Cher Public

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Indian summer

“Who will dare dance with me the ancient Dagger-Dance of the Californians?” cries Castro the half-breed, smashing his knife into the dirt amidst a Fiesta in old Santa Barbara, circa 1829. To everyone’s astonishment, Natoma, last princess of the island Indians, sinks her dagger in the ground beside Castro’s. After all, the pretty American naval officer has sung a love duet with Natoma’s (whiter) school chum. What has Natoma left to live for? And someone’s blood must flow.

Victor Herbert, Irish born and German bred, was already the triumphant composer of such operettas as Babes in Toyland, The Red Mill, Mlle Modiste and Naughty Marietta when, in 1907, Oscar Hammerstein asked him to compose a grand opera on an American story for the Manhattan Opera Company. The company perished in 1910, but Herbert’s Natoma, sometimes dubbed the first American grand opera, was presented in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York in 1911 and, despite mediocre reviews, remained on the boards till 1914. Mary Garden took a fancy to the role of the unselfish convent-bred chief of the coastal tribes, dignified but passionate but, y’know, dignified. Significant high notes but also significant Looks and regal walks.

The title role, in Natoma’s first full performance in a hundred years Sunday afternoon by the Victor Herbert Renaissance Project at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music on West 37th Street, seems designed for a soprano with both a blazing top and full verismo chest voice, and how Garden (or anybody else) managed to sing the damn thing is a mystery—but you know her Dagger-Dance had them at seat’s edge. And for whom (if you hadn’t read the synopsis) was her dagger destined? The snarling half-breed? The faithless sailorman? For Natoma herself? For Neil Patrick Harris as a louche, audience-threatening transsexual nun? And in 1911, Mary’s original leading man was John McCormack. (Recordings of some numbers survive.)

“Lightly staged” (no sets, costumes or playing area) by Alyce Mott, this Natoma was patchily played by an enormous and enthusiastic orchestra under Gerald Steichen, after about nine hours of rehearsal. That was impressive, considering that Herbert, after years of Broadway pit orchestras, was a kid in a candy store on his foray into the big time. (He did get to do this once again, a one-acter called Madeleine for the Met.)

Natoma is full of sweeping tunes and sweeping effects, echoes of Puccini, Bizet, Sullivan, even Wagner, and plenteous pre-echoes of film scores of a later era. We are left in no doubt that the gardens of California are full and fragrant in the moonlight, that surf tumbles on the shore, that dark, brooding rhythms (ah those tribal bassoons!) lurk in the hills and in Indian bloodstreams. It’s kitschy, but the man took orchestration seriously and knew how to get his effects.

There were surprisingly few risible moments in the orchestra’s work, and there’s a certain variety. The dance sequence at the Fiesta gives us a habanera (with castanets), a minuet, a strident march (with brief hymn to the goddess Columbia) from a platoon of visiting American sailors—and then that Dagger-Dance! And did I mention Natoma’s Invocation of Great Manitou?

What Natoma lacks, as most of the new American operas lacked (at the Met, Gatti-Casazza made try after try to launch such a thing), was anything at all that did not reflect back on mid-nineteenth-century European opera, mediated through Broadway operetta. You’d never suspect Debussy or Richard Strauss existed. The new jazzy element, the black element that Gershwin and Arlen would exploit and celebrate, would not appear on the American opera stage for a very long time. There is nothing new here; just pallid imitation of the familiar.

The vocal lines proved, I believe, a further blow to Natoma’s chances to enter the repertory. The title role is just too tough for anyone but a star like Garden to put over. Lara Ryan has a radiant top and was beautiful when she was angry, but Natoma doesn’t stay angry for long. Ryan’s longer lines turned breathy and her chest voice was practically nonexistent. Singers who can manage chest voice (does anyone teach it any more?) often haven’t got silvery tops, and Ryan was taking on more than she or, I suspect, most sopranos can chew.

Monica Yunus, whom one has admired at the Met, played Barbara de la Guerra, Natoma’s great friend but rival in love (yeah, it’s that plot), with a similar sort of desperate striving for notes that were not attractive when they emerged. Their hypotenuse, Lieutenant Paul Merrill, was sung by tenor Tyson Miller, whose brilliant top was not matched by anything very attractive or audible below the staff. Gregory Sheppard sang Barbara’s clueless Spanish aristocrat father, displaying a sizable and venerable bass with an inclination to wobble.

The posse of bad guys was far more likably cast. Baritone Matthew Singer was suave and effective as Barbara’s jealous cousin, especially in a lovely Act I serenade, a typically winning Herbert melody. Robert Blalonek seethed with pretty phrases as Castro, whose half-breed status indicates that none of his emotional swings or daredevil behaviors will be predictable to the sedate white folks who attended the opera in 1911. (How there got to be so many half-breeds since, as every opera, operetta, horse opera and movie informs us, the different races never really find each other attractive is a great puzzle.) Tenor Colin Anderson sang a number about irresistible Spanish girls with a bright sound and real showman’s flare. Ron Loyd was the padre-ex-machina who turned up to save Natoma’s life and the opera’s third act with radiant dark tone.

