Cher Public

Wrecking ball

Sir Richard Eyre’s new Manon Lescaut last night—his third production at the Met in as many seasons—demonstrated once again no particular aptitude for opera and more often hindered rather than helped his stars Kristine Opolais and Roberto Alagna as they struggled—only sometimes successfully—with Puccini’s demanding opera. 

More than once during I thought back to what I had written on this site about Bartlett Sher after the premiere of Otello on Opening Night: “his continued prominence during the Gelb years baffles me.” What had promised to be one of the season’s highlights instead devolved into an occasionally thrilling, but ultimately dispiriting evening.

The Playbill handed to Friday’s gala audience featured three articles in its first thirteen pages alone trumpeting the appearance of superstar tenor Jonas Kaufmann in Manon, but most everyone had already heard about his disappointing withdrawal due to illness. “Tenor to the Rescue,” a corrective black-and-white insert into the program, detailed Alagna’s dropping out of Pagliacci and jumping into a role he had never sung before. His heroic efforts saved the show, but his rough first traversal of the punishing role of Des Grieux (eschewed by such Puccini veterans as Corelli and, at least on stage, Pavarotti) was a mixed blessing.

His alarmingly ragged opening “Tra voi belle” caused alarm, but his ardent “Donna non vidi mai” soothed some of those fears. Though he gamely embodied Act I’s happy-go-lucky student, he was clearly more at home later as the fervently masochistic lover of the capricious Manon. However, he continued to struggle with the grueling high tessitura coming to grief both in the climax of the love duet and particularly at the end of his plangent “Pazzo son, guardate.” Yet often he enveloped the house in his uniquely appealing warmth, familiar from many Met performances since his shaky, over-hyped debut there in La Bohème twenty years ago this April. Although it’s always dangerous to speculate, one imagines he will settle into the role and future performances may be better-paced, less rocky.

Opolais, on the other hand, has often portrayed Manon over the past two years in London and Munich, but she, too, was less than ideal. A brave, fearless performer, she threw herself—with sometimes frightening intensity—into Manon’s extremes from shy country girl on her way to the convent to desperate exile contemplating her own imminent death. And yet all too often her cool, lean soprano failed to soar in Puccini’s throbbing music.

Her quietly inward “In quelle trine morbide” carefully avoided putting too much pressure on the voice, and she rose valiantly to the heavy musical and dramatic challenges of the final act, particularly in a brutally moving “Sola, perduta, abbandonata.” Earlier, “L’ora , o Tirsi” was nimbly done with a respectable trill, but she, like Alagna, was defeated by the thrilling second-act duet: there just wasn’t enough voice for its churning climaxes nor could she rise above the chorus in the immense third-act ensemble. For all her many Puccini portrayals—Cio-Cio-San returns to the Met this spring with Tosca and all three Trittico heroines rumored to soon follow, Opolais lacks the luscious Italianate timbre one covets in the composer’s music, and her avid intensity and musicality often just aren’t enough.

That Opolais and Alagna made the impact they did was generally in spite of rather because of Eyre’s dull, square, occasionally perverse direction. Other than his recent spate of Met productions, the only other operas on Eyre’s résumé are the much-revived 1994 Covent Garden La Traviata and a 2001 Le Nozze di Figaro at the Aix-en-Provence festival. As with his recent uninspired Met Werther and Nozze, his direction Friday felt like routine “work for hire.” Despite his intelligent remarks in Playbill about Manon, one had to wonder if he was genuinely interested in or moved by it.

He transported Manon from the early 1800s to 1941 for no other apparent reason than he likes to set operas in the first half of the 20th century. Rob Howell’s striking but incoherent curved sets evoked a gray amphitheater and featured steep perilous, vertiginous stairs in the first two acts. The square in Amiens effectively suggested a train station but then so did Manon’s cavernous Paris bedroom with its huge screen depicting Bronzino’s allegory of Venus and Cupid, not to mention a replica of Trajan’s column!

The ominous looming ship in the Le Havre harbor suggested we might have wandered into Der Fliegende Holländer by mistake. And if Puccini’s pulsing final duet wasn’t challenging enough, Manon and Des Grieux had to sing it awkwardly—and precariously—teetering on a perplexing indoor “wasteland” of the ruined wreckage of the previous acts’ sets. For Eyre, it represented a “metaphorical desert, a world of desolation,” but it just looked like an eyesore of a junkyard.

Before these elaborate, towering sets, Eyre placed nearly all the action at the very front of the stage, including Manon’s eye-popping pseudo-“Apache” dance-lesson/make-out session with her hunky instructor who also appeared ready to “service” Geronte. When the curtain rose at the beginning of the third act, one expected that the Intermezzo would be “staged” but all we were treated to was a guard marching back-and-forth while Des Grieux writhed in anguish at the prison gate.

The usually sure-fire deportation scene verged on the risible as each of the hyperactive prostitutes, semiclad in the tackiest boas and negligées imaginabl,e flailed broadly for her moment in the spotlight. Each was then led off only to return in a drab gray shirt-dress; inexplicably—but—conveniently Manon had already changed into her dour shift. This attention-grabbing parade of floozies was positioned front-and-center, so that one hardly noticed Manon and Des Grieux during the big ensemble. It was probably just as well as one could barely hear either Opolais or Alagna above the enthusiastic chorus.

All evening one sensed conductor Fabio Luisi was trying very hard to accommodate his challenged leading pair, but at times he just let his orchestra and chorus roar. More often than not, he chose brisk, restless tempi and reveled in some of Puccini’s most sensuous and affecting music. In spite of the uninspiring stage picture, Luisi’s vibrant “Intermezzo” throbbed with excitement, but it failed to get a rise out of an audience already grown a bit glum.

Massimo Cavalletti barked and woofed his way through Lescaut’s music, but Brindley Sherratt’s elegant and debonair Geronte was an interesting and effective take on an often caricatured figure. Tenors Scott Scully as the Dancing Master and Andrew Bidlack as the Street Sweeper outshone debuting Zach Borichevsky’s towering but lackluster Edmondo. Clad in a spiffy tux, Virginie Verrez in her Met debut led a lovely madrigal.

Although Met audiences haven’t exactly been starved for Puccini this season, other than some performances in 2008 with an urgent if miscast Karita Mattila, Manon Lescaut hasn’t been around much at the Met in the past quarter-century. Despite Eyre’s disappointingly idea-free production and Opolais and Alagna’s urgent yet underpowered portrayals of its doomed lovers, it was good to have it back. But I couldn’t have been the only one in the audience thinking about the buzz that next season Anna Netrebko will be taking on the title role at the Met. We should find out for sure this Wednesday when details of the 2016-17 Met season are due to be announced.

Photos by Ken Howard/ Metropolitan Opera

  • Porgy Amor

    Rob Howell’s striking but incoherent curved sets

    “Striking but incoherent”…perfect. I’ve only seen photos of this one as yet, but this is what I’ve come to expect. Howell seems like a smart and perceptive guy in interviews, but I think he needs reining-in that he’s not getting in this ongoing partnership. The first two acts of Werther were scenically overworked, and I don’t even want to think about that gnarled rotating behemoth on which Nozze took place.

    Great review.

    • tsarnicholas

      It was indeed a great review. My wife and traveled to NYC to be present Friday night. I am no opera expert but the set and setting were awful and dragged down the performers. I have seen enough operas to say that it is not easy to change time periods. To set this opera during WWII with the Nazis having a role led to all sorts of absurdities. A ship leaving occupied France for New Orleans? A desert wasteland outside of New Orleans? We also thought the precariously steep steps used in Acts I and II were distracting. And at the end using the steps upside down to create the “wasteland.” Another pointlessly precarious set.

      While we loved and appreciated being able to see Miss Opolais and Mr. Alagna in person, the only truly moving moment for us was the love duet which they sung near the end of Act II.

      It was interesting that the reviewers validated the production criticisms we had.

      We still remain enthusiastic about Ms. Opolais, and we have great respect for Mr. Alagna pulled off. (Amazing).

  • moi

    Thanks for the review… But Mattila was urgent… Opolais and Alagna urgent as well?
    But it is a good adjective

  • Great review. I liked the Eyre production better than you did — I agree that it was incoherent in the third act (why would Nazi soldiers deport women of leisure, and where are they sailing to?) but I did like the 1930’s film noir atmosphere. I also thought having Manon expire in the ruins of Geronte’s mansion was an okay solution to the thorny problem of: how do you stage a “Louisiana wasteland”?

  • antikitschychick

    Excellent Review. I have not see the previous version with Karita Mattila but will try and watch a couple other versions (i.e. the one with Westbroek and the one with JK & Opolais in Munich) if I can.

    Also, speaking of ships (sort of):

    It’s not the same trip. Wonder if it will be successful.

  • uwsinnyc

    Fantastic review! Pleasure to read.
    The Times review panned the production but thought more highly of the lead singers.
    Still, I am with you — for this type of music you want opulence in the voice, and if it’s not there, it just isn’t there.

  • Patrick Mack

    ” The square in Amiens effectively suggested a train station but then so did Manon’s cavernous Paris bedroom ” bravo.

  • StellaDelMarinar

    I saw the dress rehearsal where there was not one burst of applause for anything!!!, including the great Act 2 duet, on of the most passionate in all opera. Alagna spent most of it sitting in a chair with his legs crossed in a totally, uninvolved posture while she edged her way gradually toward him- very blocked, totally thwarting any impulses the singers may have had to jump on each other (which the music was describing), by a clueless Sir Richard Eyre -- and walked him toward the bed. Whatever erection he or the other opera queens who know this work were hoping to get was totally thwarted by the “genius” micromanaging director.

    As she was singing, I was musing that she would, maybe, get a Musetta in the old house under Bing and here she is singing Manon Lescaut. All her climaxes, which taxes her, were under pitch.

    Alagna is sounding warn and over-parted. I couldn’t help comparing him to Bocelli at the Tucker Gala, who sounded like Alfalfa of the Our Gang comedies. I must admit he got better as the performance progressed, but it’s not what his voice was at its best. He’s also an honest performer done in by a dishonest director.

    At the rehearsal they translated the lines about America; who in 1941 occupied France wouldn’t WANT to go to America?!?! Does Eyre take us for fools?

    Very dispiriting event. I look forward to Netrebko, but dread seeing this insulting, bankrupt production again.

    It’s not that there are no sopranos out there who can encompass the role, but it’s the directors choice, men and woman who have no clue about the greatness of opera and its power over the emotions, people who actually hate the art form, and we’re all the poorer for it. Kaufmann certainly would have been wonderful, but he too suffers from being micromanaged by directors and his formidable talent is tarnished a bit (IMO) because he rarely lets loose from his gut, but follows what directors tell him.

    Here is Tebaldi and Tucker in the very final moments of Manon Lescaut:

    • ilpenedelmiocor

      OK, ordinarily, I honestly don’t really like either Puccini, Tucker, or Tebaldi — but my God, that is some balls to the wall singing. When I was younger I used to hate it when people bemoaned the perennial, purported Golden Age of Opera — but seriously, can anyone sing this scene like that any more? I repeat: I not even a fan of these two.

    • armerjacquino

      Oh, we’re in ‘Fleming would have been a comprimaria’ territory here. Opolais would have sung way more than Musetta under Bing or anyone else. She’s not got an all-time great voice but it’s a good one, she’s a scrupulous and detailed singer, she can act, she shows up and even those who dislike her voice would have to accept that although she sometimes sounds stressed she never serves up filth. Singers like that always work, and always have.

      And although her looks obviously help her, I don’t think those who ascribe her career entirely to looks are being fair either. Her breakthrough and best part is Butterfly, where she’s usually kimono-d head to toe, in heavy make up, and under a bloody great black wig.

      • armerjacquino

        But then maybe she’d have been stuck as Musetta. I can’t see her overtaking such noted Bing Butterflys as Maria Krilovici, Francesca Roberto or Atsuko Azuma.

        • Krunoslav

          Armer-- Neither Krilovici nor Azuma sang at the Met under the Bing regime, which ended with the 1971-72 season.

          Roberto , a NYCO singer, sang one performance, I’ve always assumed to legitimize her to headline with the Met’s “National Company”, a less successful Risê Stevens venture than her preparing and packing fudge for Zinka and his ilk.

          Fleming of course would have sung at he Met in any ear. Opolais? not from what I have heard in 3-4 live performances.

          • armerjacquino

            I beg your pardon. I should have gone to the archive instead of recklessly googling ‘Madama Butterfly Metropolitan Opera’.

            Opolais is always going to divide people, I guess. But I remember hearing from all the people who reeled, raving, from her Covent Garden Butterfly and I just don’t think that happens with singers who don’t deserve to be there.

      • StellaDelMarinar

        I did not say that Fleming would have been a compromaria in Bing’s day. I lived in the old house for seven years and heard many 20-30 minute ovations. Opolais would not have passed muster before an audience who heard Tebaldi, Callas, De Los Angeles, Milanov, Albanese, Nilsson, Rysanek, Crespin, Sutherland, Freni, Scotto, Della Casa, Gueden -- on a regular basis singing a wide range of roles in one season (no six-week rehearsal needed!). I guess we were fools to give them 20 minute ovations. In Opolais’s dreams she could never move an audience to such frenzy as the ladies above often did. How many times did you witness the fire curtain come down only to have to raised again because the whole audience refused to leave the theater? This happened and I was witness to it. Opolais is not the worst singer I heard, she’s just mediocre. Yes, there were mediocre singers under Bing, but the balance was different. Mediocrity was not the standard measure of things, as it is today.

