Cher Public

Once, Moore, with feeling

latoniaWhen Sonja Frisell‘s Met production of Aïda was new and starred Oklahoma native Leona Mitchell, the similarly-intialled Latonia Moore was nine years old, singing in the choir of her pastor grandfather’s church. 

Tonight, 28 years later, the Texas-born Moore will sing the title role in that production for the first time since her March 2012 Met debut, a one-night triumph of substitution. That performance was conducted by Marco Armiliato, who also returns Tuesday, leading Ekaterina Gubanova, Marco Berti, Mark Delavan, Dmitry Belosselskiy and Soloman Howard.

Tuesday’s date brings to mind a story involving a third Aïda from a “red state,” a singer who blazed a trail for African-Americans such as Mitchell and Moore.

On November 22, 1963, the nation and the wider world were plunged into shock and grief when President John F. Kennedy, 46, was cut down by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas. The Met canceled the night’s performance of, poignantly, Götterdämmerung.

It was evening in Vienna when news of the assassination reached three Met stars, Leontyne Price, Franco Corelli and Robert Merrill, as well as Mirella Freni, two autumns shy of her Met debut. They were recording a deluxe Carmen in the Sofiensaal under the direction of Herbert von Karajan and producer John Culshaw.

In the account of Karajan biographer Richard Osborne, “The crew’s first thought that evening– and, to his eternal credit, that of the Don José, Franco Corelli–was for the one member of the cast who was American, black, and deeply committed to the Kennedy cause: Leontyne Price. Culshaw offered to postpone the sessions for a day or two, but Price insisted on going on. Just about the next thing they recorded was the Card Scene.”

That set of Bizet’s opera can b e an argument starter to this day (as can many opera recordings), but it is little wonder that its Card Scene is as mournful a rendition as ever has been set down for microphones. In the Mississippian soprano’s smoky tones, the French words throb with tears subdued and a tinge of bitterness, appropriate for a day when a decade’s trajectory was altered:

Mais si tu dois mourir,
si le mot redoubtable est écrit par le sort,
recommence vingt fois,
la carte impitoyable répétera : la mort!”

Although this date even now has grim resonance for Americans, it was not always a sad one for the country or for the opera house. Here is a look back at just some of what you could have seen, and perhaps did see, on November 22nd through the years at the Met.

1884: As twilight advanced on the Arthurian age (Chester Alan Arthur, that is), Leopold Damrosch led the company’s second Tannhäuser. Tenor Anton Schott vacillated between the purity of Auguste Seidl-Kraus and the carnality of Anna Slach. The Times‘s 29-year-old W. J. Henderson, who would review Met performances until shortly before his death in 1937, had expressed reservations about the first performance, while lauding the young company’s effort and the audience’s focus: “[T]he continuous attention bestowed upon the entertainment indicated that the occasion was viewed as of far more importance than the opportunity for a brilliant social gathering offered by the inception of the habitual series of opera nights.”

1919: “There are only two beautiful voices in the Metropolitan company,” wrote James Gibbons Huneker in the World, referring to Rosa Ponselle and Enrico Caruso. We might look back at the roster and disagree. Fortunately, Mr. Huneker was reviewing a new La Juive built around both of them. Artur Bodanzky “outdid himself, conducting with a nervous intensity that might better have been expended on a masterpiece instead of the unmusical fustian of La Juive. But then, he is not only a great conductor, but also a conscientious one and, with the cooperation of Caruso and Ponselle, made vital the faded music of Halévy.” The matinee audience was said to be “appreciative to fever heat,” and there was little time to cool down, with Claudia Muzio and Pasquale Amato lined up for an evening Trovatore.

1922: Two house favorites, tenor Giovanni Martinelli and bass José Mardones , were joined in Aïda by debuting leading ladies, Elisabeth Rethberg and Sigrid Onégin. The Times’s Richard Aldrich wrote of Onégin, “The new Amneris is a woman of majestic grace, broad gesture, brooding calm, while her voice was one of great power controlled with smoothness and beauty[.]” As for her onstage rival, amusingly, the Herald’s unidentified reviewer claimed that “Miss Rethberg was suffering so much from nervousness that she had almost no breath control,” while the World’s critic asseverated that “Miss Rethberg, not in least nervous, produced an abundance of fresh, brilliant tones.” On one point, all seemed in agreement: the German soprano was an important new voice.

1943: As the RAF began its air bombing of Berlin 4,000 miles away, the season opened with Mussorgsky’s bleak Boris Godunov. George Szell’s cast was headed by the tsar of Ezio Pinza. Virgil Thomson in the Herald Tribune lamented the decision to perform the opera in Italian, but appreciated “Mr. Szell’s fine understanding of this music and his ability to give shape to it (a quality it just possibly lacks a little bit in itself),” as well as “a certain good will on the part of the cast. It was amazing how carefully they all worked and how beautifully they all sang. If the opera sounded throughout like almost anything but a Russian opera, that was nobody’s fault that I could name.”

1947: Richard Tucker appeared in his first Met La bohème. Herbert Kupferberg of the Herald Tribune was equivocal: “He was in good voice, but he maintained a seemingly disdainful appearance, and most of his posturing was as absurd as the kiss he blew to the audience when it applauded his vocal accomplishments after the third act.” Rodolfo would be a frequent assignment for Tucker over the next quarter century. Kupferberg praised the “beautiful singing and unassuming demeanor” of Licia Albanese as Mimì.

