Cher Public

Where will the elite meet?

With the Met’s single tickets for the 2012-13 season going on sale Sunday morning, it’s surely about time we, the movers and shakers and parterrians, made our customary ukase on which of the company’s attractions are worth seeing this year and which, not so much. You’re invited to vote after the jump.

  • blanchette

    you like that scooping ,arepo ?- wow I really don’t like it -- it seems lazy and/or incompetent-and once it starts I keep listening for it and it gets n my way- with Alagna for example, whom I otherwise really like listening to. I find the most beautiful singers don’t do it. matter of taste I guess.. yes I think the anncr. was wrong- it can’t be accented there can it?

    • arepo

      I know blanchette, you can’t take me anywhere.
      I love all those no-no things. I also like (ready for it?) crooners who break on their notes like Gigli for example.

      • oedipe

        Worse things can happen to opera singing than Gigli…

    • MontyNostry

      Freni was an inveterate scooper in that sense (as opposed to a La Scoopenda slithery portamento sense), yet I have never seen anyone remark on it. She even does it in the celebrated Karajan Butterfly.

      • oedipe

        Another famous scooper: Corelli.

      • MontyNostry

        By the way, I generally think of it as ‘nudging’. Bernadette Peters is a huge offender.

        • armerjacquino

          What do we call the squeezy thing where the note starts and then the voice arrives? The Lucia Popp thing?

          • MontyNostry

            I’d say that was squeezing! Lucia Popp can get away with it, as far as I’m concerned, mannerism though it became, but it makes me want to slap Magdalena Kožená — who sounds a bit like Popp, but without the charm and sensuality.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            I call it not being in touch with your breath, or, to put it another way, terrible legato.

    • Do you mean scooping is when singers tend to start higher notes on roughly a fifth lower and lift up? Like Alessandra Marc does? Scooping I thought meant the general overuse of legato (Fleming indeed) or that thing most sopranos do in Mozart’s finale stretti.

      Freni, as well as an under-the-note-beginner, is also a great offender in the ‘treat every final R as an open syllable’.

      • Main difference between Fleming and Freni scooping : Freni did that technically to get the higher notes. Fleming does that because she lacks taste.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          Or, to put it another way, because she has taste which is different from yours.

      • MontyNostry

        … which Pavarotti was as well. Maybe it was something they learned in Modena. Particularly cringe-making in French.

        • Camille

          They famously had the same wet nurse, remember? He got all the milk she said. Blame it on that…!

          • MontyNostry

            Don’t blame it on the sunshine. Don’t blame it on the moonlight. Don’t blame it on the good times … Blame it on the wet nurse!

          • Camille

            The wetnurse in question--

            “Loverly Rita, meter maid…..”

          • manou

            Au contraire :

      • luvtennis


        By “overuse”, do you mean singing legato when the composer has asked for something else? That would surprise me a bit as I understand Fleming to be a very good musician -- better than most Divas certainly.

        If you mean that she overcooks her legato at times, then I might agree.

        Ditto, the final vowel sound that Freni and the Pav added to so many phrases. It drives me crazy to the point that I have a hard time listening to certain recordings of hers anymore -- I find him less offensive on that point oddly enough.

        BUT the greatest sin for me is aspiration of a legato line. I know it was a technique that allowed for clearer articulation of the text in verismo, but it is an abomination in Verdi.

        Listen to Tebaldi’s first recorded Aida. Put on the Ritorna Vincitor. Then listen to what she does to the final phrases (same in the Amneris duet). She is aspirating so much that she is actually singing music of her own devising!!!!!

        It is appalling, yet she gets a pass. Also, catch Stignani’s italian. She seems to making up words and sounds as she is going along. Crazy stuff!

        • yes, LT I mean, overcooking of course. Actually, all these tiny and not so tiny portamenti that destroy the sense of tonal leading and add to nothing. Also on a personal level, this kind of overcooked portamenti destroys for me any sense of vulnerability which for me is immensely important. For me it erases her credibility and sincerity as a musical performer, more detrimental in roles requiring (IMO) a basic level of vulnerability in the character, like the Marschallin, a character who doesn’t work onstage or on record if she doesn’t have that vulnerability underneath.

          I hope you understand what I mean. Maybe it’s a completely personal concept. I perceive some singers as ‘vulnerable’ -- not technically of course, though sometimes, as in the case of Teresa Stratas, there is a connexion. I think of Lehmann, Gheorghiu, Rysanek, Behrens, Bjorling, Pavarotti even, the wonderful Arangi-Lombardi. Not particularly vulnerable singers -- Ponselle, Rethberg, Bergonzi, Corelli is in between and differs greatly from role to role. Something in the personality. Totally un-vulnerbale are Nilsson (which destroys her Isolde for me), Caballe, Sutherland. With Fleming it is a step further, it just destroys any credibility or dramatic coherence.