        • armerjacquino

          I did not say that Fleming would have been a compromaria in Bing’s day

          I didn’t say you did: read it again.

          How many times did you witness the fire curtain come down only to have to raised again because the whole audience refused to leave the theater?

          Fewer times than you, obviously, on account of not having been born yet. Lofty accounts of how great everything was fifty years ago aren’t much use to those of us who want to watch opera in 2016.

          • StellaDelMarinar

            That you were not born then does not negate an excitement that singers created in “under rehearsed” productions. I used to hear about the excitement of Caruso and Ponselle from the old timers but I had Corelli, and Tebaldi to fall back on.

            I’m sorry if I offend you, but there are many many wonderful singers out there today but Gelb and his directors are keeping them out. If you can’t fit into that little red dress you are not good enough to sing Violetta. How absurd is that? How many nights have I gone to a performance where the singers were crooning (Yes, Kaufmann is guilty of it too, Werther and Parsifal) because its being filmed for high definition and the director then enhances it electronically. Listen to the clip the Met is showing of Opolais singing part of “Sola perduta abbandonata.” She has a metal in the voice she does not have live. It’s a wan sound with no “presence” in the theater.” She’s attractive and a relatively good actress, but in reality, does not possess the scope to sing this huge role; IMO, it’s a size too big for her. She flats high notes and if she is filmed, it’s adjusted electronically. I was in many recording booths (with major singers in the 80s) when the technician would say not to worry about flatting, it will be fixed in post-production) I am not just making the stuff up, I was in the music business and know how Gelb is hoodwinking his (dwindling) audiences for looks and high definition glamour, never mind that the audience in the theater has to put up with “film” performances.

            • there are many many wonderful singers out there today but Gelb and his directors are keeping them out.

              All right, name a dozen.

            • phoenix

              There should be a site (like this one, or even this one) wherein promoters could showcase the talents of their clients on a weekly or monthly basis with clips.
              -- It’s a huge job to plow through hundreds of utube clips without direction. Of course, there are probably many wonderful singers out there today (alas, I cannot name a dozen), but how many of these wonderful singers even want to get involved with the hard realities of this overlitigated, decidedly unartful, sticky business.

            • armerjacquino

              She flats high notes and if she is filmed, it’s adjusted electronically. I was in many recording booths (with major singers in the 80s) when the technician would say not to worry about flatting, it will be fixed in post-production)

              Post-production, yes. I have no doubt that kind of trickery takes place for studio recordings (happened in the Golden Age too, by the way- have a listen to Flagskopf in the Furtwangler TRISTAN…). But the point of the Live HDs is that they are, um, live. It’s an editing job to correct the pitch of a note, it’s simply not possible to do it in the moment without using autotune, the presence of which is immediately apparent. If you don’t want to take my word for it, you need look no further than poor old Marco Berti the other week to know that the Live HDs do not offer correction of wayward pitch.

              And yes, I’m sure the live performances are tidied up for DVD release, but again nowhere near the extent you suggest. For example, if you listen to the Opolais Mimi on Met player, she’s flat in ‘O Soave Fanciulla’. Did they just forget to correct that one?

        • steveac10

          Bur what about the Met of Baum & Curtis-Verna, not to mention the parade of unpronounceable eastern European names Bing foisted on New York in mostly under rehearsed productions?

          And then let’s talk about the 70’s and 80’s when the likes of Carlo Bini, Eszter Kovacs and Klara Takacs trod the boards.

          The “but the golden age” crowd also forgets that Met performances often included whole hosts of those long forgotten by all but completists.

          Season openings even in the bona fide golden age in principal roles include (c. fall 1910) Berta Morena, Walter Soomer, Lucie Weidt, Carl Burrian, Florenzio Constantino, and of course the memorable performances of Lenora Sparkes, Henriette Wakefield, Herbert Witherspoon and Marie Rappold (the last four of which all sang hundreds of performances in the house). It wasn’t all Caruso, Destinn, Homer and Amato.

          • armerjacquino

            Yes, exactly. I’d rather hear Opolais than Delia Rigal.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Why would you want to hear either? Rigal’s most frequent part was Nedda 30 performances in the three years she lasted at the Met. It would suit Opolais too. She got her chances with some big roles but never seemed to go over that well. Her reviews range from a mention to pans. From what I’ve been told she had a big voice, important in such a big house, with some quality to the tone but her voice was unwieldy, her technique, unreliable (except for the size not unlike Opolais) and she was dull.

            • armerjacquino

              mrsjc- Rigal was just an example. Of course there was a higher number of great voices around in the 50s and 60s than there is now, for all kinds of social and cultural reasons. It’s just that being constantly reminded of the fact by people like Stella is kind of annoying for those of us that weren’t around then and still want to enjoy live opera. And I mentioned the competent but not stellar Rigal because there are some people who want to pretend it used to be All Tebaldi All The Time.

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            Did you HEAR Curtis-Verna? Live? You don’t know what you’re talking about. She was a genuine spinto with an outstanding voice, a wide range, a rich sound, a good chest and a huge top. She knew the Italian style perfectly, she had temperament, personal force. I saw her do Manon Lescaut four times. You are ignorant to suggest that Opolais is even one tenth as gifted vocally, or at ease stylistically.

            One idiot makes constant fun of Baum and you think that’s an accurate assessment? No one claimed he was Caruso but that was a real spinto tenor, with a real tenor range. He would have been a better, more secure Manrico than we got yesterday. And yes, people could have thought of better, more stylish tenors at the time and they rolled their eyes at his antics although he was no campier than Zinka.

            Soomer and Weidt were important singers, that you’ve never heard of them doesn’t make them not so. What contemptible horseshit.

            Not EVERY performance ANYWHERE was fabulous; I’ve seen appalling things at Scala, Bayreuth, Vienna, Munich, Berlin and at the sacred Covent Garden. You are the Leontyne Price freak, yes? Well, she was a LOUSY, ridiculous Manon Lescaut and nearly was laughed off the stage. So all the encomiums (that means high praise) of the other day were WRONG? No, she was a wonderful singer in the wrong part, late in the day. It happens. But using your technique, I’d select that to “prove” she was nothing.

            Kovacs got ONE performance in the house. I was there. Were you? She was lousy but had been hired for the tour. FIVE PERFORMANCES TOTAL. And yet SHE symbolizes that EVERYONE WAS AWFUL in the old days but Opolais who can barely carry a tune is GREAT? Bini got TWENTY NINE performances over two and a half years, a large number were IN THE PARKS, and he was the COVER for several other roles, Enzo in Gioconda where he was competing for the crown of the funniest tenor in Met history and Rodolfo in Luisa Miller. TAKACS??????? Eight performances ON TOUR NEVER IN THE HOUSE. So you think everybody is as stupid as you are?

            Get your head out of your ass and learn something before you opine in that way. Things were better THEN because your chances of seeing someone who was at least vocally able and commanded the right style were greater. The DOES NOT MEAN EVERYBODY was FABULOUS. But there were more wonderful singers in the world; opera mattered more and more people with real gifts tried to have careers and some succeeded. And frankly, tits and ass mattered less. Many of the stars of that era were good looking people (or are you going to say Corelli, who Met audiences saw performance after performance after performance was homely compared to your favorite Kanye West?) some were not (but Bergonzi, stout and static, unlikely to want to eat someone out in public in Manon Lescaut was thrilling when all was working, and stylish and alert and expressive when his voice was recalcitrant — that means less responsive as he got older.)

            Any opera house that does seven performances a week for 20 weeks or more and then in those days does a six or so week national tour is going to engage some people who can more or less get through, or are willing for half their small fee to sit around and cover and as bait are offered a few announced performances. If Opolais came in for three Manons (especially the HD where 30 cameras and mics up the wazoo would maximize her sex and minimize vocal problems) no one would really complain. That she’s IT, and Gelb, an asshole, “has big plans for her” is sad in my opinion but I’m moronic after all, since in your world to know about these singers of old makes me a liar and fool.

            • marshiemarkII

              Madmae C! I continue to be in admiration of your historical posts, but even more of your insights into the emotional core of any given opera, such as your earlier description of why oral sex is kind of absurd in Tu tu amore tu. I left you some encomiums in the other thread. Happy V Day to you!

            • steveac10

              Hearty thanks for reminding me that I am a stupid, ignorant, spewer of horseshit. Did I miss any of your other insults? If so, please feel free to reiterate them -- as I, unlike you, do not have a photographic memory. I really should avoid expressing my opinions about past and present singers in your vicinity -- Despite the masters degree in vocal performance, 40 years of opera going and 25 years singing the stuff myself. Shame on me for thinking about opera at all, or not living in NYC before 1990’s. I’m obviously worthy of nothing more than your contempt.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              So, dear, you are offended now. Everything I wrote is a FACT. That’s all. It’s hard to judge performances you didn’t experience or performers you didn’t see. Pulling names out of your ass doesn’t cut it. If you’ve studied for years and are interested in opera (and my goodness I’ve known plenty of people who think opera is a waste of time and I even have some sympathy for that point of view) then you should I think have some respect for the documented past. The Met was a great place for a time in terms of the real world. Nothing is ever perfect and you might not have liked some of the famous singers then for perfectly good reasons. But the examples you used did not make that point and were more foolish than the CV you indicate would suggest. You didn’t express opinions based on your own experiences “singing the stuff yourself”, you tossed around a bunch of irrelevant names of people who never were important anywhere as typical and mischaracterized some “olden time” singers who are well documented and quite wonderful.

              If you want to be taken seriously, then you should be serious in substantiating the points you want to make and maybe listen seriously to the people you are condemning to make your points. And I have a ton of advanced degrees too but that isn’t a defense and it doesn’t get you a badge. I can be quite stupid especially about things I either don’t know enough about or haven’t checked in quite a while.

            • Okay, we need to wrap this up. It’s gone personal and that’s not what we’re here for. Change the subject, please.

            • Angelo Saccosta

              Hear, hear, Mrs C. Well said. Baum got a bad rap only when compared to Tucker or Corelli. Then there were Labo, Barioni, Fernandi…

          • Krunoslav

            I guess Richard Strauss and Hofmannstahl should have asked steveac10 before selecting Lucie Weidt to create the all-but-impossible part of the Amme in FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN.


          • StellaDelMarinar

            Of the thousands of nights under Bing, Curtis Verna and Baum did not have runs of roles and revivals. They were cover artists who jumped in when singers were indisposed. Not every night was opera heaven, but Bing always made sure there was someone glamorous or at least first rate in the cast. Siepi, Merrill, Tucker, Albanese, Guarrera, Cassell, Kirsten and Steber were house singers and usually balanced the casts when it was too much to sustain a repertory house with hot performances. As far as the East European performes, Kabaivanska, Konya and Buzea were major singers. What about all the mediocre East Europeans and Italians, not to say the mediocre British singers, we seem to have too many of today. They stay for the run of the performances; if Bing saw someone was not up to it, he had them dismissed. There was Freni, Scotto, Milanov, Albanese, Corelli, Bergonzi, Gedda, Warren, Siepi Corena, to fill in. Don’t dismiss the bad old days -- The Met was performing at 90% capacity (the joke was that subscriptions were impossible to get, people checked the obituary columns to see if an opening came up.) We weren’t all idiots going all the time, if on occasion a mediocre singer appeared, so be it; it was a regular occurrence, as it is today. But the high spots were legendary and in an average week we had a few true superstars.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Stella, you’re giving us ancients of daze a bad reputation (and I resent it because that’s what I do). Curtis-Verna was a fine singer. She was better than Kirsten and Albanese in my opinion and was a strong spinto in general. Bing either didn’t like her or felt he didn’t need her since her real rivals were Tebaldi, Stella, De Los Angeles, someone named Callas, and in their occasional Italian roles Rysanek and Nilsson. She gave up early. But the audiences I saw her with were very enthusiastic both in NY and Philly.

              Baum was an important member of the company for twenty years; he even got good reviews. The annals show a balance of performances in New York, on the Tues runouts to Philly (he was Mme. Callas’ Pollione there instead of Mario Del Monaco) and on tour. Still he appeared prominently and often in New York, doing a total of 83 Radames(esses) most in the house, 60 Trovatore(s) most in the house, 32 performances of Don Jose, most in the house, and 25 Canio(s) about half and half.

              He wasn’t a big star but he wasn’t unpopular either; he was a tenor of a certain type of a certain era — he had a real voice, it was big, he had a strong totally reliable top, and he remained a provincial in manner, although he was a sure-footed professional (as his 9 Drum Majors in Wozzeck all in the house) suggest.

              I think it’s fair to say that Bing did import mediocre Eastern Europeans, mezzos and baritones mostly, most of whom didn’t last all that long, but were, unfortunately, audible as long as they lasted. They were cheap and strong. I don’t remember Buzea as “major”, he only had a season and I remember a horrible Dick Johnson with our friend Dorothy and a really bad Forza with Madame Arroyo (I was between colleges but this was before I took off for a while).