1950: Margaret Harshaw, a mezzo for eight prior years with the company, made what Musical America‘s James Hinton Jr. described as a successful second debut as soprano, essaying Senta in Der fliegende Holländer. Fritz Reiner’s cast included Set Svanholm, Paul Schöffler and Sven Nilsson. Harshaw would carry on at the Met for another 14 years, alternating mezzo roles with the likes of Donna Anna, Isolde and Brünnhilde.

1951: Per Harold C. Schonberg in the Times, Alabama native Nell Rankin had a rough debut as Amneris in Aïda. “Her middle range sounded tentative, nor was there enough vocal authority for her to compete on even ensemble terms with Mr. [Mario] Del Monaco or Miss [Zinka] Milanov, both of whom virtually drowned her out in the first and second act trios.” Rankin would have other chances to impress, in this part and many others, through 1976.

1952: From a good seat, it may have seemed that Victoria de los Angeles was especially convincing in playing Cio-Cio San’s pain in Madama Butterfly. In fact, she was playing through pain, having injured her foot at some point in the second act. Her inadvertent “method” performance as Pinkerton’s faithful bride received a rave from the Times’s Noel Straus (“Never before at the opera house has this reviewer found the gifted soprano’s vocalism or acting so expressive or compelling”).

1957: “If you happen to have a friend with an aversion to opera houses, just take him or her to the Met for a performance of Der Rosenkavalier. If you don’t have a convert on your hands, we’ll attempt to eat a libretto right off a lobby stand,” wrote the Mirror’s Robert Coleman. The source of his folksy enthusiasm was a performance starring Lisa Della Casa, Hilde Gueden, Risë Stevens and Otto Edelmann. Karl Böhm conducted; the Herbert Graf/Rolf Gérard production framed. For New Yorkers feeling “kind of blue,” just a 20-minute walk away, the Miles Davis Quintet began a Carnegie Hall series.

1968: The release of the Beatles’ White Album was the day’s headline for the nation’s youth, but a new Rheingold also debuted, the second completed entry in a planned Ring from conductor/director Karajan and designer Günther Schneider-Siemssen. Debuting singers Josephine Veasey (Fricka), Zoltán Kelemen (Alberich), Gerhard Stolze (Loge) and Edda Moser (Wellgunde) joined Thomas Stewart (Wotan), Lili Chookasian (Erda), Martti Talvela and Karl Ridderbusch (Fasolt and Fafner). Baritone divo Sherrill Milnes took a holiday from Italian and French fare for a luxury Donner. Working with an orchestra a long way in 1968 from the ensemble it would become, Karajan drew a Rheingold praised for refinement, suggestiveness and buoyancy. “[Maria] Callas and Herbert von Karajan were the complete artists of my time at the Metropolitan, and I can criticize myself most effectively by complaining how few performances we got from either,” GM Rudolf Bing would write in his retirement memoir.

1976: “Without Love, there’s nothing you can do,” warned Aretha Franklin in a song of this era. Well, the Met had to do something: Shirley Love was unable to continue as Meistersinger‘s Magdalena after the first act. She was replaced by Cynthia Munzer, and the glorious quintet of Act Three remained a quintet, possibly a glorious one. Its other voices were Stewart, tenors Gerd Brenneis and Kenneth Riegel, and (in her first Met role) Eva Marton.

1983: The audience got its first exposure to Gösta Winbergh, Ottavio in a Don Giovanni with Carol Neblett, Kathleen Battle and James Morris. The Swedish tenor, whose “sweet tone[,] aristocratic style and technique” earned him an appreciative notice from the Times’s John Rockwell, would return periodically over the next 15 years for Mozart and Bizet.

1985: James Levine led the first of his 77 Met performances of Le nozze di Figaro, the occasion being Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s new production with Battle, Carol Vaness, Frederica von Stade, Thomas Allen and Ruggero Raimondi. This autumnal reconsideration of the Mozart/Da Ponte masterpiece was controversial for its imposing classical sets, stark costuming (“[T]hose who watch [a telecast] on black-and-white television sets will not miss very much,” quipped Tim Page in the Times) and liberties of character conduct taken by the director. Martin Mayer of Opera found it “generally nasty and ill-considered” but extolled the cast, especially the three female principals, and felt that “for the orchestra and Levine, no praise could be too high.”

1997: “Hungarian hardball” was how GM Joseph Volpe, in his retirement memoir, described Marton’s self-imposed exile following the 1988-89 season, when, “despite what [Marton had] been led to believe,” a rival was cast as Brünnhilde in the Met’s studio Ring recording. Marton finally returned for three dates in Franco Zeffirelli‘s overstuffed Turandot, in which she had been memorably filmed a decade earlier. Nello Santi‘s cast for Puccini’s valediction featured Ruth Ann Swenson and Kristián Jóhannsson as slave and prince, respectively. Marton would be back two Novembers later as Tosca, but the performance of the 22nd was her final Met Turandot.

1998: To mark his 30th Met anniversary, Luciano Pavarotti performed an act apiece from L’elisir d’amore, La bohème and Aïda, assisted by Levine and an array of this era’s vocal talent: Swenson, Ainhoa Arteta, Daniela Dessì, Maria Guleghina, Dolora Zajick, Leo Nucci, Dwayne Croft, Paul Plishka. At the evening’s close, Volpe presented Pavarotti with a Puccini autograph with music from Turandot. The beloved tenor, beset by recent health and personal concerns and not in best voice, was philosophical about criticism: “When a young man falls down in the street, they say he stumbled because he was looking at the sky. When a 60-year-old man falls down, if he is well known, they say it is because he is old.”

