Cher Public

The case of the missing Amelia

“In the space of a few words, the leading role in a major new production had been reassigned. But why?” Zachary Woolfe explores “the byzantine world of opera casting.” [New York Times]

  • Baltsamic Vinaigrette

    Actually, it is interesting that Miss Radvanovsky was available to step in for the entire Amelia run, so soon in advance. Did this involve getting out of some commitment(s) elsewhere, I wonder? After all, she is a major ‘name’ and a part of the Ingpen system, surely?

    • Porgy Amor

      At the same time Radvanovsky agreed to step into the new BALLO vacated by Mattila, she was released from her obligation to the Met’s DON CARLO a couple months later. Now Frittoli will be covering the Elisabettas in the winter revival of Hytner’s DC. We could wonder why either of two sopranos very busy in the US and Europe were available, but sometimes there are holes in a schedule, even post Ingpen. As it happened, although Frittoli was busy before and after, she had nothing booked in February/March 2013 (the DON CARLO months) besides the very end of the Milan run of Carsen’s FALSTAFF. And another Alice Ford was sharing that with her anyway.

      Radvanovsky is not doing quite the *entire* run of BALLO, though. The last performance on December 14 promises the Amelia of TBA. Not being a Rad fan, that’s the one I would catch were I going. TBA can be a frustrating artist, but is still capable of a great night if all the stars line up.

  • I saw La Rad as Amelia in Chicago and she was wonderful, a much, MUCH better performance than the last Amelia the Lyric imposed on us (Veronica Villaroel). I am looking forward to the HD.

  • messa di voce

    VV as Amelia? That sounds bad, as I’m sure it did. She took a nice Nedda voice and blew it out with those Ballos and Trovatores.

  • The interesting thing is that many of us knew that Matilla (much as I love her) was ill-suited to Amelia by the time she sang Manon Lescaut (definitely by the time of her Tosca).

    It seems to me that this whole 5-year cycle has not been good for the opera world. It was obviously advantageous to Joan Ingpen when introduced it. But now that so many of the major companies are on the same cycle, no one benefits and everyone suffers (especially smaller companies who cannot plan that far in advance).

    • SilvestriWoman

      It’s too bad that more singers don’t have Mattila’s smarts. Debbie Voigt does -- a season or two back, she dropped out of LCO’s Ariadne, claiming she had to concentrate on Brunnhilde. I like to think that she opted not to tarnish our memories of her former signature role.

      Now, please tell me when TBA will be announced for Cleopatra? Maybe Karita needs to have a little sit-down with Natalie.

      • Vergin Vezzosa

        I have heard from reliable sources that KM’ s (who I greatly admire) withdrawal from Ballo was not solely motivated by her reevaluation of her suitability to the role. If you will remember, there was a thread last spring which teased that a certain unnamed soprano was so put off by Mr. G and his henchpeople that she used terms referencing the Nazis to describe her frustration at the time . Given the “immortal” clue in the thread and the fact that KM was singing Makropoulos at time, the general and correct consensus was that the singer in question was KM. I was at the last (wonderful) performance of Mak. Case and observed something that struck as kind of curious at the time. During the last curtain calls, KM very deliberately knelt on the stage, kissed the palm of her hand and then touched her hand to stage. The gesture looked like a real goodbye. I will be surprised if we see her again at the Met in any role as long as Mr. G. Is here.

        • parpignol

          VV, thank you for mentioning this very moving story; I did not see the last performance, but well remember how brilliant she was in an earlier performance of Makropoulos in last season’s run; makes me very sad to think she won’t be coming back at all; I have some great memories of Mattila at the Met: in Meistersinger, and Lohengrin, and Fidelio, and Jenufa, and Salome, and Queen of Spades, for instance. . . there was a period when she was one of the very few sopranos singing in the House who was always worth going to see and hear. . .

          • Agreed. I saw Matilla’s Fidelio and Salome live at the Met and she was exhilarating in both. Before her Manon Lescaut, she had one great success after another. I hope that she does return to the Met. I have hopes of seeing her as Sieglinde, Kundry, Kostelnicka and Ortrud at some point.