              But 1969 possibly marked the end of an era where there were many, many tremendously impressive singers in the world, most of them really enthusiastic about coming to the Met, and willing to stay for long periods. Those who came to their big fame in the 70’s had begun in the 60’s and were running out by the mid-80’s. One issue today is attracting people to the Met when European fees are higher and houses in Europe are much closer together.

            • Krunoslav

              “As far as the East European performers, Kabaivanska, Konya and Buzea were major singers.”

              No argument on the first two, but Ion Buzea?

              Better than Ion Piso (!) but I’d put Buzea into the same small-nation “we have a kind of italianate tenor too” category as Kristján Jóhannsson or Anatoly Solovianenko.

              But there were other good artists and singers among the oft-lambasted Eastern European imports. Let’s not forget he brought in Vishnevskaya and Lisitsian as guests. And Nicolai Ghiaurov. Plus, Ruza Pospinov/Pospis/Baldani at least *developed* into a very solid mezzo, employed at Scala and Lyric in the 1970s. And clearly Buzea’s counryman Nicolae Herlea was a very good Verdi baritone.

              But alas Bing never hired Elizabeth Komlossy!!!

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              I seem to hear an echo…. let’s just repeat each others points over and over and maybe add a name each time…

              Lisitsian gave ONE performance. Word was he had told Bing who offered him return performances if they could be arranged that the Met was a provincial house compared to the Bolshoi and he wasn’t interested. (Word as always should be taken with a grain of salt).

              Vishnevskaya in her prime (1961) sang four Aidas more or less in Italian and one Butterfly in Russian. She did not return as long as she was a Soviet citizen. In 1975 as an exile she sang ONE Tosca, in the “season of Toscas” that extended to Magda Olivero making her debut with three. The ’75 Vishnevskaya Tosca was astounding camp; her voice had become unpleasant but she certainly made an impression.

              Neither of these singers was like Biserka Cveji? or Vladimir Ruzdak. The first, a mezzo was loud — basically, that was it — and sang in the 60’s, the second was a baritone, also sang in the 60’s and wasn’t loud. As long as they were at the Met they were part of the company.

              Vishnevskaya and Lisitsian were not. The first was in exchange for Mattiwilda Dobbs who went to Russia, the second may have been for someone else or he may simply have been allowed to accept a guest engagement.

              There is the substantial difference between the two great Soviet singers, and the others including the respectable Ruza Baldani (her official Met name) who sang in the early 70’s, mostly Carmen (16 performances) and a few performances each of other roles (her second most performed role was The Third Lady in Flute — 10 times).

              Ghiaurov was Bulgarian where he started as a clarinettist but switched to singing. After a Sofia debut and some time at the Bolshoi he sang in Paris, London, and made his Italian debut in Bologna, in 1957. He reached La Scala in 1959 and sang in Salzburg in 1962. Like Christoff and Arie he became an international singer quickly rather than being essentially a Soviet Bloc singer allowed out for engagements probably because of political connections.

              It was different with Nicolae Herlea, a Romanian, with a strong presence at the Bolshoi who was allowed to make some foreign appearances, although never very many at one time, he had 23 appearances at the Met over three years. Unlike Ruzdak for example, Herlea had an outstanding voice and a competitive manner on stage.

              The point I was making in disagreement with Stella was that the Soviet bloc singers Bing hired were often not very good and they were not international singers. Herlea was very good and might have had a bigger international career had he left Romania.

              Ghiaurov and Kabaivanska (also Bulgarian) were never stuck behind the “iron curtain”. Ghiaurov, although his prime, when he was amazing, was relatively short, became and remained a big international star. Kabaivanska was a wonderful artist but although she did have important guest appearances now and then had only sporadic Met appearances. She was best appreciated in Italy, where she came to be greatly admired.

              Konya (Hungarian) was also an international singer, with considerable fame for about twenty years, although there was something of a decline in the later sixties. He had the biggest Met career of all these singers beginning in the early 60’s (but he’d been busy in Germany primarily in the 50’s).

              Your turn. Étonner nous!

          • StellaDelMarinar

            Uh, check the annals, it was Caruso, Destinn, Nordica, Ponselle every night. Caruso sang THREE nights a week. Check the annals.

            • Uh, check the annals. There was a cataclysmic war in Europe that killed off huge swaths of the population and then impoverished the governments there so much that the United States was one of the few places in the world where A-list singers could schedule a stable and profitable season.

              Those same conditions obtained again after World War II, which gave the Met the luxury of being in a buyer’s market for an entire generation of European singers.

              None of this had anything to do with the miracle of not rehearsing or you girls screaming up in the gallery.

        • marshiemarkII

          And then there were the “legends” of today, who were very far from that at the time, and some of us were THERE to tell the tale. To stick to Manon Lescaut and stay on topic, otherwise we’d be here for days. I saw every single performance with Scotto/Domingo in early 80s. Yes Scotto had loads of Italianita and miraculous diction, and the acting was very detailed, and those hands at Sola perduta were a miracle of jugglery, but guess what, la voce, yes la voce was a threadbare instrument that was way under the requirements of the big singing climaxes, small, shriekish and wildly shrill. This was nowhere near the voice Scotto had exhibited in 1976 when we had all sworn to the Virgin to have never ever heard something that glorious, which of course it was. So we left each performance kicking and screaming why we couldn’t get something like the glorious Montsy recording, the Met was finished, and it was the end of opera. Domingo better not even say much, only that half of the time the turd came out on time, and he could deliver a high note or two, and when it didn’t come out we were all in fear of a serious intestinal rupture.

          So then salvation came a couple of years later when the sainted Mirella Freni came out for her try at the role. She walked in to uproarious applause on the prima, here we finally had a real Aytalian Stahhhh, and off we went with the music. She sang a gloriously spun In quelle trine morbide, to an uproarious ovation, then a decent Tu tu amore tu, and then the dreaded final act came, and by Sei tu che piangi, it was obvious that just as in Tu che la vanita the year before, she DID NOT have the amplitude of voice, to really do justice to the immense lines. We are not talking loudness here, Mirella always projected gloriously at the Met at all dynamic levels. We are talking encompassing the line. She took huge gulps of air, and the line was choppy and angular and very far from GRAND. OK at least the voice was pretty, she looked gorgeous and it was chalked-up as a hell of a lot better than Scotto’s hapless attempt. I think she even recorded it some 10 years later, it is a ridiculous recording.

          But as the wise Cieca always reminds us, they are either DEAD or long retired, in any case, so if we want to hear opera today, we have to talk about what we have now. I really enjoy reviews that talk about this passage or that note were imperfect for this and that or another reason, because I eventually learn something new, or realize I missed something myself, but when you just come off as somehow superior because “I saw Renaaaaata, or Mariaaaa, or Mooooontsy” in this or that role, is kind of ridiculous, especially since all those divas had their own declines, when even THEIR performances were quite a bit less than the perfection they might have once provided. And I could go on forever about Birgit, and Montsy, and Dame Joan, and Kiri, and even my adored Leonie, and Maggie Price, not to mention the sainted Leontyne, in very less than stellar situations from 1976 onwards.

          • marshiemarkII

            P.S. the miraculous Scotto of 1976 refers of course to Suor Angelica, left out accidentally.

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            And then there’s Behrens, the worst singer, consistently I’ve ever encountered in huge major roles. I’d take Stemme, Goerke, Watson any day over her, and I have hopes for others starting to stick a toe in the heavier roles. None of them are dead. Behrens is.

            In Manon Lescaut Scotto, Freni had the style, and Scotto had good ideas. No one pretended then that she had the opulence, ease and power for the role in so big a house, but she gave in my opinion (and the DVD is there) a deeply felt, keenly understood account of the role, and not EVERY performance of it was badly sung. I saw Mirella in Munich, Bologna and at the Met. She was alert, serious and vocally capable. Climaxes had more force in the European houses but she really had tone and richness and beauty of sound throughout. She wasn’t as interesting as Scotto, and she never gave as much but her performances — toward the end of her prime — were far stronger than Opalais was the other night.

            Her record is late and was ill-advised for her and for Pavarotti but somehow Behrens is FABULOUS in that horrendous Isolde for Bernstein or fantastic as the Dyer’s wife? Johanna Meier would have been much better in the first (and I’m sorry Waltraud hadn’t started doing it yet), and Zschau would have been MUCH better for Solti. And yet you think the horribly conducted Caballe performance (do you read music, have you looked at the score), with the variable diva and the struggling tenor is special?

            And so there’s to be no continuity? We should simply destroy every vestige of the past because those singers are dead after all and there is nothing to learn from them and their documents (in clear sound from 1927 and ever clearer sounded from 1951)? We should forget that people who grew up poorer, less educated with less access to samples of the styles in which they were trying to sing, still, through talent, hard work and luck achieved greatness? And that greatness can STILL be achieved as they did it, by working hard, identifying their strengths, mastering challenges? We should just accept the judgments of a moron like Gelb not what the scores ask for and what documents show can be achieved?

            Achieved, not on a miraculous level without a lot of luck (I mean Flagstad or Ponselle) but by humans who gave all they had to an art form that no longer resonates with people the way it did?

            So why don’t we destroy all the operas too? Aren’t they dead? Did Manon Lescaut LIVE in that ghastly performance?

            Crazy queen once did not equate to philistine idiot but as we’ve learned, meanings and realities change.

          • dgf

            Freni sang a lovely Elisabetta in Houston, in the early 1980’s, with a great cast, including Bumbry, Lima, and Ghiaurov. The Wortham Center is smaller than the MET, and Freni did not force her voice, other than the somewhat manufactured chest voice she employed when she graduated to the big girl roles. Two memorable Manon Lescaut’s from the early and mid 1980’s at the MET were Teresa Zylis-Gara, and Adriana Maliponte. They would probably be considered too matronly for today’s HD market, but they both sang Manon beautifully and stylishly.

        • Mrs. Vittorio Grigolo

          I’m with you! I just don’t “get her”…not yet anyway. I went Monday night and felt In Quelle Trine MOrbide was uninspired… Thankfully, Roberto Alagna gives 200% of himself at all times

    • PCally

      “It’s not that there are no sopranos out there who can encompass the role, but it’s the directors choice… people who actually hate the art form, and we’re all the poorer for it. Kaufmann certainly would have been wonderful, but he too suffers from being micromanaged by directors…he rarely lets loose from his gut, but follows what directors tell him.”

      Christ, not this complaint again. You’re points are completely undermined by the fact that the Eyre production, despite being updated, is as traditional as traditional can be. All the blocking is basically right there in the libretto and there’s no departure from the story whatsoever. It’s basically designed for a singer to do whatever he/she wants without having to deal with an “intrusive” director. And Based on what is the rest of your comment accurate? I don’t know if you watched the broadcast from Munich but Opolais was a thousand times better dramatically than she was here and Kaufmann was on fire, not inhibited in the slightest. So it seems to me like following a director actually made him more comfortable and secure onstage. Honestly, this notion that opera is governed by directors who work on an art form that they secretly can’t stand is just bizarre to me. No one who hated it would spend their life trying to get work in it. And the last Manon Lescaut here was Mattila, who certainly did not look particularly comfortable dealing with a ugly traditional production that clearly had been created with a different singer in mind.

      • Indiana Loiterer III

        Is is really the “director’s choice” that there are “no sopranos out there who can encompass the role”? My impression that outside of certain special circumstances it’s the general manager or music director who does the casting, not the stage director.

        • armerjacquino

          The idea that doing everything on instinct would be better than having any direction is also one which most performers would find odd.

          • StellaDelMarinar

            Today, maybe. But tell that to Callas and any of the great, post-war singers. Visconti, Zeffirelli or Schenk never inhibited Callas’ extraordinary passion and dramatic instinct. Today, directors thwart it. Ask Kaufmann and Pape what they really felt about the Faust abortion they were in. Any spontaneous burst of genuine feeling is squashed in rehearsal for the director’s and the camera’s need to “pull back” or you’ll look like you’re overacting, the meanwhile, the audience in the 4000 seat Met is forced to watch and hear “film” performance. One or two set of curtain calls and the audience is out in a flash. The New York Times’ “esteemed” critic sits in the orchestra and is seduced by what he sees, not keeping in mind the 3000 other members of the audience behind him (when that many show up) are suckered into watching a spectacle someone in a movie theater may find interesting because the “electronic” gadgets are down the singers throats, with technicians working overtime to “enhance” the experience.

            I said earlier, I was in recording booths in the 80s when digital recording came in and observed “superstars” being told no need to retake, we’ll fix it electronically.

            This is a trend for the future and an new audience, used to miking, will rarely get the spontaneous experience of a singer singing from the gut and really affecting audiences. I have been going to the opera for 69 years and remember ovations lasting 20-30 minutes because the audience was shaken, moved, never the same after a hot performance. I now marvel at barely two sets of ensemble calls and out, over, forgotten.

            With rare exceptions, the music academies are now getting singers to perform generically to accommodate the cameras. Consonants are now passe. Does no one see this happening? Opera is dying because the gut level experience of the art form that kept it thriving for 300 years is gradually being extinguished.