          Yes I agree re Tebaldi, especially the recurring preghiere (and the ultimate grupetti) in Aida. I feel that one just shouldn’t aspirate in Verdi. But she came in a tough period for Italian school, right after WWII and the verismo devastations and I really think there wasnt an active bel canto school anymore. But still you can hear singers audibly sticking to bel-canto principles : Cerquetti, Taddei, even Bergonzi.
          Tebaldi also aspirates in her studio recording of Forza, the live ones are a different matter, esp the one with Mitropulous, who made her sweat and you can hear the wonderful results. IMO her two late recordings show a vast improvement in style and taste, namely the Elisabetta and Gioconda.

          • luvtennis

            I have pondered your aesthetic quite a lot recently, CF.

            I agree that the singers that you identify as “unvulnerable” are very different in many respects from those in your personal pantheon. It seems to me that your strong preference is for clean style -- minimal vibrato, judicious and sparing use of portamenti (or any other device that stands between the music/words and the straightforward communication of the same). While I can tell that you appreciate bravura singing, you are not fond of the compromises some artists make in pursuit of that bravura.

            Let me be clear, I think that opera utterly depends on a steady stream of “your” singers in order to work as an art form. NO DOUBT ABOUT IT. This would be even more true if the art form were still living and we had the pleasure of a constant flow of new works. But we don’t, not really. The art form is now too expensive to allow the wholesale production of new works. New = risky (unless you are talking chamber opera and well, we don’t really want to do that do we???) ;-)

            For me, constant exposure to the canon has left me unresponsive to the “drama” of opera. I now look at the great works as merely vehicles for great music and “great” singing. For that reason, I treasure the bravura in singers -- that moment when drama (silly or otherwise) convention, and sometimes good taste are left behind and the great singer leaves our little human world behind to give us a glimpse of glory. In this sense, opera is simply a vehicle for performance greatness through the medium of great music and great voices.

            If I want to sit down and listen to a recording of a complete opera, I prefer your type of singer too. BUT, I rarely devote that sort of attention to works in the canon anymore because I feel that I know them so well. And when you are listening only for the extraordinary, the virtuosic, then your sort of singer can disappoint because their art is not designed for that (with of course certain exceptions). I have no doubt that Behrens is a far more emotionally responsive singer than Nilsson, but that doesn’t count for a lot if you are only listening to the first section of the love duet and the lightening top Cs.

            Does all this make me a bad shallow person???

          • La marquise de Merteuil

            LT and CF: Sorry to wade into this, but I’ve been following in parts CFs brilliant and pursuasive posts. But as much as I like good, cleanly phrased/produced singing I found Rhinegold CF posted musically correct but difficult to get through. On the other hand a recording like Karajan’s Ring gets all the rhythms and pitches right but somehow there is a lot more going for it -- could it be a truer or better understanding of what the work is about? But I really found the same problem with Connell’s Ortrud: beautifully sung -- but it left me with “who cares”. On the other hand there is Varnay’s two recordings and a bunch of other sops and mezzos who sing all the notes but come across as less clinical. Ultimately, music is not just a technical exercise to be practised in a vacuum about hitting the right notes in the right order. I wish I could more clearly state what I mean, since I wish to neither offend LT or CF’s POVs. I can overlook alot if there is an emotional commitment and some (even if a little) sense of style which convinces me I’ll buy almost ANYTHING the artist overs me… but for me a technical exercise is meant to stay in the teacher’s studio. This does not mean that notes and the pitches and values should be randomly yanked about to be sacrificed on the so-called altar of “emotion” either. But there is a balance to be maintained IMO. Maybe this really does fall into I prefer apples more than oranges country methinks…

          • marshiemarkII

            luv hon, are you seriously suggesting that Behrens’ Cs were not “lightening” Cs?
            I would respectfully point you to the end of Zu Neuen Taten at Bayreuth 1983, for one of the most stunning high Cs ever sung by a human, caro. Definitely bravura singing if there ever was, and it was her very first Brunnhilde!

            The Cs in the Bernstein Tristan aren’t too shabby either. And if you allow for the fact that she was 57 when the DVD of the Met Elektra was made, I’d think you might agree it is still a pretty stunning C in the Monologue.

