Cher Public

A free soul

Claire WatsonFor the second part of its preview of Caramoor’s upcoming Fidelio, “Trove Thursday” presents Beethoven’s initial 1805 version, now called Leonore, in an Italian Radio broadcast done for the composer’s bicentennial conducted by Erich Leinsdorf and featuring Claire Watson and Ernst Kozub

Like a number of American singers of her generation, New York City-born Watson made her career almost entirely in Europe where she was one of the most important Mozart-Wagner-R. Strauss sopranos of the 50s and 60s.

She never sang at the Met and appeared in just one role in San Francisco—in 1966 as Elisabetta in Don Carlo (opposite Marilyn Horne and Jon Vickers)—and a single engagement—as Donna Anna in 1969—at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. However, JJ saw her several times with the New Orleans Opera late in her career.

Probably her best known American performance is her radiant Ariadne with Leinsdorf conducting the Boston Symphony in the original 1912 version in which she shared the stage with Beverly Sills as Zerbinetta. Happily that 1969 concert performance was captured by television cameras and is available on DVD.

Watson likely remains remembered for her numerous recordings—a favorite of Georg Solti, she’s Freia and Gutrune in his historic Ring, as well as Eva in the live Meistersinger conducted by Joseph Keilberth that reopened the Bavarian State Opera in 1963 and which was issued on LP.

She’s also Ellen Orford on the Peter Grimes recorded by Decca conducted by the composer and starring Peter Pears. More recently a number of live broadcasts have been issued on CD making available her Sieglinde (Solti), Elsa (Karl Böhm) and Marschallin (Carlos Kleiber).

German tenor Kozub is perhaps best known for what he didn’t sing. John Culshaw in Ring Resounding, his book about the recording of the Decca-Solti Ring, talks about a relatively unknown tenor he wanted to record Siegfried but who was unable to proceed causing him to have to beg Wolfgang Windgassen at the last minute to take over the role.

Although Kozub seems never to have taken on Siegfried, he does appear in a number of broadcasts during the late 60s in prominent Wagner and Strauss roles and as Erik on Otto Klemperer’s EMI recording Der Fliegende Holländer. Unfortunately, he died the year after this Beethoven broadcast at the age of 47. Watson, too, died young—at just 59 in 1986.

In addition to this performance Leinsdorf conducted Leonore with the Boston Symphony at the Tanglewood Festival in 1967 with Hanne-Lore Kuhse and George Shirley as the heroic couple.

Beethoven: Leonore
RAI, Turin
6 February 1970

Leonore: Claire Watson
Marzelline: Liselotte Rebmann
Florestan: Ernst Kozub
Pizarro: Rolf Kühne
Rocco: Arne Tyrén
Jacquino: Gerhard Unger
Fernando: Ernst Gerold Schramm

Conductor: Erich Leinsdorf

“Trove Thursday” offerings can be downloaded via the audio-player above. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

In addition, this Leonore as well as Paër’s Leonora from two weeks ago, and all previous fare remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.

  • Krunoslav

    Thanks. I look forward to listening to this.

    “She never sang at the Met and appeared in just one role in San Francisco—in 1966 as Elisabetta in Don Carlo (opposite Marilyn Horne and Jon Vickers)—and a single engagement—as Donna Anna in 1969—at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. However, JJ saw her several times with the New Orleans Opera late in her career.”


    Claire Watson’s admittedly limited US career was not *quite* that sparse.

    In that SFO 1966 engagement, Watson also sang the Countess Almaviva: Grist, Evans, Stewart, Lee Venora, Vinay ( as Bartolo!) , and her husband David Thaw as Basilio; Horenstein

    And at Lyric Opera of Chicago, she also sang Pamina in the company premiere production of ZAUBERFLOETE (as late as 1966!), with Haefliger, Mesplé, Kunz, Ridderbusch and Rita Shane as the First Lady; Jochum. That season she took part in a LOC gala for Italian flood relief.

    She also sang Senta and Elisabeth ( with Richard Cassilly) at Pittsburgh Opera.

    • Christopher Corwin

      Thanks. Both the SF archives (again) and an old friend in Chicago let me down.

      • Krunoslav

        Those Archives can be tricky….

  • Krunoslav

    Two other major Watson studio recordings: Anna in Klemperer’s not quite gelled DON GIOVANNI and Agathe in the von Matacic FREISCHUETZ.

  • Camille

    What a rare treat! I can hardly wait to hear this one and, certainly, didn’t expect the luxury of hearing Mrs Watson in this role.

    For those interested to know something more about this fine American singer, she is profiled in the Lanfranco Rasponi book, The Last Prima Donnas, as well, and tells a real tale of perseverance, in her case.

    Yes, I remember seeing and hearing that Ariadne auf Naxos on television—it was while I was in the first throes of Liebe for that work—but feankly, all eyes and ears were trained in Madame Bubbles, in what was, for me, her most splendid ever singing.