            • I hate to point out the obvious but … Callas never worked with Otto Schenk. I appreciate your passionate trips down memory lane but you’re confusing decades, singers, directors, and various locations.

            • Visconti, Zeffirelli or Schenk never inhibited Callas’ extraordinary passion and dramatic instinct.

              Well obviously not Schenk because they never worked together.

              As for the other two, Visconti in Traviata and Zeffirelli in Tosca took very untraditional approaches to the title characters, and in fact asked (or demanded) that Callas do these roles differently from the way she had ever done them before. So this notion that they just sort of draped shawls on her and let her “extraordinary passion” do the rest is uninformed nonsense.

              You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to make up your own facts.

            • marshiemarkII

              Cieca didn’t Maria herself, in an interview claimed or rather credited Visconti with having taught her everything she knew about “acting”, in particular La Vestale and of course the Violetta??!. I remember also reading that the difference between the Mexico City and La Scala Violettas is astounding in the acting department. Now isn’t more likely that in Mexico City was where she was left to do “her own stuff”?.

              Schenk of course worked with the “German Callas” as Rusalka, Elektra and Brunnhilde :-)

            • PCally

              You’ve literally referenced one production (the Faust production), a production that is unlikely to be revived frequently because of how bad it was. Beyond that, there’s a difference between not liking a production and being uncomfortable. There is nothing about what Kaufmann and Pape were asked to do in that Faust that differed from what others have done in countless traditional production, let alone anything that took them out of there comfort zone.

              And even if your Callas reference was correct (which it FACTUALLY isn’t) it means absolutely nothing since Callas (and other singers of her generation) certainly took part in productions she didn’t care for (in fact one of her least favorite productions was one of Visconti’s). Singers not liking productions has been an issue since the beginning of opera so your single reference to a production that may already be put out to pasture doesn’t prove a thing.

            • Porgy Amor

              Ask Kaufmann and Pape what they really felt about the Faust abortion they were in.

              Well, if you can stack the deck by picking out something bad…

              Ask Waltraud Meier about her experiences working with Patrice Chéreau on Marie, Isolde, and Klytämnestra. Here’s an excerpt:

              “From the beginning, rehearsing with him was something very different from anyone else. Because he was totally relying on the text. There was never a thing like ‘Oh, I have an idea,’ just for the sake of the idea. And he had an extreme ability to change what he just worked on, completely get rid of it, because he saw it from the outside and said, ‘It doesn’t work. There’s something not true.’ In the beginning, I said, ‘But yesterday it was different. We did it like that,’ and he would say, ‘That was yesterday, and it was wrong.’ But very soon I started to trust him totally, because I saw that even though he said, ‘Let’s get rid of what we did yesterday,’ and you may think, ‘Why, then, did we rehearse yesterday?’ — no, you saw that from day to day it became better, truer, more right. […] I was waiting for somebody who really told me the truth of it. I told him, ‘I emptied my head completely, and I just waited for you’.” (Opera News, November 2015)

              Now. Whatever you may think of Meier’s voice or her musical suitability for this or that role, has anyone ever said she lacks passion and instinct? This is someone who, when she sang her first Kundry somewhere in Germany, did get by purely on instinct. The only thing the director had told her was “do it like Martha Mödl,” a singer she had never seen on stage. So she went out and gave the audience a “big” Kundry, with lots of generalized “passion,” and I think was commended for it. But she says she didn’t begin to understand that role until she collaborated with a director who had very clear and specific ideas (Ponnelle, I believe). And of course, she kept exploring it for 30 years in different productions, and will be saying goodbye to it next month.

            • StellaDelMarinar

              Sorry, of course Callas never worked with Schenk, but I am not confusing anything. I saw Callas do two Toscas under Zeffirelli live. Compare it to the old performance on You Tube 1956 from NY with London, one of the great Scarpias and the 65 with Gobbi. There is nothing over directed about her, she is doing almost everything I saw countless Toscas do, Rina Telli (at the Brooklyn Opera Company), Price, Tebaldi, Albanese, Kirsten, Steber, Tucci, Vishnevskaya, to name a few. she was dressed differently, more in the period and keeping in mind in Rome during the summer you don’t wear velvet, but it’s your traditional Tosca infused with her genius; Zeffirelli would have been a fool to inhibit her with “intellectual” movements and positions on stage to explain their relationship, or whatever. Compare the Met’s current one where every singer has to conform to pre-staged movements whether an individual singer feels them or not. The old singers stuck to a tried and true vision that Puccini set and made it their own, not a directors. How many love duets have you seen when the singers are on opposite sides of the stage? Silly, intellectual ideas by stage directors who, when working in theater, would never dare pull such stupidity in a play. I have worked in the theater with a major director who has a production a year at the Met and destroys every piece he touches. I know his work in the theater and he has incredible integrity -- with plays. Give a smart director an opera and they turn into lunatics, playing with the art that is very different from drama and leaving incoherent messes for a doltish audience to accept, give polite applause, and leave the theater in two minutes -- many never to return.

            • StellaDelMarinar

              Cieca, I’m not making up facts. I was there, a regular Met attendee, since 1957. I saw all of the people I am talking about. I also studied directing, have my own theater company and directed academy award actors, as well as Tony award winners. I don’t mind updated opera and don’t always reject “concept” productions. I have seen theater around the world so I may be making up facts, as you say, but they’re facts based on a reality -- yes, my own, but mine was a first class theater education, with world class teachers. I will not go into more details about who I am, but this is my last posting. Bye.

            • Krunoslav

              “Schenk of course worked with the “German Callas” as Rusalka, Elektra and Brunnhilde :-)”

              With Silja? Where did she do Rusalka? :)

          • Okay, now your boring me. You’re talking just to hear yourself talk, which you can do on moderation.

            • Indiana Loiterer III

              I know Stella has left us and that as a mere 56-year old from the provinces I’m hardly qualified to keep up with this--but I’ve seen more than my share of the sort of staging miscalculations Stella rightly denounces (e.g. singers singing love duets from opposite sides of the stage) to think that revisionist intellectual directors blocking singers’ instincts have nothing to do with them.

            • armerjacquino

              Well, there are love duets and love duets. There are some where the text/music/situation seem to dictate that the couple should be in each other’s arms, but that’s by no means true of all of them. The BALLO duet, for example, isn’t really a duet as such- they’re both in internal monologue for pretty much the whole thing. Pinkerton’s repeated come hithers in the BUTTERFLY duet would strongly suggest there isn’t a whole load of touching going on. Same deal with La Ci Darem. And so on.

              In general, I’m very wary and cranky about ‘rules’ for staging. ‘People singing a love duet should always be looking deep into each others’ eyes’ is up there with ‘never ever stage an overture’ for me. If it works, do it. If it doesn’t, don’t.

            • PCally

              Armer, it’s also worth noting that Stella very typically avoided actually providing examples of stagings where such things happen. And the two productions at the center of her tirade actually have love duets in which the leads physically in contact with one another, so whatever she’s going on about, it’s clearly in her head.

            • grimoaldo

              I remember, I wish I didn’t, a production with a love duet sung from opposite sides of the stage. “Tristan und Isolde”, ROH, 2000, Gabriele Schnaut was in a box on a wheeled platform that moved around on one side of the stage, Jon Fredric West in a different coloured box on wheels on the other side, they sang all of Act Two without looking at each other in their own little box. But the staging would not have made any difference to anything since the “singing”, if you could call it that, from both of them was hor-ri-ble.

    • mia apulia

      I always had mixed feelings about Tucker, but when he was at his best he was extraordinarily good

  • Quanto Painy Fakor

    If that photo of Alagna singing the “Guardate!” section of “Pazzo son” were Micky Rooney, what would the caption be?

    • armerjacquino

      ‘Mickey Rooney as Des Grieux in Act Three of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Puccini’s MANON LESCAUT’

    • Milady DeWinter

      Caption: You can’t deport her -- we have a show to put on!!!

    • parpignol

      “She’s the only one who can ride that horse in the Grand National!”

  • I found this old RAI film of Clara Petrella in the title role. Awful production values aside, I really wish there were idiomatic Italian sopranos who would sing this music.

    • Milady DeWinter

      Petrella was awesome -- so idiomatic, a beauty, and the voice, while noting special, was strong, well-produced, and usually able to express whatever was needed. Her Nedda is also special.

    • What about Maria Agresta???

    • laddie

      I just love this woman’s performances in all of these old clips:

  • phoenix

    • Cicciabella

      Goosebumps all the way.

    • antikitschychick

      gorgeous! Thanks for sharing that Phoenix. I also got goosebumps :-P.

    • Tamerlano

      Kabaivanska is so good in this kind of music…she’s also one of the Manons in the vocal id quiz. It’s a weird voice and not particularly Italianate, but she knows the style and clearly loves the verismo rep.

  • phoenix

    2015 interview begins at 3.50:

  • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

    It (most likely) couldn’t have happened onstage in a full production, but try and beat this:

    I was there! I won a ticket through the lottery held onstage of the Met on a Sunday morning by Rudolph Bing when the sale of standing room tickets was suspended and riot police called in because there were three separate lines, all ready to go at each other! Can you imagine anything like that happening today? I still have the card in the ticket envelope: “This ticket is a gift from Sir Rudoph Bing.” I treasure it, along with an autographed photo which Bing signed to me. I also have a personal letter from him (I guess as an early teenager I wanted to BE him). For dealing with the ramblings of a 15-year-old, he was most generous, and I got to meet him, too.

    • Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin

      P.S. The sets are from the 1966 Marc Chagall production of “Die Zauberflöte”

    • JML what a wonderful memory! And thanks for sharing that clip!

  • redbear

    I should probably not, but this silly excessive singer adoration is tiring. There was a study of wine connoisseurs and their ratings. They almost always rated wine they had heard about better than wine they had not heard about and you could switch them and they wouldn’t notice. (Carlo Bini was often in San Diego when I was a kid and did very fine work.) People like some singers and others like other singers. Like wine. And whether one is in reality actually better is entirely a subjective individual reaction.
    And those “old days”…. One day I took my new love, an artist but not an opera fan, to see Wagner in San Francisco. Eglen was shrilly singing and looked down every time she took a step. The tenor was half her size and had not a clue as to what he was supposed to do. The set was a mountain of papier mache rocks that could illustrate “ugly” in any dictionary. My lover was not impressed. Opera has come a long way since those “good old days” I could go on about the fabric walls, the ugly stupid sets, one after the other, the fountains that would move a foot or two if a fat tenor sat on one of them. The cliche-filled acting -- if there was acting at all. The laughable costumes. The embarrassing arm waiving that was supposed to indicate something dramatic but never did. The chorus who would enter and stand in a large square and sing loud. Opera is almost everywhere moving toward an actual union of drama and music and, about the singing, I would seriously maintain that the average performance now has a higher level of quality that the same average performance during your selective-memory “golden age.”

    • mia apulia

      ‘And whether one is in reality actually better is entirely a subjective individual reaction.” Well, no, not entirely….

  • Magpie

    Bear. I agree that we are moving towards the merging of drama and music. However,
    If I close my eyes and listen to Opolais, or even Mattila (who I like)…or just about any “Star” in the past few years, and then I listen to one of the “Golden age” singers, there is no comparison. I LONG to listen to those voices I never saw…..

    • marshiemarkII

      Well magpie, while in principle you have a point, about the sheer preponderance of great singers in earlier times, one size does not fit all, and you should be prepared when exceptions come your way. Please allow me to share my personal experience with Trovatore, over a lifetime of opera listening. I started, as a young kid, with the recording of Corelli, Simionato, so far so good, and well…Tucci. As I arrived at college, I made the acquaintance of a serious Callas queen, who quickly enlightened me on the wonders of pirate recordings, and “the golden age”. After listening to dozens of pirate performances, I settled for the Callas Scala 53, which until today consider the gold standard for perfection (despite a textual error in no less than Timor di me). I’ve had scores of versions, in ever improving sound, until the latest recent wonder on Myto. Eventually I ran into the Caballe 1968 glories (3 different versions from Florence, New Orleans and I think Philadelphia?), and they are a close runner-up to Maria, and I also treasure listening to them occasionally. Then came the live experiences, mostly at the Met, and they were mostly unhappy ones: Scotto (OK), lots of Gilda Cruz-Romo, lots of Leontyne Price (aging and with ever more weird mannerisms), Eva Marton (horrid, and while she was still a real favorite singer of mine), Dame Joan (at the very end of the career, so enough said) and Aprile Millo (quite good, very musical). And then a long hiatus…..And we come to October 2015, and when Netrebko starts Tacea la notte, I realized immediately that I have never really heard live a more beautiful rendition of this role. The color of the voice, the weight, the scale of the sound, projected gloriously to the first row of the Grand Tier, and the incredible musicality, phrase after phrase, it was heavenly, and it only got better from there, to sing a perfectly flawless performance of the role. I went back two more times, I wish I had seen all of them, and to this day I pinch myself to remind me that it was not all a dream. Did it make me forget the Callas Scala 53? Of course not, but I can now say that for a few glorious performances, in the NOW, live at the Metropolitan Opera, I finally heard a Trovatore Leonora that could be called perfection, and there is nothing like hearing a great singer live at that acoustic marvel that is the Metropolitan Opera Auditorium.