        • SilvestriWoman

          Wow, that’s amazing. If what you sense is true, maybe Chicago will have her back more often?

          Sadly, this also reminds me of a telling report, right here from La Divina Cieca, about a forum before the new Faust. On one side of the stage sat Pape and Kaufmann; on the other, Poplavskaya, Gelb and the stage director. At one point, the two Teutons were driven to argue that, in opera, the music must come first. The latter group didn’t see it that way.

          Back to Mattila, it would truly be tragic for the Met if she does not return, at least as long as Gelb is around. She is one of the greatest artists of her generation. (To me, at least, definitely superior to Fleming…) Even though I felt that she was miscast as Manon Lescaut, when I saw her here in Chicago, I still heard gorgeous vocalism and unflagging artistic dedication. A season or two later, she returned for a definitive Katya Kabanova.

        • Camille

          Oh dear, I am so sorry to hear that but I am afraid what your deductions all add up to is the truth in this matter. She lit up the stage, at her best, and I shall miss her.

          Here’s hoping for her Kostelnicka—if she can manage the high notes, though lack of same has never stopped anyone from attempting to do this role.

          Thanks for letting us know about that last performance, Vezzosa. Wish, now, I’d have attended that one instead.

      • messa di voce

        I’m a great admirer of KM, but wonder what besides the Janacek roles could she do at the Met in the next few years. I don’t think her middle and low registers are strong enough to support a change to mezzo roles. Was she scheduled for anything after Ballo (which, regardless of her relationship with Gelb, she was wise to drop)?

        • rapt

          I, for one, like kashania’s suggestions above.

        • I think that Matilla would need to work on her lower register like Rysanek did. Who would have ever imagined in the 50s and 60s that Rysanek would one day sing alto parts like Klytamnestra or the Old Princess. True, she never became a true alto but she worked on her low register, and combined with the natural gravity that takes its toll on most voices, was able to pull those roles off.

          To my list of roles, I’d add Ariadne.

          • Krunoslav

            Ariadnes still need high notes. And I think Kundry and Kostelnicka require a fundamentally darker-timbred sound.

            How about Venus? RUSALKA’s Foreign Princess?

            And Claire Zachanassian!!!!!!!

          • operalover9001

            Sounds like Mattila agrees with you -- she’s singing Sieglinde, Kostelnicka, and Ariadne, and considering Ortrud. I’d love to hear her as Minnie though!

          • la vociaccia

            I’m glad she’s taking on Sieglinde. I think the foreign princess is a great idea too. I’d love a Mattila Angelica, I think her final scene would be haunting. Don’t give up on the young ladies just yet!!!!

            I didn’t realize she wanted to do kostelnicka this early on, I was still hoping I’d get a chance to see her Jenufa one day. Still, anything Czech is good news for her

          • messa di voce

            Good interview. She states specifically that she withdraw from Ballo because her voice had changed. She obviously is fairly uninhibited in terms of giving her opinion (i.e., the Finnish critics) so I’m not sure if the Gelb incident, if true, means much. She should be a great Marie.

          • The_Kid

            Ah, then we also have to mention Ms. Resnik (hello, FQ!), who kept her low notes in wonderful shape for rainy days, and gave us much pleasure as klytemnestra, prince orlofski, and madame armfeldt. as fraulein schneider, meh….not so much :P

          • armerjacquino

            I also think a Mattila Kostelnicka would be exciting (especially if Netrebko could be persuaded to do Jenufa- what a ticket that would be!).

            I’m less persuaded by the idea of Minnie or Angelica. Both roles require a free, easy, gala top C, which Mattila just doesn’t have any more. And her Manon and Tosca showed that there’s something about her voice that doesn’t suit Puccini.

          • rapt

            To those more knowledgeable about the voice than I am, I’d like to pose the question--what about falcon roles for Mattila, like Cassandre, Didon, or Iphigenie?