Hearing Natoma more or less in full (they had to cut the last five bars of music fading away due to time constraints on use of the hall) gives one an idea of what an able, theatrical composer like Herbert was nonetheless up against in the grand opera sweepstakes. His use of “leitmotivs” is chic but doesn’t take us anyplace new or fulfilling. The scenic colors do not enhance the central story as they do in Butterfly, Carmen or Aida—they are the central story. The lovers may sing (or overhear) all the love duets they like, but we do not sense any depth of character or change of heart in their souls. Herbert was a natural but not for opera.


  • 1
    La Cieca says:

    (Not from the performance described.)

    • 1.1
      Batty Masetto says:

      It would be interesting to trace the source of the musical clichés strung up here as “characteristic” of American Indians. The open fifths, the more or less pentatonic melody, the rigorous harmonization in triads… By the time Hollywood was making sound films, the soundtrack to any Western would have been incomplete without these. Can it be merely an elaborated imitation of drums plus a chant? Any fancy ideas, Croche or anyone?

      • 1.1.1
        m. croche says:

        In the 1890s, Francis La Flesche and John Fillmore made an extensive ethnographic and musical investigation into the songs of the Omaha tribe. This was one of the first major investigations into Native American music. They were published in the Papers of the Peabody Museum and can be accessed here if you scroll down about half way through. Fillmore’s harmonizations and accompaniments are remarkably varied, but in them we can see the roots of the Indianist style you’ve identified.

        Another important source for Westernized musical Indianisms in the first decade of the 20th century was Arthur Farwell’s Wa-Wan Press -- the Internet Music Library has a selection of their scores here. Puccini used a melody from “Ghost Dance of the Zunis” for “La Fanciulla del West”.

        You might be interested in Beth Levy’s “Frontier Figures: American Music and the Mythology of the American West” -- I don’t think she has much to say about Herbert and Natoma, but she does cover Cadman’s “Shanewis”, Farwell’s Wa-Wan Press, Copland, and Virgil Thomson.

          phoenix says:

          Thanks croche for the Omaha reference. Today there are only approximately 50-60 people alive who can even speak the Siouan language Omaha -- but there still exists many, many more speakers of other related Siouan languages (in particular Lakota and Dakota).
          -- If only there had been more studies done on the traditional music & culture of all these tribes in the 19th century, but at that time the ‘accepted academic/scholastic theory’ held by most linguists was that all American tribes came from a similar culture & spoke morpheme based languages (similar to Chinese, Japanese, Korean), which is not true (although many of them do reflect some aspects of that quality). — I am only familiar with the Arizona cultural languages, of which there are 12 stemming from 3 separate linguistic traditions: Uto-Aztecan, Yuman and Na-Dené (Athabaskan). Navajo, a Na-Dené-Athabaskan language, has well over 100,000 speakers in USA (not counting México). Many linguists believe the Na-Dene language family was derived from Ket, spoken by the Ket people in the Yenisei valley of Siberia.
          -- Camille’s homeland California has even more native diversity with the largest Native American population as well as the greatest diversity of tribes & languages in the entire USA. When the Europeans arrived in California there were 300 dialects of approximately 90 distinct languages, but 90% of the population was wiped out (mostly from disease).
          -- DNA studies are extremely interesting but DNA does not preserve language, music & culture of our ancestors. It wasn’t until 1990 that the United States passed legislation to try and protect Native American language & culture: The Native American Languages Act of 1990 officially recognized the rights of native Americans to preserve language & culture.

          • m. croche says:

            Excellent points, phoenix. Sad to say, the politics of language preservation are still quite contentious.

          • Camille says:

            Old Santa Barbara Daze:

            I’ve not attended so I can’t tell you anything about it but it is a pretty big deal in SB.

            phoenix, it was astonishing to learn there had once been so many languages/dialects! Little trace remains today. Thanks for a most interesting post of facts.

            • phoenix says:

              You are very welcome Camille -- don’t worry, your state still has the largest population of native Americans in USA -- 362,801. And if you count in the known mixed race population they bring it up to 413,382 (2003 California census). But there are many, many more mixed race native Americans who aren’t even aware of it (or don’t even care about it). Because of the different ethnic backgrounds of the original source tribes themselves, there is no one ‘type’ to look for.
              -- On matters operatic, there is a broadcast this Friday 18 July at 3 pm on RAI Tre from Martina Franca with Fabio Luisi conducting of Alfredo Casella’s La Donna Serpente, featuring Zuzana Markova in the title role. The only US performance La Donna Serpente took place at the old Beacon Theater Café, November 2011, sponsored by La Cieca’s Parterianni Opera Company featuring Mme. Dawn Fatale in the title role. I was present at that performance -- I am sure Markova will not prove to be competitive with our own La Fatale. See cell phone foto below of that performance (can you identify the other parterriani in the back?)

