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Erwartung at Emerson’s Bar and Grill

La Cieca wishes the divine Jessye Norman the very best of luck with her newly-released autobiography Stand Up Straight and Sing, because—not to put too fine a point on it—it doesn’t look like the diva is going to make much of a go of her second career as a saloon singer.  


  • 1
    Maury D says:

    For a moment I imagined Madame Norman at Marie’s, though in my lovely reverie time had been, alas, kinder to her voice. Well, I suppose it’s not too tragic to rest on one’s laurels knowing you are many people’s fondest memory as Ariadne or Cassandre, and something like definitive in the VLL.

    • 1.1
      Maury D says:

      I mean, my god:

      • 1.1.1
        OpinionatedNeophyte says:

        People age. She began her career in the late 1960s. What do people want exactly?

          Camille says:

          “What do people want exactly?”

          They want to be able to mock a famous person with perfect ease and impunity. Take the wind out of the sails of a once potent figure. Make fun of someone who succeeded against great odds to accomplish a great deal.

          Keep on, keeping’ on, Miss Jessye. Have fun and don’t let the fuckers stop ya.

          Cocky Kurwenal says:

          Funny, I said more or less the same thing to you recently, ON,when you were expressing disappointment at Battle’s inability to cheat the aging process. Why is it Jessye gets a pass when Kathleen Battle doesn’t?

          • luvtennis says:

            Could it be because, while mercurial in temperament, Jessye was not known for terrorizing the help???

      • 1.1.2
        Feldmarschallin says:

        I shall never forget that Ariadne with her and Gruberova in 1985 nor the yearly Lieder- oder Konzertabende in Salzburg. Every summer she appeared and that is the right word and we were all waiting to see what she would wear since she made a grand entrance always and every year she looked stunning. Then the Karajan Wagner matinee. Mahler with Abbado.

          kashania says:

          The early lieder recitals were remarkable. I have a couple of recordings of recitals she gave in her 20s and the promise she showed was extraordinary. Her singing later developed mannerisms but in those early recitals, she showed remarkable maturity, wedded to an unfussy delivery, great pointing of text, marvelous musicality, and of course a stunningly beautiful voice.

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            Don’t make too much of those mannerisms. There’s a lot to be said for artists who delineate a truly individual style.

    • 1.2
      kashania says:

      And probably one of the two or three greatest renditions of Isolde’s Transfiguration evah!

      • 1.2.1
        Cocky Kurwenal says:

        Funny, I’ve tried to ‘get’ this Liebestod but I just can’t -- she sounds stretched to me. This is a truly wonderful rendition from Jessye, IMO:

  • 2
    m. croche says:

    You know, she wasn’t half bad sharing Cage’s Songbook with Joan La Barbara and Meredith Monk at the SF Symphony. Use her as a narrator for “A Survivor From Warsaw”, the speaking parts in “Gurrelieder”, the third movement of the Berio Sinfonia, “Persephone”, “Le Roi David”. Composers, write something wild for her to do…

  • 3
    Cara Speme says:

    My favorite scream.

    • 3.1
      Clita del Toro says:

      Not as good as Leonie’s scream!

      • 3.1.1
        kashania says:

        Agreed. Nothing like Leonie’s. If we’re going to praise Jessye’s Sieglinde, this splendidly sung clip (capped with a magnificent high A) is a much better example.

          messa di voce says:

          “capped with a magnificent high A”

          At which point, she’s completed a 20 yard walk downstage with her back turned on the object of her affection to get to the sweet spot near the orchestra. Not criticizing Ms. Norman, but I had forgotten how hopeless the staging was even when the production was new.

          • kashania says:

            Darling, you can hardly expect a grand diva to remain upstage at the climax of her aria! Couldn’t agree more about the hopeless staging.

          Clita del Toro says:

          Well , Norman is fabulous here. I don’t think that the scream Is that important or required, but it can be fun.

          • Poison Ivy says:

            Glorious twincest orgasm!

            I remember seeing a revival of the Schenk Walkure where Waltraud Meier started writhing on the floor when Siegmund whipped out the sword.