1999: After nearly 16 years on the shelf, Tristan und Isolde returned in a new production by Dieter Dorn, Maestro Levine at last having what he considered a worthy cast (Jane Eaglen, Katarina Dalayman, Ben Heppner, René Pape). The Observer’s Charles Michener awarded top honors to König Marke: “Mr. Pape’s riveting intensity of gesture, his nuanced articulation of the text and the force of his huge, burnished tone jolted the opera out of a dreamscape and into the painful here-and-now.”

2010: The 1979 production of Verdi’s Don Carlo gave way to a new one. The Observer‘s Zachary Woolfe felt that director Nicholas Hytner’s work suffered from lapses in tone (“Sombre splendor there is frequently not”), but he praised the royal couple of “rich-voiced and eloquent” bass Ferruccio Furlanetto and young soprano Marina Poplavskaya (“[A] single motion of her hand […] was a model of operatic gesture: stylized yet true, tiny yet able to register across an auditorium. She gets it”). The brotherly love of Carlo and Rodrigo was enacted by Roberto Alagna and Simon Keenlyside. In his second Met opera, future music director designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin drew acclaim from the Times’s Anthony Tommasini as “a born communicator who brought youthful passion and precocious insight to his work.”

Photo: Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera

  • Ned Geyser

    If I could board a rocket and be in NYC by current time, I would. Latonia Moore is one of the finest artists out there.

    • Last Castrato

      Sorry to have to report that tonight was another off night for Latonia. No cracking to speak of. She simply omitted nearly every note above the staff. One can only hope her current indisposition is related to the pregnancy and nothing more.

      • Luvtennis

        That’s too bad!!!!! It’s a tough business. I fear this could signal the end of her Met career before it had really begun. I know she felt compelled to take on this series of performances after bowing out a couple years ago, but maybe it was too much to ask of herself given her blessed condition.

        Don’t be discouraged Ms. Moore!

      • Bluecabochon

        I was there on Saturday night, and found her singing to be wonderful except for the notes that she didn’t attempt. I wonder if structurally there is an issue with a baby pressing on the diaphragm and the ability to take in enough air. She did some kneeling as well, which must have been uncomfortable. I wouldn’t write her off just yet.


    I love these pieces so much and this one was especially poignant because of a lot of the singers mentioned. I’m sure this was mountains of research. Many thanks, Porgy.

  • Krunoslav

    Besides Leona Mitchell and Latonia Moore, Met Aidas have included Liudmyla Monastyrska and ( my first, and second, company protaganista), Ljiljana Molnar-Talajic.

    Lucia Mazzaria, Lucie Isabelle Marsh and Lucy Monroe, all Met sopranos, never sang Aida for the company.

    • Porgy Amor

      And Monastyrska was from a “red state” too!

    • Krunoslav

      Surely the most evocative operatic initials ever: MC

      Maria Callas
      Montserrat Caballé
      Maria Carbone
      Maria Cerbotari
      Maria Chiara
      Maud Cunitz
      Maria Caniglia
      Maria Carena
      Marie Collier
      Muriel Costa-Greenspan
      Michèle Crider
      Mimi Coertse
      Mary Curtis-Verna
      Mary Costa
      Mercedes Capsir
      Margarita Castro-Alberty
      Marguerite Carré
      Margherita Carosio
      Marianna Christos
      Marianne Crebassa
      Marianne Cornetti
      Maria Capuana
      Marian Clarke ( a/k/a/ Franca Somigli)
      Micaela Carosi
      Maria Claessens

      (Male side, not so much)
      Mario Chang
      Mario Chamlee
      Mario Carlin
      Mariano Caruso
      Michael Colvin
      Michael Chioldi

  • PCally

    I love the comment about taking a friend who doesn’t like opera to Der Rosenkavalier. That’s most certainly not an opera I would have thought converted people

    • MisterSnow

      It’s surprising what people will respond to. In 1979, I went to London or tour with a college choir. I took several of the other students with me to Covent Garden to see Idomeneo (with Janet Baker) -- their first live opera. Now Mozart is a common choice for 1st opera (Figaro) but not so much Idomeneo. However, there were definitely some major converts from this experience.

    • Cicciabella

      A bold dare by the reviewer, since even many seasoned opera buffs complain about the lengthiness of Rosenkavalier. But, given the now legendary cast, his rashness is understandable

      And once again, bravo Porgy!

      • Porgy Amor

        He doubled down in his next sentence: “For here is the most enjoyable and rewarding introduction to good music around town.”

        Here is a little more of that Mirror review:

        George Marek, of RCA-Victor, once confessed that in selling records he just called them operas, never grand operas, for fear of scaring Mr. and Mrs. Average Music Fan. Well, Richard Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal had the same idea when they wrote “Der Rosenkavalier.” This was no opera they said, but a musical comedy. And they might have added, the perfect musical comedy. It is a wonderful blending of mockery, satire, romance, heartbreak and hokum. It was von Hofmannsthal who suggested that Strauss compose a waltz for the piece, to give it a true Viennese flavor. The Maestro proceeded to fashion not one, but several, of the schamltziest ever to flow from an inspired pen. Ironically, and yet fittingly, he bestowed the loveliest of them on the gauche and goatish Baron Ochs, the heavy of the glorious frolic.