      • Magpie

        Marshie….. I actually agree with all you said, and I think you proved my point. Netrebko is current point in case ( I am going to pretend she never sang I Puritani which, although La Cieca may banish me forever, was pure filth.) I can close my eyes and she can make me long for her voice and interpretation. Thus, I think and I hope, that she will become the one Golden Age voice of the present. She can back up her acting with an actual voice and musicality.

      • Lohengrin

        Have You ever heard Anja Harteros live in the role of Leonora? She sounds and acts so elegant and seems to be an angel between those two heavy striking brothers. Her voice was clear and somehow “not from this world”. Unfortunately I saw her in this terrible production by Py in München……

      • marshiemarkII

        Ciao carisssima magpie, glad we agree, my first live experience with Netrebko was the Met Opening 2011 Anna Bolena, and it was as equally eye-popping as the Trovatore, so I missed the Puritani. Curiously enough, since then the least interesting Netrebko for me was the Tatyana, I found her pallid and remote, not at all what I was expecting, especially in her native tongue, but I chalked it up to the seat, the G-row where the sound is not really great (much better rows RSTV for example). The Macbeth was also pretty stunning, but I don’t really like “beautiful” voices there masquerading as dramatic, the gold standard still being the unforgettable Verona 1982 with Dimitrova, the perfect voice for it at that particular time in her career. But Bolena and Leonora I think will stand the test of time, and Netrebko will be remembered as a one of a kind exceptional singer, with exceptional vocal beauty and musicality.

        Carisssima Lohengrin, unfortunately, I have not been to the glorious Munich Opera since the overwhelmingly magnificent two performances of Gotterdammerung of 1989 with Sawallisch and of course the glorious Hildegard Behrens, so I guess that has limited my chances to hear Harteros. Everything I’ve heard of her has been very beautiful, at the top of the list the gorgeous Elsa with your boy Jonas from Munich that I have on DVD. I hope it doesn’t get too late to hear in Verdi one day, either of the two Leonoras.

        • Marshie: I, too, was disappointed by Netrebko’s Tatiana. Not that it wasn’t beautifully sung or well-portrayed on the whole, but there was something missing. And surprisingly, she and Kwiecen lacked chemistry which was never an issue in their previous partnerships.

          In contrast, her Anna Bolena wasn’t perfect vocally but far more memorable. To me, her most satisfying performances have been her Lady M. and Leonora. Her fourth act in Trov is one of the greatest things that I’ve heard from any active soprano.

        • marshiemarkII

          Ciao carisssimo Kashie, long time, believe it or not while I was writing about the Scala 53 just now, for some reason I thought of you, and that I had not seen you around, nice to hear from you again!

          Yes that Act IV of Trovatore was one of the most unforgettable nights at the Met ever for me, THAT voice, floating across the footlights in THAT auditorium, was like approaching the Pearly Gates :-)

        • Lohengrin

          Your chance is coming: the “second Leonora” will be on a DVD, out in March, of course with my boy………..Great and very odern sraging(Martin Kusej, conductor Asher Fisch, also starring Tezier. Anthother Verdi-DVD with the “dream-couple” is Don Carlo from Salzburg 2013 (Pappano conducting, also starring Salminen, Hampson and Semenchuk).

        • marshiemarkII

          Yes carisssssima Lohengrin,that Don Carlo is at the top of my list of “To Buy”, don’t know why I haven’t gotten it yet :-) I heard the final duet and it is simply SUBLIME! both of them

          • grimoaldo

            I remember we watched a webcast of that DC and chatted about it in the chatroom here. The last act was indeed magnificent and beautiful.

            • Lohengrin

              Last act München January 2012:

            • marshiemarkII

              Oh my fucking God (please pardon my French), this is one of the most astonishingly beautiful things ever, they are both beyond sublime, the singing simply heavenly, but they both also look so gorgeous, especially him with his sultry dark look, the very picture of the great-great-grandson of the Reyes Catolicos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

              The Ma lassu ci vedremo is a masterclass of gorgeous singing, literally directly from nel grembo del Signor!!!!! GLORIOUS!

              Lohengrin, gurl! you are the best of the best, much love to you!

            • marshiemarkII



            • PCally

              Marshie, I actually thought that neither Kaufmann or Harteros were at their respective bests in Trovatore. For whatever reasons the roles didn’t seem to suit them 100% either vocally or dramatically. Netrebko is considerably finer in that role IMO. She is easily the finest Leonora I’ve seen live. Stoyanova

              The Forza is a different story completely. They are both on fire there, particularly Harteros, a singer I tend to admire more than I ardently love, mainly because I find her a bit too passive in roles that are already on the reticent side. Whether it was the director, her costars, or the role itself (it could be a combination of all three) but she did some of the best acting I’ve ever seen from her and vocally she was spectacular. Even the loudest highest notes were absolutely spectacular, not always the case.

            • marshiemarkII

              That is interesting PCally, and of course I cannot argue about Netrebko :-). Oh how I wish they could be persuaded to come to the Met, for Forza or of course Don Carlo, but alas that may not be possible while they are still good.

              And while I usually go to Luxembourg about four times a year, I am still afraid of setting foot in either Munich or Vienna, as I am afraid the memories will be too overwhelming, and I’ll just lose it. The last time I was in Munich was 2006 for a concert of a youth orchestra I am on the board, at the Gasteig, and I was with Hildegard, and in 2008 last time in Vienna to visit with her, and everything about those two cities reminds me of some of the happiest and most gorgeous musical experiences, all associated with her. One day I’ll be able to go back and be normal, but I am afraid that time is still not yet, so I’ll have to content myself with Harteros on DVD. Kauffman hopefully will fully recover, and will be back at the Met sometime soon.

            • Lohengrin

              How did it work so splendid? JK tells in an interview , made together with Anja Harteros, about singing with her:”Ich denke, da haben wir im gleichen Moment gespürt: So kann es sein, wenn man sich gegenseitig inspiriert und sich gemeinsam immer mehr steigert. Wenn man Anja Harteros neben sich hat, die auch technisch alles umsetzen kann, dann kann man auch mal riskieren, die wunderbaren Piano-Phrasen in den Don Carlo-Duetten so leise und innig wie möglich zu singen. Und wenn jemand dazu noch dieselbe Freude an solchen Feinheiten hat, dann ist das schon etwas Außergewöhnliches, und das überträgt sich auch aufs Publikum.”
              (….I think because we felt at the same moment: It may be, if you inspire each other and jointly increasing more and more. When You have Anja Harteros at Your side, who is technically able for all that , then you may also want to risk that wonderful piano phrases in Don Carlo duets as quietly and intimately as possible to sing. And if someone to do the same joy in such subtleties does, then that’s a bit out of the ordinary, and that carries over to the audience.) (Thanks to Uncle Google)

        • Lohengrin

          Sorry for the type mistakes………..
          Something is strange with the Parterre-site; suddenly off?!

          Your chance is coming: the “second Leonora” mMünchen will be on a DVD, out in March 2016, of course with “my boy”. Great and very modern sraging(Martin Kusej,conductor Asher Fisch, also starring Tezier).
          Another Verdi-DVD with the “dream-couple” is Don Carlo from Salzburg 2013 (Pappano conducting, also starring Salminen, Hampson and Semenchuk). The wonderful Elisabetta from München is unfortunately not available.

          • Feldmarschallin

            From what I hear both will be singing again two MdS performances Festspiele 2017. Meistersinger for him again in Sept. Possibly both in D Carlos in Jan and then Chenier for him in March and Tannhäuser for her in May. Press conference is middle of March.

      • moi

        MarshiemarkDeux… you have a very valid point here… One better catch a singer in his/her prime. I heard Nilsson , G Jones , M Price and Caballe,Cossotto, slightly over the hill…
        Freni stayed on top longer. Stemme and Mattila 10 years ago were great.
        Netrebko’s moment is now. June Anderson was spectacular 25 years ago.
        For some the peak is shorter… I had high hopes for Filianoti.
        And Gasdia…

        • marshiemarkII

          Grazie caro Moi. I think we must be roughly same generation then, as I saw the same singers, just starting to be over the hill. Nilsson was the idol of my youth as I got the Solti Ring when I was still a toddler :-), and my first ever night at the Met was the 1975 Gotterdammerung, still a teenager, in which she was still great, but then the Elektra of 1980, Frau of 81 and Tristan Act II with Jon GOD Vickers of 82 were very less than stellar. Caballe, who as you may surmise is one of my favorite singers of all time (based on recordings, especially Don Carlo, Manon Lescaut and the Donizetti Rarities), I saw at the Met in a great Boheme with Big Lucy in 1976, and all of the Adrianas in 1978, some of which were quite fine, and a couple of Carnegie Hall Recitals where she was magnificent, but I also saw almost everything else she did in NYC until 1985, and one more awful than the other, e.g. the Wagner and Strauss with the NY Phil, and worst of all the 1985 Don Carlo, horrid, still will always lover her for the magnificent recordings. Margaret Price, I saw the Paris Opera at the Met Otello, and that is still one of the most unforgettable experiences ever, the enormity and beauty of the sound was something to behold, and then a risible Contessa Almaviva for Terfel’s debut at the Met in 1994. Of course I am a huge collector of her records, especially Mozart. And we could go on and on and on……..

  • Benedetta Funghi-Trifolati

    Because we live in a different era where much of this seems impossible, comical or James Bondesque, especially to younger people, I would like to offer some personal and historical background on dealing, during the Cold War Era with the Soviet government through it’s Ministry of Culture (headed by the fearsome Madame Furtseva), for the services of and contracting artists (ballet dancers, instrumentalists, orchestras, conductors, singers) for American and other Western engagements. In the 1970s I worked at CAMI in a division that specialized in importing Russian (rather Soviet) artists. These ranged, to name only a few, from the Bolshoi Ballet with Maya Plisetskaya, large folkloristic dance troupes like the Soviet Georgian Dancers, Orchestras, instrumentalists (Vladimir Spivakov, Alexander Slobodyanik, etal.) and singers (Elena Obratzsova, etal.) CAMI had already started “poaching” on this Soviet territory which had been almost the exclusive domain of Mr. Sol Hurok and when he died in 1974 CAMI remained as the defacto major importer of Soviet artists. Madame Furtseva, who started working life in a textile factory, held incredible power deciding who went, who stayed, who danced, who sang. Exporting Soviet culture to the West was first and foremost a business and a money-making proposition for the Kremlin. It incidentally provided a bit of Cold War prestige and shade thrown at the Americans: we were the land of football and Country Music and they were sending us the Bolshoi. Visting large troupes (ballet companies and orchestras) were accompanied by at least 6-10 or more goons from the KGB to supervise security and mostly prevent defections (this was the era of major Soviet stars like Nureyev and Baryshnikov defecting while on tour in the West) and at the home office paranoia was palpable and paramount). These KGB men were 6’4 and 250 pound gorillas but were invariably listed on the Visa Manifest as, “Makeup Artist or “Wig Master”. I knew because one of my duties was handling, processing and supervising the visa manifests. If a troupe was appearing at, say the Metropolitan Opera or Carnegie Hall, or a similarly large venue in provincial cities, buses would be parked at the stage door and as the non-star company members exited they were literally hustled directly and immediately onto the buses and driven back to their hotel. Sightseeing was frowned upon and what little there was was highly supervised and straight-jacketed. On the rare occasions when I sometimes accompanied larger troupes back and forth to hotels or tightly-supervised visits to American supermarkets, I had to explain through a mixture of sign language, French or Italian and an interpreter that the canned “tuna” they were buying to eat in their hotel rooms was from the cat food aisle! They had virtually NO pocket money and gravitated to whatever was cheapest and/or could be prepared on illegal and dangerous hotplates in their hotel rooms (they ALL had those damned hotplates! And Vodka somehow!). The lower level dancers, choristers, etc. subsisted on very little money. They would describe the economic hardships they were confronted with at home and their sincere elation when at home they were occasionally given, sometimes in lieu of salary, a very rare treat: a lemon! The circumstances they operated under were almost unimagineable to most Americans. Only the greatest stars made decent money and were treated with anything approaching a Western star attitude and lifestyle. Some of them did very well, going home with “gifts” (an off-the-books, non-taxable salary supplement) of luxury items like a Steinway concert grand piano, jewels or furs. But Big Commissar Brother was always watching and an individual artist, even an important one, could be summarily summoned home mid-tour and was constantly monitored while abroad for possible symptoms of “defectionitis”. Some, like Obratzsova, were politically connected, and had a bit more leeway. Elena also had balls like a brontosaur. The point I’m making is there was very stringent control from Moscow and when one wonders why Rudolf Bing did or did not engage this or that Soviet artist, he was also dealing with this cultural Iron Curtain either through an intermediary artists’ manager like Hurok or CAMI, or directly. This entire umbrella of state or Ministry of Culture interference and redtape (no pun intended) extended also to the various Eastern European Soviet Satellite states of that era. Some had a bit more leeway, but not much. They were all pretty much under the thumb of Moscow. It may have just been too onerous for Bing, or any other general manager in the States, to spend so much precious time battling the Soviets when there were a thousand other daily crises to deal with running an opera house. And who knows what interference there may have been from the State Department in Washington? Sort of an artistic tit for tat. It is interesting for me after seeing the dawn of Glasnost, the Iron Curtain, Berlin Wall and Communism fall, and years of thawing relations to now see Putin, basically installed as permanent Czar, and the growing tension, ill will, distrust, anti-Americanism (reciprocated from us too) so reminiscent of the Cold War years bubbling up all over again.