          • SilvestriWoman

            According to her bio at IMG, she’s scheduled for Ariadne, Jenufa and Marie in Wozzeck, both at Covent Garden and the Met. I would think that her Marie could be shattering. As for Ariadne, yes, it calls for top notes, but most of the role lies in the middle.

            Thrilled to hear she’s taking on Sieglinde -- that could be absolute perfection… Maybe Kaufmann’s Siegmund helped convince her!

          • SilvestriWoman

            Just read the interview -- what a wise woman! That said, what diva ever went so far as to wear brown contacts for Tosca? That’s something… Also, after reading this, I’m even more excited about the possibility of her Ariadne. Mattila has also was been a smart singer, and one who never overextends herself. She famously books relatively few engagements, giving plenty of time for rest (and having a life) and study. Even though some roles (well, Puccini) were not the best fit, I don’t believe she’s ever given a poorly sung performance.

            Though their temperaments are very different, it’s clear that Mattila shared a voice teacher with Kiri te Kanawa. Though Mattila has been fearless in her dramatic challenges, she never messes with the voice in order to meet them. In that, she also reminds me of Freni.

          • oedipe

            It seems Matilla will be singing Ariadne at the Paris Opera in 2015.

          • I think Mattila can still manage a few B-flats as Ariadne.

            As for the question of the French falcon roles, I think the tessitura would be fine for Matilla but I just don’t hear those roles in her voice.

          • peter

            Mattila won the Cardiff competition back in 1983 so she’s been singing professionally for almost 30 years now. Singing for 30 years at major opera houses in major roles is nothing to sneeze at so if she were (or is it was?) to retire now, which I’m sure she’s not even considering, she’s had quite a career.

  • whatever

    ” … the gaps between triumphs can be yawning.”

    i wonder whether that double entendre was intentional?

  • papopera

    Good news about Radvanovska, great voice.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    ““There’s a combination of things going on which are chipping away at this inviolate five-year planning scheme.””

    I hope Kaufmann’s position that he will not hasten to sign the premieres of new productions helps modify the casting practices. Why should he or Gheorgiu, or any singer who has dedicated their lives to perfecting their artistry be subjected to staging that make them look foolish, or are founded on concepts of a stage director that they are not willing to embrace. Bravo Jonas and to hell with such directors who have no aptitude for staging operas. If Anna Netreko is willing to buy into the idea of her Juliette singing “O quante volte” while standing on a bathroom sink, more power to her. Praises to singers like Urmana who is willing to sing Vieni t’affretta” while clutching on to Macbeth. I loved the Herheim Parsifal and the great ensemble he guided. It doesn’t matter, I’m just sick of drek and mediocrity in the opera house.

    • Mario C

      I’m a bit puzzled by that Kaufmann position on doing new productions.

      The “rumors” floating around include new productions of Werther and Forza at The Met (not to mention he may be the real opening night Tristan as opposed to Gary Lehman), Trovatore and Manon Lescaut in Munich, and Andrea Chenier in London.

      Not to mention the new production of Lohengrin in Milan in December and of course Parsifal at The Met.

      If he really has so many concerns with new productions, he sure has a lot of them scheduled.

    • FragendeFrau82

      QPF, if you are referring to the long interview from the New York Review of Books (well worth reading: he says that in context of a conversation about frustration not only with productions that conflict with the music and libretto, but in terms of the financial cost to the artist of appearing in a new production (living 6-8 weeks in an expensive city & as you know, only getting paid for actual performance, not rehearsal).

      JK has spoken in defense of some new productions (“Rat” Lohengrin) and admitted regret that he turned down the chance to be in a “fantastic” Herheim production after his disastrous experience in Herheim Entführung in Salzburg. (checking dates suggests this might have been Herheim Parsifal @ Bayreuth)

      Many of these new productions are in Munich, which of course means zero up-front expense for him. ;-)

      Just my two pfennigs

      • FragendeFrau82

        And if you are curious about true stories of the life of a European singer, including the lowdown on pay, rehearsals, etc. I can’t recommend highly enough the hilarious Who’s My Bottom? by Chris Gillett (he writes a blog as well with several extremely interesting entries on the practicalities of life as a freelancer)

        Available on amazon through LaCieca’s link!