        This production had a real horse in it, which gets a mention.

        • Cicciabella

          Very interesting. Of course, audiences have also changed since then, in terms of attention span and the sheer amount of entertainment options they have.

          • Porgy Amor

            That is true about the entertainment options, but when I am digging for these look-back pieces, I often read about audiences as bad or worse than the ones we have today for attentiveness. The Halloween piece for last year includes a Meistersinger from just a month earlier than this, also with Otto Edelmann (as Sachs). The reviewer from Musical America went on at length about how people talked during it, stood up and surveyed the house (“as if Mr. Stiedry and the orchestra were playing restaurant music”), wandered in to find their seats after the first-act prelude, and got up to make early exits during the final chorus, inconveniencing their neighbors who wanted to see the whole thing and applaud the singers.

            I think I might more easily recommend Rosenkavalier to a new person now than I would have in the 1950s, because it’s such a verbally dense opera, and most houses have the simultaneous translations. Back then it would have required more preparation, and a non-German speaker would miss more. But I think that that reviewer was just under its spell, and of course it did have a great cast and an eye-pleasing production (which was still very new). And a horse.

            • All you would need to add is the noise and chatter of box holders having dinner served in their boxes and you’d have all the audience practices Richard Wagner and playwright August Strindberg denounced in their prose commentaries.

            • southerndoc1

              Joseph Weschberg describes his first visit to the Vienna Statsoper in similar terms -- people leaning out of boxes to talk to friends across the auditorium, plates of sausage and goulash being passed, etc. The performance was Figaro with E. Schumann and Mayr, among others.

      • Rosina Leckermaul

        Well, Rosenkavalier wasn’t quite so lengthy in those days.

      • Yes, of all the great casts mentioned in this post, that Rosenkavalier cast grabbed my attention the most. And to think one could’ve gone and heard Miles Davis the next night…

        • Rosina Leckermaul

          Remember seeing Rosenkavalier with that cast (Kempe conducting, I believe), the season before. I was quite young, but I do recall (or have imagined), a horse drawn coach for the presentation scene.

    • It might convert them to brevity.

  • empie arazza

    “her March 2012 Met debut, a one-night triumph of substitution…”

    But wasn’t it a matinee?

    • Porgy Amor

      You are correct. I had remembered it as midweek, and should have checked that.

    • Ned Geyser

      It was a Saturday afternoon broadcast. I remember it well. I was struck like lightening by the beauty of her voice.

      • Lohenfal

        I also remember it well, since I was in the house (Mar. 3, 2012). It was an unexpected treat, since she was replacing Urmana. I believe they didn’t even print her name in the program but used an insert instead.

  • I saw Moore tonight. I am sorry to say she came to major grief in the Nile sceneand her voice never recovered after that. The audience gasped in dismay when she cracked.

    • Porgy Amor

      I had read a couple of comments about that on social media. Bummer. I hope it was just a bad night that was unfortunately timed. That’s where the singer she replaced to acclaim in 2012 (Urmana) had the most trouble, if memory serves.

      • Cameron Kelsall

        I really hope it was just an off night for her. I listened to her debut Aida over the radio and it was so masterfully sung. When it was announced that she was stepping in for the one-off Butterfly earlier this season, I immediately bought tickets — she didn’t disappoint.

    • Oh no. That’s so sad.

    • Peter

      That’s unfortunate. In the 70’s, I had heard that at the Met, Caballe cracked really badly in the 3rd act aria and never gained her confidence for the rest of the performance so it happens even to the best of them.

      • Didn’t Caballe also have bad turn as Aida at La Scala. I remember once reading something about her running out of voice after the first two acts.

        • Porgy Amor

          I have read that often — either that it was not a good role live for her or that she tended not to manage her resources wisely so that she would have enough left over for the second half. I have no firsthand experience, not even having heard a live recording. The studio one is a favorite of mine.

          • I saw Caballe’s two at the Met, and one at La Scala (she did more at Scala). The first was with Robert Nagy, the second with Domingo, the third at Scala was Bergonzi. Caballle screamed and belted the first two acts making a surprisingly large noise (“it’s like Nilsson,” said some idiot behind me who didn’t notice that Nilsson never tried to sound huge, she just did, and she never pressed or pushed her voice). On both occasions at the Met she could barely make a sound in act three. In both she wore a long diaphanous blue nighty at the Nile and hurled herself to the floor before Amonasro could touch her, and, unable to get up, stayed there. In the Domingo performance she crawled to the tenor who kept backing away from her not sure what she was up to. Then she crawled up his leg and as they reached the climax of their duet, she grabbed his sword from its scabbard and hurled it clear across the stage. So later when he surrendered to Ramfis he had no sword to hand over and Jerry Hines looked for it!

            At La Scala she and Bergonzi were booed. Nothing unusual about that since somebody was always booing except on rare nights. She didn’t scream as much in the first two acts but had no words or rhythm and got lost in “Ritorna vincitor”. She wasn’t at ease in act three but it wasn’t a disaster like the Met. Bergonzi cracked the B flat at the end of Celeste Aida but sang gloriously for the rest of the evening and floated the A sharps in the Nile Duet to heavenly effect (same note on the piano, slightly different when song). The audience cheered, he gave them the finger Italian style. All the applausa as She-Grace Bumbry put it went to her and Cappuccilli who stood down left (the sweet spot), looked straight out, and poured out indescribable sound.