          • All cued up:

          • marshiemarkII

            Mille grazie e mille mille baci a te carisssssimo Kashie. Wow talk about tears, hearing that music from heaven sung THAT gloriously!!!!!

          • LT -- NO :)But I regard Opera first and foremost as a dramatic art form, therefore my choice of ‘favourites’ or ‘best’ operas might slightly differ from yours -- Poppea, Lulu and Falstaff, with probably Elektra, Giovanni, Boris and Jenufa thrown in for good measure.

            LMDM -- I don’t know about ‘correctness’. Aesthetically, though I listen to many, many periods and kinds of music, my home base is Mozart and, in a way, baroque / Bach. I can ‘understand what I call ‘messy’ singing and appriciate it, at most times, but some I cannot understand or like at all. I think I’m pretty good at ‘inhabiting’ and understanding various styles, but some speak to me on a basic, aesthetic, even emotional level, more than others. But I agree I tend to judge musicians primarily along the baroque / Mozart coordinates. That doesn’t mean that I cannot appreciate other approaches. I love Rysanek, for example, a pretty ‘messy’ singer. Ditto Behrens. And that for many many reasons. The vulnerability thing -- I think LT hit it in a way. It has something to do with the personality itself, nost musical aethetics or technique or tonal sheen or lack of it thereof.
            Concerning Connell, LMDM, this is interesting since I view her performance so far more than merely ‘correct’ or even beautiful. I find in her interpretation(for that is what it is) myriad points of tonal shading that are simply glossed over . Yes, evil is banal but if the malevolence is presented with a pang of sweetness, it makes it more interesting for me.She actually makes me sit up, whereas other more visceral Ortruds produce exactly the same response you had towards Connell -- ‘who cares’. I tried to follow the clip with some instances in which I think she trascends the material. In a way, this is not a performance of the role, rather a realization of it.
            That is not to say that I don’t like the powerhouse ‘stand and deliver’ style of doing Ortrud, if it is done well : Lawrence, Varnay for example. Ludwig and Meier come in between.

          • Clita del Toro

            LT All I can say is that I saw both Nilsson’s Isolde (her Met debut) and Mödl’s Isolde. Which do you think I liked better? You know, it was Martha’s. So, Nilsson’s C’s were better???? Did I care? NEIN! :+)

          • And MMII you are right -- Behrens’ 1983 Bayreuth Brunnhildes, as preserved, are astonishing. The way LEG’s Isolde was. I was not prepared for such singing in the Walkure finale. Shame about Solti (which, to judge by the final boos, got what he deserved) and the unsuitability of Nismgern.

          • For me, Modl’s Isolde with Karajan is probably the best ever, since there is no complete Leider recording. The Karajan 1952 T&I is a complete miracle as far as I’m concerned.

          • luvtennis


            Certainly, Behrens could produced stunning high notes, especially isolated ones. But I really don’t think that is her legacy. She was a communicative singer. She needed the drama to shine. In any event, I did not mean to suggest some sort of hard and fast rule. It is largely a matter of emphasis, natural gift and training (and discipline).

            Stun was Nilsson’s (and SUtherland’s and Price’s) primary mode. You can denigrate them for that but there it is.

          • C/F: For the life of me, I can’t figure out who LEG is.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            Naughty Kashie, not paying attention in class: Linda Esther Gray and her Isolde, of course!

          • Thanks, Cocky! Yes, she was on a vocal ID quiz recently and Monty and I even discussed her voice after someone posted her “Dich teure Halle”.

    • tiger1dk

      I can hardly stand the Alagna-Netrebko Nuit d’hymenee (R&J) from the Met because he scoops up to most notes. Somebody mentioned Freni, I have never noticed her scooping in anything close to the extend of Alagna.

      • oedipe

        In 2007 Alagna was still struggling to sort out some serious vocal/health problems.

        I, for one, don’t see how Nuit d’hyménée can get any better than this (in terms of singing, acting, elegance and adequacy of style and persona):

        • Krunoslav

          Nice. But give a listen to Alain Vanzo and Andrea Esposito and you’ll hear better singing and more elegant style.

          • oedipe

            I love the sound of Alain Vanzo. But as much as I appreciate his beautiful phrasing and elegant idiomatic style, I must say that, to my ears, his elegance seems a little old-fashioned and declamatory. What with those R roulés and all that…

            Though Vanzo’s singing may have been “prettier”, Alagna’s early Romeos had a dramatic intensity that I never heard from Vanzo.

            Alagna has brought to French opera a totally modern singing style. He uses his natural elegance of phrasing and impeccable modern diction to give color to each sound, so that each sound is adapted to the dramatic demands of the text and music.

