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fedora_amazonIt was while attending a performance of Fédora in Naples in 1885 that eighteen year-old Umberto Giordano fell in love with Sardou’s then immensely popular play; the protagonist was none other than Sarah Bernhardt, the creator of the title role.

He immediately asked the French dramatist to sell him the rights, a request Sardou did not even take into consideration.  After the composer scored modest successes with Marina, Mala vita and Regina Diaz, Sardou seemed almost persuaded to relent, although the publisher Sonzogno considered the author’s financial demands too excessive.  Only after the triumph of Andrea Chénier did Sardou and Sonzogno come to an agreement, and Giordano was finally able to devote himself to his long-awaited project.

Like his later drama La Tosca, Fédora belongs to Sardou’s favorite genre, a mélange of “noir,” spy story and sex located in a definite historical moment and ideological frame, in this case the rebels (the nihilists) against the Tsarist establishment. The only difference is that whereas Cavaradossi is an active sympathizer of the revolutionaries, Loris is wrongly accused, and the character of Fédora carries in herself traces of both Tosca and Scarpia.


Sarah Bernhardt in the title role of Fédora

Giordano’s opera had its première in 1898, two years after Andrea Chénier, and was an instant hit.  The title role was sung by Madame Verismo herself, Gemma Bellincioni, while Loris was a young up and coming tenor named Enrico Caruso.   Fedora was wildly popular for at least forty years, relatively falling from the audience’s favor only after World War Two, together with the vast majority of Verismo operas.

In the last few decades it has been generally associated with divas no longer in their first flush of youth, so much that the simple decision by a prima donna to add this role to her repertoire is perceived by many as an implicit sign or admission of decline.

This could not be farther from the truth.  Just because the part does not abound in high Cs does not make singing it a cakewalk.  On the contrary, it has one of the most insidious tessituras in the entire operatic repertoire; it’s an amphibious role, straddled between the soprano and mezzo-soprano registers and hardly a good fit for either.  In most of her music it’s a real puzzle for the singer to decide where to rest her vocal emission.

There is no denying that Angela Gheorghiu, the heroine of this newly released Deutsche Gramophone CD, is decidedly miscast.  Her instrument, attractive but relatively fragile in the central and low register, cannot cope with much of Fedora’s tessitura.  In the Andante espressivo “O grandi occhi lucenti di fede” both the G# on “ o schiette labbra” as well as the A natural of “sento che qui…” are flat.  These are notes that normally do not present particular problems for her, and a possible explanation for these missteps is an effort to keep her vocal center of gravity lower than her natural one.

Her Fedora is thus mostly delicate, almost enervated.  In the first act, “In questa santa croce”, which is after all the key moment where she swears vengeance, underlined by the accompanying woodwind evocative of the sound of an organ, lacks vehemence, imperiousness and solemnity.

There is scarce fervor, sense of agony in the third act desperate prayer “Dio di giustizia”, an arioso so low-lying that its climax is a low C, a note whose full importance only a true mezzo-soprano could be able to convey through a skillful use of chest voice.  Gheorghiu, who normally avoids chest voice like the plague, falls flat and produces no effect whatsoever.

When she is not unduly taxed by the tessitura and can sing with her own voice, Gheorghiu proves once more that she is one of the very few sopranos with a real feeling for this type of music. In an age where singers appear to be made in same mold, with her instinctive sense of style, imaginative fraseggio, tasteful portamentos, ritardandos, and a crisp clear diction, Georghiu’s individuality is refreshing indeed.  Under the right circumstances, such as her recent recording of L’amico Fritz, she sounds like a throwback to the old type of Italianate sopranos, in style more than in sound.

For example, in the first act, in the phrase “Vladimiro mio diletto”, she executes a beautiful, short, expressive “forcella” (a crescendo followed by a diminuendo) on a simple middle B natural, an embellishment that is not even written in the score.  It’s just a little detail that however lends huge expressivity to the moment.  The same thing happens on a lacerating “Vladimiro, son io la tua Fedora”. It is heartbreaking, just like the whole death scene, in its bare simplicity, devoid of the histrionics that this type of repertoire often invites.  In a few words, we are in the presence of a sensitive singer, with an innate stylistic sense, coping for the most part with music hostile to her best attributes.

For the record, the soprano does take the high C at the end of the second act, and it’s a glorious note.  It’s optional (and Giordano’s second option, you know one of those notes written in a smaller size), but the music modulation screams for it, and I always feel let down when Fedora doesn’t attempt it.

Loris Ipanoff, on the contrary, with its central tessitura, (there is only one timid B flat) and insistence on declamation, was a role that in his prime fit Placido Domingo like a glove.  I seem to remember an interview where he even indicated it as his very favorite part in his entire, immense repertoire.

Frankly, I find it rather superfluous to assess Domingo’s performance in detail.  He has long reached the status of an untouchable to whom everything is allowed.  His participation to this project is unexplainable on pure artistic grounds.  He obviously wished to add to his monumental discography a role he had never recorded before, although he appears in two commercial DVDs.  In addition, recording companies obviously believe that a fatigued, struggling Domingo is still commercially more viable than almost any younger tenor.

One example will suffice: as soon a he makes his appearance in the second act, his first phrases already show a pushed, forced F natural and A natural on the words “L’amo”.   “Amor ti vieta” is conspicuous for a central register with signs of oscillation and a climatic A natural so nasal and strangled that one wonders how he could have approved its release.  Listing every such unpleasantness is an exercise in futility.

It is worth noting that this opera was recorded in January 2008, before his Simon Boccanegra tour and his other baritonal attempts.  It is always fascinating to discover the reasons some recordings are released such a long time after their completion.  If someone knows the story behind this Fedora’s delay, I would be interested indeed.

Next to a laboring old glory, we find an emerging young starlet whose fast rise to prominence is difficult to justify under a merely vocal point of view.  Nino Machaidze’s soprano (Countess Olga) is metallic throughout its range and strident above the stave; as a consequence of a faulty passaggio, she flats on every single note above F.

Except for a somewhat aspirated agility in the aria “La donna russa”, Fabio Maria Capitanucci is a proficient De Siriex, expressing both the brilliant and dramatic sides of his character.

Alberto Veronesi keeps his orchestra (the excellent Orchestre symphonique de la Monnaie) as vibrant and taut as possible.

The opera is rich with dances and  “stage music” performed as an insert in the action, which do not particularly benefit from Veronesi’s overwrought style.   The waltz that opens the second act is not so “brillante” as indicated by Giordano. What ultimately matters is however the intense atmosphere of suspense he creates in the core of the plot, with his condensed, taut, at times violent tempos, thoroughly appropriate for such a quintessential Sardou story.

  • Gualtier M

    You know every once in a while a major record company will crank out a “What were they thinking?” release like this. One that was clearly designed to put major contract artists in something despite the fact that they are well past it or miscast. Anyone have ideas about other such misguided recording company vanity projects? My offering: the “Adriana Lecouvreur” on London with Joan Sutherland and Carlo Bergonzi (replacing Pavarotti).

    • Virgilio Guardepassa

      These Veronesi projects are bought and paid for vanity projects. Marketing could not possibly enter the question, as they sell about 19 units.You’ll be getting the Alagna/Garanca Navarraise soon…..Domingo must clearly be in it for the payday. Check your scores and pitch pipes -- he’s been singing it with whole bleeding chunks transposed down for years. I have been there and heard it. For the record, any decent soprano should have a C in chest voice- this one just doesn’t. If you can’t actually SING the role, how much style and sensitivity can make up for such a glaring lacuna? Who are all these singers “in the same mold” who sing this stuff, by the way???

      • Gualtier M

        It has been relayed to me that Veronesi has considerable financial backing which also snagged him the OONY spot. (The “Navarraise” is a recording of that concert) I rather liked his conducting of “La Navarraise” although the Cavalleria was a disaster in too many spots (underrehearsed?). BTW: anyone know why Raina Kabaivanska never did Fedora? She took on many of the great Magda roles -- Adriana, Francesca da Rimini and was a famous Tosca. Famous Toscas often take on Fedora as a sister role. BTW: Aprile Millo it is not too late to do Fedora!

        • Virgilio Guardepassa

          It is not, in fact, a recording of the concert. They hauled the gang up to SUNY Purchase and spent a day or two on it. The problem you had with the Cav was probably the same one Alagna had -- he had to keep staring at Veronesi and keep one eye on the score -- there was nothing happening that even vaguely resembled anything he had ever seen from a podium before during the piece….

        • Alberto Veronesi is the son of Umberto Veronesi, the leading Italian oncologist and former Minister of Health. He is politically well supported, which in Italy as we all know doesn’t hurt. He ran for president of the Province of Milan in 2009 backed by MPA, a right-wing leaning autonomist party. His father on the contrary has always been associated with left-wing liberal parties; he is also an atheist and pro-euthanasia.
          Regarding Kabaivanska, she was asked that question in a radio interview a long time ago, and she said she had been offered the role frequently but always felt it was too low for her.

      • Belfagor

        The only release that looked interesting to me in that series was Leoncavallo’s ‘I Medici’ -- simply because it was a work brand new to the catalogue. My curiosity hasn’t been quite enough for me to purchase though.

        But it is depressing if these big style Italian operas can only be done with the most obvious market names -- there are several singers around who would have been more interestingly cast, and who have not had over exposure as recording artists.

    • Krunoslav

      Beverly Sills, Nicolai Gedda and Fedora Barbieri in BARBIERE -- just awful.

      • marcello52

        I always thought I was the only one who felt this way about this album. I cant bring myself to upload it to my ipod and I love the opera and the original story a lot. Gedda was acting as if he was doing his worst enemy a favor by the way he was crooning his way through the role. Sills well I never liked her enough to dislike her but I understood from her singing that this role truly belongs to a mezzo. Fedora, I allowed my mind to go back to her earlier work because this sounded like someone was doing her a favor by letting her be on this album or she recorded this under duress. Milnes was the only saving grace for an otherwise very bad set.

  • Belfagor

    I’ve heard this. Avoid. It’s no fun at all -- and Fedora needs to be a roller-coaster ride with scenery chewing. It’s castrated. And our overhyped prima-donna is a Fedoretta.

    What did Mme Armfeldt say about grapes and raisins?