            Records are often fake and Caballe’s Aida is a miracle of miking, splices, retakes and comfortable studio conditions (I’m sure a roast chicken was to hand). Domingo who contrived his way around the role but was hardly resplendent in it also sounds good. But two great singers of that period, Cossotto and Cappuccilli sound more ordinary although both could shake the walls on a good night.

            • Luvtennis

              No disrespect to Caballe, but on headphones the edit during the the long lead up to the high c is very evident. i have never heard her in a live Aida. Is there one readily available?

            • A Scala performance with the cast I saw is on Myto but it wasn’t the night I was there. I haven’t heard it in a long while but doubt it’s much different from what what happened live as I describe it. The Met performances would have been in house tapes. I’ve never seen one but no doubt someone recorded one. She did the role in Barcelona I think so there may be a live performance from there.

            • MisterSnow

              Here is one of several on YouTube. Others include the La Scala with Bumbry and Bergonzi (76) and the ROH with Domingo and Cossotto. There are also individual numbers for the Met and other performances.

            • Luvtennis

              Oh no, that will not do. How on earth can a singer of her stature not know the words to O Patria Mia. And she slurs. And she gets the rhythms wrong routinely. And she sets her own tempi. I could go on. The timbre sounds fluttery as it often does late on records.

              Sigh. Not her night or maybe role.

            • PCally

              I’m a fan of the Muti Aida but even on a recording it’s pretty clear that the role is a size too big for caballe, who sounds strained much of the time. She does however sound way more disciplined than usual (Muti perhaps) and is quite moving in a small scaled way. For someone often refferred to as one of the greats, the stories I hear most about tend to be about her off nights then about her on ones. Never really understood her tbh

            • Luvtennis

              The Orange Norma is wonderful aided by a very forgiving acoustic. Some of the bel canto pirates also have their merits, especially the ’67(?) Pirata with Labo and the Maria Stuarda and Roberto Devereux from ’68. After 74, she could be very variable -- imho -- and she would leave out words and occasionally notes whenever she felt like it. But when on and fully engaged she could astound.

            • PCally

              I have watched the Norma and I thinks it’s a fantastic performance and I also think the 1968 broadcast of Luisa miller is remarkable. The breakthrough lucreazia makes it apparent why people were so stunned IMO. It’s not the voice so much, which is gorgeous, it’s the sloppiness and disregard for the music that I find very irritating. People criticize netrebko and Fleming in bel canto (including myself sometimes so I’m not exempt) and often include caballe in a list when comparing. But caballe had limited (at best) coloratura abilities, no trill, a weaker top, her diction was as bad as Sutherlands, and for all the talk about sutherlands interpretive inertia, I find her to be much more involving than caballe, whose dramatic effects usually entails a corresponding unmusical sound. No professional today would ever go onstage and sing the Ariadne she sang and have a career afterwards. I think there a fairly significant amount of artists with lesser endowments who were far more musical than her.

            • Luvtennis

              I cannot argue with much of what you say. I used to enjoy her recordings studio and live. Now, it’s pretty much only the orange Norma, the Pirata, the Salome, and the Boheme. For the rest, she is just too willful and self-indulgent. Holding to high notes is one thing, but leaving out 20% of the words and manipulating dynamics and just doing whatever the hell she felt like whenever it suited her … too much for me.

            • I disagree a bit about her gifts. She was quite wonderful all told in the 60s. She was a well trained and very facile musician with a certain breadth of reference, she could be quite effective in French melodie, German Lieder and Spanish song (serious — Nin, Turina, Falla — and Zarzuela).

              Her voice was continuously overestimated for volume and range. I have read preposterous assertions about her. She was a solid lyric soprano, with a beautiful timbre. She was in no way a spinto, she had no chest, she did not have an extensive top, and her voice did not sound good under pressure so declamation was apt to become throaty with many glottal stops.

              But that doesn’t mean there was no magic in her singing live. As I have averred often she really was at her best in concerts, with piano and with orchestra, in the 60s, and live documents of that era (and sometimes later) are usually very rewarding. I saw her often in that context, and she could float long, spinning lines effortlessly to wonderful effect. In that decade she did not need to croon or fake, either those lines, or the high pianissimi which became a trademark.

              I saw her sing French, German, Spanish and Italian clearly and with considerable flair, although she wasn’t idiomatic sounding in the first two.

              In opera she had some difficulties, psychological, for example. I know she was self conscious about her size. Unlike many big ladies who have a flair for opera, she did not have the “damn my bulk” abandon, and she hadn’t found a way to move around a stage and execute business that was comfortable for her. This led her to be either inert or silly. Unlike Bergonzi, a small, chubby man, with little physical allure, she was usually at a loss if required to do more than stand there and make the occasional gesture.

              When he sang a swashbuckling hero, such as Cavaradossi — he was nobody’s idea of what the person would look like. And yet he had worked out movements, poses, gestures and business and practiced them until they looked natural for him. He was not mesmerizing to see, but he was never at a loss, and in some roles — Nemorino for example or Riccardo/Gustavo in Ballo he was able to project a real charm and warmth. People like Tebaldi, De los Angeles, Nilsson, Gorr, Tucker, were similar.

