Cher Public

Wigs and weaves

It’s easiest to write reviews when there are soaring triumphs and miserable failures. This is true in any field.  One need only look back at the review of Birgit Nilsson‘s legendary debut as Isolde in 1959 or Pete Wells‘ much more recent takedown of Guy Fieri‘s “restaurant” in Times Square.  

However, if a critic conistently gets too caught up in hyperbole (critical or laudatory), he quickly loses credibility.  It’s those damned middling reviews that really exemplify one’s voice as a ”critic.”  Those are not that fun to read, and not that fun to write.  But you’ll have to bear with me because the Met’s premiere of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda inspired just such a review.

The opera “crackles with romance,”  or so David McVicar tells us.  I’m inclined to agree, and so is history.  The plot centers around a fictitious meeting between Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart.  The libretto is based on a Schiller play that also concocted a love triangle between Mary, Elizabeth and the Earl of Leicester.  Rehearsals for the premiere resulted in the singers cast as the two queens breaking into a brawl after the confrontation scene in which Mary spews out the infamous “vil bastarda” (vile bastard) insult.

The world premiere was canceled in Naples after the dress rehearsal, since King apparently wasn’t down with hearing a monarch (of whom his wife was a descendent) called a whore on stage. The piece was revamped but also banned at La Scala, and except for a few scattered performances in the 1860s, was largely ignored for almost a century afterward.  It popped up again during the bel canto revival with the help of brilliant sopranos such as Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballé and Beverly Sills who couldn’t resist delving into Donizetti’s rich score and the iconic exploits of the martyred Mary Stuart.

Unsurprisingly, the most famous bit of the score is that notorious, censored, verbal smackdown outside of Fotheringhay castle.  Stuarda is a diva show through and through.  Indeed, yours truly held on tightly to her weave, just in case Elizabeth or Mary got out of hand, reached up and snatched it off my head all the way in the family circle.

First things first: credit where credit is due.  Top marks go to David McVicar, John MacFarlane and Jennifer Tipton for fashioning such a beautiful Tudor England .  The sets are spacious and unobtrusive.  The singers had plenty of space to move about and the emphasis was on human drama and not the spectacle of monarchal Europe.  MacFarlane’s elegant constructions are much like those in Charles Edwards’ Trovatore in that there are no awkward lulls in the drama because the sets simply ascend to the rafters to reveal/transform into other sets when their use has expired.

His costumes were absolutely stunning.  They were hyperrealistic, ornate and beautiful.  The lighting was effective throughout, particularly in Maria’s execution scene.  What a masterful use of chiaroscuro Tipton employed with the chorus emerging from the bright doorway upstage and silhouette of the executioner looming above the staircase up which Maria must march to be beheaded!

The direction shrewdly focused on the interaction between the characters.  Apparently McVicar is not a fan of an unnecessarily cluttered stage.  In Act I when the court is awaiting Elizabeth the hustle and bustle was very efficient symmetrical.  He must have told choreographer Leah Hausman something to that affect, because even the backflipping court jesters mirrored each other in the opening scene.

And the musical elements are also on a high level.  Maurizio Benini did the finest conducting we’ve heard from him at the Met so far, bringing out out some lovely, buoyant playing from the Met orchestra.  The orchestra was right with the singers, who seemed committed to the stylem complete with lovely decrescendos on the half cadences followed by portamenti that skillfully linked phrases together and deftly adding to the flow of the music.

Donald Palumbo‘s chorus is proving to be one of the best in the world singing with superb balance and sonority during Mary’s prayer at the end of the opera.  Top vocal honors go to the compulsively listenable Matthew Polenzani.  It’s nice to see that he is finally getting the recognition he deserves this season with two HD performances.  His ringing tenor voice and exquisitely colored phrasing (particularly when he is imploring Elizabeth to have mercy on the Maria) were the high point of the evening.  He may well be the best lyric tenor on the Met’s  roster.

So much good stuff in this show, right?  What the fuck is my beef?

The ladies. They simply missed the mark.  Given the vocal and histrionic attributes of these two singers, I found myself wondering what the show would have been like if each had been cast in the other’s role.

Elza van den Heever made an inconsistent Met debut as Elizabeth, more crotchety old lady than fierce rival.  Her voice was quite present, but there were were quite a few smeared runs and a handful of curdled top notes.  I wanted a little more firmness  in the middle voice than she had at her disposal.  Still, the phrasing was quite nice and she held her own in her duets with Leicester and Maria.  I’d like to see her in another perhaps more gracious role.

Maria Zifchak, Joshua Hopkins and especially Matthew Rose provided sturdy vocalism if little personality to the evening, but that’s beside the point.  This is Maria’s show.  And unfortunately, the largest disappointment of the evening was the spunky Kansan underdog-cum-diva du jour herself, Miss Joyce DiDonato.

Don’t get me wrong, there was nothing scandalous in the least about her performance.  The voice is mostly resonant and true.  She has a masterful technique and a command of the style.  But she did not convince me that her urgent mezzo was an ideal fit for the part.  The pianissimo top tones bordered on straight tone.  To my taste this effect can be effective in Baroque repertoire, but in bel canto in quickly becomes grating.

Conversely, her forte singing occasionally found vibrato widening into a bleat.  When she had been going full blast in dramatic declamations, and this was followed by a sustained top tone (as in her cabaletta “Nella pace”) the voice thinned out noticeably.

Vocal shortcomings can, however, be overcome by artistic commitment, but that is where DiDonato really disappointed me.  It is admirable that she mentioned in her interview with the New York Times that she does not feel the need to compete with ghosts, but the ghosts were out in full force in my mind’s eye last night.  So maybe she doesn’t have the diamond bright top tones and stratospheric coloratura of Sutherland or the ethereal pianissimos of Caballé, does she she have the fire of Leyla Gencer?  Well, no.

DiDonato was definitely committed throughout the entire evening, but the part needs bolder choices than she was making.  She didn’t channel her inner bitch well enough to be appropriately hair raising when she curses Elizabeth.  Worse yet, she did not suffer convincingly, and thus I didn’t suffer with her.  I saw a caricature of anguish and pathos, nothing more.  She had no X-factor.  Her performance, while perfectly competent, left me ice-cold.

The evening was most infuriating because there was no one to be mad at.  It’s so much fun to curse Jonathan Friend for his wretched casting or Peter Gelb for letting him turn the Met into a a pantomime-beauty-pageant-museum for warhorse operas.  To the contrary this was exactly what we would hope the Met would be doing; taking a lesser known masterpiece and putting it before a larger audience via movie theatre broadcast in a high quality production with top level artists.

On this particular night all of the elements (beautiful production, clever direction, fabulous conductor and top notch singers) were in place for a great evening yet the performance just didn’t manage to catch fire.  I wanted magic complete  with shiny high D’s, glittering pianissimos held for an obscenely long time, soul wrenching phrasing, or other such glorious vocal excesses.  I wanted fire and blood.  I wanted to be hauled out on a stretcher in a state of post-traumatic operatic delirium, but alas, it was not to be.  All I got was singers going through the motions.

Stuarda needs that wild sparkle of genius in order to transcend the work from wig-snatching bitch fight to gripping theatre and the ladies just didn’t deliver the goods.

Photos: Ken Howard.

  • Meimei

    I found this description, “spunky Kansan underdog-cum-diva du jour” especially tedious. What kind of bias is this?

  • Clita del Toro

    From opera-l: Compilation of many “Vil bastarda” scenes including Joan’s with the slap. I love it!

    • grimoaldo

      Camille already posted that Clita and there was quite an extensive discussion of it:

      I am not rebuking you for posting it again but I do want to point out that it is not “from opera-l” (shudder shudder, horrible horrible place) but from the wondrous coloraturafan’s magnificent youtube channel.

      • Clita del Toro

        Sorry Grim, I didn’t see it Camille’s post. Sometimes it’s hard to find older posts, and the “comments feed” is not always helpful.
        Niel Rishoi did post it on opera-l, so that’s where I got it.
        Thanks for pointing this out.

        • Camille

          Clita, dear, it was on the FOREVER PLAID thread, so don’t feel bad! It is a Coloratura Fan compilation, as he came on parterre to state that fact.

          How did your fish turn out?


          • Clita del Toro

            Cammiest, it was very good, but I am soooooo glad the “Holidays” are over. A few more days and I’d be in a sanitarium.

    • Bianca Castafiore

      What the hell are Mosuc and Karneus wearing? Was that regie concept that these were homeless women who just went dumpster diving through NYCO’s discarded costumes and props?

      • The_Kid

        that production has been called, among others, ‘hush, hush, sweet stuarda’, ‘whatever happened to martyred maria’, or ‘suddenly last stuart’.

  • Buster

    Maria Stuart by Schumann:

    • Camille

      Thanks for having posted this, Buster. Only just six months ago did I discover it for the first time and had wondered where it had been hiding so long. She does a superb job of realising this music, which is, I think, almost all in the same key except one song.

      • Belfagor

        This is sheer class, and such a strange, enigmatic little cycle. I never knew Crespin had recorded it -- it’s really haunting. Thanks a million, Buster.

        • Belfagor

          And here’s another alternative to Donizetti: by a fellow countryman, a much underrated composer, but unlikely to have Donizetti’s popular appeal……still it’s very haunting, with the old Dies Irae plainchant weaving through….

  • Leontynes Weave

    While it certainly has been interesting to read all the back and forth banter about rewrites and transpositions, I feel like the takeaway from my review is getting lost in the midst of the quarreling. I want to make one thing crystal clear. Joyce DiDonato is one of the most interesting singers currently on the stage. She is unparalleled as the plucky Rossini heroines in Barbiere and Cenerentola. She was charming in Cendrillon and wonderfully unhinged as Dejanira in Handel’s Hercules. I saw The Enchanted Island three times last season primarily due to her finger-licking performance as the scorned sorceress Sycorax. As for transpositions, I’m even fond of her gutsy Elvira and her “La Barcheta” from Hahn’s Venetian Songs is the most sensitive and soulful rendition I’ve ever heard.

    She sings a lot of operatic repertoire. A LOT. Handel, Rossini, Donizetti, Mozart, Massenet, Strauss, Heggie. She does it all, and for the most part, she does it all very well. But that doesn’t mean she can do everything. If she was going to do Stuarda with her current mezzo voice than she should have done something that the sopranos who have championed the roles couldn’t do. Ballsy chest tones, perhaps? Really dug into the lines that hang a little lower?

    With certain woeful Italian ladies (Bolena, Stuarda, Tosca, Violetta, Cio-Cio San, Beatrice di Tenda, Norma, etc.) you have to do more than sing musically and act decently. You have to bring something unique to the table to breathe life into these characters. Their plight is so melodramatic that if each line is not saturated in truth than the whole thing becomes whiny and silly. There either has to be some extraordinary vocal magic (as in Sutherland’s insane pyrotechnic vocal work or Caballé’s celestial line spinning) or some good old fashioned gut wrenching interpretative choices (Sills, Gencer). Otherwise, why not do perform an opera with more accessible melodies and orchestral writing?