        • roseducor

          To this reader the book was not hilarious, but sad -- the story of a chronic complainer whose glass is always half empty.

          • armerjacquino

            Some friends of mine write a sitcom about two fairly hapless characters who whenever they’re faced with a decision, get it wrong. When journalists ask them why the characters so relentlessly screw up, the standard reply is ‘because a sitcom called THE TWO WINNERS wouldn’t be very funny.

            I think the ‘chronic complaining’ you refer to stems from the fact that ‘and then I did another production where everything went smoothly and it was a huge success’ is also not very funny.

          • FragendeFrau82

            Chris Gillett is British and has written for Private Eye in the past, so it may be that that particular style of humor doesn’t ‘translate’ as well in the US. My British friends loved it; American friends liked it.

  • Krunoslav

    Hey, since when is Amelia “the leading role” in BALLO? I had always understood that to be Gustavo/Riccardo.

    But I appreciated ZW’s article, which will help explain this bizarre aspect of the opera world to many of my friends who don’t closely follow this particular *faubourg.*

    • Or Ulrica, when certain singers take on the role. (Not to name names, as my keyboard has no Polish diacritics.)

      • Nerva Nelli

        Oh, Maury, are you a Malgorzata Walewska fan too?

      • The_Kid


        Actually, even German Kunst-divas do ok with that one!

        • Clita del Toro

          I prefer La Mödl.

          • The_Kid

            Who wouldn’t? :) She’s having *SO* much fun with the part!

      • I’ve been lucky to see Podles in a number of roles but the one role I want to see her do most is Ulrica. One day…

        • She’s already done it. I think she did it in either Detroit, Minnesota or Milwaukee

          • I know she’s done it but she hasn’t done it in *my* vicinity! :)

          • Krunoslav

            Podles did Ulrica in Detroit; and also in Carnegie Hall in 2004 with the late Licitra, Crider, Hvorostovsky and Blackwell under the late Robert Bass.

          • adina

            Podles sang Ulrica in Houston in 2007, and, yes, she was the star of the show. It was one of the few times at HGO when I got that ear ringing, spine tingling sensation -- in a positive way -- from the human voice. I almost forgot the rest of the cast, ’til I looked it up -- Tamara Wilson, and Ramon Vargas.

          • messa di voce

            “I think she did it in either Detroit, Minnesota or Milwaukee”

            And that’s the great mystery surrounding La Podles. Why does she chose to sing in those houses (with an occasional gig in Philadelphia and Toronto thrown in) rather than Paris, Milan, NYC?

          • Nerva Nelli

            In re the Met, the guilt is not with Podles but with Jonathan Friend, who has blithely said for years, “Nothing in our repertory suits her”, this while the Met during the years of Podles’ international prominence has given BALLO IN MASCHERA, LUISA MILLER, FALSTAFF, ITALIANA, SEMIRAMIDE, RHEINGOLD, SIEGFRIED, OEDIPUS REX, QUEEN OF SPADES, ORFEO, KHOVANSHCHINA, RAKE’S PROGRESS, often with artists obviously inferior to Podles.

            It’s as simple as that.

          • messa di voce

            That ‘explains” the Met. But why only very rare appearances in Vienna, Munich, London, Paris, Milan, etc. She has to take at least some responsibility for what has been the strange arc of her career.

        • The_Kid

          For what it is worth:

      • justanothertenor

        Not Polish bur Romanian…

    • Most operas have more than one lead role and I’d definitely classify Amelia is a leading role.

      • Krunoslav

        Yes, of course Amelia is a leading role, and indeed BALLO’s leading *soprano* role (sorry, fans of Sylvia Stahlman, Elda Ribetti and Eugenia Ratti!)-- but still, Amelia does not seem to me to be “*the* leading role” --as was stated in the piece--in BALLO, anymore than Desdemona is the leading role of OTELLO or Radames the leading role of AIDA.