              But Caballe never got to that point. Still she did have good evenings in opera, I’ve written about her Adriana Lecouvreur for example — or at least that one rather wonderful performance. I saw three of her Luisa Millers and I thought she did the last act very well with a touching simplicity and also sang it beautifully. I saw her Met debut in Faust. She got a big pro forma ovation but many were disappointed and she came a cropper in the Jewel Song. And yet, again in the last scene she sang with feeling and great sweetness of sound. However, she forgot all the words (as opposed to refusing to sing them) and the great John Alexander (Faust) was left at something of a loss. The people I knew ended up loving Milnes that night, he was also making a debut.

              I thought she sang a wonderful and heartfelt Violetta after getting into trouble in act one (two times). In Andrea Chenier in Philly with Corelli she tried hard but Lauretta Corelli had sneaked into her dressing room and cut up all her costumes and she didn’t really recover from the hysterical scene that ensued when she arrived (I used to hang out backstage and saw Lauretta sneak in with scissors and sneak out. She saw me and putting her fingers to her lips sneered at me to be silent!).

              Of course, the Butterfly in Philadelphia was such chaos that it would take the Marx Brothers and S. J. Perelman to do it justice — but she was sincere, she just didn’t choose to rehearse and got very confused as did orchestra and everybody else.

              And I think that was the problem. When she became a world wide superstar she coasted. She began to croon and fake. Her vaunted ability to learn a leading role in a week or so deserted her (she had done that at her Glyndebourne debut where she arrived not knowing a note of the part. Pritchard fired her but she begged him to give her a week to learn act one by memory. He did, and she did. Then the producer and costume people demanded she be replaced, they could not find a costume to fit her. Pritchard stuck with her and she created a sensation despite her looks. She has told the first part of this story often, but the second part is also true and hurt her a great deal.)

              PCally mentioned the Ariadne, an unbelievably horrible showing by anybody, let alone a star. She didn’t know it at all. I was there when Mo. Bernstein fired her publicly for showing up to record the Missa Solemnis without knowing any of it, certain she could just read the pages needed and get as many takes as required. The great Edda Moser arrived the same day, lined up in advance by Harry Kraut (where there was Lenny there was Harry).

              She undermined her technique by shrieking high notes in roles that didn’t suit her (Tosca) and that she hadn’t worked into her voice (Aida) and barking her way through lower passages that she didn’t have a technique for. She began to croon and leave music out. She abandoned words, sometimes because she forgot them or hadn’t learned them, sometimes to ease emission of her tone.

              Once in a while even after 1971 the old magic would come back for a few minutes. In a concert at the Met with Carreras they sang the Poliuto duet. He barked but she floated so beautifully that the audience gasped several times. But I think that was the style or writing she had been trained for.

              As for Norma, I saw many. Every one was awful for Casta diva and the end of act one (or act two in the old days). Every one was quite touching from “in mia man” on. Her singing of that duet was not perfect but she understood it. She could have magic at “son io” and “deh non volerli vittime” was invariably beautifully sung and moving. With Verrett she did “Dormono entrambi” and the ensuing duet well and with intention. Those were a loss with Cossotto.

              I think she had a huge talent, musical as well as vocal but to fit into the “diva slot” of that time required many compromises and then she discovered that crazy fans would let her get away with anything and managers kept hiring her. Meanwhile the increasing sophistication of recording techniques allowed for a LOT of “enhancing”.

            • Luvtennis

              All I can say is yes! I distilled my thoughts on her a bit too much. Also, I have no experience of her live. I have always wondered what might have explained her inconsistency in live performances. And I had heard that she had a gift for learning roles quickly even if she might not have the opportunity under those circumstances. to work the role fully into her voice.

              It was a crazy career in many respects. Even her recording career was different from her famous contemporaries. She pretty much recorded for all the major labels, yes? And she recorded a huge amount in a short time ’67-’75. All those Phillips Verdi recordings (as well the Lucia and Tosca). The RCA bel canto stuff AND Salome. Then EMI recordings of all sorts of things. And then the random Decca stuff -- Liu, Luisa Miller and later the soprano leads in Chenier and Gioconda.

              I had no idea she was slotted for that Missa Solemnis. I wonder if that incident explains why her career with DG never really went anywhere. They must have been quite perturbed by that. I always wondered how Moser ended up in that recording.

              I think she (Caballe) might have benefitted from a firmer hand (agent or conductor) consistently applied.

            • grimoaldo2

              Despite all the many recordings she made, curiously she never did a studio recording of what was perhaps her best role, the Leonora Trovatore, which I was fortunate enough to see live at Covent Garden, oh, several lifetimes ago in the middle seventies ( I was of course a mere babe in arms at the time), also with the great Irina Arkhipova, as in this performance from Orange
              And I think she was really sublime as Eliszbeth de Valois also.

            • Krunoslav

              The Early Verdi Arias CD is among the few recital discs I still enjoy of hers.

            • grimoaldo2

              ” In Andrea Chenier in Philly with Corelli she tried hard but Lauretta Corelli had sneaked into her dressing room and cut up all her costumes and she didn’t really recover from the hysterical scene that ensued when she arrived (I used to hang out backstage and saw Lauretta sneak in with scissors and sneak out.).”
              OMG, what? why? How horrible.