            I agree that Andrée Esposito was a lovely singer (with an even lovelier figure).

          • Buster

            Andrée Esposito is incredible on the Roberto Benzi Faust too, with Albert Lance, Roger Soyer, Robert Massard, and a fabulous organ.

        • Albertine

          After a lifetime of being passionate about the (classic) theatre and a rather tepid, occasional opera-goer, a chance encounter with one of those Alagna DVDs converted me almost overnight into an Opera fanatic ; and yes, Oedipe, it was the dramatic intensity. I am even back to reading French Litterature in the original!

          • aeijtzsche

            Speaking of Alagna, whom I rather like also, am I the only one wondering why you wouldn’t choose him over Giordani for Troyens? Hasn’t Alagna said Enee is his dream role?

          • Clita del Toro

            I’d choose Kurt Baum over Giordani!

          • I totally agree. I’d much rather have Alagna as Enee over Giordani whose voice is definitely past its prime. Giordani will still deliver the goods in some of the heroic moments of the role. But one of the great challenges of that role is that it also requires superb lyricism and beautiful singing. I’m not looking forward Giordani’s “Les nuits d’ivresse” (or the whole septet-quintet-duet sequence) in Act IV. Alagna would be quite ideal in it. And there’s the added bonus that Alagna is always notch better when singing French music.

          • Incidentally, that’s why Vickers and Heppner were both so great in the role. They had the power when needed but could also sang beautifully.

          • GraceNote

            So, Buster, which one of them had the fabulous organ?

          • Buster

            The one that got wood.

          • tannengrin

            I always like Alagna’s Enee, especially in the ROH recording he did with Angie, back in the day

        • Donna Anna

          In addition to scooping problems, he was singing sharp, but he seems to have it under control these days. I love this production, this cast, and especially Alagna. Aside from elegant phrasing and spot-on diction, it was a deeply felt characterization. Vaduva is equally fine.
          Good question about his doing Enee. Wish he were.

  • blanchette

    gigli can use a trowel and I don’t care- but it’s true it bothers me w. Freni--it’s a drag actually, noticing it- because then you can’t ignore it- like seeing where the reel changes in a movie- oh wait- digital! that doesn’t happen anymore -I just realized that.

    • Its a tick when you notice it, like when suddenly you start to notice intakes of breath between sentences (Radio announcers etc) and it drives you mad. Or maybe I’m OCD! LOL! Whispers in movies, or in real life, I just can’t take that, I start to yell :)

  • blanchette

    yes that’s what I mean Cerquetti but dunno if it’s a legitimate term for that

  • DonCarloFanatic

    What a beautiful smile Michael had.

  • I’ll take Freni anyday over…well just about everybody who sings today.

  • Satisfied
  • arepo

    Fascinating conversation. Freni was always my favorite singer back “then” but I never stopped to attribute it to scooping. It must have been very light and unobjectionable (unlike Fleming doing the “jazz bit”).
    Price was a scooper and it never bothered me either.

  • parpignol

    Vickers was superhuman in this role, and was able to sing delicately too in his own fashion; Heppner should have been ideal, but by the time he sang Enee in New York he was always at risk for cracking on the big notes, and sometimes did, and the tension of would-he-make-it-or-wouldn’t-he seriously diminished the performance; for quite a while one felt that very same kind of tension at Alagna’s performances; I don’t know if that is something he has now gotten beyond, but I would think that there are parts of Les Troyens that would be very challenging for him; for sheer Frenchness by the way check out Guy Chauvet on the highlights recording with Crespin. . .

  • RE: Scooping

    There are time when I like, even prefer, scooping. While other times, it drives me crazy.

    I like scooping on big high note and on the first note of an impassioned phrase. Of course the degree of the scoop plays a part. A little can go a long way.

    Where I don’t like scooping is when it’s done in the middle of a phrase, like Fleming or late-career Price. To me, that’s just sloppy legato.

  • operacat

    Have excellent tickets for PARSIFAL on Feb. 27 and for CAROUSEL on the 28th. Hoping my hunch that Hugh Jackman does the Carousel is correct; though I love that score and bet the Carousel Waltz played by the Philharmonic will be worth the price alone!

    • calaf47

      I wouldn’t bet on Hugh Jackman. It will probably be Nathan (“Can you hear me with the microphone”) Gunn as Billy.

  • Signor Bruschino

    Speaking of single tickets- If I recall correctly, the past few years after single tixs went on sale Gelb put out a press release touting how big of a hit single ticket sales were… I don’t see anything like that floating around this week…