    In my opinion DiDonato did nothing last night that warranted this work being performed at the New Year’s Gala at the MET. She has been excellent in rep that requires a different kind of elegance and spunk. She’s great as the underdog who wins the day. But as an unjustly demonized Scottish monarch who sacrifices her own life for her pride? Not to me. Not last night anyway.

    Her performance was not disgraceful. It was just anodyne. And I don’t think that approach works in every role. There are few qualms among even the most cynical of opera fans of certain interpretations. Flicka’s Cherubino. Pav’s Rudolfo. But there’s no way to really reign supreme as Mary Stuart. You just need to leave a mark on it via your artistic choices. The kind of fearless performing necessary to bring this work off successfully is scant at the MET these days. That’s why I raved about Radvanovsky’s Amelia earlier this season. Her performance was rowdy. It was wild. It was FUN!

    What’s not to love about Joyce DiDonato? In all of her interviews and blogs she seems accessible, hard-working and kind. Perhaps it just takes a certain type of personality to portray such a a character on stage? Maybe this is same reason opera’s June Cleaver (Fleming) doesn’t really pull at our heart strings as much as our nerves in tragic Italianate repertoire. Gheorghiu is known as a horrible bitch, but damn the woman suffers well! What a yummy performance she gave last fall as Adriana Lecouvreur!

    Whatever the reason, I did not find DiDonato’s performance compelling. Her immaculate performances of Rossini and Baroque rep are a nice feather in the cap of Gelb administration, but there are precious few singers on the MET’s roster (almost none) with larger than life personalities and voices that can handle the diva shows nowadays. That’s not old fogey talk either; it’s just the truth.

    • Love la Stupenda’s slap and from what I’ve heard -- more than one Queen would line up to throw one at Huguette :)

    • operalover9001

      Interesting discussion -- I agree that DiDonato’s personality is much better suited Rosina and Cenerentola than Maria Stuarda, and her performance wasn’t Sills or Sutherland. I wonder who else the DiDonato naysayers would have cast in the role instead though: among the Met star sopranos currently, I can’t think of anyone else who would have done it better. Won’t even bring up Fleming or Netrebko, Radvanovsky is performing it a few season down the road, I believe. Damrau, perhaps, although many people here don’t like her much either.

      • I am not sure, but I believe la Rad will be singing Elizabetta. Don’t quote me on that one because I am not 100% sure.

        • operalover9001

          I thought so too, but then she was announced for the role of Maria in Bilbao or something. Think she would be fantastic as Elisabetta too though.

    • operalover9001

      And frankly, I know this is heresy by any standards, but I find all the complaints about DiDonato on this thread equally applicable to Devia’s Stuarda. Yes, I know Devia’s about 20 years older, but she’s always struck me as a very good technician with lots of experience in the bel canto style, but she never goes batshit crazy (see Gencer).

      • Bianca Castafiore

        You want batshit crazy? How’s this one?

        • What a fucking mess.

          • Clita del Toro

            That is the pits! The worst of them all.

          • MontyNostry

            Is it just me, or is the click-through from the Comments (sic) feed on this site working even less reliably than usual? It’s driving me crazy. And why is there a delay in what appears on the feed page?

          • Bianca Castafiore

            But oh so exciting!!!!!

    • phoenix

      First of all, I must thank Weave for coming back in this comment, of course as well written as she always is -- and even more thanks for her giving us the simple understanding that “Whatever the reason, [she] did not find DiDonato’s performance compelling.” Very few critics can elegantly get off their egos long enough to admit they suffer from basic human subjectivity -> no cure has been found yet <-. Weave, weave on! We are waiting!

      • OpinionatedNeophyte

        I had the opposite impression. No matter how seduced I am by Weave’s screen name, it seemed this particular lace front arrived in the theater already sewed into a position of thinking JDD inadequate for the role. If that is the case, OK, but it should be an explicit component of the review I think.

        • phoenix

          You might be onto something -- when I see that word “Whatever” a red flag goes up -- it does sound as if Weave’s bodice was squeezed rather tight that night -- I don’t agree with her either, but you must admit she gives a good show of it all!

          • phoenix

            I also wonder if Weave heard a decent sounding audio copy of JDD’s Houston Stuarda (would it would have mattered or not?) -- you know I have to admit I never really liked JDD that much until I heard her in La scala Donna del Lago and then that Houston Stuarda. For someone to review a performance by a singer that they already have a negative viewpoint of seems kind of, well, risky -> I, for example, have already had too many negative experiences with van den Heever’s previous performances to give a totally unbiased opinion (unless, of course, a miracle occurred).

    • roseducor

      Bravo, ben detto!

      • roseducor

        Leontynes Weave’s comment I mean

    • vilbastarda

      Otherwise, why not do perform an opera with more accessible melodies and orchestral writing?

      More accessible melodies than Donizetti? Like what? Maybe some Wagner, or R. Strauss? It’s starting to get really irritating how little love and understanding for italian romanticism is around here.

      • ianw2

        Wait, do we hate Italian, French, Moderns or Pelleas & Melisande more nowadays? I have so much trouble keeping up.

        To take a leaf of the Vicar’s surplice, none of this would be a problem if we had more performances of dear Malcolm Arnold and Ethel Smyth.

        • oedipe

          Are you being serious?

          • ianw2

            Am I ever not?

      • grimoaldo

        Yeah, I noticed that earlier vilbastarda but thought I would let it pass and argue about Janet Baker instead.
        Actually that post appears to say that Bolena, Stuarda, Tosca, Violetta, Cio-Cio San, Beatrice di Tenda, and Norma are melodramatic and if you don’t have a wowee zowee diva in them “why not do perform an opera with more accessible melodies and orchestral writing?”
        So let’s find more accessible operas than those of not only Donzietti but Verdi Puccini and Bellini too.
        What might that be?
        I know -- Stephen Sondheim!
        Now there’s a composer we can surely all agree is a colossal genius.

        • Leontynes Weave

          I should not have included Violetta, Cio-Cio San and Tosca in this particular instance, so on that count your point is duly noted. But my argument is and was very simple.

          Certain operas need brilliant singers so as not to be pedestrian and forgettable.

          Tosca, Butterfly and Traviata were meant to be used as examples of operas that need a star personality to make them really special. But the plots are so simple and the melodies so famous that a decent performance would probably satisfy a genuinely interested layman.

          But Norma, Beatrice di Tenda and Maria Stuarda? No ma’am. Those operas are done expressly for dynamite operatic artists. It was written for particular singers who could sing laser fast scales, trills, etc. Patrick Summers said in the bookLiving Opera that there’s no reason to pretend that Hamlet doesn’t require a star personality to carry the show and that so it goes with certain operas. This is some mad truth imo. Is that not why the bel canto revolution came about in the middle of the 20th century? Because there was a plethora of charismatic singers in the 50s and 60s who could sing the hell out the shit?

          I’m sorry you thought that by me saying that DiDonato’s performance did not warrant a presentation of this obscure work on a New Year’s Gala at the Metropolitan Opera, that I am equating Donizetti with Stephen Sondheim. I would, however, like to challenge you guys to quarrel over my larger (and consistently reiterated) points instead of mincing words over which operas I was using as examples.

          • grimoaldo

            “this obscure work”

            It isn’t obscure.

            Ugo, conte di Parigi,Sancia di Castiglia,Marino Faliero, those are Donizetti operas that may be considered obscure, Maria Stuarda is not.

            Yes, you are right that this opera is a vehicle for a star diva and it needs a star diva to make the opera come alive.

            It is your contention that other operas have more “accessible” melodies and orchestral writing that we were questioning.

            Who is more accessible than Donizetti? (and your first post seems to include Bellini, Verdi and Puccini as composers whose operas might better be replaced with more “accessible” works than theirs).

          • Leontynes Weave

            It’s so funny that you took issue with that one word. After writing it, I briefly debated going back and adding the word relatively before it. If I had what would your qualm have been then? Operabase says it’s had 86 performances worldwide since 2011, so that’s hardly Carmen. Yes there are recordings of it, but this was the opera’s MET premiere was it not? The conductor said Stuarda can easily become a lot of tedious oom-pah-pah. It can and does often. Does that offend your sensibilities or should I consult a thesaurus?

            Also, do you have a point?

            Do you think you are the only one who can google a complete list of Donizetti’s operas?

            You agree with my basic contention that it is a star vehicle, so what’s the problem? I don’t think DiDonato pulled it off. There are other more ensemble based shows and warhorses that would have been more readily satisfying. Do let me know if I have misspoken yet again, though I have no doubt you will.

          • phoenix

            Just exactly what kind of a ‘pulling off’ are you looking for? I have seen Maria Stuarda quite a few times and heard live broadcasts of it also, but none of the Maria’s ever ‘pulled’ that much out of it -- Donizetti wrote his push-&-pull acrobatic diva music for Elisabetta I and there isn’t much left for Maria to pull out. Caballé in Chicago was probably one of the best, but she couldn’t rewrite the score enough to change that around. No, I didn’t like Sills or Ashley Putnam either in the role. But if you want to hear a truly incompetent Maria Stuarda, try Gabriele Fontana, who sang Maria to diDonato’s Elisabetta at Genève in 2004.
            -- There is still enough interesting music in this score to make it unique in the Donizetti canon. Infelicitous as it may be, it is no longer obscure.

          • Camille

            Leontynes Weave, please!

            Dear Lady,

            Don’t fall into the trap of defending yourself.
            You stated your position and MORE than explained your feeling and justified it, giving detailed explanation of the production with all the particulars.

            You were just fine, and I appreciate the detail and depth of your dilemma with Joyce and the decision on reporting what you feel about her in THIS production, and NOT the cumulative effect of all the other ones which may have gone better for her.

            Now, can you tell me HOW I can rid my computer of all these advertisements for wigs — full lace wigs — what are they? Hair extensions with virgin Brazilian hair? HUH??? —

            Yours truly,

            a fellow Reviled Reviewer

          • phoenix

            What? Leontyne’s Weave is the most accessible and honest critic around here -> and she doesn’t need a new colorist, either. The fact that she comes back in and stirs the pot up is cause for joy of comment!

          • grimoaldo

            You know, if someone says that maybe the Met should have put on something more “accessible” than this “obscure” Donizetti work, if someone else asks what might be more more accessible than Donizetti and points out that the work is not in fact obscure, they are not necessarily just trying to be nasty for the hell of it.