            • Camille says:

              Sly devil!!! Hahaha! Who knew that Madame Fatale was such a gifted interpreter? There are perhaps Krunoslav and armerjacquino slugging it out in the background—other than that, I wiuldn’t know.

              That is very sobering about all those groups of people and would explain and fill in a lot of questions I had about the disparate types I would note. As far as language is concerned, not only Indian dialects may have evaporated but when I was a young thing, nice little girls were pretty actively frowned upon who wanted to study Spanish. When I would try to speak to Spanish speakers in my own patented brand of Spanglish, why they would either embrace me effusively, or back away in confusion. I did not encounter the same attitude with the Cubans in Florida, in fact they encouraged me to speak and helped me to a level of proficiency which has since been lost.

              There is a great deal of rancor about the use of Spanish which I have wished could be overcome so as to ensure greater understanding between groups and finding a wider horizon and context to work out myriad problems facing those who live in the golden realm of Califia. Invano! So many terrible things have been done that understanding will be hard to come by, if it ever will.

              Very interesting and thank you once more, phoenix.

          Batty Masetto says:

          That’s very intriguing, Croche. (And the Wa-Wan Press did beautiful printing, didn’t it?)

    • 1.2
      almavivante says:

      Coming to this discussion late, but I enjoyed this clip immensely. If I’d heard it without knowing the source, I’d have guessed it was from the soundtrack of a Maria Montez movie. “Cobra Woman--the Opera” anyone?

  • 2
    Batty Masetto says:

    Fun review, thanks John.

    (I have seen some of those tribal bassoons lurking in the hills, and believe me, they’re no joke.)

  • 3
    phoenix says:

    unbelievable _ but why?

  • 4
    DeepSouthSenior says:

    How about a shoutout for the late, great, lamented (by some) “I’m an Indian, Too” from Annie Get Your Gun. The PC crowd has killed it for today’s audiences. At least we still have Betty Hutton on film.

    • 4.1
      armerjacquino says:

      It’s been performed in a version okayed by the Native Nations company, which seems fair enough.

      It’s all very well to rail against the ‘PC crowd’ but, you know, some might say it’s a good thing to be careful about patronising stereotypes, however well-meaning.

  • 5
    Camille says:

    “We are left in no doubt that the gardens of California are full and fragrant in the moonlight, that surf tumbles on the shore, that dark, brooding rhythms (ah those tribal bassoons!) lurk in the hills and in Indian bloodstreams.

    Oh golly! You made me so, SO homesick and I have to miss this one, too! Dammit!!!!! O stelle inospite!!!

    Yeah, his Madeleine was another bomba, based on a silly kind of French farce conceit, starring the redoubtable Frances Alda, aka Signora Gatti-Casazza. Formerly had an Opera Quarterly from sometime in the nineties with a substantial article on the work and its genesis and, well, ultimate eclipse into obscurity despite everyone’s best intentions. It’s now on some library shelf somewhere.

    That’s the trouble with good intentions, the surest pathway to rack and ruin. Gatti sure can’t be faulted for lack of trying!

    The Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara area are still held in a kind of awed respect and there is some kind of reservation or another; or perhaps a preserve, north of Santa Barbara proper.

    So sorry not to see the Dagger Dance.

  • 6
    Camille says:

    Here is Madame Risë, in her best chest voice, singing the Big Number from Natoma. It is probably transposed, would you say JoYo?

    Funny, I was just thinking of the beautiful mission of Santa. Barbara the other day. Hard to see for all the truckloads of turistas. It is a truly beautiful place.

    • 6.1
      Flora del Rio Grande says:

      Camille, creative of you to include that V. Herbert bit, but the television announcer was wrong — Mary Garden did not sing at the Metropolitan Opera house ever, in anything. I assume Natoma was heard with Miss Garden at the Manhattan Opera House. John Y. can verify this, but I just did a quick check of the Annals of the Metropolitan opera and for the season 1910-1911, and the
      season after, Natoma is not listed nor is Garden on the roster. I agree with John, the music is pretty much “movie music,” not that such is necessarily bad.
      Poor old Stevens — she always sang with such effort, like it was hard work for her. Maybe it was. Famous old Madam Schoen-Renee the general in the voice department at Juilliard in Stevens’ day should have found a way to give Rise an easier technique, make her more pleasing to hear. I saw an old Firestone tape on here the other night of Steber — and it was a very good night for her, she seemed rested and well, and the voice was just spectacular! Her technique came from Prof. Whitney at the New England Conservatory. Yet, in the house, Steber and Stevens as the Marschallin and Octavian were a pretty good-sounding duo!