  • marshiemarkII

    Cunnilingus alert! The New York Times review, in the paper version today, has changed the pictures from the online version, and on the front page, they have the scene on the ottoman, with Opolais’ face the picture of delight :-)

  • StellaDelMarinar

    Cieca, I don’t know how this thing works, but you asked me to name a dozen singers who are not being seen at the Met. I am really busy now and plan to do a list but I have to comb You Tube and remember some wonderful singers I ran across on it. One who immediately comes to mind is Juliana di Giacomo. I was at a Stiffelio at the Met and she totally blew me away -- and the audience, she got a diva ovation. Why isn’t the met bringing her back? If I ran an opera house I’d build seasons around this extraordinary singer.

    Check out this duet from Le Roi D’Ys. She uses color, has heart, not to mention her beautiful sound. Notice Sophie Koch singing in the back of her throat, over darkening her sound and no vocal coloring, the antithesis of Juliana.

    Juliana di Giacomo

    Another is Jennifer Wilson SAILING through and “singing” In quest Reggia where Stemme lurched squeezed hard and a desperate inhuman honk came out, forced and desperate. She is intelligent and I did see her interesting take on the role, but really…

    I know Wilson sang one Turandot, probably covered it, but I saw two with Stemme and Hartig, the Liu, receieved TWICE the ovation at her solo. A friend, who was with me, new to opera, asked at the curtain call why the second singer got more applause than the lead.

    Harig is at the Met but in my opera house, I would also plan seasons around her because the audience LOVED her, as they did Juliana so many years ago. Gelb ignores her and we continue to have empty houses with his “stars.” The Met publicity machine should be working to get the public to hear these wonderful singers, but I bet you anything, Juliana’s size has something to do with it. No “wunderkind” director would touch her -- remember, the little red dress is the measure of Violetta now. That Meade -- a fine singer -- is so prominent is that she became the critic’s darling and her publicity machine is hard at work. She deserves her success, but let’s see if these genius directors use her in new mountings.

    Am I living in a dream world? I heard the greatest singers since 1957 and, while there are wonderful ones today, the directors are keeping them from performing at their best.

    • You must be living in a dream world if you think “the red dress” is preventing Julianna Di Giacomo from singing Violetta at the Met.


      Amazing power that Peter Gelb has, to be able to prevent her from singing this part anywhere in the world.

      Again, stop making shit up or I will put you on moderation.

      • StellaDelMarinar

        You didn’t get the metaphor that the little red dress conveyed. Of course Julianna never sang Violetta!!! My point is that looks is what is driving directors.

        As for putting me on “moderation” don’t bother. Ora e per semre addio!.

        • pirelli

          Ah, yes, of course. THAT’s why we go to the opera -- for the metaphor. Right. Sure.

        • armerjacquino

          ^^^^ Last ever post #2 ^^^^

          • rapt

            Surely Patti had more….

    • PCally

      More inane rantings. Have you been listening to Meade lately. Her voice is already declining and she has gotten more than enough reviews that show that her lack of stardom has plenty of factors that don’t involve her weight. And of course, that’s overlooking the fact that there were never a plethora of famous singers who weight as much as Meade at any point in time.

      And Wilson’s lone met Turandot was indifferently recieved, and she’s hardly achieve superstardom anywhere, so this notion that she’s some undervalued diva is an exaggeration at best. And Hartig receive the largest ovations because Liu ALWAYS gets the biggest ovations. I’ve quite literally never been to a Turandot where that hasn’t happened.

      • marshiemarkII

        Something to do with the prettier music maybe? yes Leona Mitchell frequently came close to stealing the ovation from Marton (who was a huge Met star back then) at the prima, and when Aprile Millo sang it later in that run she got a wall of screaming that was much bigger than whoever it was the Turandot, cannot remember if it was Marton or Dimitrova, and either of those two were megastars of their day, in the very first run of that production.

        The gorgeous Hong always stole the ovation whoever was the Turandot.

      • marshiemarkII

        And P, Wilson was not indifferently received. If I remember correctly she was obliterated here, pretty unanimously, something that rarely happens. NO ONE came to her defense of the people who were in the theater. God knows even the terrible Lindstrom that I saw, had a lot of defenders, from her rather more splendid past, but Wilson I really do not remember anyone praising her for that debut Turandot.

        • PCally

          Marshie I didn’t Wilson’s Turandot, which is why I avoided making any specific comments. That being said the parterre review was hardly obliterating.

          Millo sang opposite Dimitrova

        • marshiemarkII

          The review was not obliterating, you are right, but the uniformity of the commentariat were indeed obliterating, and that included mostly people who were there.

          Thanks for reminding me of the Millo. I was there for the premiere, and Millo was with Elisabeth Taylor, because Zeffirelli was doing the Toscanini film. I was also there for her first Liu, and of course because I was a huge fan of Dimitrova, she couldn’t sing the top most notes, but my God THAT VOICE!, it was a force of nature, and very hard for anyone to steal that spotlight!

      • Krunoslav

        “Liu ALWAYS gets the biggest ovations. I’ve quite literally never been to a Turandot where that hasn’t happened.”

        I have. Also several draws, but these were clear Turandot victories:

        SFO 1986 -- Eva Marton stomped all over Adiana Anelli (some of he worst Puccini leading soprano role singing I’ve heard in a major house, even worse than tonight’s third-rate Manon Lescaut)

        Torre del Lago 1989 Olivia Stapp/Rosetta Pizzi

        Opera Nprth 2007 -- Claudia Waite/Kimwana Doner

        Met 2010 Lise Lindstrom/ Graziella Doronzio

        • grimoaldo

          I have only seen “Turandot” live once. Gwyneth Jones was Turandot, Cynthia Haymon Liu. No, Haymon did not receive a greater ovation than Jones.

        • PCally

          Okay, I was making an exceptionally generalized statement. But frankly I’m hardly inaccurate. Nine times out of ten, Liu gets the audience adoration, regardless how good the soprano actually is in the role.

        • marshiemarkII

          P we all [reasonable people] understood it that way :-), if something happens 9 out of 10 times, it’s pretty much the way it is, but some people insist on being literal.

          Speaking of which, I am surprised no one has chimed in yet with the biggest counterexample of all. Can anyone believe that Nilsson in the 60s got less applause than say Moffo or Price or Vishnevskaya?!?!?!?! now with Tebaldi maybe…… did anyone here see Nilsson and Tebaldi together?

          • Krunoslav

            Tebaldi certainly never sang Liu

            a) in the 60s
            b) at the Met

            I seem to remember that she never sang it onstage at all; she may have done so in the early years of her career in Italy, but I don’t think so.

          • marshiemarkII

            Well thank you dahlink, I wasn’t sure if Nilsson and Tebaldi had ever sung it together other than that recording. And of course I meant anywhere not necessarily the Met, Vishnevskaya was at La Scala, right? never together at Met?
            I guess Freni and Scotto were also Liu for Nilsson, and no competition there either…..

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Scotto never sang Liu with Nilsson live and if she sang it in her early days, didn’t do it often. She did make the recording with Nilsson.

              I saw Nilsson, L. Price and Corelli conducted by Leopold Stokowski in Philadelphia and I was surprised the building was still standing afterwards. The audience was hysterical for all four. I’m not sure one could make a meaningful distinction in the stupid game of “who got more applause” in that instance, there was simply a riot that went on and on when the opera ended.

              I saw Freni do it four times, twice at the Met and twice in Rome. She got tremendous applause but so did Nilsson and Corelli. The riot for her was the first night in Rome (1978?) where a demonstration against her had been prepared. She conquered the haters and the audience rushed the stage screaming in acclaim for her, but Nilsson had just about as much and there was a delirious outburst at her silent appearance in act one, and then again as she appeared in act two.

              After In questa reggia where she was joined in the final phrases by Cecchele, there was a huge ovation, which she stopped after a minute or so by holding up her hand “as Turandot” so she could launch the Riddle Scene (she was hungry). Freni was thrilled about “crushing” (her word) her enemies, and she did. But I’d say given the applause, indeed, near hysteria for Nilsson all the way through, it was a draw.

              Vishnevskaya sang with Nilsson and Corelli at La Scala. I knew her and Slava and loved them both and got the story. Slava even told my fortune, a party trick of his that scared people because he was always right. My fortune was all bad and it’s all come true, although he didn’t mention the Googler and it’s new acolyte — well, after a time, worse than other things becomes a relative issue.

              Vishnevskaya also writes about the Turandot in her memories, how “the tenor” (Corelli not named) didn’t pay any attention to the stage director but during the performance took her and “the bass” all the way down left and didn’t move (in the old days before renovation that was the “hot spot” at La Scala. Madame Callas somehow always ended up there and that’s where Miss Ricciarelli ran in the final scene of Bolena when the audience was drowning her out with boos to scream “I hope all your children die!!” Hysteria, police called, end of performance. The head of the upstairs maschere as the ushers were called then, all male and most for hire, remarked to me as I was trying to walk down the stairs among a hysterical crowd of Italians, “If she had sung that loud they wouldn’t have booed her” — a moot point).

              Galya mentions in the book and it’s on the tape/CDs of the performance, that the audience didn’t like her at first and she is booed after Signore Ascolta. But not one to give up, Galya says she broke all hearts in act three and had a triumph. I’m sure she did. But I doubt she got more applause than Nilsson or Corelli (that’s an exciting performance for those who don’t know it and can stand the opera, it’s conducted with a lot of heart by Gavazzeni who is a little like Stoki who never cued anybody and had plenty of trouble with the chorus.)

              Of course, Tebaldi never sang the role live but did record it twice. She is stunning and so is Del Monaco on the stereo edition of the Decca/London Turandot with the greatest (but not in that context) Inge Borkh. Big Renata does less well with Nilsson, where she has to reach for higher passages and doesn’t really sing them in tune (but the middle of her voice is wonderful).

              Caballe did sing with Nilsson and Jimmy King (she only did it twice, first was with Marion Lippert and I knew better than to go to that, but as fate traps us often I was at her last performance in what they called the June Festival where she was drowned in boos for the last scene and fired right after. Franco, getting on, didn’t have a great night but got the most applause but best was the fantastic Zylis-Gara as Liu).

              Liu (Madame C) remained lying on stage (I think she was giggling) after her suicide as Tumor and chorus mourned and Birgit and Jimmy looked on (bored). The curtain fell. Much buzzing in the audience. When it rose again Madame Nilsson was standing with her arms folded, tapping her foot. which is more or less how she did the Alfano section. I don’t know, but I don’t think she was pleased about the curtain (to hide Madame Caballe being hoisted up and helped off, followed by bass and choristers). She was well received as she usually was (of course, she was not nearly as good as Opolais) but the applause went to Nilsson.

            • messa di voce

              Mrs. JC: what was the demonstration against Freni about? Thanks.

            • grimoaldo

              ” that’s where Miss Ricciarelli ran in the final scene of Bolena when the audience was drowning her out with boos to scream “I hope all your children die!!” Hysteria, police called, end of performance. The head of the upstairs maschere as the ushers were called then, all male and most for hire” etc.

              lol, what a wonderful story. Priceless! much thanks mrsjc

            • WindyCityOperaman

              Nilsson mentions in her autobio that Tebaldi required a lot of coaching and was very insecure (always bothered by the obvious tape splice before the final note in signore ascolta); that seems odd that it was her second commercial recording and she had jumped labels from Decca to RCA (along with her studio-only Cavalleria with Bjorling).

        • dgf

          I have seen a number of Turandot’s in my day, and the applause has always been, for the most part, generous towards both leading ladies. Here are the performances I have seen: 1982 -- Houston, with Roberta Knie in an infamous Turandot when she lost her voice and sang most of the opera an octave down. She was later replaced by Linda Kelm. The Liu was Soviero, I think. 1984 -- Denver, with Marton in one of her first US Turandot’s, and Soviero a wonderful Liu. 1988 -- The MET with Marton and Mitchell, with a good bit of the luster already off of Marton’s voice. 1997 -- San Diego, with Eaglen as Turandot, and Ai-Lan Zhu as Liu in the Hockney production. 2005 -- Santa Fe, with Jennifer Wilson as Turandot and Racette as Liu, both of them remarkably good. 2010 -- Arena di Verona with Casolla as Turandot, and Tamar Iveri as Liu, who would later achieve infamy for her homophobic Facebook rants. 2011 -- San Diego, with Lindstrom as Turandot, and Jaho as Liu. 2013 -- Dallas, with Lindstrom as Turandot, sounding worn and less commanding than in 2011, and Hong as a lovely Liu.

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            Thank you, O Grimoaldo. La Scala was an asylum, believe me. Messa di voce, Freni and her first husband — they remained friends, he told me he was glad to be rid of her, he was a “maestro” who often worked for Pavarotti, Leone Magiera, they were all from Modena — told me they’d gotten word of a a bought demonstration paid for by the fans of a rival (it was always Scotto, although the ladies told the world they were friends) and that Freni would be drowned out by boos.