          • oedipe

            If I may interfere in this (long) conversation, IMO things would become much clearer if the (rather misused) phrase “accessible works” were replaced with the phrase “works that today’s audiences can easily relate to”. This new category would include most of Wagner, some Strauss, Puccini, late(r) Verdi, the token French opera (Carmen), and that’s pretty much it (I might have missed a couple of things here and there). After that, we can differentiate between the works the “unwashed masses” can relate to, and the works fashionable intellectuals can relate to (German opera, mainly). The rest of the rep, whether “accessible” or not, can thus be qualified as “obscure”, in the sense of hard to relate to by contemporary audiences.

          • vilbastarda

            Wow Oedipe, german opera, mainly to the taste of “fashionable intellectuals”, and most everything else for “unwashed masses”. Never been called an unwashed mass before, I think my personal hygiene is pretty topnotch :P. But if that’s the direction where the contemporary taste is moving into, let’s have Wozzeck for New Yea’s Eve next year, pretty main stream, no, plus it must titillate the intellects of “fashionable intellectuals”.

            Oh, no, sorry, your list of easily relatable works does not include Wozzeck. We’ll stick with Carmen then ;)

          • oedipe

            Dear Vilbastarda,

            You may be relatively new on Parterre, but the term “unwashed masses” has been used here a few times in reference precisely to those audience members who tend to prefer the composers/works I mentioned above. I too am a member of the “unwashed masses”, because I like these works, INCLUDING Carmen (IF well sung). I consider myself an “obscurantist” as well, because I have an interest in all these other, obscure works, INCLUDING Wozzeck.

          • armerjacquino

            The Kid: not loyalty, nor even a matter of opinion. Anna has an Olivier nomination for best actress in a musical, a TMA award for best actress, played the Baker’s Wife in the ROH revival of Into The Woods, played Gussie in the Donmar’s Merrily, just led the Southwark revival of Victor/Victoria, etc etc etc . You may not like her performance in Company but to pretend she isn’t a major MT player in London is just odd.

        • armerjacquino

          Yep, I’d agree that Sondheim is a colossal genius. So put that in your sarcasm and smoke it.

          • The_Kid

            Word. Oh, and try casting “Company” without an adequate Bobby, or “Follies” without a dramatically inert Phyllis. The Donmar Warehouse people are still trying to forget that one.

          • armerjacquino

            Glad you agree on the genius of Sondheim, but I’m also a little confused. The Donmar has never done FOLLIES, and its Bobby was the wonderful Adrian Lester. Am I being dumb?

          • The_Kid

            mea culpa, and bad sentence construction. let me try that again:

            Word. Oh, and try casting “Company” without an adequate Bobby (the Donmar Warehouse people are still trying to forget that one), or “Follies” with a dramatically inert Phyllis.

            As for Adrian Lester, I know some critics (including the wonderful John Clum) find him charismatic, but I found him so…….WRONG!…for the role, and his singing so substandard (not even sprechstimme, just…mouthing!), that I would have to say that I found the Donmar “Company” appalling. Shelia Gish, and that girl who looked like she broke out of Dartmoor to sing “Another hundred people” with what I can only think of as a Thorazine accent didn’t help matters, either.
            I do not know about Adrian Lester’s private life, but from what I have heard, the best Bobbies are people who have known the desperation and uncertainties of the closet, and the joyous liberation of coming out! Neil Patrick Harris (my favorite), Raul Esparza, Larry Kert, all of them fit the bill. At the very least, they could sing!
            OK, enough vitriol :P However, nothing would convince me that Adrian Lester was a good, or even an adequate Bobby.

          • armerjacquino

            The ‘girl who just stepped out of Dartmoor’ is one of my best friends ( and one of the finest MT actors in the UK) so I’m going to bow out at this point, without even touching on the bizarrely prejudiced idea that you have to be gay to play Bobby.

          • The_Kid

            @armer: i’d like to follow your example and bow out, but before i do, let me say a couple of things:

            1. i admire and respect your loyalty towards a friend, but i am sure nadja michael has equally loyal friends who think she’s the best thing that happened to opera since rosa ponselle. i have looked up anna francolini’s discography online, and i failed to find anything in it that’d justify your claim that she’s one of the leading artistes on the MT stage in UK. Were you thinking of Ruthie Henshall, perchance? as for a good rendition of ‘another hundred people’, look up angel desai’s version. she appears brash and sensual without sounding lispy and apeshit crazy! if AF is as talented as you claim she is, then only thing that i can think of is to blame the director (Sam Mendes, was it?)

            2. i am sorry if i sounded like i wanted all prospective bobbys to make out with a man as a part of the callback session, but the fact remains that ALL the good bobbys so far haven’t been straight-identified. Sondheim’s original choice for Bobby was Antony Perkins. Dean jones, the creator of the role, made a forgettable bobby because of his steadfast refusal to emote (i read somewhere that he was scared of ‘gaying it up’), and it took larry kert and his uninhibited sexuality to make company a hit. Kert earned rave reviews for his performance, and in an unusual move, the Tony Awards committee deemed Kert eligible for a nomination, an honor usually reserved for the actor who originates a role. It may be a coincidence that all successful actors to portray Bobby so far (i missed John Barrowman and George Chakiris in the original post) haven’t been heterosexual: we’ll let it rest at that. However, Adrian Lester acted and sang execrably in the Donmar Warehouse production, and the video is right here to prove it.

      • Oh, I don’t think you’d need to worry about that. My guess is that 19th century Italian opera is still the bread and butter of the majority of posters here.

        I’m THRILLED that the Met is finally doing Donizetti’s Tudor Queens. It seems that DiDonato’s assumption isn’t as impressive as was hoped but I think she deserved a shot at it (though no outcome is guaranteed and she wouldn’t have been my first choice).

        Several years ago, there was a rumour here that the Met would do Maria Stuarda with Gherhgiu and Roberto Devereux with Fleming (!). (That was also back in the day when Fleming was threatening to do Norma). I wonder what people think of the prospect of Gherghiu’s Maria. Yes, the voice would be on the smallish side but she would bring the right temperament to the part.

        • Camille

          I couldn’t find this when I posted the link to the futures page — it is at the end of this thread.

          Maybe there was also talk of a Stuarda with Gheorghiu, that I wouldn’t know about, but she was initially listed as the Bolena, instead of Netrebko!

          Wrap your imagination around that one. I think it would have worked.

        • vilbastarda

          Kashi, thanks for re-confirming that I’m not alone here. As far as Gheorghiu as Stuarda, or Bolena, I don’t think her voice has the appropriate agility for bel canto. But I would see Mosuc in it, though she doesn’t have the right personality all the time, but I’d give her a chance that with the right guidance she could kick the ball out of the park. And I would like to see (maybe in few years) Olga Peretyatko doing these roles, I think she has the voice and personality.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          I’m not just saying this to be inflammatory, I promise, but IMO Fleming would be the ideal voice for the Devereux Elisabetta. Nothing much happens in Renee’s upper passaggio, the voice stays slender and accessible so that access up to about a top b or c remains no big deal for her -- exactly what you need in bel canto (it’s those more conventionally organised voices that need the top notes to come up less frequently and ideally at climaxes who run into trouble with the vocal writing in Bellini and Donizetti). Fleming is capable of agility -- I agree there was way too much of it in Armida for her to really seem very agreeable, but the coloratura comes in short infrequent bursts in Devereux, even her cheerful Act I aria is pretty manageable, so I think it needs a voice with some agility as opposed to a coloratura specialist. There are no written high notes and the optional ones are Ds -- the end of the Act I aria, and the end of the opera. Fleming doesn’t need to do them, but she had some great ones in Thais. She’s great in Rusalka so the orchestration in Deveruex wouldn’t tax her. And I think that, aside from some inevitable droopiness in the Act I aria and the cavatina to the duet with Roberto, the rest of it has enough attitude, and enough full, Italian lines to keep her on her toes, plus I think she does noble and conflicted well, and she has a great chest voice. And she can trill. All in all, the demands are not that dissimilar to Trov Act IV in which she is fabulous with Hvorostovsky in St Petersburg.

          There, I’ve got that off my chest.

          • Cocky: I love any post that begins with “’m not just saying this to be inflammatory, I promise”. :)

          • MontyNostry

            To my ear, and irrespective of my oft-expressed reservations about her style and artistry, Renaaay’s voice is just too lush and cushiony for bel canto. A lither, more linear sound seems more suited to the music. For instance, I find Devia a bit colourless, but I can hear that the profile of the voice is just what’s needed. To be honest, except when the voice is moving around at stupefying speed, even Joanie sounds a bit soft-grained in bel canto after about 1963. Her ‘Art of the Prima Donna’ rendition of Casta diva, for instance, is silvery and glorious, but later version lack a bit of fibre. I’m not a Callas aficionado, but the density of the sound seems right in bel canto -- and Renaaays sound is more diffuse.

          • MontyNostry

            Sorry, a couple of typos in the above. Should have read it through before posting, Sloppy, Monty!

  • The_Kid

    Hi everybody!
    First of all, a very happy new year to all of you.

    Now, my $0.02 about Maria Stuarda:

    1. The whole issue of the “Malibran version” and its validity (or the lack thereof) was raised by Mme. Camille in a thread on Parterre sometime in 2012. An answering post subsequently cleared the issue beyond all debate, with extracts from scholarly works, and the like. Can anyone dig the thread up? I did try, but I couldn’t find it….it must have been an off-topic discussion!
    2. I do not understand why some people here seem to dislike Dame Janet Baker’s ENO “Maria Stuarda” so intensely. I downloaded the video of that performance from YT, and it is one of the best versions of the opera, IMHO. Dame Janet’s performance is touching, her manner appropriately regal, and the translated libretto very appropriate. I shudder to think what people would say if I revealed that I found the June Bronhill/Nance Grant version of the opera pretty ok, too. Yes, they weren’t Verrett and Caballe, but they gave a riveting performance of the opera on their own terms. To me, for once, that was sufficiently impressive. Others are entitled to feel otherwise.
    3. In my understanding, the whole come scritto business is a strictly 20th century affair, and sometimes it leads to musical disasters, such as the Bayreuth Bark, which started with Cosima Wagner’s foolish emphasis on perfect diction. Transpositions were common, and permitted by composers if the artists concerned demanded them. Also, if people are ok with demanding roles such as Klytemnestra and Fricka sung by put-to-pasture dramatic sopranos and mezzos, I see no reason why a transposition of a soprano role should cause so much furor. I will look forward to the HD transmission, and I am sure JDD will be a wonderful Maria in it.

    Incidentally, I don’t think this has been posted here as yet…..note how the most convincing performance is by the much-maligned Dame Janet, who manages to convey Mary Stuart’s fury without making the libretto and music seem at odds with each other.

    • Camille

      Sometime after Énee landed on the shores of Didon’s domains last night at the performance of Les Troyens, it suddenly came to me—Mamma Cieca’s blind item of several months back which the redoubtable Betsy Ann Bobolink correctly guessed and I emphatically then seconded, and which led to this discussion from the eminent PICCHIETTATI. He lines it all up for one and all.