      • 6.1.1
        La Cieca says:

        Actually that’s not strictly true. Garden never sang with the Metropolitan Opera Company, but in the years just before World War I, the “Chicago-Philadelphia Opera Company” played some Tuesday night performances in the Met while the company was out of town playing in Philadelphia. For example, this article notes that Garden and the Chicago-Philadelphia forces were scheduled to present “Pelleas” at the Met the second week of February, 1911.

        These performances were a sort of stopgap to present Garden and the other Hammerstein discoveries after the Manhattan Opera House closed down. Later in the decade the Chicago company toured to New York and played seasons at the Lexington Theatre.

        I’m not sure exactly how you could find out how many times Garden sang at the Metropolitan, maybe 15-20 times over the course of three seasons?

      • 6.1.2
        Will says:

        “Poor old Stevens”? She was THE Carmen, THE Octavian, she had big successes with Orfeo and Dalila. She had more roles than the rather staid repertory at the MET at that time could offer her, which was a great shame. You make her sound like some kind of second tier has-been.

          Ilka Saro says:

          Agreed. Stevens was superb.

          • Flora del Rio Grande says:

            Ilka: As Stevens used to sing in Fledermaus, “Chacun a son gout!”

            • Ilka Saro says:

              De gustibus non disputandum est. And at my certain age, diffentiating between goût and gout is a subtle art.

              For me, with Stevens, there are many nuances of expression that can be summed up by the word “sensual”.

          Flora del Rio Grande says:

          Will -- It’s a matter of taste on the one hand and adroit commercial promotion on the other. I kept running into Stevens in opera performances (more than I wanted to), and never found her first rate. The voice was thick and produced with effort; the acting was very studied and contrived — too much to my taste. On the other hand RCA and others promoted the heck out of her career and lotsa people made good money out of it. All of which is fine, but I have heard many Octavians in more recent times who far outshown Stevens vocally and histrionically. Again, to my taste. That’s about as far as I want to push it. Novotna, btw, gave Stevens a good run for her money as Octavian at the time. And so did Lily Djanel for Carmen, a soprano Carmen.
          Your term “second-tier” is about right for Rise. I know you don’t agree.
          Consider this: I think it fair to say the ‘product’ Dorothy Kirsten delivered to the stage was at least as studied and contrived as that delivered by Stevens, yet I found her very much more interesting and satisfying as an artist and more noteworthy vocally. Wonder why? I don’t know exactly; let’s call it charisma. I was and still am amused by the fact that back in those days when Blanche Thebom essayed her first Carmen at the Met, Eleanor Roosevelt, of all unlikely people, wrote a “My Day” newspaper column raining on poor Blanche. Wow! Well some people can feel very strongly about their Carmen. May the Lord deliver me!

          SANTA FE NEWS; This morning’s Santa Fe New Mexican brings front page news that two lead singers have pulled out of productions at the opera — most surprising is the case of the Chinese tenor Warren Mok, who originally commissioned the opera Sun Yat-Sen for Hong Kong where he sang the world premiere. He has left Santa Fe citing requirements for his services in China. What the real story is may emerge in due time, but considering Mok is a tenor, an impresario, and a stage director, citing ‘artistic differences’ would have been, perhaps (and this is only a guess), a more on-target explanation. Furthermore, the scheduled Norina (Tatulescu), in Don Pasquale has sung only one of three of her contracted performances and left town for the season naming “allergies” as the problem. Lucky audiences will see and hear new young star soprano Brenda Rae in her place as Norina. Hooray! Not to pun! <:) The final two Norinas will be apprentice Shelley Jackson, who has already done the role twice to positive notices. Brenda Rae moped up last summer as Violetta; I look fwd to hearing her in the Donizetti as well as her scheduled roles in Mozart and Strawinski. Lucky is the company that has Brenda Rae on their roster.
          The Sun Yat-Sen role will be taken by second year apprentice tenor Joseph Dennis, who has already made a strong impression in a small role in Fidelio. He has been understudy to Mok and is said to be prepared.
          The Chinese opera ("somewhat re-orchestrated and arranged for western ears," we were told when it was announced a couple of years back), will open July 29 for a run of four performances. Ho hum.

          • kashania says:

            This is an interesting discussion. I’m not terribly familiar with Stevens and only know her from her Carmen which I have on the Met broadcast with Tucker. I like her interpretation and find a good deal of charisma in her performance. Yet, the voice is not the greatest on top and on the whole, I have wondered about her legendary reputation. One day, I’ll hear her Octavian and Dalila and have a better idea.

            • armerjacquino says:

              Kash, there’s a Met broadcast of ROSENKAV from 1949 on Naxos which gives a good idea of Stevens’ Octavian. Steber’s Marschallin is worth hearing, too. I’m sure it’ll be on spotify.