    It might be interesting to hear some recollections by Mr JJ about his experience of hearing Mrs Watson, and by the way, wasn’t she made a Kammersängerin?

    • Camille

      Just finishing Act I and Florestan making his appearance and can say with a sigh of relief that I’m very glad some of Beethoven’s friends got together and got him to give this another shot and edit! It seems somehow that Mo. Gardiner somehow made all this sound a lot more ‘authentic’ with his instruments adapted more to the period and I found it more interesting.

      Tenor sounds quite nice thus far. He certainly has an easier aria to sing, though! Watson is past her prime or just raspy that day, and the damn horns bobble just as bad in this edition of “Abscheulicher!”, or whatever the actual title—or even worse than they usually do. Always wonder about those guys and why those intervals seem to be so godawfully treacherous. Marzelline and Pizarro I like a lot, as well Pappa Rocco is fine, too. Oh, now they actually do the Melodram, a bit of a surprise after all that interminable dialogue has been excised.

      All in all, probably I would prefer Frau Watson more in what I call the “Loverly Lyrical” Fach--you know the gang, Agathe, Arabella et sœurs + Countess Madeleine in Capriccio. This is all right but she hasn’t that heroic dynamic going on.

      • Camille

        She stepped up her intensity considerably in the “Töt erst sein Weib” section and I really enjoyed and might prefer the subsequent duet with Florestan and capping it with what I heard as a very vibrant C in alt, if not terribly mistaken.

        The ending, or, the appropriation of his own Cantata on the Emperor Joseph, actually I like much more than the usual cut version we hear — sheer Beethovenian bliss — if only he’d have cut more of that endless “Retterin” rhetoric at the end!

      • Operngasse

        I hope that this will fall into the “loverly lyrical” category:

        I don’t quite understand the slow tempo, but both Watson and Grist handle it beautifully.

  • Orlando Furioso

    As has been recounted in more than one book (I recall those by Bing and Gearing Evans), Solti wanted Watson for the Peter Grimes he was to conduct at the Met. Bing stood firm against the idea, not out of any dislike of her, but partly because he felt he could not establish the precedent of conductors overruling him on casting, and partly because he felt that after using Lucine Amara as a utility player for so many years, he owed her a leading role in a new production when a suitable one arose. So Solti withdrew, Colin Davis launched the new production, and Amara did Ellen.

    I saw Claire Watson’s Marschallin in 1973 in Munich. It was, in truth, more than a bit perilous by that point, even with Carlos Kleiber moving things along. But I’m glad I got the chance to experience her in person.

    • Orlando Furioso

      GERAINT Evans. I honestly don’t know if that was autocorrect or me typing carelessly.

      • I know (who doesn’t?) that Parterre is demanding but must we be word perfect even in Welsh?

        • manou

          Wrth gwrs!

    • Camille

      I’ve always wondered how that all came about.

      So sorry Bing had the urge to be Rex Solis.

      • 98rsd

        I thought Solti was having an affair with Watson and that’s why he put up a stink.

        • Orlando Furioso

          I had never heard that about Georg & Claire, but it wouldn’t be out of character for him. Fortunately the sopranos with whom he had affairs were generally worth hiring on their own merits, so it wasn’t that big a conflict for managements.

          But I don’t think Bing was out of line to resist in this case. He had a point to. And I must admit to being less than enamored of Watson’s recorded Ellen Orford. Some very strange vowels going on there.

    • Will

      Watson as Resi in Munich just three years earlier in 1970 wasn’t perilous to these ears, and I was very happy to have experienced her live in an opera house.

  • aulus agerius

    Is this what Washington Concert Opera is presenting next spring?

    I am puzzled and disappointed by many of their choices of repertory recently: Guntram, Herodiade (ugh), Leonore, Favorite, et al. It seemed to me their biggest season by far in my memory was the two early Verdi rarities.

  • agh

    Watson and Kozub both sang frequently in England in the late 50s and 60s with considerable success. Watson was a lovely Marschallin at Glyndebourne and at the ROH where I also heard in equally successful performances of Ellen, Sieglinde, Donna Anna and Eva. She had a well controlled voice which never let her (or the sudience) down and considerable acting ability. I first encountered Kozub as Bacchus in Vienna when he replaced the announced tenor at short notice. At least he was competent in that difficult role, but could hardly shine when matched against Della Casa, Seefried, Gueden, and Rothenberger! At Covent Garden he was the beneficiary of the conflict which developed between Solti and Vickers, for once Vickers had apparently departed he took over the roles of Florestan, Don Carlos and Siegmund. Then he was always fighting memories of the altogether outstanding performances of Vickers, but he proved a non-negligible substitute, for he had a good well produced voice without any obvious faults and but for his early death would soon have become more widely known and admired throughout the operatic world.

  • Will

    Watson as Resi in Munich just three years earlier in 1970 wasn’t perilous to these ears, and I was very happy to have experienced her live in an opera house.