      Please refresh your memories and then go back again to this discussion.

      • jd

        Like Cammie, I too was at the Troyens in the house last night to hear Hymel as a superb Enee! Great orchestra seat, having won the $20 rush seat. I did not enjoy Bishop’s Dido much. I’m looking forward to hearing Graham at the HD on Sat. By the way, per Betsy’s comment on Angela Meade as the Met’s “maiden aunt,” I saw Meade late Tuesday afernoon walking with her boyfriend/husband(?) hand in hand on Broadway near 66th! LOL

        • Camille

          Why did you not enjoy it that much?

          It was a professional job but not at all ideal. Add to that her Cougar thing, well, I’ll be glad to see ol’ Graham cracker back, too!

          • jd

            About not enjoying Bishop, I don’t know. It may have been the Cougar-aged demeanor or awkwardness. She didn’t seem to project the excitement and emotion that Graham brings to Dido and certainly that Lorraine Hunt-Leiberson created in 2003.

          • Camille

            You were lucky, believe me. I saw it on Saturday and it was far less assured than last night.

            Anyway, nice career boost for a nice lady, it would seem. She got the job done.

    • eric

      I sid a Google search for references to the “Malibran version” on

      Haven’t looked closely, but you might find what you’re looking for there.

      • eric


    • grimoaldo

      “I do not understand why some people here seem to dislike Dame Janet Baker’s ENO “Maria Stuarda” so intensely. I downloaded the video of that performance from YT, and it is one of the best versions of the opera, IMHO. Dame Janet’s performance is touching, her manner appropriately regal, and the translated libretto very appropriate.”

      I saw that live The Kid and it was unforgettable. Baker’s performance to me is a well nigh ideal combination of musical and dramatic eloquence. She did not use the music as a mere means of showing off but to create a deeply moving and truthful portrayal of an actual human being.
      But that was far from being a one woman show. Rosalind Plowright as Elizabeth may not have been vocally perfect but it is sort of a “witchy” part and she was very very effective. The three leading male roles were sung by outstanding singer actors who all appeared often at the Met and other top opera houses,
      Alan Opie as Cecil, John Tomlinson as Talbot and David Rendall as Leicester.
      The excellent production was by John Copley, who not only created a dramatically effective show but understood period details, such as that royal figures like Mary Stuart would have been attended by ladies in waiting, servants, etc., virtually every moment of their lives from their infancy to their deaths. Here is the full final cabaletta and end, the weeping ladies in waiting preparing Mary for her execution are a very moving element:

      The orchestral coda includes music from “Nella pace nel mesto riposo” which other versions do not, I am not sure where that comes from but this version was prepared and conducted by the great Charles Mackerras, not only one of the very best all round operatic conductors of all time but a great music scholar.
      This whole performance in my opinion is top notch in every department, it is worthy of the greatest opera houses at any time, I was privileged to be there.
      Now I fully expect Nerva or the vicar to come along and mock my love for this performance and compare me to the long dead editor of Opera magazine, Harold Rosenthal, who was in my opinion quite justifiably proud of what ENO and British opera singers were achieving at this time. Why the hell shouldn’t he have been?

      • phoenix

        grimoaldo, some people like that oratorio-sytle projection Baker (Janet, not Josephine) had -- yet others don’t. No matter what music Janet was singing her technique was pretty much solid, but if one didn’t care for that particular technique …

        • MontyNostry

          Oratorio-style projection can be fine, but I just think she made an ugly, yowling sound much of the time -- nasal and forced -- and she developed an infuriating mannerism of nudging up to notes. Oh yes, and I find her pretty joyless too. Have you heard her in any of the more sensual Wolf songs? She makes Schwarzkopf sound like Marilyn Monroe breathing ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            She came on the radio while I was driving the other day, in some Beethoven or other, and it struck me that what seemed to make her instantly recongnisable for me was this sort of joyless drudgery she brought to the very act of singing that made it seem like a hard work, thankless task. In spite of the artistry people talk about, there is always a sense for me of her ploughing through the music with gritted teeth with everything just a little bit depressed in terms of vocal refulgence, pitch and mood. I know her only from recordings and don’t seek her out, but this is how she comes across to me in everything I have heard her do.

          • phoenix

            I appreciate that comment Kurwenal -> she was so esteemed in San Franciso during the 1960’s by the informés conissours académiques crowd <- I was so very fortunate not to be among their number, so I quickly learned to avoid her at all cost = for the same reasons you state above.

          • peter

            It’s funny how negative some people’s reactions are to Janet Baker. I can hear that over time her singing became more mannered (like almost all singers) but I find the basic sound quite beautiful, her range and technique quite formidable plus she always sounds completely committed in whatever she is singing. I can see how she may not bring you joy but to say her singing is joyless is completely ridiculous.

          • grimoaldo

            Interesting comments re Baker that show how different people certainly react differently, I do not hear anything “joyless” in her singing, to me it is more or less the pinnacle of expressive eloquence, but in any case one of the points about that performance of Mary Stuart I was trying to make is that it shows, to me, how important the conductor is even in bel canto opera.
            Mackerras makes that performance into something for the ages even more than Baker does imo.

          • MontyNostry

            The Dame, along with Peter Pears, was one of the first singers I realised I just didn’t like listening to. That was when I was about 17, a few years before Dame J had retired from the opera stage. Over the years, I have grown to appreciate several singers who did not appeal to me initially, but I’m afraid Sir P always makes me feel a bit queasy and Dame J makes me feel edgy.

          • aronocity

            I feel very conflicted about Ms. Baker. On the one hand you can obviously hear the amazing technique and musicianship in her voice. And her voice has a very nice quality. On the other hand it seems that along the way in building her voice, she decided to sacrifice any sense of character. A nice, rich and heavy contralto, but a bit bland. Much like Monty’s comment, I put her in a similar category as Sir Pears; If they happen to be in what is a good recording otherwise it’s nice to their musicianship, but they’re rarely my first choice.

          • aronocity

            *to hear their musicianship

          • peter

            To each his own. I respect other people’s opinion of Janet Baker but tell me this isn’t absolutely gorgeous singing?

          • MontyNostry

            Oh dear, I also have a huge blind spot when it comes to Elgar, and especially Gerontius. (Probably because my music teacher at school played me a recording with Peter Pears, which possibly also featured Dame J and another of my vocal bêtes noires, John ‘Morse Code’ Shirley-Quirk. When PP bawled out ‘Take me away!’ I could only echo his sentiments …)

          • grimoaldo

            “she decided to sacrifice any sense of character. A nice, rich and heavy contralto, but a bit bland. ”

            Well that is not how she seemed to me when I saw her live in opera which I did numerous times, she was very characterful and far from bland in my opinion.
            And I would point out that the London audiences always went into fits of hysterical adulation at her curtain calls, not what you would expect from people who had just sat through a joyless, bland, characterless performance.

          • First time I “got” Baker was when I heard her “Spectre de la Rose” on the radio and I haven’t looked back since. She sings the whole cycle beautifully. And even when she’s not an idiomatic fit to the music she’s singing, she’s at least an intelligent artist, often much more than that.

          • davidzalden

            I just can’t believe what I am reading here about Janet Baker — for me she is and always has been one of the very greatest singers and a major force in my life. Her annual Carnegie Hall recitals were the absolute high point of the cultural year — artistry so intense, vocalism so searing, then so sweet that the audience could hardly breath. I had the great joy of seeing her onstage in Julius Caesar, Maria Stuarda, Troilus and Cressida, and Alceste — I never got to see Callas on stage but I think Dame Janet runs a very close second. Her Handel on record, especially her Ariodante, were for me the keys which opened up the vast world of this composer — and her Berlioz, Monteverdi, Britten and Elgar were equally revelatory. Just watch her Nuits d’ete on Youtube — I think it is the greatest performance I have ever seen. Oh well, I could go on and on…

          • Camille

            monsieur monty,

            i once had a case of what was known as “London Flu” whilst listening to the Dream of Gerontologists in a school library.

            I passed out. Had to be revived and was advised to promptly get myself to a doctor.

            Never went near that Dream again.

          • MontyNostry

            Camille -- that Dream sounds a nightmare!

          • Camille

            Dame Janet was so fetishized by a certain set of elite effete snobs when I was much, much younger that I was instantly turned off by the sound of her.

            Someone gave me a ticket to a performance with the L.A. Phil and Mo. Giulini conducting “Les Nuits d’Ete”. After that performance, I begged for another ticket, got it, and gladly went. This was around 1981.

            She was just absolutely wonderful in those songs, and I would NEVER have believed it from a recording.

            Just my experience of her. Just goes to show that recordings are one thing and “in live” are another.

            Similarly, I worshipped the ground Dame Joan walked on, in recording, but after my first live performance, I sadly realised my idol had feet of clay, if inded the throat of an enchanted inebriated nightengale.

            sic transit gloria divae

          • rapt

            I find this disagreement about Baker fascinating--and, in a way, a tribute to her uniqueness as an artist. I’m afraid I can only be impressionistic in describing my own mixed reaction to her, but what strikes me about her is that something--in her timbre, perhaps?--makes her special effects derive from the sense of passion working within (or against) restraint. Maybe that’s what makes her especially effective in the romantic/classic Berlioz; I find her studio recording of Troyens excerpts superior to that of Crespin (whom I otherwise adore). Yet the one time I saw her live, in recital, the passion/restraint balance was off--the granite was there, but not the glints of quartz (or whatever it is in granite that gives off light). When I mentioned this once on parterre, someone observed that, on that particular occasion, she was going through a difficult personal time; perhaps the answer is that she wasn’t consistent? In any case, the fact that there is so much to say about her is, for me, a reason enough to be interested in her.

          • grimoaldo

            davidzalden says:

            “Her Handel on record, especially her Ariodante, were for me the keys which opened up the vast world of this composer.”

            Yes,can anybody really listen to her “Dopo notte” from Ariodante and say it is joyless and bland?

          • grimoaldo

            Forgot that “v”

            Janet Baker in “Dopo notte”

          • aronocity

            @MontyNostry That wasn’t Janet Baker on that recording, it was Yvonne Minton. Baker is on the Barbirolli. Also don’t let Pears stop you from enjoying that beautiful work. If you want a completely different take on it, there is a live recording of Jon Vickers singing Gerontius that I really enjoy.

          • MontyNostry

            aronocity, I was probably asleep during the Angel’s bit, but I generally rather like Minton (I particularly remember liking her recorded version of ‘Wo die schoenen Trompeten blasen’), even if her Octavian -- when I saw her in 1983 or so -- was plagued by poor intonation. There’s really not much hope for me and Elgar, apart from the Serenade for Strings, Where corals lie and the cute little Chanson de matin. Can’t bear the cello or violin concertos, and even Nimrod sounds to me as though he left the tune out.