  • 4
    messa di voce says:

    Off topic, but seriously, if anyone really wanted the Met to keep this stagng of the Ring around for another decade or two, I don’t know where to begin . . .

  • 5
    SilvestriWoman says:

    Aww, c’mon -- this clip is actually pretty lovely. If she’d transposed it down a step or two, I’d bet it would have been fairly compelling. Unlike a lot of opera singers, Norman has total respect for Bernstein’s material, keeping it simple and rid of classical flourishes. I’d far sooner by a ticket to her club set than this “jazzy” chanteuse.

    • 5.1
      La Cieca says:

      You’re setting the bar very low here.

      • 5.1.1
        KCB says:

        That’s all you got?

      • 5.1.2
        SilvestriWoman says:

        Ha!!! Well, here’s Hampson singing the same tune as Jessye.

        What I appreciate about Norman is that she keeps it more like my favorite version of the tune. httpv://

    • 5.2
      Clita del Toro says:

      OY vey, it shouldn’t happen to a dog!

    • 5.3
      la vociaccia says:

      There should be some variant of Godwin’s law that every time a classical singer tries something jazzy, someone has to jump in to rip on Fleming.

      This shit has been old hat since 1998.

      • 5.3.1
        SilvestriWoman says:

        Only because Fleming, more than any other classical singer, presents herself as also a jazz singer. I respect that she used to sing with the great Illinois Jaxquet. In fact, it’s because of that I -- someone whose late father was a jazz writer, and as a former opera singer who has since studied jazz -- can’t understand what she’s doing. It’s most certainly not jazz.

        Peter Mattei, on the other hand, can swing.

  • 6
    DeepSouthSenior says:

    Ouch. Ya gotta know when to hold ’em, and when to fold ’em.

    This week I’ve been listening to Diana Damrau’s CD “Forever: Unforgettable Songs from Vienna, Broadway, and Hollywood.” Now, here’s an artist at the height of her powers in repertoire perfectly suited to her. (Each listener will quibble with one or two selections, of course.) It’s a lesson in How To Do It. Please, Diana, don’t try this again in twenty-five years.

  • 7
    Buster says:

    It is hard to applaud holding a book: the woman right behind Jessye is slapping her book instead.

  • 8
    -Ed. says:

    I am dead. Y’all finally managed to kill me with this one. Not sure how to explain this typing. I proceeded directly to the ninth circle of hell, which of course is in a plush piano bar in a leafy suburb of Philadelphia. All the men here look and sound like this.

  • 9
    OpinionatedNeophyte says:

    I mistook Maury for mocking Ms. Norman with the sounds of her former glory. I suppose my query was genuinely directed at La Cieca, and I should have just done so from the get. Anyway, yes Jessye is a mess now, but I think there’s a lot of musicianship in what she does, even if the execution is not ideal. I bet every single person at those concerts enjoyed themselves.

  • 10
    • 10.1
      alejandro says:

      She speaks a lot of sense here. The public education/arts education thing is right on the money. Those of us who do not come from affluent white neighborhoods benefitted from PBS/Public libraries and arts education.

  • 11
    kennedet says:

    I wish singers with Ms. Norman’s background would settle for coaching,ONLY. Can you imagine the wealth of information someone of her caliber can give to an aspiring student? The interpretation of repertoire and the career advice would be unimaginable. I’m excited that she has in the past and will continue to give Master Classes. Many of these great singers have God given natural gifts and are not good voice teachers because they have never experienced the vocal problems many students encounter. It’s absolutely horrid to hear some of these artists deal with vocal problems by singing along with the student when they hear vocal problems as thought imitation of their career instrument will cure the voice problem. It’s sickening. I could tell many stories of students rushing to study with teachers with a “name”. I think they should go for coaching only. This happens after the technique is established. My two cents.

  • 12
    La Valkyrietta says:

    She is lucky…she is so lucky…to have been a great Ariadne, Sieglinde, etc., etc., etc.
    Best wishes Jessye!

  • 13
    Cocky Kurwenal says:

    I don’t see the problem with La Cieca’s clip. I think it’s really enjoyable -- I’d pay a lot of money to be in a speakeasy where Jessye is singing this kind of stuff.