    Maybe it’s time for a period instrument approach to Giordano -- with Emma Kirkby as the heroine. It would at least be ‘special’……..

    • Will

      Figs and raisins, actually.

      • Belfagor

        Thank you. I knew that would chime with at least someone on here…….

  • parpignol

    any opinions about which of the currently available CD versions of Fedora would be best to buy?

    • Gualtier M

      No, question -- Magda Olivero with ageing Del Monaco (and young Kiri!) on Decca/London.

      Another “WTF!?” studio release “Cavalleria Rusticana” on Philips with Jessye Norman, Giacomini and Dmitri Hvorostovsky in his major label debut as Alfio with Semyon Bychkov conducting.

      • Will

        There was the Suliotis 2/3 recording of Norma. I suppose there was a certain market among party record collectors. Good company man that he was, Terry McEwen kept trying to convince people that they really had planned to release a heavily mauled version of Norma all along, not just whatever they could salvage from the sessions whenever she was in any kind of voice.

        RCA released a Fledermaus filled with old stars way past it. And then of course, there was the Anna Moffo Thais . . .

        • Belfagor

          Well I take exception to the Anna Moffo ‘Thais’ -- she absolutely had the measure of the role -- what a shame her voice didn’t at that point. Despite the wreckages it’s still the best studio ‘Thais’ -- bags more understanding, abandon (!!) and allure -- Fleming though beautifully sung, doesn’t have the vulnerability or heartbreak at all. And Rudel conducted it beautifully. I LOVE THAT RECORDING and I don’t care who knows it!

          And at least Suliotis had temperament, and conveyed something -- engagement, passion.

          This Fedora conveys nothing. The diva seems to be singing Mimi -- or Barbarina -- to Giordano’s notes. No temperament, involvement, passion, charisma, duende -- NULLA! -- I guess she reserves all of that for ‘attitude’ offstage And of course, with a piece like Fedora -- all the anal retentive experts will blame the tawdriness on the piece. It’s not supposed to have a simpering nothing as heroine.

          • And I have to agree with Belfagor on this one. The Moffo Thais deserves to be reexamined. When i first got my copy I was expecting a complete and utter disaster but after i listened to pretty good chucks, It is not nearly as bad as people had me believe it was and Moffo certainly understood the part better than many recent sopranos.

          • MontyNostry

            Bravo, Belfagor! Anna is smiling down on you (while possibly flashing a leg too).

          • Belfagor

            It’s one of the great tragedies of my declining years that I lost the LPs with the huge colour fold out -- part nun part whore! And it has never made it to CD -- I bet if it were issued now, it would sell a damned sight many more copies than that pasteurized Fedora is going to….

          • No Expert

            That Suliotis Norma was my first Norma. At the time I didn’t know it was abridged, I just knew she was awesome. And Moffo’s Thais is still one of my most prized possessions. They had personalities then.

          • Belfagor

            The other recording I automatically think of where a riveting identification with a role transcends a voice more or less shot, is Renee Doria, coming out of retirement in 1979 and doing Fanny Legrand (I could’t make that up) in Massenet’s Sapho -- an opera which is a sort of French ‘Fedora’ experience -- tawdry, but wonderful. She tears the scenery to tatters, and the voice is threadbare, but has such style, abandon and command, that criticism is impertinent. It’s worth a listen -- even if the supporting cast leaves quite a bit to be desired.

            I believe Soderstrom -- of all people -- did it in concert once, but that might be a Massenetic vision -- ‘Ah -- le ciel -- je vois Dieu’……

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            The Anna Thais is wonderful, Rudel (who was Olive Middleton’s ‘music director’ remember, I used to remind him when I worked with him, oh, how he hated me, poor harmless Mrs. John) and Bacquier are the best on records though two worse people can hardly be imagined, both homophobes. Bacquier once went on and on to me about another singer who was ‘awful’ because he was a ‘fag’. I said, “but M. Bacquier as gifted an interpreter as you are, most people think you are a fag.” End of conversation and last encounter.

            But Rudel really had a feel for this style. Anna is obviously recorded in a ceder chest with mikes everywhere but she certainly understands and conveys what is going on.

            Doria (Westminster) isn’t bad but that has a lot of cuts, a lousy conductor and isn’t magic. I much prefer the Géori Boué version with her great voiceless hubby Bourdin (194?). She doesn’t have much tone, true, but what she does with it and the way she pronounces! NO ONE, not even the native French horrors who sing today, pronounce like that. If you ask them, they say what she does is “Vichy” or “Fascist”.

            No, it is French as sung, and is very beautiful in itself. And the way those two put over their scenes is just heaven!!!!!!!

            It is of course an awful opera, for which the word, ‘meretricious’ was invented in English. Massenet only has one tune and uses it over and over and over and over and over. When he finally has to modulate away from it in the final duo so Thais can die to something ‘angelic’ he justs works a variation on a D major scale, counting on his original (the dyke Sybil Sanderson who fed, clothed, housed and laved Mary Garden, giving her the Sapphic bath) to blaze out those two killer high D’s (softly!) and save the scene!

            I also love the excerpts with the greatest Emma (Luart) and a younger Bourdin (she too has an amazing pronunciation and a pathos unmatched by humankind since, he had no voice even back then but what style!!!).

            There is an fun pirate with the greatest Jose Van Dam, where his poor Thais (I tremble to mention her by name) tries those high D’s and breaks horribly on each one (just like Heppner would). The greatest Raina made a pirate with the great Bruscantini (in Itey) but she DUCKS the D’s, though she told me she had them!!!! (It’s actually condoned by the score but NO FAIR!!!) Of course if you want to hear it done in American there is great Dottie and Bob Merrill (they say it’s French, parleyvoo???).

            One is better off reading Anatole France’s greatest novel, the funniest and meanest (about Christianity) historical novel ever written, right up there with Salammbo, the greatest novel on which to learn French, one sentence after another is a miracle. One might find Ned Rorem’s completion of the Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff torsos (or get the score of the Reyer work, I have seen it for sale but didn’t buy it). Of course there is B. Herrmann’s devoon aria from Citizen Kane.

            I saw the greatest Soderstrom do Sappho and have the tape — she is FAB!!!! But the greatest performance of its greatest aria, “Viens m’ami’ is by Susanne Cesbron Viseur, a fabulous floaty sound (Ravel wrote Scheherezade for her), incredible pronunciation and style. She was one of Crespin’s teachers, and when the latter said she intended to learn Scheherezade, Cesbron told her she was a pig and a fool and Regine told her to go fuck herself (end of those lessons).

            Years later, as Regine would tell the tale, she sent her FABULOUS recording of the work to Cesbron who according to Regine sent back a humble apology. However Regine has to deal with the bean counter Ansermet and his awful orchestra with those dreadful winds. My fave is Tourel who gets an incredible accompaniment from someone named Bernstein (she’s good but what he does is amazing). Of course I think Guatlier Malde has worn out the Maria Ewing version with Sir Simon Rattle.

          • I also a weak spot for the Moffo Thais. I actually find that her vocal shakiness reflects the aura of decadence of Thais’ world at first, and her psychological distress later. I just love that recording, I still have the LP with the poster and treasure it.

          • Belfagor

            Mrs JC, of course Thais is meretricious, but it is sublimely meretricious. It is surely a great deal more artfully composed than Fedora, and I do think I have to take issue with the ‘one tune’ put down. Of course, the big tune is all pervasive at times, but it is such a good tune, and gains immeasurably from being heard in context. The final duet is surely genius -- particularly the way the big sequence -- the one that climaxes with those oft-mentioned top C sharp, Ds and the plunge down below the stave -- is very cunningly prefigured in Athanael’s very idealistic aria before he has met Thais. The ‘Alexandrie’ aria is like balm, an oasis after the austerity of the opening scene -- the finale to the first act ‘Que te fait se severe’ with that little woodwind riff (similar to the cooing passagework in ‘Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix’) is irresistible, like being submerged in bubble bath -- Thais’s great mirror aria and the whole ensuing scene with Athanael -- and that tremendously gallic combo of chastity and mush ‘L’amour est un vertu rare’ -- and so many bits in the oasis ‘O messagere de dieu’, where the harmonic language of Poulenc is so strikingly prefigured -- one could go on -- the orchestration is gorgeous and as detailed and pointilliste as early Debussy. I don’t go near it that often, as I have to purge myself afterwards -- I sing the phrases for days. I always thought it was Massenet’s strongest score -- well maybe Esclarmonde has more riches, but is not so organic.

            I agree with you about Boue. Doria is much more interesting when she is past it (in ‘Sapho’) -- though I love that Suzanne Cesbron-Viseur, which is tranfixing -- and the Crespin connection was news to me -- fascinating.

            I agree that the novel is a different matter -- infinitely more nuanced and intelligent -- but there were places that literature went that 19th century music with its limited ‘romantic’ emotional palette couldn’t go (something similar happens if you compare Pushkin and Tchaikovsky’s ‘Onegin’ and ‘Spades’ -- though Piotr Ilyich was of a different magnitude as creator to dear Jules, much as they influenced one another -- but Pushkin’s vision and emotional clarity could really only be realised by a post-Romantic -- or a classical composer) -- I’m sure that France’s Thais and Paphnuce are the same.

            I didn’t know Ned Rorem had tinkered with Mussorgsky’s ‘Salaambo’ -- can one find it? I have a recording of a version by an Italian, Zoltan Pesko -- it’s a Cecil B de Mille experience, again not to be compared to the subtleties of Flaubert -- but, as it was composed piecemeal -- I have a feeling that Flaubert’s stylistic tour de force was not of interest to Mussorgsky -- he wanted to write a biblical epic, and this was fashionable current source material. But I digress…….The Reyer Salammbo is fun -- I have a score and have braved the big moments, and an excerpt (on a marvellous EMI compilation of French opera) of a Germaine Martinelli (?) -- rather imperious -- doing a big aria -- not as distinctive as Massenet of course.

            The burning question is -- how can one download or find a CD of the Moffo ‘Thais’ -- all this talk is giving me withdrawal. And can we have more details of Soderstrom as Sapho…….?