          • Nerva Nelli

            “I would point out that the London audiences always went into fits of hysterical adulation at her curtain calls”

            Grim, I saw Baker several times in recital and orchestral concerts both in the US and the UK. Several were extraordinary events of the kind Mr. Alden describes. One or two had, as someone here said, the “granite” and seriousness of purpose with zero tonal charm-- she seemed to be performing The Acclaimed High Priestess of Lieder and not the music. I wish I had heard her in several operatic roles, and I certainly enjoy her Mahler, Schubert, Handel and Cavalli on disc, plus a lot more. I dearly wish I could have heard Dame Janet in TROYENS, RAPE OF LUCRETIA, ORFEO, IDOMENEO and several other works onstage.

            But I think that the claims made by Rosenthal and others that she was vocally and physically and temperamentally the “ideal, noble” representative of whatever she touched- say, Poppea (surely Ottavia was her role) or Dorabella or Charlotte or (on record) Romeo — stemmed from a kind of Iconic status ( partly nationalistic, partly due to press acclaim partly because she *was* so very accomplished) that caused those London ovations both when she richly deserved them and at other times when she did not: “One of Us”, “One of Our Finest”.

            One parallel I would draw would be Sills in New York (sensational in some things, out of her tonal depth in others, eventually in comedy just a vulgar self-caricature singing badly) who got ovations when she was truly great and ovations when she was terrible (the NYCO TURCO, the Met DON PASQUALE) just for being the Icon Beverly Sills, who embodied New York-ness the way Baker embodied a certain ideal of Britishness. Peter G. Davis in the NY TIMES called things the way he heard them in her late career decline, and paid a stiff professional price for it.

            Another such case would be Fischer-Dieskau in Berlin (or indeed in Salzburg). Obviously a master musician, with many fine recordings and performances, but one can hear on live tapes and read in domestic reviews wild acclaim for what seem to me very obviously flawed and misguided performances: Falstaff, Iago, Cesare, barked-through Count Almavivas… and yet he was FISCHER-DIESKAU, the embodiment of German singing, so…

            Whatever their vocal limitations (and each of course had pronounced strengths as well), Baker, Sills and Fisher-Dieskau were intelligent and individual artists on an *extremely* high plane. That said, the Identificatory Icon factor, particularly on their home turfs, could surely result in audience and critical reception beyond their particular merits in a given work or on a given night.

          • Camille

            May I say “Brava, Diva” to Nerva?

            As I was held captive to that Sills worship in Los Angeles, many years ago now--which I had just been recalling by means of Bernie’s madeleine of a review for the current Stuarda, I do see the parallel la Nelli draws, and do understand

            These adulatory profusions to these, yes, iconic figures do much more harm than good. I could not listen to Sills again for years, and only now realize that, yes, she really did sing well, in the beginning and in certain roles. It is pretty much that way for most singers. Despite the Callas myth that one may sing everything one gets into their happy imagination, it usually does not work out all that well, and Callas had the gift, with her great musicianship skills, of turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse which not many can do.

            The same goes for Fi-Di. Back in the day, all I could hear was that cougher’s bark. After listening to his very earlier recording of Königskinder, back about fifteen years, I started re-evaluating him and now have come to an appreciation.

            That’s all. Just had to say it as it struck a deep nerve in mein Herz.

          • grimoaldo

            Nerva said:

            “Grim, I saw Baker several times in recital and orchestral concerts both in the US and the UK” etc.

            My goodness Nerva, what a nice, sensible post! I agree with you.
            Are you mellowing with time or something?
            Happy New Year!

          • luvtennis

            I have always enjoyed Dame Janet (only on record, of course) but there is one thing I always found lacking her her singing -- sex, carnality, pleasure for pleasure’s sake. There is nothing sensual about Dame Janet’s singing, in my opinion. She sang with her mind, as it were. So while I love her singing of the Berlioz and Ravel songs (you know the ones), I always feel something is missing. There is just a whole world in that music that you cannot access through the intellect. Crespin owns that world.

            One oddity: I know several accomplished mezzos who hated her singing (while respecting her as an artist). I think they were responding to the yowly sound that some have noted.

          • MontyNostry

            Well, here’s one mezzo who might just have had no choice but to admire Dame J’s sound (though she’s not yowly)

          • The_Kid

            If Betty Blackhead ever crooned “Happy Birthday” to someone, it certainly would not have been Mr. President, if you get me.

          • MontyNostry

            If it would have furthered her career, she’d have sung it (and signed up to the Democratic Party).

      • The orchestral coda includes music from “Nella pace nel mesto riposo” which other versions do not, I am not sure where that comes from

        That was something that Mackerras came up with when Copley (back on the 76 performances) requested some music to accompany the disrobing, blindfolding and exiting business.

        I am going to take a wild guess and say that McVicar saw the video, thought it was effective and requested the met did that too. Now,what kind of business is it accompanying, I have no clue as I have not seen the opera.

        • ardath_bey

          the critical edition was edited by Anders Wiklund, published by Casa Ricordi with the contribution of Fondazione Donizetti. I also thought that the Nella pace march at the end was Mackerras’ own little touch but it might be in the score. I’d like to chase down Benini or one of his assistants and confirm with them.

          Kind of odd, Mackerras adding music to such a crucial moment on the request of a director but it’s possible. It does work, though it reminds me a bit of the big tune mentality of cheap Broadway musicals.

          • I do not have the critical edition, but I will take a wild guess and say it is not there. I will ask a friend of mine who does have it.

            I don’t necessarily find it odd because, well, if Donizetti would have been alive, he would have complied with the request without thinking it twice, so while not the ideal situation, stylistically it is permissible. Now as to the quality of the music composed, or arranged my Mackerras, I dare not speak until I have listened to it.

            I do see your point about the tune been used and the broadway mentality, but then I have to ask, was this not music that Maria just sang? If the answer is yes, I would venture a guess that it was chosen because it is fresh on the audience’s mind and thus the emotional connection is still there. I would also venture the question Are there similar moments in any of Donizetti’s other operas? How did he handle them? Did he bring any new material or did he reprise some of that big tune that was just sung and brought the curtain down? This might give us insight as to some of the choices Mackerras made in crafting some incidental music for the staging.

          • Camille

            I do have the critical edition of Maria Stuarda and have played through rhe ending of BOTH versions, the first one at bottom of p. 341 to bottom of page 342, a total of eleven measures, and there is no suggestion of that thematic material.

            In the second ending, in the Appendix, on page 370, there is 3e. Nuiva versione del Maestoso nel N. 9, which concludes, in a similar fashion, in eight measures on p. 378. This is taken “Vocal variants from rR (Ricordi vocal score, 1836)

            And to answer the question for Mr. Bey and save him the bother:

            There is a note in faint print at the bottom of the APPENDICES*, on page 343, which says as follows:

            “*A further piece (the overture written for Milan 1835) may be found in Appendix 2 to the full score edition”

            The answer will lie in the full score edition.

            If I have time later, I will type out the contents of the Appendices.

            I do wonder, on another note, who paid for all these transposed orchestral parts?

          • “I do wonder, on another note, who paid for all these transposed orchestral parts?”

            There are librarians on staff who are already paid to manage such things, no?

          • Well, if the transpositions are the same that Janet Baker took, then there is no paying for them, except for the rental.

            I would not be surprised if now on in the near future, transpositions would be made automatically by just scanning the score, inputting th desired new key, when you want to achieve it and the computer will do it for you. I would not be surprised IGA program would even create new orchestra parts based on the information being entered.

            The only thing needed would be an assistant conductor who would check the new score to ensure the computer did not come up with anything funky and voila! Hit print.

          • ardath_bey

            lindoro, Poliuto comes immediately to mind, when Al suon dell’arpe angeliche returns triumphantly at the end:


          • ardath_bey

            try 5:47

          • Obviously Poliuto alone is no evidence that this is how Donizetti handled the issue every time, but certainly proves that he did it at least once. Thank you for bringing that up.

            It stands to reason that Mackerras did his research and came up with a solution that would be both faithful to Donizetti and very likely close to what Donizetti himself would have done had he been alive to compose the ditty himself.

          • Quanto Painy Fakor

            Yes, required transpositions and preparation of the scores and parts are part of the MET Library music budget and the transpositions, if not already part of the material being rented from a publisher, are either done in house or contracted to outside music typesetters/copyists.

        • Regina delle fate

          Your wild guess probably isn’t far short of the mark, LA, as McV has a habit of including tributes to earlier productions in his new shows. I’ll let you know when I’ve seen the Live in HD cinecast on Jan 19…

      • Regina delle fate

        Grim -- the first series had Pauline Tinsley as Elizabeth and their encounter was electrifyingly competitive as La Tinsley was used to playing the prima donna in this kind of opera and she went out there determined to show she wasn’t any old seconda donna. I believe she sang it opposite Sills at NYCO and I think it’s a pity Sills didn’t have her for the recording as she was more suited to that kind of termagent Italian role than Eileen Farrell was, latish in her career. I have no doubt that Farrell in her prime had the greater voice, but perhaps it wasn’t a bel canto instrument. You can get a pirate audio of the Baker/Tinsley broadcast on CD -- I thoroughly recommend it.

        • Camille

          Salve Regina !

          I must put in a good word for Pauline Tinsley here, based solely upon listening to a recording of “I Gioielli della Madonna” by Wolf-Ferrari — assuredly no seconda donna and surprisingly convincing in this rather rude and crude veristic thriller. Easy,indeed, to imagine she would be a very good Elisabetta.

          Yours truly,

          • MontyNostry

            Did you see my post yesterday that I gioielli della Madonna will be staged this summer by Holland Park Opera in London?

          • Regina delle fate

            Did any of our NY-based Parterriani see Tinsley’s Elisabetta at the NYCO? Just wondering how it went down in the State Theatre. It was always puzzling that Tinsley never reprised the part with Baker. At the first revivals she was replaced by Vicar favourite, Ava June, and later, when the show was recorded and filmed, by Ros Plowright, when she could actually sing.

          • Vergin Vezzosa

            Regina -- yes, saw the premiere on March 7, 1972 with Bubbles, Tinsley, Richard Fredericks, Michael Devlin and one John Stewart (who I do not remember) as Leicester. It “went down” very well indeed. Until tomorrow, that evening is my only live encounter with Stuarda. Was supposed to see it again at NYCO but they had a strike and cancelled it. Was expecting to see it in SF with Madame Caballe in 1979 but, after the season was announced, the opera was changed to R. Devereux. Caballe ended up singing only the prima and withdrew from the rest of the run (phlebitis attack I think). Luckily I went to that opening as she was vocally spectacular although she understandably hardly moved at all.