            • I spelled Mrs. Corelli’s name wrong it was Loretta. She’d had a career as a light lyric, Loretta di Lelio. her father was a well connected bass and they helped Corelli make his career initially (she can be heard as “L’innocente” on the L’arlesiana recording with Tagliavini and Pia Tassinari.) My father knew Aureliano (Ray) Fabbiani who ran the Lyric and was Corelli’s manager in America and functioned as such for a lot of Italian singers. I hung around backstage a lot (and was IN a lot of operas as a boy/girl extra, or in a chorus and got the occasional one line solo). In that context I knew a lot of the singers. Franco was nuts, Loretta was evil they got up to a lot between them and that’s all she wrote.

            • Kullervo

              “…showing up to record the Missa Solemnis without knowing any of it, certain she could just read the pages needed and get as many takes as required”

              I can imagine the look on the other soloists’ faces when she suggested that:

              Montsy: We could just do multiple takes…
              Rene Kollo: Absolutely-fucking-not thank you very much.

            • Luvtennis

              Right! The sopranos in the chorus might also object. The Missa Solemnis is everything for me, but it is brutal on the singers (and the conductor -- i think it must be a bitch to get everything right in work).

            • Kullervo

              Missa is one of those pieces where it becomes really clear reaaaaaaally quick if you actually know how to sing. It’s like Part 1 of Mahler 8. Good fucking luck.

    • Donald Grove

      I was there too. It didn’t sound like a crack to me. It was sort of odd fade to nothing, and where one hoped for an ascent to fine spun pianissimo C, there was just no sound at all. Perhaps the crack was audible from other parts of the house. There was one other attempt at a pianissimo high note (I think one that final ascent of “Fuggiam”), but this time it was very tight sounding and she got off it fast.

      A friend in the chorus says she is 8 months pregnant. No Idea if this is the case.

      I thought she recovered just fine. With these exceptions I thought she sounded terrific!

      She has a very distinctive and beautiful voice. Very brilliant, with a seemingly delicate quality to it, which is belied by the power of the sound. Gleaming, rich and pure. And her delivery tends to be very authoritative, unhesitating and bold. Again, there is that marvelous contrast: it sounds simple and easy, yet what she delivers is often rich and complex.

      I don’t dispute that there were some mistakes in Act 3. Perhaps she should not have attempted to sing those passage piano, I don’t know. But to my ear, it didn’t cramp her style. She was a brilliant Aida, Act 3 mishaps notwithstanding.

      • Porgy Amor

        A friend in the chorus says she is 8 months pregnant. No Idea if this is the case.

        I don’t know how far along, but she is definitely pregnant. She posted on social media (publicly, so I think it is okay to quote it), “Ok, NYC, I guess you’re ready for me, but are you ready for the BOTH OF US? #anotherpregnantAida,” with a photo in which she is certainly showing.

        • Randall Woodruff

          She is 7 1/2 months pregnant people! Can you even imagine pulling off Aida with all of that going on in your body?!? I am amazed by her.

  • As always, Porgy, it is your way with words makes these “on this day” compilations so enjoyable to read.

    The fact that the “only two beautiful voices at the Met” comment was made at the time of Muzio boggles the mind.

    And this is the first time that a performance I happened to be at has been mentioned. I was at the 1997 Turandot, when Marton was making her return to the Met, sharing the role with Jane Eaglen and Sharon Sweet. Pavarotti was also singing his first Calafs at the Met during that run, but he was in the “first cast” with Eaglen.

    It was only my second trip to the Met and I had taken my younger sister who’s not an opera fan per se but who likes Turandot and had enjoyed Marton in the Met video. We sat in the Family Circle and couldn’t even see the Emperor in the second act or the back of the stage at any point (thankfully we had seen the video and knew how it all looked).

    Marton was given a rapturous reception, with people shouting “Brava Eva” and one fella dumping an entire garbage bag full of confetti from the side top balcony. I remember when she started, her voice sounded smaller than I expected but it grew as the performance progressed.

    • Porgy Amor

      The fact that the “only two beautiful voices at the Met” comment was made at the time of Muzio boggles the mind.

      Ghost of James Gibbons Huneker: “Did you hear her live, kashania? I did, in all of her rôles. One experiencing Miss Muzio’s voice in the house and pleading for its beauty could not have heard, as I did, Ternina, Lehmann, Valleria, or Nordica, and even Betty Frank made more of Leonora’s airs. Miss Muzio was, it must be said, superior to Libia Drog. By the way, can you recommend a site for me to catch up on events since my death in early 1921? Did Mr. Harding return the country to the promised normalcy? I suppose we never entered that League of Nations.”

      Now, getting serious, that made me curious what Huneker thought of Muzio. He reviewed the world premiere of Tabarro and other things with her, and seems to have considered her what it is fashionable today to call a “package artist.” On an Aïda: “Her singing, like the curate’s egg, is good in spots. She worked tremendously in the concerted numbers, and made her voice tell against that huge tonal forest in the early acts. Of sheer sensuous beauty there is not much to boast in her voice. But there is talent, temperament, and earnestness, a trinity of qualities that usually wins. She was a handsome creature and an object of admiration.”

      He also later reviewed her in the first U.S. stage production of Onegin, and felt she had “sung no better this season” in her “fervid lyric style,” but was too fat and too badly dressed to be convincing on the stage. (I paraphrase.)

