    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 says:

    “JOHNSON”, Sorry--Big KISS!

  • Ruxton says:

    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 says:

      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!

  • Ruxton says:

    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 says:

    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’!