            Have been following the multitude of comments expressed herein and am fairly astounded by the wide range of opinions about the Met’s current Stuarda from those who have seen it, heard it or neither of the above. Lots of food for thought, and more than just veal bastarda. As I was otherwise occupied on Monday and did not listen, I am waiting until after I see it tomorrow to venture my thoughts. One thing for sure, I am thrilled to have the chance to again see Donizetti’s lovely opera which I have always considered one of his most direct and heartfelt pieces.

          • phoenix

            Yes, I saw Tinsley’s Elisabetta with Sills as Maria -- and Tinsely, of course, was the all rage in the camp crowd. So enthused was I with Pauline that I went down to Washington and saw her Macbeth --> and even further south to see her Ortrud in New Orleans. A great and truly distinctive artis (in the best meaning of the word).

          • phoenix

            Tinsley Story: My friend John Davis gave a party in 1972 and invited Tinsley, who showed up with the most handsome young man imaginable. One guest had enough drinks to get the nerve to ask Tinsley “Where did you find that gorgeous escort” -- to which Tinsely replied “that’s my son”. At any rate, after the party was over John’s mother, who was always on and off the psych stats, made the comment “she’s awfully short and has piano legs -- some diva, huh?”

        • Regina delle fate

          As a rider to the above, I listened to the broadcast CDs again and she goes up an octave at the end of her Act I cabaletta -- I don’t have perfect pitch so I don’t know what the note is -- and it’s horribly flat, but she’s exciting elsewhere. The voice is a complete contrast to Baker’s, steely, neurotic-sounding. And Mackerras really knew how to make Donizetti zing.

      • The Vicar of John Wakefield

        “Harold Rosenthal, who was in my opinion quite justifiably proud of what ENO and British opera singers were achieving at this time. Why the hell shouldn’t he have been?”

        Why indeed? Dame Janet’s timbral ravishment here--as in the equally musically un-pukka Verdi REQUIEM--bespeaks a clean, noble stratum of British life:

        • Regina delle fate

          Yeah -- she made a couple of mistakes in her long and worldwide- acclaimed career, and the Verdi Requiem was probably one of them. Her ladylike Romeo to Sills’s Giulietta in Capuleti might be another one. But as davidzalden notes above she was unforgettable in Handel, Monteverdi, Berlioz. Gluck, Elgar and Britten not to mention Purcell, Cavalli Schubert, Brahms. Her Vitellia -- admittedly minus the top D in the trio -- was pretty fabulous, too, as a dramatic creation. At the end of the day, despite a couple of faux pas, her reputation is secure and will doubtless continue to grow,even without the help of the Rosenthals of this world to boost her from non-entity to superstar.

          • armerjacquino

            Her Vitellia – admittedly minus the top D in the trio – was pretty fabulous, too, as a dramatic creation

            On stage, maybe. On record it’s stodgy and sexless to these ears.

            I’m more in the anti- than the pro-Baker camp, and agree with much that has been said against her above. However, there are recordings of hers, especially live ones, which make me sort of see what the fuss was about. Not always in the roles you’d expect, either- her Glasgow Octavian with Dernesch is unexpectedly exciting.

          • MontyNostry

            All this links into Maria Stuarda … Vitellia is related to vitello, which means veal …. veal bastarda! (To coin one of the better punning names among parterrias, though nothing will ever match Maury Dannata.)

          • Monty, thank you for bringing this down to earth and crystallising the argument: Dame Janet Baker was decidedly not a vegetarian and probably ate lamb too!

          • Camille

            Actually, Monsieur Monty, your name ain’t so bad either!

            I have always wondered about it — is it, as I have imagined, an allusion to “Ai nostri monti”, or am I just making that up? Or is it a secret?

            I would have liked to have seen Dame Janet as “Vitellia Tonnata”!

          • MontyNostry

            That is indeed the derivation, dear Camille. Vitellia tonnata is surely far too extravagant and indulgent for a prudent Yorkshire lass like Dame J.

            Maybe you can glean a few further ideas here:

          • Camille

            Thank you for your confirmation of a long held suspicion!

            Yes, I have had occasion to sample Yorkshire pudding. Pity the addition of Taco Sauce won’t even help.


          • Regina delle fate

            Well, Monty -- the Dam may have been a prudent Yorkshire lass in real life -- although I always suspect she had a dark side which emerges in the only role Britten wrote for her, the ferocious Kate in Owen Wingrave which she allegedly found in congenial and dropped after the stage premiere run. I never saw her Poppea, which has always seemed to me an odd choice, but her Glyndebourne Penelope (on television) was a great assumption.she came to Charlotte late and already looked matronly in the role, but there were always compensations with Baker. In Tito she had been originally cast as Sesto but swapped roles when Margaret Price decided not to take Vitellia into her rep. The recording was made a bit late but in the 1973 live performances under Davis and even more so the 1974/5 revival under Pritchard were electrifying. I saw her in nine roles ranging from Handel to Britten and even the ones that might not have been a natural fit had flashes of inspiration and fire that one would never have expected from the prudent Yorkshire lass. My opera-going life would have been immeasurably poorer without her. I’m sure Grim and daviszalden and the thousands who flocked to her always sellout appearances in London feel the same.

  • The_Kid

    A (very) vocally-dramatic confrontation scene that hasn’t yet been mentioned, either here or on opera-l:

    • Now that is one catfight I would not want to be near. You know a gun will be drawn and there will be several bodies left at the end.


      • MontyNostry

        And to think that June Bronhill played the Mrs Slocombe role in the Aussie version of ‘Are You Being Served?’ Yes, really.

    • Feldmarschallin

      And hear another one from Wiener Staatsoper with Zampieri and Balsta.

      • The_Kid

        One has to adore Zampieri: she looks as if she is on the verge of apoloplexy!

  • siegmund

    Here’s another performance of Maria Stuarda from Russia with Inga Kalna and Alexandrina Pendatchanska.

    • Bianca Castafiore

      Wow. I have never heard of Kalna but the confrontation scene between her and Penda is just fantabulous. You can just imagine all the flaring nostrils and eyes-popping out. Listen to how Kalna growls the rrr in “profanato”. All the interpolated, almost screamed high notes… insane. Very exciting (ooops, except for the last aborted high note).

      As usual, the Met’s casting department is run by total idiots. Pendatchanska has never sung at the Met, just as they have given short thrift to Podles, Baird, Matos, etc.

      siegmund, are you in Denmark perchance?

      • Bianca Castafiore

        I see in the comments section that Penda aborted that last note because Kalna did not even attempt it. Just a weird effect of a high note abandoned mid-note…

      • Regina delle fate

        Bianca -- she sings Armida on the Rene Jacobs recording of Handel’s Rinaldo and is worth hearing!

        • Bianca Castafiore

          Regina, grazie. I just looked at her website. She sings Lady Macbeth and Oscar! Doesn’t sound like a big voice, but from the excerpts I’ve heard from this performance, it’s fabulosity the two queens here!

  • Clita del Toro

    Leonora da Pin-Yenta told me a story about the Stuarda at NYCO with Sills. He heard that Sills had Galvany (Elizabeth) fired because Galvany was good and received much applause for her performance . Any truth to this???

    • Nerva Nelli

      Funny, I heard this story in relation to Tinsley, who should have been hired back according to those I now who heard her as Elisabetta! Dear, lovable Bubbles…

      My parents heard Tinsley in ERNANI somewhere in the UK and were very impressed.

    • The_Kid

      You know, I heard a similar story from a FB friend, but the Elisabetta involved was either Pauline Tinsley or some other British soprano…not Galvany, who, apparently, liked to provoke Bubbles by holding her notes longer, and so on. The same friend told me that even the Farrell-Sills friendship was strained somewhat during the ‘Maria Stuarda’ recording, because Sills was so careful not to let Farrell’s dynamite of a voice overpower her instrument that she ended up annoying Farrell, which is why another proposed Donizetti opera with the same pair (could it be Bolena?) was never recorded.
      For what it is worth, I still think Farrell makes an EXCELLENT elizabetta in that recording. Listen to her tsunami of a voice at the end of the ‘vil bastarda’, where she hails the guards….Bubbles get completely obliterated, and one can sense that Farrell isn’t even trying to be loud!
      It is a pity, indeed, that we didn’t have any heldensopran capable of florid singing record the opera…..just think of a Gertrud Grob-Prandl/ Leonie Rysanek ‘Maria Stuarda’!

  • Clita del Toro

    Financial Times / Arts / Jan 3, 2013


    Maria Stuarda

    Metropolitan Opera, New York


    /Maria Stuarda/, Donizetti’s ultra-Italian ode to tragic British history as filtered through the Germanic vision of Friedrich Schiller, was first performed in Milan in 1835, and generally ignored soon thereafter. It returned to favour in the mid-20th century, however, and New York savoured it, thanks to Beverly Sills at the City Opera, in 1972. The belated Met premiere took place on New Year’s Eve.

    For most impractical purposes David McVicar has (mis)directed the piece as a quirky ode to a very odd couple. Although much of her music is elegant and even graceful, Queen Elizabeth I (Elisabetta) is made to stagger and swagger awkwardly about the stage. Faithfully enacted by Elza van den Heever, she lurches and struts, stumbles and smirks nonstop. Her vocalism, though generous and apparently fearless, tends to shrillness at the top and breathiness at the bottom. Pathos teeters on the brink of caricature.

    By contrast, McVicar makes Mary Stuart (Stuarda) seem even more of a saintly martyr than tradition might dictate. She personifies life-size modesty, sweetness and purity. Her gestures remain small, her agonies internal. Joyce DiDonato makes her plight all the more compelling because, unlike her royal adversary, she resists excess. Most important, she treats the complex bel-canto flights as emotional expressions, never merely as bravura filigree. This is an exquisitely proportioned, remarkably sensitive performance.

    Ultimately, McVicar reduces the /tragedia lirica/ to a period pageant framing star turns. John Macfarlane decorates the rituals primitively, with inconsistently abstract sets and colour-coded costumes.

    Although the sparring queens dominate the proceedings, for better /and/ worse, the secondary singers do what they can. Despite obvious stress, Matthew Polenzani copes manfully with the lofty utterances of Leicester. Matthew Rose exudes basso dignity as Talbot. Joshua Hopkins (Cecil) and Maria Zifchak (Anna) offer sympathetic support.

    Maurizio Benini, the conductor, provides timid, tepid accompaniment. He also has trouble keeping his sometimes ragged orchestra and sometimes harried singers on the same beat. He staunches lyrical blood, mutes dramatic thunder. Once again, primary problems begin, and end, in the pit.

    • grimoaldo

      “Maurizio Benini, the conductor, provides timid, tepid accompaniment. He also has trouble keeping his sometimes ragged orchestra and sometimes harried singers on the same beat. He staunches lyrical blood, mutes dramatic thunder. Once again, primary problems begin, and end, in the pit.”

