Headshot of La Cieca

Cher Public

  • Camille: Haha! That “BRAVO” ; was so clearly a fully intentioned, well-focused and expertly... 7:18 PM
  • Avantialouie: I have no doubt that the three absences from “Cenerentola ,” during which Florez... 6:52 PM
  • semira mide: Clearly the sleeves are a pre-emptive measure by the Met to assuage possible censorship. After... 6:45 PM
  • shoegirl: I absolutely adored Larmore at her peak. From what I remember she sang a fabulous Rosina also. I... 6:38 PM
  • Camille: The Joyceter has FAB arms! Go look at her album covers! Where is bluecabachon when we need her?... 6:37 PM
  • CwbyLA: i was wondering the same thing. I don’t think JDD has tattoos on her arms. 6:31 PM
  • shoegirl: Good answer! These are actually rather popular with ladies of a certain. Mary Portas does a range... 6:26 PM
  • Salome Where She Danced: Track marks? 6:25 PM
  • norma54: Who would want to hear Matthew Polenzani in a horribly high and difficult Rossini role? Pray that... 6:21 PM
  • phoenix: Did anyone see or hear (today on broadcast) the Nationale (Nederlandse) Opera Arabella? If so, could... 6:13 PM

On a clear day you can “C” forever

Of course,  we all know a Marilyn Horne anecdote without a four-letter word is about as plausible as a martini without gin, but the tale that kicks off her Q&A with Zachary Woolfe is particularly bracing. You’ll be both shaken and stirred by this interview in the current Capital New York.

87 comments

  • poisonivy says:

    I find this backstage visiting stuff weird. If two singers don’t know each other, aren’t friends, it would feel weird and awkward for one singer just to show up unannounced backstage to greet the other singer.

    I do know Callas did make backstage visits, but probably to singers she knew already, who would welcome the visit.

    As a sidenote, anyone ever heard the story that the Norwegian ambassador once tried to visit Flagstad backstage and she was rude to him? He held a petty grudge and refused to help her out after the war.

    • IngeK says:

      I think you had better read up on Ms. Flagstad’s activities before and during WWII before making remarks about petty grudges. Lots of Scandinavians who remember that time had grudges against Flagstad and let me assure you they were NOT petty.

      • poisonivy says:

        I have read plenty about Flagstad’s activities before and after WWII. And nothing will ever convince me that she was something other than an extremely stubborn, almost naive woman who thought that she could really remain apolitical. Her husband is another story.

        I’ve also read plenty of biographies that spoke about her rude, haughty personality, and how much that pissed people off.

      • brooklynpunk says:

        Thank you, IngeK, for reminding those who might have forgotten their non-musical history…

        She was a legendary wonderful Artist--on stage…but there were some far less then savory aspects, in the “back-story”

        • poisonivy says:

          About her husband, or about her?

          I’ve read all the available Flagstad biographies, and also John Culshaw’s book, basically all the Flagstad there is out there.

          Was she a rude, short-sighted, anti-social, haughty, basically unlikable person? Yes. Was she (and I think this was what the posts are implying) a Nazi who destroyed careers and lives? No.

          • havfruen says:

            You pose an “either-or” (Nazi or not)question which is not relevant. Those of us who lived through that time know that “collaborators” ( and each country had their own flavor) were the insidious characters. They could not really be denounced because they weren’t carrying a party card or wearing a uniform -- were they? It’s wonderful that we live in a time where young people are so naive that they believe that evil was simple, or by reading biographies of famous people they can determine what actually went on. Live was more complicated ( and still is)

          • havfruen says:

            “life” that is, not “live”

          • armerjacquino says:

            havfruen, it’s not just ‘naive young’ people who debate the level of Flagstad’s culpability. It’s been going on pretty much since the war ended.

            By the way, how’s the view up there?

          • poisonivy says:

            And I’d like to believe that in order to condemn someone as a “collaborator,” you’d need more proof than people have for Flagstad. I’m not young and I’m not naive. But Flagstad has been “guilty by innuendo” since after the war, and the debate has never ended.

      • Gualtier M says:

        Okay IngeK and Brooklynpunk, time to put your cards on the table. Where are the published reports of Flagstad’s collaboration? Bing did a pretty thorough background investigation of her and she must have come up pretty clean? Flagstad was being lambasted in the press by Walter Winchell whereas other more active Nazis like Elisabeth Schwarzkopf were working all over the place.

        However, Bing did accuse Flagstad of a kind of psychological complicity without any overt collaboration. Evidently the marriage with the husband who was a Quisling was on shaky ground and she didn’t leave him. Her leaving the U.S. for Europe when the war heated up in 1941-42 didn’t help. This was at the height of her popularity and success. However other singers who sang in Berlin for Hitler like Erna Berger came to the Met and sang under Edward Johnson with no pickets outside the theater.