            • Flora del Rio Grande says:

              Madame Kashie: Stevens was a good Octavian, as good as her voice allowed (little float), and she had the advantage of having been taken to Europe by her mentor Mme Schoen-Renee in the late 1930s where she received excellent coaching, language study and a bit of performance opportunity. It was always her best role. Dalila and Mignon were her frequent assignments and were adequate, to my taste little more than that. I was a backstage helper at a Met (tour) Samson when I was a college boy and was amazed at the effort Stevens seemed to have to make; she kept a thermos of hot tea in the scenery and would sneak out of the audience’s sight and gulp the tea, and fan herself with hankie and take deep breaths and she just seemed so stressed. She just was not fey or vulnerable enough to convince me as Mignon and the voice lacked fluency/fluidity — she worked at it, but a lighter lyric mezzo or a soprano proved more comme il faut — today I think di Donato would be perfect as Mignon, and yesteryear Lucrezia Bori of all people made a feast of it. I remember Olin Downes commenting on a Mignon at the Met with Stevens, Melton and Munsel, described it as “amateur night at the Met.” Oh dear!
              I wish someone would take up Mignon and revive it for today’s
              audiences. It is a very beautiful score. Back at that Samson with Stevens, Del Monoco was the strong tenor and it was so amusing to see him during the performance, back stage, take a big swig of Johnnie Walker, gargle and swish it in his mouth, then spit it upon the stage — his wife, knitting something with green yarn I recall — was standing there and said to perplexed onlookers, “The whisky make the mouth wet!” I’ll bet! He had missed his Bb’s
              and wife shook her head as if to say, “not again!” Amusing times.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Well, poor,poor Rïse was good enough for those opera lovers in Vienna, Prague and elsewhere in the late 30’s--those people who were alive when Strauss composed Rosenkavalier; and the same people had heard all the other greats of the early 20th century. They didn’t boo her off the stage, or did they? She couldn’t have been that awful, second-rate.
              I saw Rïse as Carmen, Dalila, Orfeo, Octavian and Giulietta in Hoffmann and enjoyed her performances.

            • kashania says:

              Thanks, AJ. I’ll have to find that one. Would love to hear Steber’s Marschallin too.

            • Krunoslav says:

              Stevens sang two (2) performances in Vienna, as Octavian, her best role. (It sure as hell wasn’t Orfeo or Dalila from the recorded and taped evidence.)

              That is fewer performances than Mildred Miller sang there.

            • peter says:

              Speaking of singers you may have had to experience live, I’ve often wondered about Licia Albanese. Hardly anyone ever speaks of her on Parterre. She had a long long Met career and was an audience favorite. She must have had an amazing technique as she sang a lot of Butterflies (a supposed voice wrecker). I’ve just never warmed to her sound and wondered maybe I was missing something. Anyone remember her live performances?

          • Hippolyte says:

            Unless I’m missing your drift, presumably you meant Brenda Rae “mopped up” as Violetta rather “moped up” which is quite a different thing altogether.

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Ooops, I put the dots on the wrong vowel. LOL

            • Clita del Toro says:

              Peter, I saw Licia as Mimi, Butterfly, Tosca and Violetta. Many people don’t like her voice, but she was an exciting performer and I enjoyed her performances. She she was very much beloved by Met audiences, she gave her all and knew her stuff.
              I remember one funny remark made by a friend. It was later in Licia’s Met career when you could audibly hear her inhale between phrases.
              He said that when she inhaled, “She sucked in the first two rows of the orchestra” (I guess you had to be there). ;)

            • peter says:

              Thanks Clita. I’ve enjoyed her Boheme broadcasts but have a hard time with some of her other roles. She must have been very sympathetic on stage.

          • The_Kid says:

            ….also, let’s not forget that Ms. Stevens was equally adept in the language of the operetta (Der Praliné-Soldat) and musical theater (The King and I). I just regret that she never played one of the formidable turban-and-walking-stick Varnay ladies.

            • The_Kid says:

              oh, I see that the film version of the Calorie-laden Soldier had nothing to do with the operetta. Well, Fledermaus then.

      • 6.1.3
        Camille says:

        Flora, amica—
        I have utterly no idea about what your intention is in saying that Stevens sang with a great deal of tension and would not and cannot ever know, as I never saw her perform live. This TV clip is, furthermore, out of sync.

        Back in the sixties I heard a great great deal about how great she was and I remember her good work with the Metropolitan National Touring arm, whatever it was called.

        Over the years I would occasionally hear a recording over the radio and she never made that much an impression, that is, until I heard over Sirius a couple or three years ago her Mignon, which I thought very fine and which has led me to reconsider her work. I now have the CD which was issued from the Met and I do enjoy it.

