Cher Public

Separated in alt

“That high E-natural must be up there somewhere,” these two ladies seem to be saying in unison: Voice of the Century Joan Sutherland and Voice of the Xtabay Yma Sumac.  

  • Harry

    I have to confess the first time I heard Yma Sumac I swear I must have wet my pants with excitement as a kid. Naively thinking ‘this is that sexy exotic jungle woman’ depicted on those South American themed covers of those Capitol records : ‘Tamboo’ and ‘Legend of the Jivaro’. You know how pre- pubescent gay boys being over compensatory mentally , tend to think. Still today though, I admire Yma.

  • I actually saw her perform at a small gay nightclub called “Club Cafe” in Boston in the 80’s. The audience was filled with screaming conscegnti. The high notes were still there. For her encore, she regaled us with Babalu! It was heaven:

  • My absolute favorite cut of Madame Sumac’s. Malambo #1. Sounds like she could have made something of the Queen of the Night if she tried:

    • atalaya

      One of my favorites…

      • You’ve made my day…..the Mariachi Reina de la Noche!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Oh hey doesn’t Galvany or someone do that little variant where it goes up at the end instead of going down?

        • danpatter

          Frieda Hempel is who you might be thinking of. SHe does several nice variations in in this version:

          Maria Galvany is most famous for singing the staccati at ridiculous speeds and adding an absurd cadenza to the aria:

          • Pu-Tin-Pao

            I hope that the ghost of Mozart follows Marisa Galvany over oceans and mountains to haunt her eternally for what she did to Der holle Rache.

          • judycadanna

            Be sure you curse the right Galvany.

          • danpatter

            Maria Galvany (1878-1949) of the ridiculous staccati should not be confused with Marisa Galvany (b. 1936), a dramatic coloratura of the 60s, 70s and 80s. She sang an incredible repertoire.

          • armerjacquino

            I was always told that at least part of what made the Galvany ‘Holle Rache’ so absurd was bad mastering- isn’t it a dodgy transfer?

          • danpatter

            Armerjacquino, I don’t think so. Her other recordings feature similar lapses of taste, though none as bad as this. Remember that many of these old singers never were comfortable recording, there were no edits available, and the side lengths of the discs dictated tempi and cuts as well. She may not have sung like this in public, with other singers about. Indeed, she seems to behave herself in recorded duets. But she was known for her “dazzling” staccati, and there’s no way transfer problems can account for the ridiculous cadenza at the end of the aria. Mozart was not performed as much in the Latin countries a century ago, nor was he held in such universal high esteem as an opera composer, unimaginable though that is.

          • danpatter

            Armerjacquino, you can see that Maria Galvany does another “wondrous” cadenza at the end of the Bell Song.

            And here she is, behaving herself with Tutto Ruffo, in “Si, vendetta” from RIGOLETTO:

          • danpatter

            Sorry, that should be TITTA RUFFO, not Tutto Ruffo. It’s late and I’m very old.

  • Pu-Tin-Pao

    That reina de la noche is not in the original key…no doubt La Sumac could have sung it in D minor/F major :(

    Regardless, I’m a Sumac fanatic, the woman had one heck of an amazing voice!

  • PokeyGascon

    I too was obsessed with Yma for a few years. I still love her and was into her well before I could even spell opera. There was one year when I gave everyone on my gifting list her Mambo album.

    • papopera

      She was fine in her own genre, otherwise nothing special, every woman can scream that way if you pinch their arse.

      • Harry

        Generally, men I find -- producing similar sounds being ‘more butch I assume’ just normally tighten their throat muscles to achieve what is known as ‘vocal screaming’.Arse pinching…well I …never!!! Letting you know they are ‘in difficulty’. Going over various recordings, hearing such examples, one can also time -line date, not only when, the tell tale signs of decline of certain tenors were showing up, but WHAT was the cause. Just check out Ben Heppner in the EMI Massenet Herodias or Reiner Goldberg in the EMI Strauss Daphne,

  • Now, THIS is an E-natural — complete with messa di voce and a breathtaking stacatto descending scale (at 00:53).

    • Nerva Nelli

      Tone color, phrasing andsense of mood all ideal — for DIE ZIRCUSPRINZESSIN.

      • danpatter

        When you’re right, you’re right. Some dazzling singing, but far from LAKME.

  • Constantine A. Papas

    If Sumac was trained in classical singing, she could have been the best natural coloratura, ever! I have CDs of hers and listen to them periodically to admire the human voice as a musical instrument.

    • Harry

      I admire when I see people express the fact that some voices they come across, though not ‘in opera’: had all the qualities, technique and truly natural vocal instincts to go with it. Easily able to do what other sopranos struggle to try to obtain and yet never achieve. Yma Sumac was just …mind boggling, incredible.

  • mercadante

    Am I the only one who thinks the photo of Yma Sumac looks a lot like Vivien Leigh?

    • manou


    • richard

      In the photo on top, she looks more like Cheryl Studer than Vivien Leigh to me.

      • Harry

        And it is about time, we cut a little slack for Cherrystudel. Surely she has done ‘her sentenced stretch’ in Parterre’s purgatory.

  • Harry

    And if we are talking stratospheric voices, don’t forget Mado Robin. Nothing like a top F….(excuse me) G sharp!

    • armerjacquino

      And the rest. Try Bb6.

      • Harry

        amerjacquino: Ah! That famous Rigoletto Caro Nome from Robin, in San Francisco. Reputedly the conductor went stone raving mad. If I had been there, I would have thought ‘F..k him!’: after hearing a once in a lifetime sound.

  • Pu-Tin-Pao

    I stand corrected! Deepest and sincerest apologies to Marisa Galvany. Double the curse to Maria Galvany for the horrific singing that vaguely sounded like “Der Holle rache!”