            I assume they had gotten reliable information, although paranoia is an Italian trait as is the belief that most people are enemies. Still, at the first sight of Freni a nasty murmur started in the gallery and was taken up downstairs. And then, on “perche un di, nella reggia mi’hai sorriso” she was booed, although it’s just one phrase and she had done it beautifully. Being Mirella in Italy (“I am an artist in the United States”) she glared at the audience. And then sang with astounding beauty (Rome is a small house so she had wonderful presence) — a few boos started after “Signore ascolta” but they were drowned out by cheers and that was that.

            So, I think there may have been something planned but I don’t know by whom.

            • PCally

              If heard that the riccarelli incident was during a Luisa Miller. Was it actually bolena ?

            • PCally

              *I’ve heard the Ricciarelli was a Luisa Miller performance. Am I wrong?

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              Though Tebaldi was an “exclusive” Decca artist, she was able to get exceptions for repertory Decca didn’t plan to record her in. I think four or five years was the most someone could be prevented from re-recording a role for another label (Callas had one year left before she could have recorded Violetta for EMI after her Cetra recording, and I’m not positive but I think that was four years). RCA got Tebaldi just after her “hold” on Liu expired. I’m sure she needed coaching, she didn’t sing the part.

              Decca evidently had first dibs on a Santuzza but must have said they didn’t have plans to record it with her. She is great on that recording and although Bjorling sometimes recedes (as he does on the Turandot) he’s wonderful too. I don’t think Bastianini knew Alfio and it shows, and the rest of the performance is really a mess.

              Tebaldi was honest about needing to be coached in roles she hadn’t sung a lot. She told me she drove Decca crazy by demanding coaching before nearly every session of the Fanciulla recording. One reason Capuana is the conductor is that she had coached a lot of her roles with him.

              I think she’s fabulous on that but she said she really was insecure in the rhythms and it was some time before she sang it live (Decca is 58, the RAI b’cast with her intimate Basile is 61, she had the score in front of her, but he had also coached her, the Met performances her first and only were in 1970).

    • armerjacquino

      ‘Am I in a dream world?’

      Well, I’m not saying you’re living in the past or anything, but you did just describe Willy Decker, 65, as a ‘wunderkind’.

      • mrsjohnclaggart

        PCally you are right, it was a Luisa Miller. The mind wanders at my age — I refer you to what I mentioned in a sobbing response to Armerjaquino:


        THANK YOU,
        ASYLUM ASSISTANT Steven Demetre Georgiou
        80901 Marshall Avenue
        Attn: SDG
        Geriatric Division Locked Ward
        23rd floor, back,
        Philadelphia, Pa 19151-8971

      • Tubsinger

        I can’t be sure where this is going to show up, but in response to Decca’s stranglehold over Tebaldi, it must be remembered that in the early 60s there was sort of a “lend-lease” deal between Decca and RCA, as I think Decca wanted more access to RCA’s American distribution network. The cross pollination led, at least briefly, to certain Decca artists appearing on RCA (in America) for a short time--such as HvK’s Carmen. I think that was why Tebaldi was able to show up as Liu with Bjoerling and Nilsson on RCA, and under the same arrangement Price recorded Tosca (and perhaps that lovely Solti Aida) for Decca.

    • Has there ever been an opera company anywhere in the world that has had every major singer on its roster? This is the impossible standard to which many hold the Met.

      Yes, the Met has ignored certain singers and deserves criticism for it (one is reminded of Jonathan Friend saying that the Met had no roles for Ewa Podles). Yes, Jennifer Wilson should have been engaged earlier at the Met (though her single Turandot was far from rapturously received). There are notable absences but, on the whole, the Met does a pretty great job of presenting the majority of the world’s greatest singers in its productions.

      Has di Giacomo had much of a career in N. America? Perhaps she prefers to stay in Europe. That’s the other part of the equation. Some singers are invited by the Met and they decline the invitation. Maybe it’s the wrong role, or the wrong time. Or a matter of geography, or something personal in their lives.

      • armerjacquino

        Spot on.

        It’s also worth noting that Di Giacomo has sung more at the Met than at many major opera houses. She had one run of FOSCARI at La Scala in 2009 and hasn’t been back since. She’s sung in Munich, Rome and Madrid but not at the Bastille, the Liceu, the VSO or Covent Garden. As you say, not every singer sings at every house.

        • armerjacquino

          (PS: What happened to Marambio, the soprano Di Giacomo replaced in STIFFELIO? She was everywhere for a bit)

  • Gualtier M

    So I saw this “Manon Lescaut” last night at the second performance. The production is what it is -- it can be ignored in most spots (except for the incoherence of Nazis sending French prostitutes to Louisiana? People were deported to work or death camps on trains). Not anywhere near good, not so terrible that great singers can’t overcome it.

    The cast didn’t exactly reach greatness but were way better than reports of opening night. Fabio Luisi leading the Met Orchestra in the pit did deliver a great performance -- detailed, full of inner detail and animation and vibrantly alive every moment. He is a MAJOR loss. As for Opalais -- I didn’t hear an empty sour timbre “a voice full of lemons” as Poison Ivy described it in her review. It wasn’t at all gray and washed out sounding like her Mimi last season. I found that there was a sensuous fruity roundness in the middle at softer dynamics. There is also a rim of steel when the line ascends or gets louder which is often. It wasn’t unattractive in quality and the tone carried over ensembles -- this is NOT a SMALL voice. She could caress the musical line a little more and add little italianate touches to the phrasing. The voice seems angular in its make up but that suits the rangy music pretty well. I was reminded in some ways of Raina Kabaivanska -- a lean spinto with a rim of metal and a cool sometimes whitish color. Not sensuous but secure. That is the kind of career I think she would have had under Bing if she had been active back then -- but I think her beauty and the warmer colors in her tone might have merited her more Tucci or Stella status. Definitely Tebaldi, Caballé and Price would have been above her. Definitely she is glamorous but I only felt the vulnerability in the last scene -- otherwise I didn’t care about the character. There needs to be something girlish and kind of heedlessly feckless but charming about Manon. Definitely charm is not in her arsenal onstage -- offstage I have been told she is as nice as can be.

    Alagna is still working his way into the role. Act I and Act III still have problems here or there -- in “Tra Voi Belle” he had disagreements with Luisi over tempo, he hit a gorgeous high note at the end, knew it and held it and got out of sync with Luisi who didn’t want a fermata there. “Donna non vidi mai” had some effortful moments. His top isn’t as easy as it was 8 or 10 years ago and can get strained and splay under pressure. The sharping is an issue though if you don’t have perfect pitch it is less noticeable than flatting which stands out like a sore thumb. So Act III wasn’t a walk in the park and I have heard more demented “Guardate! Pazzo son, guardate” in my time -- Alagna had to pace himself. There was lots of beautiful singing in Act II and Act IV with a few uncomfortable moments where the top wasn’t easy or the phrases didn’t flow smoothly -- he also has rhythmic mistakes all evening. That will improve as will the pacing. Alagna’s tone is sympathetic and still attractively Italianate. Even at this late date and with a tiny little tummy coming along, Alagna has tons of boyish charm and vulnerability and romantic dash -- muscular arms when he strips to a tank top in Act II. Great hair. He will improve but it would have been easier for him a decade ago. The improvement should continue over the run.

    Brindley Sherratt was a menacing Geronte who really contributed to the drama. His voice isn’t buffo but a real mettlesome bass -- a strong antagonist. Cavalletti as Lescaut has a woofy top and mediocre technique and a decent quality second tier baritone -- he certainly wasn’t any more than competent so that he didn’t ruin the show and the part isn’t so crucial that a “B” singer brings down the evening significantly. Native Italian does help. Ditto Zach Borichevsky as Edmondo -- he was okay, nothing special. That Andrew Bidlack as the Lamplighter (Street Sweeper here) is one to watch. Virginie Verrez as the Madrigal Singer was another voice that made one sit up and notice -- her Juilliard performances were even more impressive.

    • marshiemarkII

      Bravisssimo Gualtier!!!! finally some sense about Opolais, I agree with every word you said! Too bad that Alagna is still having the same problems I described in Acts I and III and again we agree about the beautiful singing of II and IV.
      How was the Sei tu che piangi? (do I have an obsession or what ;-))
      Again bravo!

      • Jesus. You gush more than a female porn star.

        • Gualtier M

          Now Ivy, that female porn star is having a good time and sharing it with others as is Marshiemark -- don’t be a spoilsport!

        • mrsjohnclaggart

          Yup, the googler who never heard Tucci or Stella thinks this little squeaker with the edge and unsteadiness is their equal? Records deceive. Stella had a huge, voluptuous tone, an imposing chest, and a thrilling top. Tucci had a sweetness of tone which is nowhere in Opolais’ armory. They both understood the style with TOTAL authority and spontaneity.

          This “person” and his slobbering adulator can LOVE who they like, as can ants climbing one homeless person’s faeces to slurp as opposed to another’s.

          But it’s one thing to suggest that someone is better live than they seemed on one particular broadcast, or for those who were there live and loathed Opolais (I know quite a few) that in a different performance to the dissenter’s ears she had qualities she either didn’t have in that first performance or that the detractors underplayed in their descriptions and another to make these ludicrous and uninformed and preposterous claims.

          But the adulator is a grotesque maker of preposterous claims and the googler is a… oh, wait is that the baby dying? Must run, excuse me.

          • Gualtier M

            Question to the august Mrs. JC: I know you probably heard Stella and definitely heard Tucci a lot. For all my googling and all my listening, I did not. The cds do show quality voices that were worked hard early and declined earlier than some of their colleagues. However, I would totally concur with your description of the sensuous timbre and command of style -- listen to the Met Butterfly broadcasts as exhibit A. I never said they were bad at all in my post.

            However, have you heard Opalais live in the house in person -- ever? I know it is a quick train ride from Philly but still are you getting out the Met as much these days? I have as Mimi, Magda, Butterfly and now Manon Lescaut. Marshiemark II also heard her live in the house. Voices are different over the internet stream and you heard a stream of a different performance. So if she is a “squeaker” to your ears so be it -- I saw her live and heard her in person and I have a reaction. I wasn’t saying she was greater than Tebaldi or even Stella and Tucci. I am just saying that the voice is an imposing instrument with presence and when you take the pressure off an attractive color emerges. You might hear things different -- if you were actually in the building. I have noticed in the past that you have also trashed Netrebko who I also wonder if you had heard live at that point. If you have heard Netrebko live and still find her rhythmically sloppy, musically clumsy and technically slipshod then fine. Otherwise you are simply pontificating from (in your own immortal phrase) “the tinsel throne of queenly expertise”.

            • mrsjohnclaggart

              I don’t need to defend myself to such as you. I know it’s news to you but both trains (cheap and more expensive) and buses (cheap) go back and forth from Manhattan to Philly. I have been witnessed at the Met by no less than La Cieca. I have heard Madame Nelsons twice live, Rondine and Butterfly and thought she was at best a house singer in both. I was considering seeing the Manon Lescaut live but won’t now, especially because of your praise. There are those who are persuasive and actually know something and then… I have seen Netrebko live from her Met debut, I thought she was hyped and uneven live and worse on mic where the flaws were amplified, but also know that the balance is different live and sometimes the flaws don’t matter. I do think she has improved her form considerably in the few seasons and I have continued to see her live. But that doesn’t erase memories of the approximate, generalized, odd and uneven performances I saw her give.

              It is true that I don’t see as much as I did. But I saw Behrens ENDLESSLY in ALL her roles, over and over and over, at the Met, Bayreuth, and Munich. I have seen most famous people in “her” roles since I was a child, and I understand those roles are difficult, and singers, uneven. However, from the hysterical encomia of the one you mention I infer dementia or a hearing problem.

              Using that to support your assessment is building a castle on sand indeed. And inventing my life, similar to the inaccurate inferences you make from your googling and “standee friends” doesn’t shore up your credibility. All of your characterizations about me are false, uninformed and biased. I needn’t tell you the contempt I have for that internet technique or the people who practice it. And if some believe you, well … fools abound.

        • armerjacquino

          Having a go at someone for being snide/unpleasant/inconsiderate is fine, maybe even desirable. I have to say it makes me very uncomfortable to see anyone slagged for being enthusiastic. Everyone hears voices in different ways and people who like Opolais’ Manon aren’t harming anyone.

          • mrsjohnclaggart

            But Armerjacquino what if a poor sweet old lady FEELS harmed by someone who writes a bunch of bullshit about Opolais? Shouldn’t she be free to “slag” (though I am too innocent to know that word) a tin-eared dunce?