        Just being literal-minded, sorry.

        BTW, Kid, you were praising the Gigli/Serafin BALLO the other day-- it has its virtues, but Ribetti is terrible and Caniglia ( so fine on the FORZA two years earlier) I find *really* had to take, often off pitch (like at the climax of the love duet) and screamy (one of the most ghastly high Cs on a commercial release I can recall. Not a first or even second choice in my book ( whereas the Marinuzzi FORZA is my first choice recommendation).

        • The_Kid

          Really? Now you have made me wonder if I am mixing up Caniglia’s bits with some other performance of Ballo. Is there another commercial recording of MC as Amelia? Hmmm……

          As for the love duet, well, I have many, MANY versions that I adore. Apart from the Caniglia/Gigli, there’s the Picci/Welitsch, the Tucker/Nilsson, a very Teutonic Konya/Berthold, a very “odd couple” Gré Brouwenstijn/Giuseppe Zampieri, a very …something….Borkh/ Thomas…
          OK, someone stop me now.
          However, the most historically accurate one would be the Corelli/Crespin, where she looks bored and he looks supremely uninterested in her. Since Gustaf worked out a lot and did a mean Carol Channing imitation (if you get my meaning), that’s probably the most accurate portrayal of the lot!

          • Nerva Nelli

            Well, the Swedish National Opera staged a BALLO in the 60s with Gustavus’ gay side emphasized; Ragnar Ulfung was the original, and usual, tenor in this production. Did it ever get onto video?

            Kruno is correct: Caniglia’s pitch and topmost tones are awful in that 1943 BALLO. I *like* the Dutch radio set with Browuwenstijn, Zampieri, Colombo, Delorie and Ratti — singers well-matched on the B plus/A minus level, and Molinari-Pradelli, though Crespin calls him “that bastard” in her book, was a good Verdi conductor.

          • Regina delle fate

            I think Gedda also sang occasionally in that production, and when he did the Schenk staging at Covent Garden in the 1970s, he brought his “gay” interpretation of Gustavo with him, much to the consternation of a favourite Parterre UK critic of the time….Harold has his faults! lol

  • la vociaccia

    What happened to Amber Wagner doing Amelia? I was excited about that, now it’s just another RadVerdi run?

    Here’s hoping TBA turns out to be Leah Crocetto, Amber Wager, or Tamara Wilson (it’s nice to dream)

    • The Vicar of John Wakefield

      Why don’t they ring up a practised exponent of the great role once “owned” by Amy Shuard and Margaret Kingsley?

      • messa di voce

        A supremely ugly voice combined with the face of a horse: Rule Britannia.

        • armerjacquino

          Do we have to add patriotic slogans to all our opinions now? ‘Dessay’s voice is shot: Vive la France’ ‘Michael is a terrible Lady Macbeth: Deutschland uber alles’ ‘De Niese’s voice is getting thinner: America the Beautiful’.

          It’s just it’s going to take a bit of time, plus we’ll have to learn eg some Latvian slogans for Garanca.

          • messa di voce

            Only when responding to the Vicar.

            I felt justified in being so harsh on La Barstow due to the pretty universal opinion that her personality was much more unattractive than her voice or appearance.

          • Nerva Nelli

            The Pop Tart, despite being unable to sing a chromatic scale in tune, is opening the LA Opera and Philadelphia Orchestra seasons in unsuitable Verdi assignments, DUE FOSCARI and the REQUIEM.

            “USSR: The workers’paradise! Forward to Communism!”

            *Great* suggestion, Armer.

          • justanothertenor

            WAIT! De Niese’s voice can get thinner than it already was?

          • manou

            Anorexia Denesiosa.

          • Vergin Vezzosa

            “anorexia denesiosa”

            Just saw this. Thank you manou for ending my day on a hilarious high note, at least an E en alt!