        As far as her tension-ridden singing, I could not say a thing. madame Schoen-René was either a pupil of or a pupil of a disciple of the very great Pauline Viardot-Garcia. Therefore, I would conclude from this fact Ms. Stevens studied some version or another of the famous Garcia method. I no longer recall anything from the nio on Risë Stevens, colourfully called Subway to the Met, which I read in my teenaged years, along with the enticingly named St. Louis Woman, the helen Traubel autobio. Perhaps there was some description of the training she received by Mme. Schoen-René.

        At any rate, part of the reason I

      • 6.1.4
        Camille says:

        Flora, amica—
        I have utterly no idea about what your intention is in saying that Stevens sang with a great deal of tension and would not and cannot ever know, as I never saw her perform live. This TV clip is, furthermore, out of sync.

        Back in the sixties I heard a great great deal about how great she was and I remember her good work with the Metropolitan National Touring arm, whatever it was called.

        Over the years I would occasionally hear a recording over the radio and she never made that much an impression, that is, until I heard over Sirius a couple or three years ago her Mignon, which I thought very fine and which has led me to reconsider her work. I now have the CD which was issued from the Met and I do enjoy it but do not find a perceptible degree of tension you cite. Frankly, I am stumped, but my experience is auditory, save a few clips I have seen and know not how they may have been altered.

        Madame Schoen-René was either a pupil of or a pupil of a disciple of the very great Pauline Viardot-Garcia. Therefore, I would conclude from this fact Ms. Stevens studied some version or another of that family’s famous “Garcia method”. I no longer recall anything from the bio on Risë Stevens, colourfully called Subway to the Met, which I read in my young years, along with the enticingly named St. Louis Woman, the Helen Traubel autobio. Perhaps there was some description of the training she received by Mme. Schoen-René.

        At any rate, part of the reason I participate in the parterre party is to research and reform my opinions and subjective feelings about singers, because of the fact my exposure to them, at a formative age, was rather limited and chiefly through long-playing discs, which I consider a “dead” experince, no matter what improvements in sonic recording.

        Therefore, I value highly the opinions of yourself, Clita, and others, who have actually heard singers of at least some historic importance, alive and well in situ.
        However, I always view others’ opinions with a big caveat as I do well understand how many personal, subtle, ingrained, and unconscious factors are involved in making judgments on musicians. Not to mention the possibility of personal factors, such as being a friend or intimate, or if a musician/singer has somehow personally given offence, ergo motivating a personal vendetta as primary motivating force in voicing one’s opinions.

        How can I know for sure, in the context of this forum?

        So, thank you, Flora amica, and I bid you a happy opera season.

          Camille says:

          I note you have already mentioned the Mignon and disliked it.

          What more can I say but “Chacun à son goût”?

          Flora del Rio Grande says:

          K, Dearest Treasured One: Well we may disagree a bit over this and that, but how very nice to find someone on PTB who knows the name Anna Schoen-Rene!! And your comments are sooo civilized! Brava!! Of course she trained little Rise in The Garcia Method, as did most of the voice teachers in those olden days — and most often there were good results. But not every voice student responded to The Method with equally desirable results. One of my (two) voice teachers was S-R’s pupil and he was over and finished after eight years at the Met (Hugh Thompson). I don’t want to saw this old log any more. I’ll just conclude that people hear singers very subjectively — one man’s songbird is another man’s chalk on the blackboard. I liked Rise personally; she was quite a decent human being and did good work, as you pointed out, in her non-Met hours. There are so many mezzos today -- really good ones, dramatic, lyric, leggiero, the works! The opera world has some fine singers in all categories; well, maybe a little shorted in the dramatic/Verdi baritone department, but the cycle will turn and they will show up again in due course. Bye the bye, Kashie, if you have not read Anna Schoen-Rene’s memoirs, a very strange book, you might enjoy it just as a voice culture oddity; she was, after all, a very historic figure. Miss Harshaw called her The Generalissimo, and told me that most of the Juilliard voice students did too — more or less living in terror of her. (K, if you want to read the
          A. S-R book and cannot find it I’ll lend you mine if we can figure out how to make contact.)

          That chat from Clitina about Albanese!!! A dear old mixed-bag was Licia. But she was an elegant and stylish lady who wore Persian lamb and black kid gloves with great panache. On a very good night she could do a pretty nice sing for you, in her lyric Italian roles, but when it came to Mozart or Gounod, ooops. Not quite that refined. Still, she was a force of nature and I would want her in my opera company. After she left the Met and everyone said she was finished, I heard her sing a knockout Fedora one season and the next a highly presentable Violetta with the old St Louis opera; Licia was a pro! And like Kirsten she kept her top notes well into retirement. You know, Kashie, like you and Clita!!! (:)
          To be continued.
          Flora della bella Rio Grande

          • phoenix says:

            Flora, your comments are always interesting and relevant. How about writing your memoirs in your next book? I, for one, would be very interested in reading it.
            -- Yes, Licia & Kirsten kept their ‘top notes well into retirement’ -- but the middle/bottom suffered in consequence, as I know you remember when you saw Kirsten’s last Fioras, Toscas & Minnies. But it doesn’t really matter anymore -- listen to the goddess l’Opolais, not even close to retiring yet, yet she seems to be in the same situation.