            I think I’d respect someone who wrote:

            “I know that many commentators here, listening to the broadcast of the FIRST performance, didn’t like the Manon Lescaut. I understand. I suspect there was an abundance of nerves on stage and singers do have off nights. I thought the second performance was much better than many comments had led me to believe it could be. I can understand feeling that Opolais lacks the kind of “Italianate” glamor and sweetness of tone one would hope to hear in this role. But from what I heard, she has qualities that appealed to me vocally. I do think the voice has presence and impact in a huge space like the Met. I thought she was very confident and vocally forceful in the heavier writing in the last two acts. I also think she has a compelling, emotionally arresting manner on stage that works for this character. I’m sure that one can find more sheerly magnificent voices on records in some of this music and yet here we are in a world with few singers of that kind. Live and now, I thought Opolais offered a performance of arresting presence, emotional commitment and did a lot of accomplished and affecting singing.”

            Although I could have done without the banshee shrieks of acclaim from a certain party, a sensible, realistic and measured review of that kind would not have offended this poor old lady. In fact, I would have thought — well who knows? She may have “clicked” into the role after getting through the premiere and given a committed and able account of the role. I wouldn’t feel motivated to see it perhaps, having seen the role with some of those magnificent sounding women, but if the points were made effectively for that particular viewer, good for him/her and good for Opolais.

            I think the dropping names of singers of olden times (alas, some of us actually saw them OFTEN) that a certain person would have no idea about, comparing them — and they were entirely different in sound and manner — to Opolais put this old lady off. That’s phony baloney bullshit and someone needs to call that lazy, pretentious crap out.

            Honest disagreement is never a problem; and indeed, I have in my life seen famous singers who weren’t very good in my experience of them, and barely known singers who were wonderful in several roles at a certain time. So that someone was better on one night than another, that an audience member liked them at a performance that after all, none of us heard, is not surprising or offensive. But there was something detestable about the tone and the follow-up and this old lady would like to ax murder people like that. Surely, you can understand? Sob… Thank you.


            THANK YOU,
            ASYLUM ASSISTANT Steven Demetre Georgiou
            80901 Marshall Avenue
            Attn: SDG
            Geriatric Division Locked Ward
            23rd floor, back,
            Philadelphia, Pa 19151-8971

            • armerjacquino

              Haha! ‘Please excuse the crayon, they don’t allow sharp objects in here’ etc.

              I agree with you that it’s annoying, and pointless, to set singers of different eras against each other. To be fair, though, in this case it started out the other way round, with all the ‘she would have been lucky to get a Musetta’ etc etc. That chimed in with what I described as ‘All Tebaldi All The Time’- a suggestion that in the good old days every performance was a gala. That’s dishonest and dangerous, which is why I called our Star Of The Sea out on it.

              But your point is well made- whichever way round, it should be possible to praise or criticise a singer without dragging in singers from other eras as collateral.

    • Thanks for the great review. Just to clarify though: when I said Opolais’s voice was “full of lemons” it wasn’t just a put-down. I was describing how her voice lacked the sensuality and bloom that would make her Manon sound sexy. And when I said “small” voice I meant that her voice has a tendency to sort of hang in the air. It doesn’t project very well past the orchestra. If you were measuring decibels I’m sure Opolais’s voice wouldnt be smaller than, say, Yoncheva’s, but Yoncheva’s voice can project extremely well into the vast auditorium

      Anyway here’s my review with the “voice full of lemons” line in context.

      • Gualtier M

        Nine times out of ten I feel you hit the nail on the head in your reviews -- here I feel we heard two very different performances. I suspect that the opening night was just like a bad dress rehearsal while the dress rehearsal Marshiemark II heard was like a promising first night warm up. I did hear this round, fruity color in her middle and upper middle when she lightened up the pressure. I also heard it cut through space quite effectively -- from Family Circle for Act I and orchestra for Acts II-IV. I think Opalais’ voice has probably hardened and lost freshness with her hard schedule, heavier repertoire and demands of motherhood while working the international operatic circuit. Armerjacquino probably heard a fresher prettier voice in the more acoustically friendly Covent Garden six or seven years ago (same situation with Westbroek -- a lovely artist still -- prior to 2010) and that is why he has trouble accepting the sweeping put downs and dismissals of her voice and talent.

        My big problem with Opalais as Manon is that she lacking in joie de vivre -- she seemed world weary, been around the block and a touch over it it all. Opalais is a cool customer as she was described on another thread (or a cool costumer which is a must for such a person).

        I think that Manon needs this openness and excitement and thirst for all that life has to offer -- it is all new to her and all wonderful. She wants it all and has no idea of the hidden costs and compromises or how it can all wreck her in the end. She is naive, narcissistic and self-centered but a child who even in her dying moments (in the Massenet opera) looks up at the sky and sees the stars as little diamonds that she wants. Like a child in a toy store. Netrebko has this girlish enthusiasm and zest for life in her own character makeup and I suspect her Manon will be perfection. I can’t wait for next year.

        • GM I heard Opolais in the Balcony Box for Acts 1 and 2 and orchestra for 3 and 4. Balcony Box seats are great to hear voices — you really HEAR them. But I just thought that the voice while it can be heard didn’t have that quality of being able to just float and project into the auditorium. Idk. I think we just hear her voice differently.

          As for the joie de vivre I’ve seen her live in ML and also on video in Munich and CG. This is just how she plays ML. A sullen, already grasping teen in Act One and a very cold customer in the later acts. But with JK he had that brooding emo thing too so oddly it worked. RA however at 52 still exudes a boyish, puppy-dog charm and their chemistry was off.

          One thing about Opolais’s ML is she really makes it clear that her arrest at the end of Act Two is that she WON’T leave Geronte’s digs. All the jewelry is in the little box so she could have just run off with that jewel box. But she procrastinates because she’s not really serious about living the poor life with this little sap des Grieux. I don’t really like this interpretation — I think there should be more ambiguity. Manon shouldn’t be SO cold and calculating.

          • armerjacquino

            That last moment you mention is on Eyre, not Opolais: that’s not how that scene plays out in the CG production.

            (And funnily enough, as you describe it it sounds like a really interesting touch- I want to see it now!)

          • Gualtier M

            I think Opalais has what I would describe a vertical voice with point but no enveloping warmth or color. (For contrast I would describe Netrebko’s voice as round -- full of color and ring from all angles. Tebaldi’s voice is horizontal from what I hear on recordings -- it rolls out like a velvety blanket and envelops you.) So perhaps that is what you are saying that her voice doesn’t have that enveloping quality in the house and I would agree with that. It certainly had cut and point and I never, ever strained to hear her. But it doesn’t caress the ear and that is where we agree re: the lemons. It sounded firm enough and not unsteady at all to my ears last night -- miking can expose unevenness in vibrato and oscillation. BTW: I haven’t always been thumbs up on Opalais -- the Mimi was a big thumbs down, the Magda sounded hard and edgy, the Butterfly worked though not the most gorgeous timbre. She is definitely a package -- the presence, the voice with its pluses and minuses, the beauty and the acting all come together to create a whole. Some parts require different balance of the elements and don’t fit her well. This was a pretty good fit -- I think with different partners, better direction and a superior production she could be better. Manon is not a Lauren Bacall or Barbara Stanwyck in “Double Indemnity” ice cold noir vixen -- she is more a young teenage Lana Turner small town girl glammed up on the town and headed for disaster -- like Lana in “Ziegfeld Girl”.

      • mrsjohnclaggart

        Thanks for being so nice Amerjaquino (and there is a joke in the communication at the end, I hope you get it). You are correct. It doesn’t help any case I make that I am a bully and can be very mean. I think in this instance it was the party involved but I have tried to control myself this time out on Parterre — I’m not doing spectacularly well but I would grade myself at about C (La Cieca might disagree). Anyway, your rebuke is a wake-up call. The contempt I have for a few regulars here really ought to be my secret (and in a few cases is).

        • armerjacquino

          A ‘Catty’ communication indeed…

          I wasn’t intending a rebuke, and I wasn’t speaking solely (or even mainly) to you, so please don’t concern yourself. All I really meant was that singers take enough of a kicking here at the best of times, so it’s a shame to take arms when someone actually likes somebody!

          (Unless it’s a singer *I* don’t like, obviously, in which case all bets are off)

    • Gualtier: Thanks for the detailed report.

  • moi

    I heard Opolais about 8 years ago as Lisa… a very solid singer indeed,
    but my impression was that the top doesn’t bloom ( ..or didn’t…)
    Never I would have imagined , that this is the next superstar, but good for her.
    And lately I caught 2 recitals of two very accomplished sopranos of today;
    Stoyanova and Roschmann…Wonderful singers , but the hype is always on one or two names ( flavor of the month, like Mattila once said, and it was her at one point… and it ain’t over…)

  • moi

    And I see from the adds on this site, that Fleming is in Carnegie hall on March 9th..
    And the day after Mattila in Alice Tully hall… I hope there is a lot of attendance.
    I envy everybody who has the chance to attend those recitals ( Mattila in Wesendonck lieder could be magic)

    • Krunoslav

      I wish Fleming well but also wish she had bother ed to learn some new Rachmaninoff songs beyond the 5-6 every soprano learns in graduate school.

      OT, but if anyone in the NYC area can get themselves to BUTTERFLY Monday, I thought Ana Maria Martinez was terrific-an advance on her HGO performance, which was also very good, and the best Met Butterfly I’ve heard since Soviero. And Artur Rucinski made a wonderful debut as Sharpless. More, please.

      • armerjacquino

        She’s maybe not so adventurous in Rachmaninoff, but in general I don’t think Fleming can be criticised for narrow rep.

        Wish I could see Martinez as Butterfly. Her Salzburg Fiordiligi, in a tedious production, is exquisite.

        (And to play our favourite game, people who sing Butterfly and Fiordiligi always seem to do both wonderfully. Jurinac, Steber, Lorengar, Caballe…)

        • Krunoslav

          No, but to do the same set for 30 years when he wrote so many fine songs for soprano..

          Butterfly/Fiordiligi: Easton, of course, another paragon. Not sure Amara shone brightest in either; Leontyne fabulous in one, iffy (live) in the second. Bill, did you hear della Casa do both of these parts?

          Did the Usual Armer Rep Suspects, Moser or Silja, ever attempt either?

          • armerjacquino

            Moser made her debut in BUTTERFLY, but as Kate. I should imagine she will have screeched her way through Fiordiligi at some point…

            • armerjacquino

              Yep- Moser sang COSI at La Scala, no less.

          • PCally

            Wikipedia says Silja sang Fiordilgi prior to her breakout Senta, though it doesn’t say where. In an interview I read she says she toured as a child and sang arias (!) one of which was Un bel di.

          • Krunoslav

            Also, Caballe is not my idea of a wonderful Firodiligi. Sure we’ve been through ths many times befre, but I find her, Baker and Gedda almost unlistenable on that set-- and Ganzarolli unlistenable. Enjoy only Cotrubas, uo there with Joan Rodgers among fine recorded Despinas.

            Speaking on Joan Rodgers-- in re another thread about directors, didn’t she take over for Judith Blegan at a 1982 FLUTE at Aix when Blegen was sacked after refusing to dunk her head in a bucket?

            • armerjacquino

              Agree with you about Baker and Gedda- although I think Caballe is wonderful and like Ganzarolli too.

              I’m not sure Rodgers would be in my top two Despinas, though, or even my top ten. Battle, Steffek, Grist, Popp, McLaughlin, Szmytka, Stratas, Scarabelli- all more interesting for me, even if not all of them can boast as smooth a voice as Rodgers. And then there’s Anna Steiger, probably not a voice worth recording but so, so characterful (channeling her parents?) that you can’t help but listen intently to every note.

            • armerjacquino

              BTW any Despina who avoids ‘comedy’ voices for the two impressions shoots straight to the top of the list, but alas up to now no such Despina exists.

          • Cocky Kurwenal

            It does seem terribly unfair to criticise Fleming for being less inquisitive about Rachmaninoff than she might have been, when she has been so adventurous with her recital repertoire overall. Nobody can explore every corner and I agree there is a lot of wonderful Rachmaninoff that would have suited her very well. But she has without question come up with more variety and less repetition in her recital programmes than any other top level singer I have experienced. When Dmitri Hvorostovsky presents some George Crumb, Korngold and Purcell, I might start to think Renee has been slacking.

            • Krunoslav

              “BTW any Despina who avoids ‘comedy’ voices for the two impressions shoots straight to the top of the list, but alas up to now no such Despina exists”


          • Krunoslav

            Zylis-Gara and Delia Reinhardt sang both Cio-Cio-San and Butterfly at the Met.

            I hear Z-G as Butterfly: not so crisp of diction or musical phrasing, but some of the lyrical portions were lovely. Best moment dramatically: a totally devastated “Rinegata- e felice”, willing herself to believe the second term.

            • manou

              …”both Cio-Cio-San and Butterfly” -- some kind of record there.

            • Krunoslav


              Phyllis Curtin ( did both in Vienna, the Mozart at the Met)

            • Krunoslav

              You’re living up to your own estimate of yourself, Manou!

              Cio-Cio-San and Fiordiligi

        • armer also Amina (La Sonnambula) and Butterfly.

          Moffo, Scotto, Callas, Toti dal Monte …

          • armerjacquino

            Oooh, good one. (Am now deciding whether people would hate an Opolais Amina or a Dessay Butterfly more)

      • moi

        I also enjoyed Martinez’ Butterfly yesterday immensely..
        And her interview during the second intermission… What a smart
        woman and artist…
        Getting older , it gives me almost as much pleasure as a beautiful voice.