          • Regina delle fate

            Barstow has always had her detractors, even among Brits, but she was responsible for some of my most unforgettable experiences in the theatre -- as Jenufa with Tinsley, Emilia Marty, as Violetta, Elisabeth de Valois, Leonora di Vargas, Lady Macbeth, Salome, Fidelio, Tatyana….I could go on. She didn’t always sing sublimely, but her appearances were all of a piece and she was/is a serious artist and was probably the antithesis of a big US house singer in her day. Yet some US Parterrians who saw her -- mostly ouside New York -- recognise her considerable qualities. To dismiss her in one line as “a supremely ugly voice with the face of horse” is like dismissing early Callas as a shrill porker. I’m not comparing Barstow with Callas -- for a start off, she sang a much wider repertoire including a large number of contemporary works -- but messa di voce’s “assessment” does scant justice to a considerable artist.

          • Regina delle fate

            And since when has a singer’s “personality” -- I assume you mean offstage -- had anything to do with the price of fish. If Barstow was as useless as you claim, and she was also allegedly a piece of work as a colleague, how come she had the career she did? Oh yes, she must have been sleeping with Joan Ingpen or Jonathan Friend.

        • jatm2063

          Messa di voce: You sure got that right. Isn’t she on a recording of this with same tenor? Karajan conducting I believe. Terrible singing from her.

          • Porgy Amor

            Karajan died in the period between the studio recording and the live performances of that Salzburg production. Solti then took over, partly in response to a personal plea from the tenor, after both Muti and Abbado demurred.

            It’s a shame about Barstow and, to a lesser extent, Solti. This BALLO is otherwise one of the better videos of that opera. It has a good cast and a great orchestra, it isn’t technically primitive as the Abbado/Domingo and the Bergonzi in Tokyo are, and Schlesinger’s production is intelligent and has held up better over time than his HOFFMANN.

    • steveac10

      The casting page on the Ballo page still says TBA, but if you go to the “Artist” page (Listed under “Who We Are” which is in the “About the Met” tab), Wagner is listed as singing in Ballo on her profile. They finally have this page fully updated for the season, so if you’re dying to see what your favorite comprimario is singing -- or who all of the cover singers are, if not what they’re covering(at least half the artists have no scheduled roles listed), it’s a treasure trove.

      • Camille

        Thanx alot for the tip. I did not realise this info was available and will constantly refer to this page from now on.

        As it stands, TBA has always been a favourite performer of mine, be it man, woman, or furry beast.

        • operalover9001

          The “furry beast” thing is just begging for some sort of innuendo, but my lovely college brain cannot come up with anything witty at the moment.

          • Camille

            How’s about the bear in The Bartered Bride?

            Or is that just too damned literal to be any fun?

            This requires the diabolical cleverness of an Amish lass, namely Betsy_Ann, methinks.

  • Joan Ingpen was the Tamerlane of Opera -- when she moved on, only a heap of skulls remained where once a civilization had flourished. I’d call her the woman who killed opera, except that it somehow survived her. Too soon, maybe, to dance on her grave — but I certainly hope we can all do so. Thanks, Mr. Woolfe, for giving me hope!

    • steveac10

      She may not have killed it, but she and those who think like her created a casting process that values reliable over exciting -- and makes it nearly impossible to capitalize on a phenom or the emergence of a potential star who makes a splash in an unscheduled performance (like Latonia Moore -- still only covering while Hui He, who was merely competent in her last outing is scheduled for several performances this season).

  • arepo

    Vergin Vezzosa:
    I have to tell you that reading your post actually gave me goosebumps.
    I saw an earlier production of MC and there was no kissing the ground at curtain call time forcing me to strongly agree with your supposition.
    I am more than convinced that the Nazi remark to G was the beginning of her Met doom, but of course none of us know for sure. Eventually the truth will out but till then, you’ll have to prove it to me to be otherwise.
    Mattila’s “Salome” and “Fidelio” were the highlights of her Met career for me with a miscasted “Manon Lescaut” and an inferior “Tosca” performance (only IMO, of course). But I must say that I truly was happy for a comeback performance that seemed to fit her well in the “Makropolos Case”.
    Life isn’t always fair.