      How sad. There was an article in the NYT the other day with Benini explaining that the music for the orchestra in these bel canto operas is so simple and there is so little to do for them in the oom-pah-pah accompaniments that they get bored.
      Maybe they could try playing together in all this music which is so simple that they cannot play it well.
      What has happened to the Met orchestra and conducting over the last couple of years? It used to be the best in the world, and not long ago either.
      I was thinking of going to NY to see Maria Stuarda, but these responses and reviews have changed my mind. I do love JDD in Baroque music and thought she might make a great Maria, but more to the point I do not want to see a lacklustre rest of the cast and listen to poor music making from the conductor and orchestra.
      I will just stay at home and watch Baker conducted by the very greatest Mackerras again and save myself a lot of money and trouble.

      • Camille

        Grimoaldo, buck up!

        You can always go see the HD and decide for yourself!.

        Don’t cheat yourself of an opportunity to see a rarely performed work. It will only set you back anout twenty bucks to see the HD and by then Jiyce may have got rhings together better although I wished they’d have put in Alcina for her, e.g. Or something French—Mignonifht have neen ideal as I liked her in the geoup of French songs she sang at Carmegie Hall last year or so.


      • phoenix

        “Pathos teeters on the brink of caricature. …” but don’t we all around here? Unlike Camille, I still enjoy reading Bernie’s reviews because I remember him when.
        grimoaldo, I don’t agree with his comments about the orchestral playing -- I thought they played better than usual -- considering Benini’s neuroleptic conducting of most of the score.
        At any rate, do as Mama Camille says and get ye hence to the HD (if you can get a ticket) --> phoenix liked JDD very much and there aren’t too many bel canto singers that phoenix ever liked.

    • Camille

      haHA! Sounds like Bernie ca. 1969, with his adulatory Bubble reviews.

      I stopped reading him for years because one couldn’t take him seriously any more.

  • Camille

    This is a very interesting postscript on the Critical Edition, written by Gabriele Dotto and Roger Parker, the Directors of the Editorial Board, which will shed a little light on the complexities of trying to narrow down what is what with this work:

    Postscript: A Critical Edition of Maria Stuarda

    Aa hinted at more than once above, the idea of a “definitve” edition of Maria Stuarda—and, one might add, of most other operas by Donizetti—is a shaky one. The composer did not “finish” the opera in the modern sense. He simply put it aside, further participation prevented by circumstances, by his own lack of interest, by the work’s lack of immediate success. Maria was, in other words, discontinued, awaiting new revivals and new performers that would stimulate the composer to review his creative decisions.

    It is common on such occasions for critical editions to choose one version of the work as a primary text (usually that of the first performance), and to relegate revisions and additions to Appendices. However, in the case of Maria Stuarda such a strategy will not work, simply because we have no secure way of isolating the version prepared for Naples in 1834. As discussed above, the autograph score of Maria betrays several layers of revision. We can be sure that some of these postdate the aborted Naples premiere, but it would be impossible to date each intervention precisely, let alone to decide which of them were made for “pirely musical” reasons, and which were effected with more practical considerations in mind (such as the various skills and deficiencies of a new cast). Nor does it seem desirable to offer the Milan 1835 Maria Stuarda —in a literal sense, of course, the “first performance” of the work–as a primary text. On a practical level, much of this version survives only in a printed vocal score (the Ricordi 1836 score referred to in the edition as rR), and thus in some places orchestration would have to be invented. What is more, the vocal variants of Malibran (which make up a large part of the changes in rR) are so highly individual that their assimilation i to the main text might well restrict the performing opportunities for the score.

    After much weighing of the evidence, we have decided to place as the main text of this edition the version of Maria Stuarda found in Donizetti’s autogrph score as it has come down to us. This means, inevitably, that the text lies somewhere between the Naples and Milan versions. In the largest structural terms, we include in the main body of the score the duet between Maria and Leicester (N. 5) – which was definitely not part of the original Naples score – but relegate to Appendices and footnotes both the variants found in rR and the Overture (full score only), written expressly for Milan and not appearing in the autograph. The decision to use this “autograph” bersion is for the most part obvious, indeed inevitable; and is for the most part obvious, indeed inevitable; and it is (with one minor exception, see the next paragraph) the version reported in all contemporary manuscript copies of the opera we have consulted. But there are two important matters on which there could well be debate, and which are best dealt with separately.”

    From pp.XLVIII and XLIX of the Ricordi Critical Edition, Reduction for voice and piano based on the critical edition of the orchestral score edited by Anders Wiklund, copyright 1989 for the first version of the full score. Copyright 1991 for the definitive critical edition of the full score. Copyright 1997 for the piano reduction and the English translation, for Univeraal Music Publishing Ricordi S.r. l.

    There are in addition three more paragraphs to this important Postscript, which I have no more time to type out at present and which I will add later on, with a recapitulation of the Appendices, which jold the only bits which may be construed as “Malibran” and which are rewrites rather than transpositions, if I remember correctly, which I may not at this instance.

    I do hope this will help to shed some light on the enormous complexities involved with this maligned Maria.

    • Camille


      Please excuse typos as I was in a rush and on an iPhone, an impossible combination

    • Camille

      Another note: the reference to rR is to the Ricordi score published in 1836, from which “alcuni pezzi staccati” (a few isolated pieces) are taken from.

      • grimoaldo

        Thanks for typing all that out Camille, very interesting.
        This score is so “unfinished” in a way that it makes the issue of transcriptions, additions such as the music Mackerras added for the end of the piece, and so on, less of a clear cut issue of right or wrong than they would be in many other works.

        • Gualtier M

          Another note: the score of “Stuarda” was altered by editors at Ricordi later in the 19th century when it was noticed that Donizetti recycled several numbers in “La Favorite”. The major number is the stretta finale of Act I. Here is a quote from Wikipedia which is not a reliable source but I think is correct here:

          “By the late 1980s, after a critical edition was prepared from the autograph, what was revealed at that point was that Donizetti had re-used a couple of numbers in La favorite, and that in post-Favorite performances, starting with one in Naples (1865), they had been replaced by different numbers from his other lesser-known operas. [12] The critical edition was first given in Bergamo in 1989 in a two-act version.”

        • Camille

          It IS finished now, as there is what there is, nothing more to be composed by poor Donizetti, so should we not at least respect his hard work, or acknowledge the adjustments necessary to put it on?

          That is all that I am interested in.

    • Camille

      Here is the remainder of the Ricordi Postscript in the Critical Edition, from page XLIX, by Roger Parker and Gabriele Dotto, which also includes some explanation on the Overture, which ardath_bey was wondering about:

      “The first of these concerns the Overture, which survives in a single, non-autograph manuscript copy (referred to in the edition as Bc), and in piano reduction in rR. Even though the autograph score of the Overture seems not to have survived, we can be certain from documentary evidece that Donizetti wrote the piece. Why not include it in the main body of the edition? Two points argue for its relegation to an Appendix. First, nineteenth-century operatic tradition suggests that the Overture and the Preludio are mutually exclusive: so far as we know, no contemporary opera had both an overture and a prelude, and thus one perforce has to exclude from the main text either one piece or the other. It seemed obvious to prefer the Preludio (which exists in the autograph score and was part of the composer’s original conception) rather than the Overture (which survives complete in only one source and which was added at a later date).

      The second problem concerns the duet between Maria and Leicester (N. 5), which was added to BUONDELMONTE and then incorporated into the Milanese MARIA STUARDA. The duet is certainly present in the autograph, and its music is in Donizetti’s hand, but this autograph version was written as part of BUONDELMONTE. Another hand, one we are unable to identify, made the textual adjustments necessary to convert the duet into part of MARIA STUARDA. We have no way of knowing when this section of the score was included in the autograph. Added to this, we have a letter of 1837 (cited above) in which Donizetti advised that the duet is “intrusive,” and should be omitted from the opera. These are compelling reasons for its relegation to an Appendix. We do, though, have direct evidence that Donizetti participated in the duet’s conversion from BUONDELMONTE to MARIA, as there are in the autograph two recitatives in Donizetti’s and, both of which serve as a link between the existing N. 4 (Maria’s cavatina) and the new duet. The decision as to whether to include the duet in the main text of MARIA could hardly be more delicately poised. In the end, we judged the presence of the autograph recitatives compelling, and included the duet. But the decision is marginal, and those wishing to omit the duet will have no difficulty in justifying themselves on philological grounds.

      Of course, the final decisions on which pieces or variants to include will, quite properly, be made by those who revive the opera. Each revival will involve new conditions, new performers, a new audience. The critical edition’s primary purpose is to offer all the avilable performing material, and to place that material in its historial and philological context. Performers will weigh this material with their aesthetic and practical instincts, an eminently traditional process that will enable them to draw the full dramatic potential from this opera.”

      Please note: the authors say in the above paragraph
      “Of course, the final decisions on which pieces or variants to include will, quite properly, be made by those who revive the opera.” It doesn’t mention key changes. Especially ones which are Not noted publicly in a first representation of a work at America’s “premier” opera house. I am still waiting for someone to find something in the program notes — maybe I should read through this entire thread.

      Thanks, Gualtier, for adding the bit about the La Favorite connection. I will try to find time to look it up, and type out the Appendices with the modified materials for Malibran, which consist of relatively minor adjustments, if I can remember, with the exception of the Nuova versione del Larghett nel N. 9, “D’un cor che muore”

  • The question came up as to who pays for the trasnposed parts, and Lindoro suggested that it would be easy to scan in the score and pick a new key. Actually, he’s pretty close to the mark. Both Finale and Sibelius, the two biggest names in musical notation software, allow you to scan in music into music html files. However, the scanning software is notoriously inaccurate. The easier process, which I do all the time when I need to transpose lieder and the like, is to notate the score as published. Both programs allow you the accuracy of producing scores that are virtually identical to published versions (which may, in fact, have used the software). Once completed, changing the key is as easy as a couple of mouse clicks. And all that would be necessary is for someone to go through and check enharmonic spellings. Using this process, it’s possible to take, for example, a song such as An Die Musik and save copies in virtually every key rather than just the low, medium, and high keys available commercially.

  • Camille

    Leontyne and Grace Alert for Sirius Subscribers!

    Aida from 1967 now playing. Bergonzi and Hines are intoning Immenso Phhhhhhhttttttaaaaahhhhhh at the moment.

    • MontyNostry

      Grace! Sorry, Janet, but that’s my kind of mezzo. (And sorry, Grace, but you were always really a mezzo.)

      • kennedet

        Agreed, Monty and I stubbornly refused to accept or follow her career when she became a soprano. It was like a horrible betrayal by a close friend. WHY DID SHE DO IT?????? INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW.