  • 7
    Flora del Rio Grande says:

    Thank you, Hippo! Mopped it was. She was given an impossible task in a miserable production (wasn’t it Pelly, done for Dessay a few seasons earlier?!), that had her lying on her tummy on a box in Act I for much of Sempre Libera — finally she stood up at the end for her Eb. I take my hat off to singers today to endure through the obstacles of regietheatre. Brenda Rae has a spectacular and very full lyric soprano with much coloratura facility and an astounding top extension -- the Eb in Traviata just floated out, no effort at all! She and Erin Wall are the two divas in Mozart’s Impresario and it should be a vocal feast.

    • 7.1
      Satisfied says:

      I completely agree, Flora! Rae was absoultely stupendous as was her Alfredo, the equally amazing Michael Fabiano. So glad that Fabiano is coming to the Met soon. Sadly though, I’ve heard nothing about Rae coming to New York.

    • 7.2
      Hippolyte says:

      Sorry to be a pest, but it’s Erin Morley who is sharing the Mozart/Stravinsky bill with Brenda Rae.

  • 8
    Camille says:

    Was that Brenda Rae who took part in The English Concert performance of Radamisto last season or so? Or have I confused her for another Brenda? Is she a quite tall young lady?

    Thanks from curious Camille

    • 8.1
      Hippolyte says:

      Yes, she sang Polissena in that performance of Radamisto.

      • 8.1.1
        Camille says:

        Why thank you! That girl was GOOD!

        I look forward to hearing her again and good fortune to her!

  • 9
    Camille says:

    “The Great Victor Herbert” — 1939

    Wait till all you regine antiche hear the high Q flat she sings at the end!!!

  • 10
    Flora del Rio Grande says:

    Dear Hippo: You must always be at my side to correct my little errors, like turning one Erin into another! Thank you, sincerely! One would think that I am very very old and sometimes a wee bit careless (and one would be right!).
    If you will come to the Santa Faux Opera I will serve you mint iced tea under the Hawthorne tree in my garden! And this year we have had so much rain and such cool temps the gardens all over town, and trees and all, are unusually verdant -- and the English roses are, some of them, still in bloom. Come mid-August many of the roses will be into their second blooming and that is so nice.
    I wonder if Camille would travel in America to attend opera? It’s not a bad thing to do when you are young like you and she are!
    I only travel to attend chamber music, and that is one mile from my house, at the lovely old St Francis Auditorium. Well I do go up to the Santa F. Opera, five miles, but that is hardly travel for pleasure — more like duty, since I’ve been attending since 1968. Ahem!

  • 11
    Flora del Rio Grande says:

    Lohenfal: Are you here? Did you find out what you need from The Old One? Just in case I recommended the Beethoven violin concerto with Zinman and Tetzloff and the Zurich Tonhalle orch., forget it! Don’t waste your money. Shockingly unbalanced recording; the tympani are so overloud and heavily recorded they wipe out all other sound when they play and the 24-minute first movement (! what was Beethoven thinking?!) drags and drags and is plagued by smidgy attacks under Zinman. How DID it get such rave reviews? You know, one just cannot trust critics. You have to hear for yourself. I have attended the Tonhalle live and its acoustic was fine; on this recording there is so much reverberation -- well, you would not believe engineers would do that.
    We still must communicate. I feel certain Bavouzet wants us to. Hee hee.

    • 11.1
      Camille says:

      Gee, I’ve been listening to Bavouzet in the last year—it was some French music and can’t remember what at the moment, but I really like him a lot. He was at Lincoln Center sometime in the last year but when I was not around. Interesting playing. Interesting guy.

  • 12
    Flora del Rio Grande says:

    Camille: Bavouzet has recorded the complete piano music
    of Debussy on five Chandos CDs. Stunning work; simply amazing.
    There is no pianistic challenge he does not overcome con mucho
    sprezzatura. You are right; he’s a remarkably interesting man
    and musical artist. We should go to that island off Norway where
    he runs a summer music festival!
    Off to hear Paul Groves and Alex Penda try to sing
    Fidelio tonight, but it is chilly and rain is very threatening. We’ll
    see; I hope to send PTB a report.

    • 12.1
      Camille says:

      Oh thanks for the tip about the Chandos series. Love this man’s playing.

      Cannot wait to hear about the Fidelio with those two!!! Do tell us!

      Thanks mucho.

  • 13
    Flora del Rio Grande says:

    Camille, herewith a word or two about Fidelio last night,
    but first this must be noted:
    Bless the beauty in her memory; she set the standard in
    so many ways.

    I thought of that last night hearing Fidelio. In the early 1940s
    Eleanor sang Marzelline for Arturo Toscanini, still around on record.
    I’ve never heard it but that voice in ‘mir ist so wunderbar’ had to
    be memorable!