    • 13.1
      Anna Notremolo says:

      Corky, of course each of us hears what we hear, and responds accordingly. Speaking as one who was more than, well, beaten up for my defense of another diva’s foray into such singing, I’m just asking this: If you’d simply wandered in to the speakeasy, not having seen Jessye’s name on the sandwich board outside, would you still have liked what you heard?

    • 13.2
      SilvestriWoman says:

      I’ll join you!!!

    • 13.3
      operaassport says:

      A speakeasy? Man, there are some real old fogeys here. There haven’t been speakeasies in NYC since 1934 :)

      • 13.3.1
        papopera says:

        Probably had a few bangs in a saloon with W.C. Fields. In Montreal they were called “blind pigs”

  • 14
    operaassport says:

    Definitive in VLL? That can’t be a serious statement.

    • 14.1
      RobNYNY says:

      There are so many good performances that it is hard to say that any one is definitive, but she certainly is among the superlative.

      • 14.1.1
        Clita del Toro says:

        Definitive VLL??? Which?
        Schwarzkopf, Jurinac, Della Casa, Flagstad, Norman, Söderström, Janowitz

          Feldmarschallin says:

          For me the best versions are in no special order: Schwarzkopf 1, Jurinac, Flagstad and Harteros Thielemann. Mattilas are not good at all even though I do like her.

      • 14.1.2
        marshiemarkII says:

        Clitisssssima, yesssss to Janowitz of course, but another major contender has to be the divine Anna Tomowa-Sintow also with Herbie

          Tamino says:

          I think there is no definitive VLL, which is one thing that makes listening to these songs so rewarding. I must own 15+ versions, and I find transcendent moments in many of them.

          To the running list I would add Auger, Popp. Te Kanawa, Margaret Price. Even Caballé’s unidiomatic reading never fails to move me.

          • Clita del Toro says:

            Marschiest and Tamino: I don’t own fifteen sets of VLL, but I have more versions of it than any other selection. I don’t especially like Mattila’s, even though she is one of my fav singers. I bet M. Price’s is gorgeous--haven’t heard it. I seem to remember that Schwanewilms has recorded the songs, but I am not sure.?? That’s one I would buy --also ATS’s version.

            • Tamino says:

              The M. Price is a live version, which you can find on YouTube, and there is an excellent live performance by Schwanewilms online also. I don’t know if she has made a studio recording.

              While I almost always prefer live recordings of opera, VLL is a piece for which I usually prefer a studio version to a live recording. Little vocal glitches, missed notes in the horns, audience noise, etc, intrude on the other-worldliness of the Strauss, and I don’t miss the sense spontaneity the way I do in opera.

            • kashania says:

              Tamino: Interesting point about preferring studio VLL recordings. I agree with you (and I generally prefer live opera recordings as well). The songs themselves are such exquisite examples of atmosphere (a triumph of style over substance?) that one wants the kind of aural perfection that only the studio could provide.

            • luvtennis says:


              I think Anne S. has recorded the songs twice. The first recording is from almost a decade ago with Mark Elder (?) and is technically all over the place. She sounds like 4 different singers all somewhat challenged technically (and we are NOT talking Maria, who found a way to make her 3 dozen voices work as a cohesive whole in the service of the text and music, at least for a time).

              Now, I know that you are a bit more tolerant in that regard than I am, but really the Schwanewilms voice just does not seem to be properly registered and while she can get away with that in many of her roles, the VLL require sustained lyric singing across very wide intervals and Anne has not made any recordings that demonstrate this ability.

              Just listen to her Desdemona which is bizarre in the extreme.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Thanks Tamino.

          • marshiemarkII says:

            Ph Clitissssssima adoree, the ATS is quite simply sublime!!!!! the steel makes it just a tad more interesting than the equally glorious, though more serene and ethereal Gundula. Could not live without either one!!!! And of course von K is God himself!

            • marshiemarkII says:

              Clitisssima it was supposed to be Oh, and instead I made you a Ph D :-)

          • Buster says:

            Agreed, Tamino. I would add Elisabeth Grümmer, Teresa Zylis-Gara, Charlotte Margiono, and Gundula Janowitz for Haitink (1968) to your list.