            I did see Maria Ewing do Sheherazade live -- and she was riveting, she lived every syllable -- and had a extraordinary simulated orgasm at the climax of ‘Asie’ -- not sure about her recording, or whether her voice was special, but she sure lived it live -- and she did have that ability of total identification with a role, a mment or a phrase that made it seem new-minted -- an ability not to be sniffed at.

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            Belfagor!!!! Well named for you are one of my FAVE Respighi operas, though, while your overture is amazing, I think I have to give the prize in art to La campana sommersa (based on the fabulous play by that fabulous writer, Hauptmann, and published as you know in German first, I have an original edition as well as the Italian score)but if truth telling be forced here at parterre then I have to admit to ADORING La Fiamma, the story of my life with ME as a leading character (Eudossia) and one of the greatest act two finales EVER!!! I even have a dim DVD of the Dreyer film based on the source play, Anne Pedersdotter, The Witch, which I’ll admit to having read in the rare book room here.

            Well, your spirited defense of Thais is admirably unanswerable though I think you will have to walk to Rome for linking our Jules with the very greatest Poulenc, who could not have committed so grave a sin (without a broad grin!!!). And as for our bitonal pal Claude, he imitated Jules to get to Rome, which he hated and to sell early piano pieces, which he also hated. Claude as in his amazing treatment of sonata form in mvts 1 and 3 of La Mer and total originality in mvt 3, or the sound world of Jeux or in his own kind of sublime beauty as in the Violin Sonata (those chords, those chords and I hope you have Spalding/Benoist AND Bartok/Szigeti) was well beyond our Jules and I don’t think those pieces could be considered influenced by him (nor for that matter could Pelleas) — why, Claude’s response to such an assertion would be positively Phrygian.

            Still, who could disagree with someone so passionate about bad art? I myself adore the verismo, worse than which would be hard to find (excepting I Cavallieri D’Ekubu, which has one of MY parts in it, The Commandante, since being a soprano sfogato I sound rather like Fedora Barbieri on a bad day in a bad year with bad catarrh).

            As for Soderstrom in Sapho, her cries of “Canailles! Canailles!!!!” The first an A to G, the second spoken as in the score, in act three, were electrifying — in fact the whole end of that act was stunning. It was just a concert but she lost herself entirely in her rage and hurt there, and the abandon she showed was that of a great star — she even ripped the top of her long dress open in fury. The audience had been slightly restive but that riveted everyone. She was great.

            Germaine Martinelli was six foot three and in fact looked rather like me (see my portrait as Fedora on this thread) so no one would hire her for stage work but she made stunning records, including a complete Schoene Muellerin in French (some songs reduced), much Schumann, the Wagner arias, and duos with Thill and various other arias and melodies, her Robert toi que j’aime is the best after Berthe Auguez de Montalent and who even knows who she was (married to the bass Auguez or a fancy dancing American ghel?). Germaine was FABULOUS!!!! I have ALL her records. I AM she!!!!

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            The Rorem ‘completions’ are a joke amongst us ghels.

          • Belgafor, if you send me an email, I might be able to help you with at least the audio part of the Thais. I will not see my LP copy of that recording for anything. I would only give it away if I get Gilles Marini in return, for life.

          • Buster

            Stephen Mudge did a wonderful interview with Renée Dorias not so long ago. That led me to a long relisten to her French songs album: 2 CD’s with Bizet, Gounod, Fauré, Hahn, and the gorgeous (when she sings them) Chansons franco-canadiennes.

            Love the photo:


          • Belfagor

            Buster -- that interview with Doria is a blast -- what a sweet picture -- as if butter wouldn’t melt -- and then, all that lemon. I too have that recital, and will make a point to re-listen.

            Dear Mrs JC aka Fedora/Mme Martinelli -- in fact the divine Poulenc cites Thais as one of the role models for his muti-faceted heroines in the Carmelites -- so maybe M. Rolland is right -- there IS a Massenet slumbering in the heart of every Frenchman, however thoroughly -- as you rightly put -- he was transcended by the next generation. But he is deep rooted -- make no mistake -- so many moments of Ravel (Petit-Poucet) re-compose Massenet’s notes and use them as basis. And in fact, that magical opening of the Debussy Violin sonata can be traced to the chord progressions of Maitre Jules late style -- the archaisms of ‘Cendrillon’ -- for instance.

            As for Respighi -- fun, but what a mess. Gold, sand, stones, rubbish -- all thrown in the pot. I’ve always got stuck, -- aurally constipated -- in Act 3 of ‘La campana sommersa’ and have never worked through to the end….. but that’s another topic.

            And what is it about Massenet, that gives rise to wardrobe malfunctions -- from the first night of Thais, to Soderstrom clawing at her dress (risky, one would have thought) -- this is a subject for a doctoral dissertation. ……

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            Mrs John thank you for your comments! Very appreciated!

        • Gualtier M

          Philips in the early nineties did a whole series of “WTF!?” recordings with Kiri Te Kanawa including totally unnecessary traversals of “Faust” and “La Boheme” -- roles she had sung briefly in her early days and dropped.

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            I felt like that about Kiri’s Tosca … just seemed all wrong …

          • MontyNostry

            … and the awful cover shot of Kiri as Red Riding Hood, clearly shot in a Victorian Gothic C of E church.

          • I can see the reasoning behind the Kiri recordings. She was a big recording star but her rep was limited and lacking in the popular Verdi/Puccini vehicles. So doing Mimi and Marguerite made sense (on paper anyway).

          • Krunoslav

            What about the Esposito/Massard THAIS? Cut,but much better to my ears than the screechy Boué, chien though she had…

          • m. p. arazza

            That “Faust” was necessary, at least for me! For whatever it’s worth, the “Boheme” was on Erato, not Philips. You may be thinking of her “Traviata” (with its age-blind casting of Kraus and Hvorostovsky).

      • MontyNostry

        That must have been the grandest Santuzza in history. Still, there is a local connection for Jessye: she has been known to pronounce the name of her birthplace, Augusta (Georgia), as if it were Augusta (Sicily), not far from Siracusa — and birthplace of Marcello Giordani.
        Giacomini had no stage presence, but I do think he had the most magnificent sound. Much more of an Otello is purely vocal terms than Domingo ever was.

        • MontyNostry

          • operaddict

            It has been said that to be an opera singer, a singer needs three things…voice, voice and voice.
            I think you could agree that Giacomini easily doubles that. No stage presence? Well, with a sound like that flooding the theatre, I’d just close my eyes. I can imagine the acting…but when offered a tenor with a sound like that, I’d be satisfied and not feel cheated in the slightest.

        • I don’t have that Cavalleria recording but I’ve heard a couple of clips on youtube. Vocally, it was a good fit for Jessye but dramatically, her Santuzza sounded more like Klytemnästra. All the more shame that she never took that role on.

          • MontyNostry

            kashania — there’s still time, there’s still time.

      • Regina delle fate

        Karajan’s Turandot anyone?

    • papopera

      Perhaps the best, and hammiest is the Olivero (long past her prime but what an artist !!! ) with Del Monaco and Gobbi. Its beautiful and quite camp.

  • operaddict

    An expensive disc which features a light soubrette soprano attempting a dramatic soprano role but only achieving flatting and struggling, another PD “protgee” who can’t seem find pitch or quality above the staff, and a definitely autumnal leading man offering mostly straining and nasality…sounds like a definite “pass” to me.

    • Fedora is not necessarily a “dramatic soprano role.” It was created by Bellincioni and has been sung by all sorts of different artists. It’s essentially a “singing actress” part, the type that is dependent on the leading lady’s innate magnetism. Gheorghiu has succeeded in other roles of this type and might make a very reasonable case for Fedora on the stage, as she has done with La rondine and even Tosca

      • Belfagor

        It needs a singing Bette Davis, that’s what it needs -- regardless of vocal fach. I did see a video of Scotto (v.late -- in distressing vocal shape, alas) come close.

        Did anyone ever hear the Marton recording? Could never quite face it……

        I’m surprised more mezzos haven’t attempted it, as the tessitura is not placed too high, though some of the climaxes are stressful for a lower palced voice. I’ve heard Cloe Elmo do the aria -- and I think Agnes Baltsa tried it once.

        Gheorghiu, as Tosca, was several sizes too small, in my opinion.

        • The Marton Fedorais another one who people cringe, in my opinion, more on expectation than on actual knowledge. This was my first and for many years my only Fedora.

          This Fedora is among Marton’s best recordings and one that I would recommend to anyone for a listening.

          Marton could be a frustrating performer on stage, but for some unexplained reason, this recording captured her sound still youthful and also captured the lyric qualities of herr voice. I love this recording.

        • MontyNostry

          … and as Adriana at the ROH. I always feel she has a Mozart voice.

        • operaddict

          Good point…Bette Davis was a dramatic soprano with a cigarette instead of a voice. Talk about chewing the scenery in whatever she did! If she had sung, she would have been up there with Maria and Renata.

      • operaddict

        Cara Cieca, with all due respect (and I adore Parterre Box) I must disagree. AG has a voice for only light, girlish roles. She is deeply under water with verismo. Rondine is a far cry from true blood and thunder verismo, and her Tosca is about 4 notches too small for my taste. OK, in her WAY, she pulls it off…but I don’t think that in any sense is she a Tosca, Adriana, or any other of these big diva parts.

        • Evenhanded


          I agree that Gheorghiu is mostly out of her depth in verismo (and several other parts too, like Charlotte and Carmen -- both quite poor). Still the voice is gorgeous, and she clearly doesn’t have a personality that will remain content with the handful of lyric roles in her repertoire.

          One thing she is emphatically NOT is a “light soubrette soprano”. She may not be the next Verdi spinto (predicted by silly Alan Blyth in Gramophone years ago), but her vocal amplitude is that of a medium-size lyric soprano.

          The idea of Gheorghiu singing soubrette roles did give me a good giggle, however.

          • richard

            Well, a few comments on Ang. First she HAS done a number of soubrette roles: Zerlina, Nedda(sort of), Adina. But that aside, I agree she’s no soubrette.

            I’d call her a lyric soprano that consistently undersings but can (if the mood strikes her) sing with beautiful detail and the voice itself is very beautiful.

            I did think she was underwhelming in the ROH Adriana. I recorded it, listened to it and finally decided to ditch it. However I loved her last act, there she finally decided to really put herself into it and it was really gorgeous.