        I was told that Flagstad’s husband died in a prison at the end of the war and that they were separated. Also what was the story about Flagstad and her pet accompanist turned conductor/rumored lover Edwin McArthur? Anyone with any real dish to spill on this?

        • brooklynpunk says:

          Gaulter:

          I don’t really recall that I accused Flagstad of overt collaboration-- but I do (in this instance) concur with Bing’s phrase “psychological complicity”--which I find SLIGHTLY LESS detestable then if one had overtly collaborated.

          If I insinuated otherwise, I very much apologise,,-I do not have any facts..nor will I make them up- to accuse Madame Flagstad of crimes she didn’t commit.

          I just—am not a proponent of “Standing by Your Man”..OR Your Country..when either one is involved in evil acts…and DO feel in doing so, one shoulders a certain amount of blame, as well…

          • IngeK says:

            I’ll pass your comment on to my “veteran” family/friends, brooklynpunk, it will warm their old hearts.

        • IngeK says:

          Fair enough, apparently most everything in English gives her a pass.
          You would have to be able to read letters, and other sources in Norwegian and Danish to understand,so it was unfair of me to suggest that people were not well-read. But well-read does not necessarily mean correctly informed.

          Maybe there were ugly unfounded rumors circulating in the US. However, just because there are ugly, untrue rumors does not mean “the opposite” is true. It means nothing.

          However there are still people alive in Denmark and Norway ( among them friends and family) who remember that time and those circumstances. At a time when national solidarity is essential for survival(as in occupied Denmark and embattled Norway, the lines are drawn sharply, and it doesn’t take much to be perceived as being on the other side(opportunist, collaborator)etc. I’m not accusing Flagstad of any “punishable” acts.She probably “just” did what she had to to survive. She had the tools( singing talent,money) but many others did not.

          The idea that Bing could have conducted a meaningful investigation at the time when sources were sparse at best is rather puzzling to me. It is also irrelevant.

          Most of the people who survived those years will soon be gone. Many will never have had their quiet heroic efforts recognized. I guess that’s what galls me when I read about “poor Flagstad” Apologies to her fans who may have been offended.

          Let the matter rest. That war is over.

  • grandtier says:

    Are you people NUTS??? Horne’s was one of the greatest and most nuanced voices to grace the latter half of the 20th century. She had technique to burn. All right, so her Carmen was not her greatest portrayal. What about the other several dozen roles? Did you ever hear them, or are you just parroting others’ jaded opinions?

    • messa di voce says:

      Technically, one of the greatest singers of our time. What some of us don’t like is the basic sound of the voice: to me, the exact opposite of Ponselle velvet. Brassy and puffed up. There’s also no denying that from the late seventies on, the intonation could be very iffy, especially in slow cantilena. But, without question, a great singer.

    • phoenix says:

      Oh grandtier, of course we are NUTS!!! Who in their right mind would waste a liftime on this nonsense?
      -- I did have the misfortune to hear almost all of Horne’s roles at Carnegie Hall & the Met. When I could afford it I sat right on your box for several of them (grandtier box, that is) … except for the first time I saw Le prophète with Horne -- that night I was in the parterreboxes. Not only did I suffer her foghorn repeatedly at the Met, one year she even did an entire subscription of Rossini operas at Carnegie Hall, which in my insantity I also attended. And you wonder why my opinion is jaded?

    • Clita del Toro says:

      grandtier: I first heard Horne early on in a concert opera with Sutherland (don’t remember the opera or the year) before she was famous, and a lot of opera she did later at the Met and/or in concert form. Just because she is a great singer doesn’t mean that everyone likes her. I was never one of her biggest fans although I did enjoy some of her performances.
      In the first place, I never liked the sound/timbre of her voice. Furthermore, I couldn’t stand her overuse of that gargly chest voice (at first I thought it was a camp, but then it became irritating). And her coloratura always sounded too mechanical/aspirated to me (not as bad as Bartoli’s, though). I also found her singing lacking in emotion a lot of the time.
      But that’s just me.

      • Buster says:

        Only heard Marilyn Horne twice, very late in her career. I expected grandeur, but what you got instead was a cozy, chatty, aunt-like figure on stage. No glamour whatsoever, but instead, a very deep feeling for the songs she sang. I remember her Poulenc’s Bestiaire, in particular. And her Copland.

        • armerjacquino says:

          I missed my one and only chance to hear Horne live when I was ten. We were on a family holiday in Venice and my parents were very tempted by RINALDO at La Fenice (which I would now guess will have involved Gasdia and Scimone as well as Horne).