            It is always great hearing them live -- the balance between that huge orchestra and one singer is risky, but when it works, it is a great experience. The last singer who managed to that for me was Barbara Haveman. Looking foreward to Erin Wall at the Concertgebouw, with Andrew Davis.
            This was filmed there a long time ago. A young, and great Miranda van Kralingen:

          • Cocky Kurwenal says:

            I’d like to add a shout out for Harteros’s VLL. My own personal favourites in addition are Te Kanawa, Della Casa, Lott, and, um, Dame Gwyneth Jones (but you need a strong stomach).

            They are hard to pull off live, I agree -- the combination of large, uncovered orchestra and usually a pure lyric voice can create a lot of problems for the singer -- Hillevi Martinpelto went for nothing in them at the proms a couple of years back. Mattila is a great voice for these songs (or was until she began to lose facility and flexibility), because the timbre is so beautiful, but the sound is so large.

    • 14.2
      kashania says:

      To be fair, Maury said “something like definitive in the VLL”. I’d say RobNYNY’s assessment is on the money.

    • 14.3
      luvtennis says:

      Maybe not definitive, but I can think of no other singer, not even Flagstad, who commands the length of line, range of tonal colors, and purity of vowel sounds during melismatic passages that La Jessye brought to her recording of the work. And her ability to nagivate the high lines in Fruhling and while encompassing the depths of required by the other three songs is incredible.

      There are times during that recording when it sounds as if they brought the Pacific ocean into the studio. Epic. Just freaking epic.

      • 14.3.1
        marshiemarkII says:

        Well to be fair La Kirsten was way too old by the time the songs were written, right? she is most definitely overtaxed by them, as she is by the time of the existing recording of the Recognition Scene, which doesn’t mean that if she had had access to them in 1935 it would not be the greatest of the very greatest, but it’s the old what if game. Some things just never happened, so it’s no use imagining what it might have been :-)

          luvtennis says:

          Agree completely. By 1950, Flagstad’s vocal production was entirely “set” and that vocal production did not lend itself to the flexibility that is absolutely required by the VLL.

          But my dream VLL would be Crespin, circa ’59 on a very good day with von Karajan in the pit.

          Talk about orgasmic. They would have to affix a warning label to the recording to ameliorate its undoubtedly addictive effects.

    • 14.4
      alejandro says:

      I love VLL. I can listen to a bunch of different recordings of it. TeKanawa, Popp, Janowitz and Schwarzkopf are my faves. Don’t know Jessye’s TOO well although I have heard it.

      Sadly, my intro to VLL was Reneigh’s 2nd recording which was reissued with some arias from Otello, Thais, Eugene Onegin and Ariadne auf Naxos. While I am not a fan of the woman now, I was a total neophyte in those days and I was researching material for a play. I played that disc to death and whatever its flaws, it’s incredibly special to me. I was going through a really rough time in my life and it was a life line. It will always be a sentimental favorite even though many an opera queen would scorn me for liking it.

      It’s also that disc and some Natalie Dessay YouTube videos that got me into attending opera regularly, so I gotta give Reneigh props for being a gateway drug of sorts.

      • 14.4.1
        armerjacquino says:

        No need to apologise- I love Fleming in Strauss and you’ve also listed at least three of her best operatic roles. Not at all surprised that you’d play that disc to death.

      • 14.4.2
        Clita del Toro says:

        Alejandro, your still loving Reneigh’s VLL is just fine. It meant something to you during a bad period. We all have our “guilty pleasures.” If if helped you get through that bad period, great! :)

      • 14.4.3
        Cocky Kurwenal says:

        I have a lot of affection for Fleming’s second recording too, but I suppose I find the voice just a little bit too ‘lived-in’ and it’s really distinctive singing that a lot of people react badly to -- an absolutely ideal VLL from Fleming could have been made right in between the 2 she actually did do. But if she were doing them in London tonight I’d be there like a shot.

  • 15
    Tory Adore says:

    wow- she kills it- but I understand her desire to sing this piece (I kill it too when I try to croak it out) Lenny sure could write melodious stuff.