            It’s a simplification to call all those Verismo soprano roles Big Diva roles. Different roles call for different voice types. But all of them are big in requiring a lot of presence; dramatic in the theatrical sense rather than the vocal.

            I agree completely with La that Fedora is not solely for a big voiced soprano. The part calls for a lot of glamour and sweep but not necessarily a huge voice. Adriana, Zaza, Madame Sans Gene, and Iris are all similar in this regard. Lodaletta and Suzel call for even some delicacy. None of these roles were created by big voiced screamers.

            But many listeners want the decibels and will happily give up the finer points of nuance and polish for a big bruiser. That’s there preference but it certainly does not make it a requirement for all sopranos who want to take on those roles.

            I haven’t hear it but I’m not advocating Ange as being ideal for Fedora, the part sits too low for her and it’s a chronic drawback that she refuses to sing on a large scale. she doens’t HAVE to sound as underpowered as she usually does. She SHOULD have been better as Adriana, the part fits her, she has the elegance and glamour as well as the morbidezza for the role. But she wouldn’t extend to self to project it out on a larger scale. Too bad.

  • Will

    Not to mention a whole slew of Bocelli complete operas.

  • richard

    The Decca Fedora with Olivero, Del Monaco, and Gobbi is certainly the practical best choice. But I think Olivero is shown to better advantage on two live recordings made later in the same year the commercial set was recorded.
    And Del Monaco is very hard to take with a persistent “drone-whine” to his tone. Gobbi is also miscast, the role calls for smoother vocalism than he could provide at this point in his career.

    Olivero sand Fedora in Dallas with Prevedi in 1969 and also in Lucca the same year with di Stefano. The Lucca performance is my favorite version by Olivero. She is possessed in the last act and molds the phrases into giant cathedrals of sound. Her use of rubato is breathtaking. The sound is not so hot though and di Stefano is very, very trying. But Olivero is at her finest. The Dallas set is easier to find and also very good. Prevedi was very baritonal but that’s not really that much of a drawback.

    I’m glad Olivero finally got back in the recording studio in 1969 to record this set but in a way, it’s too bad about the circumstances. Decca had scheduled the recording with Tebaldi and she pulled out. Olivero replaced her and got a more than deserved opportunity.

    But Tebaldi, even in early 1969, might have been still very good. Her Adrianas at the MEt during 1968-69 all in all very more assured sounding than her earlier MEt series and she also recorded the Tebaldi Festival during this period and while there are edgy moments on that set, in total I think it was her final recording where she sounded like her self and not a tense, nervous wreck (e.g. the Decca Ballo)

    • papopera

      When the old peeps recorded that Fedora in 1969, Olivero was 59, Gobbi was 56 and Del Monaco 54. Doesnt matter, experience sings.

    • messa di voce

      Her singing on her Christmas album (1970?) is still 95% very beautiful.

    • Regina delle fate

      Isn’t there a quite good live Tebaldi Fedora from Naples with Corelli or Di Stefano?

      • richard

        I had this on LP and never got around to replacing it on CD.

        I recall it being very good but somehow it never really ranked up there with some of the other Fedoras I’ve heard. My live Fedoras included Olivero, Marton, and Freni, sort of a mixed bag but I have had quite a few recordings.

        I guess I quibble a bit at this set because I can hear some incipient signs of the vocal crisis that
        Tebaldi went through a year or two later.

        Tebaldi’s limitiations are generally held to be mostly her flatting of top notes and shrinking range. But another less obvious problem she faced at different times was a sense of constriction that effected pretty much her entire range.

        This was what triggered the 1963 crisis which had her withdraw from performances for about a year.

        And I hear some of this constriction starting to
        take hold in performances and recordings from the early 60s. The bell like clearness wasn’t really there anymore.

        Fortunately she worked through a lot of this and all in all I find Tebaldi’s performances from the mid 60s easier to listen to (in spite of a hardening top) than the ones from the early 60s.

        But then I’m perverse anyway……

        • richard

          To add to my previous post, I think Tebaldi sounds better on her 1969 Met Adriana than the 1963 one. Although the earlier performance marked the period where she stopped singing for about a year.

          I guess I’m sensitive to this issue because it was the thing that bothered me most about late Tebaldi, which was really what I experienced live. (from 1968 on)

          After 1970, the constriction was often in evidence. Although it was never really noted as another crisis, Tebaldi skipped appearances at the MEt from late 1970 to early 1972. I heard her sing a painful sounding Maddalena in Chenier in the fall of 1970, the sound was very constricted throughout her range and of course the tops notes were very flat.

          Did the Fanciullas she sang earlier that same year cause some problems? Who knows, she was declining at that point anyway.

          But I guess the real reason that I’m sensitive to this issue was that I saw Tebaldi’s MEt farewell and it was really painful. She sang Desdemona, and really the top notes weren’t that big a problem, but the whole range of sound was very constricted. The effort it took her to get the sound out was very noticeable.

  • iltenoredigrazia

    I would not generalize the assumption that roles like Adriana and Fedora are “generally associated with divas no longer in their first flush of youth..”

    Tebaldi, who probably remains the best interpreter of both roles in living memory, sang both roles in the 1950’s way before her voice had declined. Olivero also sang Adriana when young and may have also sung Fedora early in her career. Callas sang Fedora at La Scala in the mid-50’s. Zylis-Gara and Caballe sang Adriana while still in top form.

    Just because Tebaldi and Olivero kept Adriana in their repertoire until late in their careers, does not make it a role for old sopranos. Freni took over Adriana and Fedora for the first time late in her career, but she also took over Tatyana at the same time and I don’t hear anyone claiming Tatyana is a role for old sopranos.

    Would it be more fair to say that these roles demand a stage presence and confidence that some sopranos don’t feel they have earlier in their careers? Also, not all sopranos can or are willing to reach into their lower registers and declamation early on.

  • parpignol

    Opera d’Oro has a Tebaldi/De Stefano Fedora for sale; has anyone heard it?

    • iltenoredigrazia

      I’ve had it for a long time and love it.

    • Regina delle fate

      I should have read further. I owned this recording on LP but sold all my LPs and haven’t replaced it. I’ll look up this Opera d’Oro release on Amazon. Did Caballé ever sing it?

  • idreno

    Pederzini was in Italy a famous Fedora. Simionato, Elena Nicolai, and Cortez all sang Fedora. Generally, mezzos who tackles the role lower in act IV the tonality from C to E at “Loris, io ben ti conosco” and returns to the original one at “Fallo per me, ti supplico”. This option is not in the vocal score, at least mine. And many singers, also Tebaldi, at least at Naples, tackle a version with lower “puntature” of Fedora “Loris Ipanoff, oggi lo Zar…” in act II

    • Gualtier M

      I believe that there is a special edition of the “Fedora” score prepared for Pederzini with lower options and puntature. One wonders why Fiorenza Cossotto didn’t take a chance with it?

      • Belfagor

        That would have been fun.

        Talking of ‘what were they thinking’ recordings: did anyone ever come across a soprano recital that Cossotto did -- big arias from ‘Ballo’ and such -- absolutely terrifying!

      • richard

        It’s just as well she didn’t. Cossotto was a natural for Santuzza but she possessed none of the elegance and refinement that a really fine Fedora has. Flo was a blunt instrument.

        In my earlier post I meant to note that I appreciated all the carefully listening Ercole did with the new Fedora recording and I was intrigued at all fine points in Ange’s work that he commended her for. I can easily imagine she would sound underpowered and wan for some of the grander moments but there are also many reflective moments too and it sounds like Ang did well in a lot of these.

        Unlike so many other singers today, she seems to be able to infuse her singing with a lot of fine detail while at the same time night not allowing the detail to take over overything ( no need to mention a famous diva who allows her attention to detail to swallow everything alive!)

        • rapt

          What a mean thing to say about Guleghina….

  • mrsjohnclaggart

    I AM Fedora!!!! This is just awful as a recording, period. Goo-Goo was at her best in her early Met daze as Mimi and Liu, where she had a small but beautiful voice and seemed destined to be one of those Eastern European sopranos with excellent musical training who did not force but who did not have the kind of heft and impact that made her seem a natural for ‘diva’ roles in a big house.

    Of course her willingness to put out for anything with a prepuce wasn’t understood then and she has gone on to a more substantial career than anyone would have predicted. The L’amico Fritz in this series is also poor — good heavens one has Mascagni himself conducting it with Tassinari and Tagliavini when they were married and both had voices, it also has my brother, Saturno Meletti in it and let’s not forget my grandmother, Amelia Pini.

    Then there is probably the best Pavarotti/Freni recording, with Gavazzeni and ME, Laura Didier-Gambardella! Not to have heard my Ortruda (in Italian) is to have not lived on this “doomed Calder mobile paralytic ward where naught moves yet all falls yet in the eyen of God is fixed as anguished butterflies in a mad for power pederast’s album are fall’n and fix’d as we weened are by the only God, imag’ning as pin pierces our sides, oh, Gesu, Gesu, what fools think of as our SAD lives for it’s Winter… “(Alice Goodman is still with me).

    Then there is the Valetti/Cateri recording, not quite as refulgently sung but full of charme, such as I have and let’s not forget the — provide adjective please — b’cast with Gigli and his girl-chile Rina (you could do worse, Goo-Goo for example).

    As for Fedora I saw Magda (stories told often at dontreadmrsjohnclaggart@parterre box and not to be repeated here). Her recordings are unendurable for someone with a pitch sense, the best tuned, Decca, is the dullest. She was fab in the flesh but as with many challenged singers one was less aware of the vocal limits (however La Signora Bartoli told me Magda was a big phony, she had seen her for years and she ALWAYS did everything exactly the same, including the sobs, screams and loud sighs: “The atom bomb could have gone off under her and she’d have done the scene precisely the same”.) The recording with poor Pippo is awful, he’s just unendurable.