          They eventually and reluctantly concluded that four hours of opera seria might test the patience of a ten year old and a fourteen year old. They were probably right but I still regret it.

          • MontyNostry says:

            Well, I saw Ottone with Anna Reynolds (Vicar, where are you?) when I was around 10 and I remember rather enjoying it. And the theatre wasn’t even as pretty as La Fenice.

          • The Vicar of John Wakefield says:

            Reynolds, alongside Jo Veasey, indeed carried on superbly the best traditions of Kirkby-Lunn and Brunskill.

        • I saw Horne do Ruckert Lieder with the IPO. Can’t remember a thing. Admittedly that wasn’t her rep.

  • Zwischen says:

    Good enough for me.

    v

  • Il Conte di Drewski says:

    Brower was near-flawless and practically never left the stage. She was given MUCH to do in this marvelous production and she delivered. Applause was well-deserved. The overall energy was low for this opening, I must admit.. Generalprobe was much better. I was also shocked at Relyea’s reception.. I thought he was outstanding. Villazon did get a bit lost in ‘O Dieu’ (recomposed a bit, first time this has happened) but sang magnificently, in spite of a very athletic fight scene he has directly beforehand.. I believe there will be a DVD of this production and I’m glad you all will be able to see this with your own eyes. I think it’s fantastic!

  • Tubsinger says:

    I’m not sure where this will show up.
    Horne was probably not the best Carmen out there. Yet her Delilah was a treat for its legato and power. No, she may not have been the most sensitive French singer either. I’m sure she’s none too popular as a Mahler singer, but she spoke German fluently owing to her early years in the provinces there. Standards of excellence among the cognoscenti have certainly changed dramatically since Horne’s heyday as well. Reading through Major’s Sutherland biography, one’s reminded that all of Handel and also Semiramide were considered terribly rare rep that could scarcely fill a concert performance in the 60s and 70s, much less a run at a major opera house.

    One may not have liked her voice, as brassy and confident as it was, but she was always technically polished and probably more versatile than given credit for relative to rep. She sang a wide variety of roles before she became the big star. As for her public profile, I would argue that she was as accessible to middle America as Sills was--and probably as available, also, with her talkshow and Odd Couple sorts of appearances.

    As for Steane, I thought that a great deal of his writing pertained to the recorded legacies left to us: my copy of “The Grand Tradition” (which I think I bought in London) had a 78 on it. Horne didn’t have a huge career in England as I recall so Steane’s judgment may have been based on the recordings available. It may also be remembered that in the late 60s and early 70s, Callas’s reputation as a timeless singularly undisputed goddess of The Art wasn’t quite as firm as it became in death. There was still a great deal of controversy concerning her vocal decline and glaring technical flaws. From what I’ve read, the last tour with di Stefano took on a sideshow aura and can’t have helped what little confidence she had with rumored returns to Covent Garden.

  • WindyCityOperaman says:

    There is a BIG difference between the two editions of Jackie’s autobiography. It appears she cooled her wrath against Bubbles and the LaScala incident in the revised edition (it was no secret she couldn’t stand her). Funny how some of the beloved PD’s personal stories are often inaccurate. Case in point, Lehmann didn’t roast Jackie in one of her master class as she depicted, Bubbles never said “If I don’t get Cleopatra I quit” according to Rudel, and Edward Johnson never offered La Divina a contract when she first auditioned for him.

  • phoenix says:

    Orlando, thanks for your clarification of the Steane quote:
    1. I went back this morning and listened to Marilyn Horne’s eary recordings and I did find a Giovanna Seymour wherein her vocal tone could be construed to be ‘velvety’ or ‘rich’ (particulary in comparison to Elena Suliotis’ Anna Bolena at that point in her career). That Met Dalila broadcast you speak of, however, was another story. To my ears, Horne’s tone sounded like a nagging Gaza hausfrau.
    2. & 3. Yes, my dear Orlando, when someone compares Horne to Ponselle, I personally find it incomprehensible to ‘compare’ the blandest-voiced generic Amneris I ever heard to one of the greatest Aidas in history… but perhaps Horne ‘in the early 70′s’could have sung a ‘sweeping’ Aida also?

    • MontyNostry says:

      … and Marilyn probably had better high C’s.

    • Orlando Furioso says:

      I searched, and I seem to be the only Orlando here, and I must protest that I never mentioned a Dalila broadcast!

      Her contribution to the Sutherland Giulio Cesare excerpts, and the complete Orfeo too, both pre-1970s, contain singing that I would call velvety and rich. The brassy side of things came to the fore in her singing shortly after all that, but I don’t thing Steane was wrong to hear those qualities in the best of her recorded work as of 1971. (In his later summation he calls the Carmen “raunchy,” so he’s not deaf to the difference.) I certainly wouldn’t pin any defense of her to Amneris, or indeed any of her Verdi. Conrad L. Osborne aptly referred to her “hourglass” registral layout: big top, big bottom, thin between.