    Now just quick words on the Santa Fe Fidelio. It is a modest
    success, seriously compromised vocally and deficient in
    musical direction, the latter point being a big surprise to me.

    Paul Groves simply does not have enough voice left to make
    much impression in the lead tenor role. He’s solid through G;
    above the stave the voice quickly disappears into a faint husk
    of sound and is soon gone entirely. He claims to be singing
    Lohengrin in Oslo. Not a bright prospect. It is sad; in many
    ways he’s an attractive artist. Just not vocally any more.

    Penda/Pendatchanska is only nominally better than Groves.
    She at least has all the notes, but her pushed-lyric voice is not
    up to the demands of Leonore’s music or drama. In her final
    scenes of Act I the voice was barely heard and her tone much
    troubled by a severe vibrato. In Act II she was more rested and
    made a somewhat better impression. She is announced to sing
    Salome here next summer; I have to wonder.

    But — I had expected Groves and Penda to be challenged by
    their big dramatic roles. What I had not expected was a remarkably
    cut-and-dried orchestral performance by Harry Bickett conducting
    the (perfectly adequate) Santa Fe Opera Orchestra. He simply
    played Beethoven by the book — all was correct and in place, and
    it was not too loud, but it was undramatic and uninteresting. As
    one of my companions said, ‘the music was a century later than
    Harry does well.’ Yup, guess so. Too bad.
    But whoever cast the tenor and soprano should have known what
    they were getting into and they should be ashamed of themselves.
    I felt sorry for the artists who were so clearly over-parted.
    As for the rest of it: Sort of OK. Not a lot more. The production was
    updated to Fascist Germany. Well, no harm done, but no special
    good done either.
    The auditorium was far from filled, even less so after intermission.
    which was too bad as the second part of Fidelio is better music
    than the first half and a little bit better theatre. In all, not a
    great or very interesting evening in the theatre. I will not bother
    with Salome next summer.

  • 14
    Flora del Rio Grande says:

    Hi Satisfied: You are right! The weather was clear and coolish. Earlier in the day the skies had been threatening and we doubted the wisdom of going to the opera that night (Jul 16). But by l’heure crepuscule all was just fine and quiet.
    Looking at next season there is almost zero interest. Cold Mountain might work, or might not. I am not very much familiar with her music, but certainly would risk an evening to find out; nice casting for Mountain.
    What does warrant a trip to SFE is the Chamber Music Festival. Six weeks of elegant music. They include plenty of modern music, but properly attend the masterpieces. Their series of noontime one-hour concerts is wildly popular and needs to be expanded in the season. Some crazy good stuff is being done there.
    Back at the opera, I think they are in a casting rut. Time for freshness is at
    hand and that point needs to be bandied about loud and clear. I mean to take
    an adept Rossini/Mozart soprano and have her try to sing Leonore (a Flagstad,
    Lehmann role, after all!), even if she is eager, is just nonsense!
    Ah so! Ta!
    PS: What gave you your name ‘Satisfied?’ I rather like it!

    • 14.1
      Satisfied says:

      To be 100% honest…it was the first name that came to mind years ago when I first registered for Parterre! I’ve learned to take the “So Satisfied…wasn’t Satisfied!” comments with a grain of salt :-/

      Does the Chamber Music Festival ever overlap with the opera season? I hope to return to Santa Fe in the next year or two (…but certainly not next) and would love to do both! I just loved the city, such amazing food (loved Coyote Cafe) and culture!

      I think you’re right about the Santa Fe rut. Though, I did go last year and I was very satisfied (…pun surprisingly not intended) with the casting: Susan Graham, JDD, Michael Fabiano, Brande Rae…all quite wonderful!

  • 15
    Flora del Rio Grande says:

    Dear Sat: Yes, there are always positive exceptions to the generalisation I made about casting. Brenda Rae, for example; far as I am concerned she should come back every season! Susan Graham lives here a lot in summer and sometimes wonders why they don’t use her more. Cost is perhaps the reason. Joyce di D — well, yes and no. All in all she is worthwhile. I do wish they’d do Mignon for her.
    The Chamber music festival overlaps the opera 100%. They both play in July and August, the chamber music for just two weeks less than the opera, but in all we
    have about six weeks of chamber music.
    Come see us!

  • 16
    Flora del Rio Grande says:

    Camille, Satisfied — just to round off our little animadversion on casting at Santa Fe and Fidelio in particular, it has just come to me the ideal Leonore for this opera company’s 2014 production of the Beethoven would have been Elza van den Heever.
    Just think about it! She would have made the show, and with Jos. Kaiser as Florestan.
    They both have very powerful voices. Next time, maybe. To conduct: Rogister.

    I am still in a state of mild shock from last night and I am going to have an afternoon nap! :) Ta.