    Anyone who loves this admittedly terrible but wonderful opera MUST have Nicolai and Gigli in Buenos Ares CD (eclipse) where HE takes the C in act two and his hysterical narrative collapsing to sobs draws a VAST ovation. Elena is not to be outdone but then again, of course poison would cause such huge belching and farting (just ask Tchaikovsky). She uses the mezzo version as door Pia (Tassinari) when she came to record it disappointedly in the ’50’s when she had lost a glorious lyric Soprano voice for reasons unknown (unless Ferruccio’s — when he was her hubby — love of buying horses, he and Gobbi owned a few in common — had something to do with it) and was singing as a mezzo without high notes (she also recorded MY role Ulrica and I saw her do a fearsome Carmen with Jon who she sacred — I am talking of roles that suit my personality, I am a soprano sfogato)

    There is also the Caniglia (Cetra on a good sounding Warner pressing) where she nails that act two high C in a way the Greys and Whites among us, deaf usually, would have heard. I am also very fond of the Gavazzeni Scala pirate(s) — I have eight-- with Freni, Cassola, Domingo/Carreras. I was at those rehearsals and many of the performances (stories told as above) and just LOVE the way Gavazzeni gets it all to sound like music, though two pirates I made for myself are better than the telecast, which is the one that circulates as sound and for those with an interest, a video — on one he screams at the audience not to applaud while he achieves an amazing diminuendo and Little Mirella goes to town as she doesn’t otherwise (I actually can’t stand Domingo usually but he is actually very good in the easily available performance, more typically fraudulent later, Jose feels it but makes horrible noises).

    There is also a bad Cortez pirate in the mezzo ed (she still sings it badly, and again it’s the ineluctable curse on opera in our times, Domingo) but one can avoid him with ME, Mara Zampieri, fabulous, with the great and sad Larin (in the closet lacking condoms did for him but he was wonderful, also a wonderful person).

    I agree with him/her/that above that liked Marton on her recording, not a bad stab at the role at all despite her pronunciation but you have to deal with Jose. The Scotto video is a must have, though one wouldn’t want to hear it (she sounds horrible but to see is to understand greatness). Unfortunately she too is with Placid Sunday (or as Cianella used to scream, “Signor Sunday m’ha maledetto, corpo di dio!!!!”). You know, Giacomini recorded the role with Magda (I saw them do it, and he was wonderful as was she).

    For one above, poor Big Renata only did two runs of the role having had the runs (just kidding) — both with Pippo — one in Chicago with Gobbi and one in Naples with Sereni. That exists in poor sound with an Italian soft rock station bleeding into the source tape. Neither is in great form in that one. She showed me her costumes and tiara and talked of how she loved the role (and how bad Freni was). She did do Adrianna a lot in the 50s and the Naples ’53 performance is insane with her flinging that immense, glorious sound around like there is no tomorrow and yelling MY MOMENT “Giusto Cielo, che feci in tal giorno” from her mighty chest. It is my second fave rendition of that great moment, the first is Caniglia from 1947 in Buenos Aires, and then there is mine, recorded on Acid in 1979 in the closet I used to make music since it was sound proofed, those who have heard it swear that after those ladies it is PRIME.

    But enough of me. Here is a picture of me waiting for Loris in act two of the Fedora I did in Motu Tapu.

    • Verdilover

      A small correction, that Fedora with Gigli and Nicolai was in Rio de Janeiro.

  • Magda Olivero’s commercial recording of Fedora is how I was introduced to her voice and how I fell in love with this great lady’s art. During the days I was in Conservatory, when vinyl still ruled, I went through at least 4 copies of this recording.
    IMO, I have never heard another Soprano sing the death scene “Tutto Tramonta” with such emotional directness. The myriad of colors she applies with her voice is astounding.

    “Forse al estinta, perdonerai”

  • What the hell is fraseggio?

    • As I understand it, fraseggio means mostly “phrasing” but is somewhat broader than the English sense of that word; that is, not just a matter of where the breaths are inserted and the use or more or less legato, but also dynamics, coloring the voice, making the words vivid.

      I invite Ercole to correct me if I am wrong.

      • I couldn’t have said it better.

      • OpinionatedNeophyte

        While we’re having a mini tutoring session is there someone willing to add to this neophyte’s knowledge of casually bandied about musical terms:

        1. Passagio: Based on context I feel like this a section of the voice like “chest” or “head” voice? If so then where(is there a where) is it Why is it important to “negotiate” it.

        2. Chiarscuro (I’m sure I’ve spelled it incorrectly) I’ve gleaned that this has something to do with the color of the voice, is it more than just an Italian word for vocal color? I understand what vocal colors are (even if its unclear how they are produced)

        3. Squillo. Based on seeing it used I’ve interpreted it as “loudness” but, more precisely something like the “cut” of the sound. So does this mean that Nilsson had a lot of squillo because even though the voice was (supposedly) not that huge it cut through the orchestra? I feel like this is a term I only see in reference to Italian singers, whats that about?

        4. Morbadezza (again this could be a mispelling). My guess based on context is that this is also related to vocal color, but specifically refers to some kind of drama in the voice? Would love to know if I’m at all close.

        • Bosah

          ON, Thanks for asking. I, too, am especially interested in the responses you receive to numbers 1 and 4.

        • operalover9001

          1. The passaggio is a range of notes in which the transition between the chest voice and the head voice occurs, which is usually located around the top of the staff for sopranos. I’m not sure about this, but I think that it’s difficult to “negotiate” this area because there’s an obvious register shift in this range, so singers have to learn to smooth it out by singing chest notes in head voice, head notes in chest voice, etc.
          2. Chiaroscuro refers to a contrast between light and dark, and in music usually refers to the contrast between a bright, brilliant tone and a darker, warmer tone.
          3. Squillo is quite difficult to translate, but it’s commonly referred to as the resonance in the upper register of the voice. This resonance allows the voice to be heard easily over full orchestration, your example of Nilsson being a very commonly cited example of squillo.
          4. Morbidezza is directly translated as softness or tenderness, and usually refers to how delicately or expressively a singer can sing a line. This one i’m not quite sure about, but that’s what I’ve read.

        • I’ll get the ball rolling.

          Passaggio is a transitional area of vocal registration, or, to put it in simpler terms, part of the scale in which the voice “switches gears” from one register to another. For example, the most important tenor passaggio occurs on about the F at the top of the staff. The notes from F downward are sung in one vocal position, and the notes from F upward are in a different position. The trick is to make the changeover from one “position” to the other without cracking or yodeling, and the area in which that transition takes place is the passaggio.

          In this master class, Pavarotti demonstrates the transition through the passaggio

          (La Cieca will add here that though she agrees in principle with the way Pavarotti approaches the F-sharp — it is a very healthy and voice-preserving way of doing it — the “safe” position (what he calls “noble”) loses a certain excitement in the theater. The first F-sharp he sings — the one he doesn’t like — is to La Cieca’s mind a more exciting note.)

          One way I sometimes think of the passaggio is when you are lifting weights, there is sometimes a point in the middle of the movement where the weight seems to stick, as if you have no strength there. What is actually happening is that for the first part of the movement you are using one muscle, and for the second part of the movement you are using a different muscle. The passaggio is the area in which you have to coordinate both muscles carefully so that one “hands over” the weight to the other.

          I’m going to jump to “squillo” which is a description of a vocal color that has a certain kind of brilliance, like that of a trumpet or other brass instrument, for example, here:

          Notice that as del Monaco’s voice goes higher and louder, there’s this sort of bright edge on the sound, a tone that heard close up might sound almost like screaming, but from the distance of an auditorium has an energetic, vibrant quality. That is squillo.

          Obviously women’s voices can have squillo too: for example, Tebaldi, especially the final high B-flat.

          Okay, morbidezza. This is a special kind of sweetness in the sound that suggests fragility and sadness, a kind of “victim” quality. In a way it’s the opposite of squillo, all softness without edges, the color tending toward darkness.

          Angela Gheorghiu is one of not many current singers who naturally has the quality of morbidezza — almost to the point of mannerism.

          Notice in this clip that Franco Corelli can wield both morbidezza and squillo!

          • operaddict

            Cara Cieca,
            You are right about Pavarotti’s demonstration of how to sing the F#. The first one…the one he says is wrong, IS brighter and more exciting. And the second example he makes, the one which is in a turned passagio tone, is darker and less brilliant. However, the great Pav knew of what he spoke. Although it is POSSIBLE to sing the F# “open” like he did at first, this is a strain on the voice…and in time, will compromise the top range. The next thing that will happen if you sing the F# open like that, then you try the G the same way. This is a vocal recipe for disaster. Carreras sang open tones like that…likewise DiStefano and many others. Instead of a clean, quickly and neatly turned passagio tone, as Pav demonstrates, many tenors allow their voices to stay in the “chest” and put the F# and G into the nose. PD is a prime example of this. Youth allows many things, but with the test of time, these tenors lost ground and finally failed. PD is no longer able to sing as a tenor, because going nasal, instead of flipping the voice into a clean and healthy passagio tone will cause the tenor voice to struggle to sing any note above an Ab. Singing nasally decompresses the voice, and will not allow the top tones, which are literally air-less, to work right. Nasal singing always makes a voice weaker, smaller and shorter in range. I firmly believe that PD could still be Otello, Canio and Radames again…even now…were he to rediscover what he did in the days when he was singing those roles so well. Pav knew the passagio had to be clean, true and obvious…never nasal…and had it until the end. I think the problem he ran into was the way he sang the AWE vowel, which over time, he actually sang like the AE in the word CAT. Caruso advised to sing the AH like AWE…and I suppose we can trust that bit of advice…now can’t we? Who better to follow as an example? When Pav got into that CAT kind of AH, the King of the High C’s was no longer able to sing that tone with the thrilling ease that he did in the beginning.

          • My issue, though, operaddict, is the prescription to sing the F-sharp always covered, which I think in certain roles like Andrea Chenier cheats the music. Pavarotti sang this part in pretty good voice (though he never did quite learn all the notes) but there are a lot of big climactic phrases that pound on F and F-sharp, and I think the implication is that these notes should be sung open for effect even if other F’s and F-sharps in the role are sung covered. So a tenor ideally should have access to both positions for these notes depending on the musical effect desired, “wild” or “noble.”

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          Having talked and in the days of my long vanished youth played for many voice teachers I have met an increasing number who do not believe there is such a thing as a ‘passagio’ or ‘break’; I have never heard of a teacher trying to teach squillo. Like many vocal terms they are used to indicate subjective sensations a singer has (see especially tenors with ‘passagio’) or a listener hears (see ‘squillo’).