        • MontyNostry

          I don’t think she was ever really a soprano, but it didn’t stop me following her career. In full soprano (as opposed to falcon) roles she could sometimes be thrilling (if a little hit-and-miss) , but sometimes she made me think of Samuel Johnson’s comment on a woman preaching: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

          • MontyNostry

            By the way, she always claimed that The Voice told her to switch to soprano and that you need to listen to The Voice. She also said that there must have been some reason why someone like Solti was offering her Salome. Of course, there could have been some soprano envy involved.

          • kennedet

            Thanks. Yes, i remember reading something years ago that hinted at some rivalry with Verrett and one switching fachs therefore the other followed suit or vice-versa (I don’t remember). However, I will always remember the beautiful lush sound of her mezzo. Her lieder and french melody as a mezzo were also very sexy. I loved the way she entered a room and bowed. She is one sexy lady!!

    • When the Met began the practice of playing historic broadcasts during dark weeks in January, I believe this Aida was the first one of the lot. I loved it.

      Price is at her considerable best, especially the third and fourth acts which she owned.

      I remember Bergonzi going for the “morrendo” effect as written in the score on the last B-flat of “Celeste Aida” and the note almost got away from him, but he trusted his technique, held onto the note and finished it beautifully. I was instantly won over.

      I think you could actually hear Hines’s cries of “Radames” bouncing off the back-wall of the Met (on recording!), such was the power of the voice.

      And Grace was simply UH-mazing.

      • MontyNostry

        I think Amneris really was Grace’s role. Astonishing to think she sang it at the age of 23 in Paris for her operatic debut. And even more amazing that she still has voice left over 50 years later, especially after everything she put it through in the 80s!

        • Camille

          I give the palm to La Grace in this performance, as Lee sounds scratchy and patchy in the middle, albeit beautiful high notes. Grace’s voice sounds so sopranoish here as well! I can understand how she went for Abigaille!

          Best of all is Bergonzi in this Aida; like a stream of liquid gold. Oh well, they have flown like a ray to heaven and Grace now invokes PACE!

          Indeed. For us all.

          • MontyNostry

            The first half of the scene seems to have disappeared from YouTube, but this (Orange 1977)is plenty to be going on with.

          • luvtennis

            Not to make excuses, but ’66-68 were incredibly demanding years for her. It’s a wonder she didn’t take a year off afterwards.

          • Bianca Castafiore

            Well, Cammillissima, in 1977, La Grazia (today’s birthday girl) considered herself a full soprano saying she’d no longer do Orfeo, Dalila or Azucena, and even proclaiming Bruennhilde and Isolde in her future (in a NYT interview in 1976 or so) because Mme Lehmann said so. By then she had already done (or on the verge of doing) Tosca, Lady Macbeth, Salome, Norma, Abigaille and Chimene.

            Happy Birthday, Mme Bumbry!!!!!!

        • Agreed. It brought out all her virtues: the plummy colour of her chest notes, the thrilling spin on her high notes, the requisite dignity for the imperious moments, the passion verging on hysteria for the fourth act, and finally, beautifully placed pace d’imploros at the very end. Probably my favourite Amneris of all.

          • “t’imploro”, not “d’imploro”

          • MontyNostry

            … and sexy with it -- not some kind of battleaxe.

          • kennedet

            I think there is a recording of “Amazing Grace” singing a rock ballad on one of her You Tube short documentaries. Also, amazing!!…. It made me feel that she could have been a successful at cross-over singer, although I’m glad she didin’t attempt it. Her Bess was not my favorite. She sounded like a “diva” in Catfish Row. I think it had a lot to do with her attitude towards the role, when interviewed.You can’t give your all to a role , if you think it’s degrading to your race, which I totally disagreed with.

          • MontyNostry

            Grace did make a crossover album, and I think even released a single called ‘Natalie’. And didn’t she collaborate with Dionne Warwick?

            She nails the crossover thing here. As ever, not to be messed with!

          • Bianca Castafiore

            Monty, did she ever sing a duet with Sinatra? I read something about that but have not seen/heard any evidence of it.

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    Blood and gore warning
    Here is a montage of the best stagings of the veal bastarda scene:

    • Camille

      I prefer Veal Marsala.

  • manou
    • phoenix

      I hereby nominate Marion Lignana Rosenberg for the role of Elisabetta in the very next performance of Maria Stuarda.

  • ianw2

    Be warned O Meade, O Moore, for this is thy future.

  • Camille

    According to this, kashania, Maria Stuarda would have been Anna Netrebko! Didn’t she say in an interview she was offered another of the Donizetti trilogy and felt Bolena would be best for her voice? I seem to recall such but don’t how or when I saw it. The thought of Gheorghiu as Bolen is an intriguing one, after hearing the beautiful rendition of the scena finale on YouTube. Fleming in Roberto Devereux—I don’t even want to imagine!

    Interesting to see which of these do actualize—the Ring, e.g.

    • Ah, I remembered wrong. Yes, there was an interview in which Netrebko said that she felt her voice was too heavy for Maria Stuarda and too light for Elisabetta, but right for Anna Bolena.

      I wonder if the low-lying parts of Anna Bolena would expose Gheorghiu’s weakness in the lower-mid voice. Also, Maria Stuarda is the lightest of the three queens which is why I thought it the best fit for Gheorghiu. But I don’t know how interested she is in learning new rep. For example, we’ve bemoaned before the fact that she never went near Mozart. The Countess would seem like a lovely fit…

      • Camille

        Oh, then you do remember that interview with Netrebko and I didn’t make it up. Well, I think she made the right decision.

        Right at the moment I am feeling badly for Angie. No matter what a happy face one puts on it, the end of a marriage of that many years is, well, a very serious thing. I do hope she has a loveboat on the backburner to take the place of Bobby Baby. They were the golden couple. Well, we all know how THAT goes………!!!!!

        What about a Elettra for Angie? Too much? Donn’Elvira? not the primadonna part so she would not accept?

        • I think Elettra might be too much. On the other hand, Angie is known to save her voice for the big moments and then pour out a surprising amount of sound. Elettra is essentially three arias (and a quartet and trio that don’t tax the singer). Still, don’t think her voice has the right thrust for the part.

          Re: Donna Elvira. If it was good enough for Schwarzkopf and Te Kanawa… but I just don’t think she is interested in singing Mozart.

          • armerjacquino

            I’ve said it before, and it’s never ever going to happen, but I would love to hear Gheorghiu in some Strauss- Marschallin, Arabella, VLL.

          • MontyNostry

            Does she ever sing anything in German? Incidentally, I’ve always thought that it was a perfect voice for Donna Elvira, though it would mean sharing the stage with too many other female singers and somehow Anna is the prima of the donne -- though I remember reading that Zerlina used to be considered the star female role in the show (why, I can’t think).

          • I agree with all those choices. Has she ever sung anything in German?

          • armerjacquino

            Monty- I’d always assumed the Zerlina thing was a question of mid 19thC values. Virtue in peril, the unspoiled peasant girl, simple ‘airs’ to sing instead of complex dramatic stuff… lots of opportunities for dive to look winsome with a shepherd’s crook.

          • bassoprofundo


            Sorry for hijacking the thread but I wanted to ask you a quick question. Do you happen to know if the dress rehearsals at COC are open to everyone? I’m going to be in Toronto for the dress of Clemenza and would like to see it but as far as I can tell on the website they only let little kids in! is that true?

          • Clita del Toro

            Gheorghiu as the Marschallin--eeeeek.

          • armerjacquino

            Clita- we might need a little more than ‘eeeeek’. What exactly would you dislike? As I said, it’s never going to happen so no need to reach for the smelling salts.

            I think her voice would suit the role very well- there’s nothing that would faze her vocally in there and I think her soft-grained tone would be a lovely fit. Acting-wise I think she could be touching, if probably in the style of some of the grander Marschallins.

          • MontyNostry

            And she’d love having the whole middle act to repair her lipstick.

          • Clita del Toro

            Oh, just the thought of that bitch singing one of my favorite roles is eeeek-provoking. I am sure she would sing it well.

          • manou

            Well -- the first time I saw Gheorghiu she was a delectable Zerlina opposite the Don Giovanni of Tom Allen. Somehow she did not get top billing.

          • Camille

            Well, all righty then.

            How about Angie as Vitellia Tonnata?

            Maybe the Elettra is a bit too much but I think she would sweep the stage as Elvira.

            Look, she admits to 47. The party is over. Got to look at this mittelrollen and there are not all that many for her. Not like she will suddenly sing Ortrud or Kostelnicka.

            Just a thought.

          • bassoprofundo: Yes, the COC dress rehearsals are for students mostly, with the few remaining tickets going to volunteers, artists and staff. Chris Alden’s production looks interesting!!

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            I’m not sure why Elettra would be too much. Without wanting to re-open the whole Tosca debate, surely the fact that she has sung that role almost more often than any other (at least recently) means she could make it through a role which, as Kashania says, is essentially 3 arias all centered on the upper-middle and lower-top where she has no projection issues. If she can summon up the temprament for Act II of Tosca and be heard through that orchestra, which she can, then there is no reason to suppose she couldn’t cope as Elettra.

            Moot point of course, for the reasons others have given.

            As for whether she has sung in German, she does an uncanny Janowitz impression in Wie bist du eine Blume which is somewhere on YouTube. I don’t recall much about the quality of the pronunciation, but she was game for a crack at every language in creation on that CD she did about 15 years ago with the black and white photo on the front of her in 50s garb (can’t think where she got the inspiration for that look).

          • And that booklet B&W photo with her posing with a 40s plane in the background is a not altogether unsucessful winsome wince at a very similar photo of Bidu Sayao. I love the “My World” album. The Ladino / Greek songs are especially successful IMO. Ditto the Poulenc.

  • Feldmarschallin

    Vitellia might be a bit low for Angie. Vocally the Marschallin would be a better fit. Even Elettra but I doubt she will be singing any of them. One doesnt start singing Mozart towards the end of the career if you never went near him before except for Zerlina. She could have been a lovely Countess too…but years ago.

  • Well I finally went and saw it and I have to agree with almost everything you said. The opera is overall, underwhelming and I ended up leaving at intermission.

    DiDonato’s acting was, as usual, quite lovely and heart warming, but her singing was forced. The top register had a bleat when suing at full volume and went flat during pianissimi. I have to wonder if the role is just too high for her, even in this transposition. Perhaps she’s moved into the higher tessitura too quickly? Or perhaps the release of her recent VD is overwhelming her. I would imagine that Stuarda is a role that one prepares for years, allowing the muscle memory to settle in undisturbed.

    I liked the singing of the Elizabeth but was confused as to why she insisted on walking like a pirate. Is there a biography somewhere that presents the famous queen as a swashbuckler with an ulcer? Even if the data exists that Elizabeth walked like a man, it is distracting to watch and does not fit with the sparkling radiance of Donizetti’s music, or with the sleek opulence of this production.

    Polenzani was solid, but the role seemed a smidge on the high side for a tenor of his age.