      I bought the Decca “complete Horne recitals” CD collection, and it has its ups and downs for sure, but the ups are really up there.

      • rapt says:

        Just want to put in a word for the ups. I only heard Horne live twice--a mid-70s Italiana and a later 70s recital. In the Italiana the voice was indeed velvety, rich, and, yes, memorable--I think, for instance, of Per lui che adoro and the pianissimo that spun out under the overhang, where I sat near the back. The voice wasn’t as rounded in the unfriendly acoustic of the Kennedy Center, but the emotional response to the music was there, something I always find touching in her work The recordings seem variable to me, too, but a 1980 live recital in Parma seems terrific. Stephen Foster songs, Urbain’s arias from Huguenots--these sound with her voice for me.

      • phoenix says:

        I apologize for accusing Orlando Furioso of such poor taste re: Horne’s Dalila.
        -- It was another commenter who praised her Dalila for exactly the same qualities I thought it lacked, but here again we have another example of coming to these performances with diverse judgement criteria as well as a different set of expectations.

  • Amnerees says:

    Anyone who wants to hear how bad things can get at the Met should tune in to the performance of Le Prophete from the 1970s being broadcast currently on Sirius. Horne tears through her coloratura passages with impressive agility, but many of her notes, particularly high notes, are flat. There isn’t much beauty in the sound. Scotto yowls and screams in a role she had no business singing (but this was her MO). And McCracken sings as usual. He confused voix mixte with falsetto, but at least he tried. The results weren’t wonderful. Some of the smaller roles are well sung. (Check the cast.)

    The production, which I sat through a couple of times, was a typical 70s Met cheapie with none of the spectacle Meyerbeer so clearly wrote his music for. I believe this farrago was mounted for Horne.

    • phoenix says:

      You bring up a good point Amnerees. Le Prophéte was revived for Marilyn Horne, but much of it was a disappointing compromise compared to the greater bel canto glories of those days and even nowadays, at least at the Met. There is nothing in Donizetti’s Anna Bolena that is as difficult to sing as some of Fidès music in Le Prophéte, but the overall quality of the performances of Anna Bolena this season at the Met were head & shoulders above what we heard in that Le Prophéte years ago. Granted, Horne was already in her vocal decline, but the amazing speed at which she attacked her music was indeed like getting struck by lightning, a whammy both incredulous & credulous at the same time in that for once her cacaphonic technique seemed so in character as the unfortunate Fidès.

      • Nerva Nelli says:

        Of course, for the Vicar that bargain basement Meyerbeer production was dominated artistically by the Met debut of the incomparable Raimund Herincx as Mathisen.

        What I myself remember is how over the top and self-indulgently screamy Scotto was as Berthe (the first sign of some of what was to follow in a career I overall admire *greatly*). Rita Shane sang the role much more appropriately in the revival- with Guy Chauvet more Gallic but pretty clueless and not as committed as McCracken as Jean. Zaccharie suited Hines pretty well at that rusty-ish stage. I agree with the poster who said Horne was impressive technically but neither sonorous (which Quivar sure was) nor moving (as Fides should be).

        Not to pile up on Horne. I heard some beyond-fabulous Arsaces from her, stunning singing. BTW she made her Covent Garden debut as Marie in WOZZECK in 1964, six years before her Met debut, and Steane--if not too busy devising new ways of praising the artless simplicity of Frau Schwarzkopf’s late recordings--might have heard her then, or in concert. In those years the voice was less lean that in the overdarkened vowels/”Amneris Lite” phase.

    • operacat says:

      I believe that the Met’s LE PROPHETE was a last minute replacement for scheduled production of LA JUIVE for Richard Tucker, who died the year before it was supposed to happen (the excerpts album with Tucker, Arroyo and Moffo was an advance sampler).

      • iltenoredigrazia says:

        Still, Horne had been asking publicly for quite a while for the opportunity to sing Fides. I remember an interview with her when she joked about paying for the opportunity. It probably was bound to happen at some point.

  • messa di voce says:

    Fides is a near impossible role. Not only does it require supreme coloratura technique in figures that sit less easily in the voice than what Rossini and Donizetti wrote, but it also requires a big, rich voice of almost Wagnerian quality. That, in particular, is where Horne disappointed.

  • Meimei says:

    Zachary Woolfe needs a history lesson. Beverly Sills was far more of the “public face of opera in America” in the 1970s than was Horne. Woolfe must have taken this straight from Horne, whose contempt for Sills is well documented.