          The great voice pedagogue and scientist Beverley (sic) Johnson, one of the first to dissect the vocal apparatus and to view it in action through x rays resolutely refused to believe there was a ‘passagio’ (or that ‘placement’ had a physical meaning). She discouraged her students from thinking in those terms, arguing that if the vocal apparatus was functioning in a healthy way and the vocal format was right for a given singer that neither term applied and attempting to apply them inevitably did damage.

          As to ‘passagio’ she felt that if someone were taught that it existed, they would look for it, feel it and experience it as a problem to be solved — all part of the many myths about singing ‘correctly’.

          The passagio is mainly of concern to tenors, since it is where a voice makes an audible change from a chest quasi baritonal production to a chest/head mix. The argument goes that ‘solving’ the ‘passagio’ means a secure and easy passage to the high notes. While passagio problems mean troubled high notes or an unfocused strangulated middle where the voice (with luck) opens on the top.

          The notes for tenor that denote ‘passagio’ are F and F sharp/G flat (top of the stave). These tones must be ‘solved’ usually by a technique known as ‘covering’. This is another term that has been questioned but it has to do with whether the vowel is ‘open’ or ‘covered’. It is thought to be ruinous to ‘open’ on the ‘passagio’ notes, so a tenor is taught to cover those notes, and perhaps change his forming of the tone to accommodate them (shifting to a more nasal purchase on the tone and altering the vowel is one way that is taught).

          Di Stefano is used as a warning, an example of someone just plowing through the ‘passagio’, not covering and singing higher notes ‘open’ rather than ‘covered’. That means in effect the vowels are sung as they would be pronounced rather than changed into sounds that allow the singer to realign his voice so he can move upwards with confidence, staying in tune and avoiding the tone collapsing back on the throat on the higher notes (the theory is this is what produced the frayed, flat sounding tone first noted from Di Stefano around 1955 and which gradually undermined his singing so he was in difficulty by 1960. Rather than training to form the vowels in the pharynx, he formed them as though he were speaking them, gaining textual clarity and some declamatory force but in theory wrecking his voice).

          Some tenors may have a lower passagio (Heldentenors may have their ‘change’ lower), a leggero tenor such as Florez may have his passagio somewhat higher. But the challenge is the same.

          Bartiones also have a passagio and are concerned with covering. There are those who felt that Milnes, to protect his big high notes, ‘covered’ too low in the voice, producing eventually the Burt Lahr like wobble mid-range that many disliked (this meant that vowels mid range after a while began to sound like oou-you-ou-you no matter the vowel with the voice spreading — not quite wobbling but not firmly focused).

          Professional singers are expected to mask these changes so the voice sounds of a piece through the range, or any changes are very slight and filter out in a big space. Bjorling is considered to have been a marvel at solving the passagio, if indeed he thought he had one. Pavarotti is also felt to have triumphed in figuring out how to move through the passagio and cover those notes and above without changing or losing the plangency of his voice, something he kept for a long time.

          Some roles ‘hit’ the supposed ‘passagio’ hard; Edgardo in Lucia is murder from that point of view and tenors are damned whatever they do. If they lower the last scene (as almost all do live) they must constantly hit the ‘passagio’, if they don’t lower it, it is too high for big house singing and their voices tire or collapse. Villazon’s last disastrous accounts of Edgardo were considered by some to be a demonstration of what happens when someone has no idea how to manage through the ‘passagio’.

          Women have ‘register change’ issues too, one can hear Simionato shifting her production as she moves up, producing a biting but covered ululation on the higher notes that is different from the mellower sound she produces mid range where she covers only slightly and where the sound was smaller, and somewhat contrasting with a fiercer more open sound in chest, which she uses sparingly but to effect.

          Virtuoso singers cover or not depending on the effects they want — the great Caruso recording of the Tosti song -‘l’albera separa dalla luce langue’ has high notes that are sung open right through the passagio or ‘break’, with tremendous effect and courage, the results are thrilling. Other arias he covers heavily (on the Leoncavallo Boheme aria, ‘testa adorata’ another great record, the starting cry of “Musette” is open and the following lines (“o gioia della mia demora” are open as can be heard on the ‘i’ and the ‘o’ but the aria proper is heavily covered “testa adorata piu non tornerai’ the vowels are discreetly but upon close listening covered and changed — testa adorata becomes tehstao-oadoaroatah’ the ‘i’ that ends tornerai is very different from the ‘i’ in that mia. Caruso’s control, emotional conviction and yes, a sob, help him hide what he’s doing.

          I could go on but more than enough of me.

          • For me morbidezza, in addition to what La Cieca says, is also a pure phonatory adjective. With it I mean the result of a “floating” sound”, produced without friction in the throat, the result of a correct diaphragmatic breathing and use of resonance cavities. The sound is morbido as opposed to harsh.

          • operaddict

            You make some very good points here.
            I would like to add that the human voice is quite naturally adept at making these changes from high to middle to low tones when left alone and allowed to flow out with great emotion and joy. Many singers spontaneously sing in a natural, ringing, operatic sound and proudly proclaim that they have never had a lesson nor ever needed one. “If it isn’t natural, don’t sing!” would be their reply to anyone attempting to understand HOW to find naturalness in their own voice. The thing to remember, then, is that the natural operatic voice is an emotional voice. It is one’s “crying out voice”. When we engage our voice in an emotional, crying, un-selfconscious way, which is much more involved and strongly utilized than when we are just speaking normally and intimately, all of these functions of squillo, morbidezza, passagio and the generally more powerful, fully dramatic sounds a person makes when they are in a heightened emotional vocal usage fall into place naturally. Corelli, being a naturally highly charged person, and like many Italians, used to displaying his emotions outwardly and freely, was able to easily and naturally transition into a great dramatic singer and appear to be able to transcend any proscribed “technique”.
            To me, technique should be nothing more than a conscious understanding of what the voice does naturally when it is in its emotional, crying, highly charged state of being. If what people consider technique is any more than that, it usually manipulated and unnatural, and so then is the resultant sound.
            I do think that it is foolish to say that there is “no passagio” or that it is impossible to “teach squillo”. Of course there is a natural shift in all voices to the high range, and for women, out of the dominate chest voice range. When singing, as understood as an EMOTIONAL outpouring of sound, is unimpeded and allowed to follow its own natural course throughout the range, it would be easy to imagine that there really is no such thing as technique at all.
            The great Sherill Milnes, for example, started out with a fabulous, ringing, easy and thrilling voice. Later on, he seemed to develop “theories” about technique which he played out on his own voice. Sadly, they proved to be wrong, but even as he held on tight to these strong technical beliefs, he brought his powerful great voice down. He is one of only many singers who unfortunately so often, in some effort to understand “technique”, end up with something controled and held, rather than something free, ringing, and beautiful. But early Milnes was a wonder to behold. Likewise early Callas, early DiStefano, Scotto, and Moffo…to name just a few.
            Remaining rather simple, even stupid, as to how we sing, but trusting in our emotional, unemcumbered and joyous outpouring of our voice will by and large keep things going for a long time with little or no change or decline. This sounds easy enough…but with all the pressures and pitfalls incumbent in the course of a career, it is very difficult to maintain. The great Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Kirsten Flagstad, Lauritz Melchoir, Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill among others, seemed to be able to trust what they did, and lasted until the end with most of the beauty and natural technique of their voices intact and functioning at a still very high level.

        • operaddict

          Allow me to explain a bit further the various terms mentioned above.
          Passagio for men. It is important to understand that every voice has actually two major muscle groups which control it. If you yodel, you alternate quickly from one to the other. One is often called “chest” while the other is sometimes called “head” voice. In an operatic voice, BOTH groups of muscles are engaged simultaneously as one sings, however the percentage of one to the other changes as a singer moves up or down throughout his range. There is a specific point where the ratio of head to chest changes abruptly as a singer moves into the high range. It feels rather like a “click” or like a sudden shift occurs. For baritones, from Eb to E, and for tenors from F to F#. At this point, the “head” voice musculature assumes the bulk of the work in controling and supporting the voice, however, the “chest” voice musculature is still involved, although with less of the musculature involved. The Italians called this a “passage” because for two tones, E and F (baritone) or F# and G (tenor), there is a sense of narrowing in the throat as this transition to the high range happens. A passage is a narrow place between two areas. Hence, “passagio”.
          For women, the passagio from dominate “chest” voice to “head” voice occurs low in their ranges. Women who do not allow this to occur naturally, around the Eb above middle C, suffer for it. I believe that Callas, who for dramatic effect, often would sing even G and A in chest tone, did damage to her voice which shortened her career. Tebaldi, too, was no stranger to high chest tones. They can be exciting, but exact a toll. Tebaldi had flatting issues, and Callas that terrible wobble. Just my opinion.
          Women have another passagio which occurs at the top of the staff. The sense of “forward” or of singing “in the mask” shifts as they ascend above the staff to a feeling of the resonance occuring higher and moving up and across the top of the skull the higher they sing. But the passagio into the high range occurs from F to F# for women. Mezzo sopranos may feel the need to “let go” of the mask a bit lower in order to continue to their high range.
          Chairoscuro. This term describes a tone which has both high, ringing overtones while at the same the time deeper, warmer, richer overtones give the tone fullness, roundness and beauty as the singer sings. The Italians felt that this complete quality of the vocal tonal spectrum was the most preferable sound for operatic singing.
          Squillo. This term refers to a sound which has a large measure of overtones in the 2800 to 3200 range of the overtone series of the total vocal resonance. Voices which have developed a great deal of this quality actually seem to “ring” and “carry” over large orchestras and choruses into the largest spaces. This is the sound in the voice which people describe exciting and thrilling to the listener. A voice with a great deal of squillo seems to dominate singers onstage lacking this quality, and fills an opera house where others only are barely audible without it.
          Morbidezza. Usually a term more reserved for women’s voices. It means “plushness” or “softness” of the tone. Softness…not volume-wise, but in the fully engaged rich, warm, voluminous quality of the head tone which sounds womanly and feminine. Leontyne Price, Tebaldi, Arroyo, and many other voices have a great deal of morbidezza in the total mix of their sound which gave their voices that womanly, deeply moving and even sad quality of sound to their voices which complimented the usually tragic nature of the roles they sang. Even Flagstad, who usually sang the most heroic of soprano roles, had a great mix of morbidezza in her tone. Today’s voices are often sadly lacking in this quality of sound. Teachers find it “dark” or “hooty” or “back”…terms which discourage many sopranos from discovering their own morbidezza, and then these teachers encourage overly bright, chirpy and thin sounding voices. Without that plushness of the full, dark, somewhat hooty “mix” in the voice from a strong head voice, a soprano voice will often start to wobble or become so shrill and unpleasant that the singer gets discouraged…not only from their lack of vocal ability from singing this way, but also from negative comments and failure when they attempt to move forward, career-wise.
          I hope some of this makes sense, and for the non singers who read here, explains a bit more of what is going on, vocally speaking, and perhaps why some singers’ voices appeal to us more than others. Singers who have conquered these various vocal issues are the ones throughout history who we constantly refer to and continue to enjoy.

          • La Cieca, Operaddict, mrsjohnclaggart and others have already described the basic mechanism regarding registers and passaggio.
            I mostly agree. There is a lot of confusion about registers and the passaggio, and some voice teachers and singers (not too many) even deny their existence. Usually those who do so are those who haven’t been able to discover how they word.
            The most common description of a register (registro) is the identification with such a word of a range of frequencies, that is a contiguous group of notes, possessing the same (or very similar) vocal timbre and in which all the tones are perceived as produced by the same laryngeal mechanism with particular adjustments of the resonance cavities. This is essentially Garcia’s classic description.
            As the voice goes up, the muscular action of the laryngeal mechanism becomes more intense, until a point when a vocal “break” comes for phonatory hyperkinesia. At this point in operatic singing the readjustment of the conformation of the resonance cavities and an equilibrium between the necessity of action continued by the vocal muscle and the lengthening of the cords must avoid that the time of contact during the vibratory cycle between the vocal cords increases (which would result into a “screamed” production”).

          • Also, I am glad that some of these reviews I write prompt a lot of discussion on vocal technique, because these days most people who write about opera have no idea about the basic mechanisms of vocal production, and often dismiss the singers with one or two adjectives.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            MrsJC, thank you for that explanation of the shifting teaching techniques surrounding morbidezza as I now understand why so many contemporary singers’ timbre bugs the crap out of me in comparison to the so-called “golden age.” But if this is about what voice teachers do then I have a whole other set of questions….How do they become voice teachers if they are unaware of the consequences of their pedagogy? One can assume they, like all of us, enjoy Price, Tebaldi, Gheorghiu, Arroyo but as voice teachers shouldn’t they understand the technique that led to that kind of singing.

            I guess in a broad sense, what explains the generational/pedagogical gap from the Florence Page Kimballs to whoever is teaching promising singers these days? Did that generation of voice teachers not write anything down? Was there no system of voice teaching apprenticeship. Is this a matter of market forces, this kind of vocal expertise got phased out of classical higher education?

          • armerjacquino

            ON, I can’t claim any expertise in this area (unlike the others who have answered so fully) but I think the answer to that question is fashion, as much as anything else. I’ve heard various singers talk about how a bright, light, forward sound is highly encouraged in current teaching (perhaps because it comes across better on recordings? That’s just a guess). I find the effect of fashion on music fascinating: a great big slow Messiah or Matthew Passion with a chorus of 150 says a lot more about the 1950s than it does about Handel or Bach, for example.

            Further to mrsjc’s observation about how women can have register-break problems too, I have two words to add: Agnes Baltsa.

          • iltenoredigrazia

            Very interesting collection of descriptions or definitions. I think I have a good idea of what all those terms mean but have usually identified them in my own my mind with a particular singer. For example for me morbidezza means Claudia Muzio. Tebaldi too.
            And squillo means Corelli and Del Monaco.

            Operaaddict, please tell me if I’m correct in hearing Tebaldi’s “change of voice” in 1963 as an extension up of the chest voice. I don’t hear the early Tebaldi producing high chest tones but she surely did that after 1963. This allowed her to change the mechanics for the high notes while maintaining the beauty of the middle register.

        • OpinionatedNeophyte

          Thanks everyone! Learned alot.

          • operaddict

            To iltenoredigrazia,
            I really can’t claim to know exactly what Renata Tebaldi did to her voice after 1963. However, I think it is apparent that she did sing with more and higher chest tones as she got older. Italian female opera singers many times have adopted this style of singing as their roles have become more and more towards the verismo. Her Minnie was fraught with tons of high chest tones. Although exciting, this method of singing tends to thicken the vocal folds which has a profound effect on the top range, and oftentimes, pitch. I do believe that falling away from what made you famous in the first place is not usually a good option. Of course we need to grow, experiment and take risks from time to time, but we need to know, as singers, that our “vocal home” is still in reach and that it is readily accessible.
            Tebaldi’s middle register remained beautiful until the end. A great soprano voice must have a creamy, rich, full middle range. Sadly, this part of the soprano voice is often badly approached these days. The middle has to have a warmth, a fatness, a richness, a certain darkness in the mix of the sound, which unfortunately, many of today’s teachers are not able to teach, and/or discourage when they hear it in a pupil.
            What often happens, so I have observed, is that when a soprano finds the right balance for the middle voice, then they attempt to carry this same weight and color to the top range. It won’t work. Forcing it to go where it doesn’t want to go makes the voice flat, hard, squally and ugly. In a singer’s own head, the correct approach to high notes is not nearly as beautiful…however, to the listener, it certainly is. It is one of my big challenges as a teacher to convince a student that the way I want them to sing high tones, although not “pretty” in the student’s own head, is nonetheless beautiful outside.
            I think that many singers, possibly even including Tebaldi and many others, attempted to carry the weight and color which they loved the sound of in their own heads all the way up to the top of their range. This simply doesn’t work, and will defeat even the greatest singers who try to do it.
            I hope this makes some sense. Talking about singing is always very difficult. The incredibly spiritual, otherworldly quality of a great voice seems to defy mere words and descriptions of how it was achieved.

        • httvp://
          For me Lauri Volpi is synonym of squillo

        • Tim

          Another term I would love to have explained is “mezza voce” (as opposed to messa di voce). I know it when I hear it as in Jussi Bjorlings “Il ciel de nostri amore” in the Nile scene with Zinka and any number of his live performances. As best I can figure it out from a decidedly laymans perspective he was able to sing soft high notes with the same fullness and support as the rest of his voice with no change in his timbre. I’ve also read that this is becoming something of a lost art especially among tenors. So what the hell is it and examples would be greatly appreciated.

          • Arianna a Nasso

            Tim -- Mezza voce is not limited to high notes (an isolated soft high note as Bjorling’s in Aida I would call “floating” rather than “mezza voce”). It’s basically singing a passage softly. For example, the second verse of “Dove sono” (starting 4:05):

          • operaddict

            Might I add another 2 cents here? Mezza voce is a term which describes a supported tone which, although full, is lacking in the top squillo-filled ringing format in the full tonal spectrum of of the sound. There is a little known mechanism in the throat directly above the larynx. This mechanism or function which we ALL have is called the aryepiglottic sphincter. Simply put, the epiglottis and the arytinoid cartiledge of the larynx are drawn together by the arytinoid muscles which creates a closure over the larynx. This function is superglottal…in other words, above the larynx. It is literally a sphincter, for when we are singing in a full-throated way, this sphincter closes almost completely OVER our larynx. This closure creates squillo. Why? Because it actually creates a small resonator when it closes over the larynx…a separate space, if you will, which, when created, gives the voice the high, bright partials in the sound. The high, squillo made in this small space then resonates in the rest of the pharynx. Another way to understand this is simply that this is our “crying” function. We have made this closure, this sphincter, all our lives since our first cry at birth. It is totally natural, and completely at our command to open or close, as we choose, once we understand its function as it is related to singing. The more “closed” the sphincter, the more open and ringing the sound…which would seem to be quite a paradox. The more open the spinchter, the softer and less ringing the tone. The great teacher, Garcia, noticed this function way back in the 1850’s, and proclaimed that this closure was the reason “rang”. So, when a singer chooses to sing a phrase but without closing this sphincter, the result is mezza voce. Of course, most singers are not aware of this sphincter, but know somehow that when they open their throat in this way, the result is softness. Corelli in particular, was amazing at doing this. His soft singing was astounding. Caballe was great at doing this, as were many sopranos. Milanov was famous for her high soft tones.
            It takes courage to experiment with this mechanism, as most singers can seemingly only get louder as they go higher, and fear a lack of sound and volume if they attempt this little vocal trick. Corelli said he found it quite by accident, but was immediately encouraged to do it, and realized that this could be another powerful effect that he could employ when he chose.

          • The best ‘mezza voce’ I ever heard in the theater was Pavarotti’s farewell run. It was a JOKE of a performance, with Vaness screaming and then bailing mid-performance, and Pavarotti being seated at various places all evening so he wouldn’t have to, you know, stand. But during “E lucevan” he all of sudden produced a mezza voce note that floated all the way up the the Family Circle, no effort, no strain. The note just seemed to float on its own. In that one moment I got an idea of what I might have missed had I heard him in his prime.

        • Bosah

          Late getting back to this, but thanks to everyone for their wonderful explanations in this thread.

    • There was a very interesting discussion some time ago in another Parterre review from Ercole:

      Regarding the difference between fraseggio and linea di canto, while I agree that there is a lot of overlapping, I have always considered fraseggio, as I said in an earlier post, as the way to expressively articulate the execution of the music, with an emphasis on the words (this, of course, when we talk about singers). One could say that Ms X has a dull fraseggio, while her linea di canto is impeccable: with that I would mean that Ms X’s delivery of the vocal arch (or arcata vocale, (breath in the right place, good placement of the voice, sustaining the sound in the same place) is good, while she is unable to fully convey the meaning of what she is singing. Or vice versa.

      Here is the link.

    • Krunoslav

      It’s a Ligurian variant on ricotta.

  • Yet another terrific review from Ercole. Thank you!

  • tiger1dk

    Actually, I do not think it is a bad as all that. Of course, if I compare the big second act duet with e.g. the Scotto-Domingo verismo duet recording from around 1980 (or earlier?), Scotto wins hands down -- but then I always did prefer Scotto to Gheorghiu in general.

    I was initially very much underwelmed by Gheorghiu but I think she gets better as the opera progresses. I agree, Nino Machaidze is disappointing, not a very interesting voice based on this recording and different to understand all the high profile assignments currently. Capitonucci, perfectly fine.

    Then Domingo. I agree that his high A in Amor ti vieta could be better and fuller (all of the two minutes of the aria is not his best moment) -- and his very last phrase in act 3 is quite strained. But I think he is much more than acceptable in the rest of the third act and also in the big duet in the second act. Still a sound close to the classical “Domingo-sound”, good phrasing and quite dramatic at points -- the more declamatory parts are especially good. Do I wish he had recorded it a few years earlier and with a more interesting Fedora? Yes. But is it an embarrasement for him? No, I don’t think so -- on the contrary it is amazing how much he still sounds like himself after what 45-50 years of singing.

    • MontyNostry

      Never mind Ange, this is really interesting information about Fedora/the fedora (if Wikipedia is to be trusted) …

      “The word fedora comes from the title of an 1882 play by Victorien Sardou, Fédora, written for Sarah Bernhardt. The play was first performed in the United States in 1889. Bernhardt played Princess Fédora, the heroine of the play, and she wore a hat similar to what is now considered a fedora. The fedora became a female fashion which lasted into the early part of the 20th century. When the fedora became a male fashion item, it was popular in cities for its stylishness, ability to protect the wearer’s head from the wind and weather, and the fact that it could be rolled up when not in use.”

    • Regina delle fate

      I thought Machaidze sounded quite good in the recording, but I heard it just after having experienced her ghastly Juliette at Covent Garden, and an underwhelming Adina in Europe, and I thought, well, she obviously had promise as a Despina/Zerlina possibly Susanna, two or three years ago. Taking over from Nebs at Salzburg has clearly propelled her prematurely into an international career in the lyric rep. Has she sung at the Met yet? I’ll be surprised if she impresses you lot.

      • OpinionatedNeophyte

        She’s singing Marie alongside Lawrence Brownlee in next year’s Fille Du Regiment.

      • grimoaldo

        Oh yes she was recently Gilda, which I did not see, only heard the Saturday broadcast, and she certainly did not impress me, she was imo very very mediocre. Apparently she looks nice onstage but for someone who is singing a lot of parts with coloratura her technique was imperfect with strained, flat high notes and the music and the part seemed to mean little to her, she was not expressive or dramatic. According to Met Futures she is doing Fille du Regiment at the Met next season.
        This is an example of the sort of thing I find weird about the opera world. Here is a very lacklustre singer who suddenly pops up and starts singing huge star parts at the world’s leading opera houses, La Scala (where she was booed at the opening of L’Elisir with Villazon), Berlin, Covent Garden, the Met, now in this recording with some of the biggest stars in opera, and as far as I can see nobody likes her much.
        How does this happen, I wonder? you cannot just blame the Met as all the A-list international opera houses seem to be signing her on. Is it that she is with the top agent or management or something?

        • richard

          I think what drives the phenomenon is that when a singer makes a bit of a splash, all the houses rush to try to get on the train. It’s almost like a stampede to sign up singer x before all the other houses fill up his/her calendar .

          And if they are attractive, that adds extra fuel.

          There is a kind of momentum put in motion and it runs for a while, even if it turns out that singer x really proves to be not all that special.

          I think that’s what happened with Machaidze. She filled in for Netrebko as Juliet in 2008 and made a bit of a splash. The performance was released on video (originally it was to be Villazon/Netrebko). Machaidze looked very pretty and was quite magnetic on stage but her sound was rather grainy and ordinary. But the whole thing was enough to start a “she’s the next NEtrebko” rush and she was booked all over the place.

          Actually the whole thing must have started even before the 2008 Salzburg Romeo, given the lead times in oepra houses today, but it certainly gave the whole train a huge push.

          • MontyNostry

            “Machaidze looked very pretty and was quite magnetic on stage but her sound was rather grainy and ordinary.”
            I can think of another pretty, exotic-looking, soubrettish soprano (and now chatelaine) whose name could be substituted for Machaidze’s there.

          • richard

            For the life of me I can’t begin to imagine who you could be thinking of????

            Maybe a soprano that’s off dancin’ ?????

          • MontyNostry

            The bee’s ‘nees.

          • OpinionatedNeophyte

            Maybe this phenom will pay off for Rachele Gilmore soon. I’d certainly like to see her alongsied LB next year instead of Nino.

  • DonCarloFanatic

    Re passagio, if I understand you all correctly, when I heard a high school play and the young soprano had an audible break in her voice going from what sounded like one octave to another, that was a passagio problem, not a lack of legato?

    • armerjacquino

      Probably. Musical theatre types don’t talk about passaggio, they talk about ‘the break’, which is seen usually as a problem area for a female singer between the belt voice (similar to operatic chest voice, but used much higher in musical theatre) and head voice, the more soprano territory. Funnily enough, where in opera the passaggio is typically a tenor/baritone problem area, the ‘break’ in MT causes much more trouble for women than men.

      One of the best MT examples of singing around the break is the last notes of ‘Marry The Man Today’ from ‘Guys and Dolls’ (‘to-morr-ow’) Most Adelaides will belt the word, despite it being right at the top of what is possible in belt. Others will gearchange into head voice at that point, which is safer but much less exciting.

  • turandotti

    when magda was doing fedora in newark, my friend was offended by some very egotistical comments he overheard made by a tenor in the audience. when he told his companion, his friend recognized the tenor as Placido. Domingo said that he loved this opera that he would do it at the met oneday and record it.

    • mrsjohnclaggart

      I saw Pla there too but the worst I saw him behave was after the one great Jose I’ve seen him give, when he dropped the knife in the last scene and Regine kept blocking him from getting it, until the last possible second. When (he was clearly really deranged) he finally got it up and plunged it in the audience screamed! Later, he was standing in the dressing room area backstage screaming about how sopranos who have lost their voices and were never professional should just give up — she heard him of course (and when we asked her later she laughed). “Maybe he will crack less next time, thinking of me!!!” She said.

      Oddly enough, my ghel pal and I (two genital males) were leaving a little while later when we ran into Pla, two really busty ladies, and his manager at that time. I knew him somewhat (I was young and had gone often to City Opera for Pat Brooks where for some reason he was ALWAYS the tenor!!!!) and he asked if my ghel pal, a cutie, and I wanted to come to dinner to keep his manager friend company while he ‘entertained’ the (genital) females!!! We declined with elaborate politesse.

      Oddly enough years later I was having coffee and dish with a beauteous young Italian lady of reputation at her small place near Lincoln Center and he dropped in unannounced. He was really adorable and kept me from leaving until we had all traded recent dish.

      Then of course, he had the suite down the hall from my small room at the Duomo in Milan while he was rehearsing that Otello at the ‘diapason of the world premiere’ (a fiction of the greatest Maestro Muti’s, since everyone I knew thought the diapason then was probably 450 and they were scholars). The stories I could tell…!!! He used to ask Mo. Muti to drop up and Mo. Muti would with great charm decline. I once asked him why he never visited — it was a gorgeous suite. “The conductor doesn’t visit the tenor,” he said.

    • iltenoredigrazia

      A derogatory comment about Magda? About the tenor in the production? About the opera?

  • richard

    I’m coming back into this discussion late, but I came across this this morning and thought, hmmm… here’s a bit of an indication what “squillo” is like.

    Listen at 4:05 and 4:16 and hear how those Cs ring out. No hint of screaming, just a clear, ringing quality.

    This was the first time I heard Voigt and I was quite impressed.

    • MontyNostry

      I was there too that evening, richard, and I remember finding the splendour of Voigt’s voice really quite moving. (I had never heard of her before.)

      • Regina delle fate

        Where was this Rossini concert?

        • richard

          Yes, it was the telecast of the Rossini 200th birthday back in 1992. I watched the live telecast and actually there was a lot of really fine performances. When Voigt came on the stage, my impression was “oh, here’s a fat girl, she must be very good”. Even 20 years ago a fat young singer, particularly a fat young woman, had to be really good to get on one of these tv concerts.

          And sure enough Voigt was pretty astonishing.

  • A. Poggia Turra

    Regina, it looks and sounds like the Rossini Bicentenial Concert given on his exact 200th birthday* at NYC’s Avery Fisher Hall

    * 50th birthday if you only count the leap year bithdays :D

  • Cocky Kurwenal

    I’m late to it too, but re Squillo: it needs to be present in the voice to begin with if it is to be successfully taught. A singer needs to have been lucky enough to have been blessed with the right physiology if the voice is to resonate in such a way that it would invoke the word ‘squillo’ in the listener. I always think it is defined by a really pronounced resonance off the front of the skull. But if a singer has the right body, then sure, there is no reason why a good teacher couldn’t encourage an emphasis on this kind of resonance if it isn’t happening naturally. But it would be quite a tense, problem-riddled singer who was physically set up to have squillo as a factor in the voice who was not already exhibiting it.

    The passaggio I certainly think exists, but I also think it needs no special treatment, and I think this is why I think there are singers and teachers who deny the whole phenomenon altogether -- they refuse to acknowledge it because they don’t agree with all the mumbo-jumbo that gets spoken about how to negotiate it. Somebody else spoke of a willingness to get out of the mask -- I think any singer who is properly in touch with their breath, and who never tries to send the voice through the mask but simply lets it resonate there when it wants to will not resist the voice backing off slightly as they go through the passaggio, thereby allowing it to resonate how it wants to, work healthily, and allow a smooth transition to the top.

    Incidentally, it affects all voice types. I’m a bass and I experience the upper passaggio on b-natural and middle c.

    Kiri Te Kanawa spoke of the passaggio as an area that isn’t necessarily difficult to negotiate but she said it ‘costs her dearer’ to sing in that part of the voice, which I think is a very accurate way to put it. I also think it’s a phenomenon composers deliberately exploited -- so much of ‘Dove sono’ sits on the soprano’s upper passaggio and I don’t think it’s a coincidence -- it adds a huge amount of vulnerable colour to the Countess’s character in that moment. I’d say the same about Isolde’s Liebestod (which is why mezzos tend to find it quite easy, because their passaggio gets a relatively easy time) and many other sensitively written arias which were penned by anybody who really understood how the soprano voice worked.