      • Bravo Porgy, you are a treasure as I lay here sobbing (waiting for the Greater Philadelphia block and tackle to get me up off the floor). My grandfather knew Muzio and his brother knew her well, although it wasn’t discussed in front of women. They were younger than she so she and I had that taste in common. They worshiped her. She was second only to Frida Leider who they also knew (no funny business there, although either or both would have been willing. They did send her and Grete Klose care packages after the war. My grandmother was still complaining years later and my mother who hadn’t known my father back then would join in). They thought Claudia was heaven and saw her fairly often in Rome to which they fled for reasons never discussed (except by my father and his next younger brother who hated their father) after having settled their families in Philadelphia, it doesn’t appear legally.

        No one could say a bad word about Claudia to them (or about Frida but no one had anything bad to say about Frida). They had all her Columbias between them and would play them over and over. (No one could play the Edisons until much later when stereo had been invented and the different stylus could be adapted to handle the Edisons). I couldn’t understand her well and asked my grandfather and he told me it was a Roman Jewish accent. (I have heard other theories about her weird pronunciation but I have never heard or read that). The old men hated Catholicism but weren’t Jewish. But they had run away to Rome when young and knew the various dialects in the region (We were Abbruzzese but my mother (da Napol’ as was said by my father’s relatives with a sneer) taught me regular Italian and my grandfather who hated her nonetheless agreed, although he used to speak to me in dialect and I still have an accent, which every Italian I have ever met picks up on immediately with the de rigueur jokes about crooks from the Abruzzi).

        Max de Schauensee who all knew in Philly and we saw all the time told me that Claudia (and Frida) forced in the Met and that one had to hear them abroad to hear how beautiful their voices were. He also said neither had resolved their high notes so as to sustain careers. He felt Frida had had a splendid top until 1928 or so when the notes above Bflat5 got iffy. He felt Claudia never really had a free and easy top and sometimes screamed or faked. He loved her in some things (Tosca, Santuzza and thought she “fought Aida to a draw”) but didn’t think she was so good in other things. Many begged to differ in South America, Chicago and Southern Italy but he loved Italian singers and knew a great deal so I think he was probably accurate. He also thought she carried on a great deal.

        My old men thought she was a great actor. She must have been a charismatic if extravagant personality on stage. Max told me his favorite story about her was how at a Tosca rehearsal with Caruso and Scotti, her old mother had crawled up the foot bridge between pit and stage and sprinkled everyone with holy water inducing a massive fit from the tenor and making it impossible for the baritone to continue because he couldn’t stop laughing. “As for Claudia, she looked around, then quickly pushed the old lady off the stage.”

      • southerndoc1

        Huneker on Destinn’s return to the Met after WW1:

        “She was interned during the war, yet Prague and its fascinating Czech cuisine must have been too near. We recommend Marienbad as the only hope. Marienbad and a perusal of Vance Thompson.

        Doubtless her trying experiences in her native land shattered the nerves of Emmy Destinn, even if they didn’t shatter her bulk. And they also shattered her voice, sorry to relate.”

        Damn Peter Gelb.

        • Porgy Amor

          Yes, I was reading that one earlier too. But…Renato Zanelli as Amonasro. Yum. The Nile Scene couldn’t have been a total loss. He’s one of the olden-times singers about whom I never want to shut up.

  • StageLefty

    I was in second grade in 1963, and had never heard of Leontyne Price on Nov 22, that day when we were sent home early because somebody had shot the President. Reading Porgy’s account of the RCA recording happening concurrently in Vienna gave me shivers -- 12 years later, that CARMEN was my first purchased full opera recording (first multi-disc purchase too) and remains (now digitally) my go-to when I need a Spanish-in-French fix. Leontyne’s card scene still strikes me in the gut -- clearly she sang it straight from hers that day more than 50 years ago. Thanks, Porgy.

  • Rob NYNY

    “Aïda.” Seriously?

    • manou
      • grimoaldo2

        “directed by global star Placido Domingo” and with ” real animals and a great live orchestra”!

        • Porgy Amor

          Singers inked for the love triangle: Liudmyla Monastyrska/Kristin Lewis; Marina Prudenskaya/Violeta Urmana/Ekaterina Gubanova; Jorge de Leon/Fabio Sartori.

          I would not go to this for great tenor singing.

          • Luvtennis

            Welcome to the traveling circus. Actually, a traveling company sounds really old school. If only they had a couple of dueling divas like Patti and that other singer whose name escapes me (Gerster?) who according to Patti tried to use the satanic arts on her! Anna and Angie? With only one nice dressing room….

            Am I the only person who thinks of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo whenever I hear stories of Mrs. Corelli’s wacky antics? Lol! We need more of that today. It’s like men’s professional tennis today. The players are just too damned nice!

  • Luvtennis

    I still haven’t seen a review of the Aida? I hope Moore isn’t discouraged too much. She has a lovely timbre and seems a very serious singer. I would love to hear have a go at la Valois! I think she would wonderful and the role doesn’t have a moment as dangerously exposed as Aida or the Leonora Trovatore.

    • She is capable of singing “O patria mia” with a solid high C too.

      • Luvtennis

        Some lovely things here. But I still can’t help thinking that the tessitura is a bit high for her. But she is certainly the real deal and the basic timbre is just lovely. I would love to hear her as the Boccanegra Amelia. Or Luisa Miller. Or as Desdemona.

        I think you and I had similar reactions to her English-language Lady. Some lovely singing, but the timbre was more Luisa Miller than evil femme fatale.

        • Ivy Lin

          i agree that Moore is a lyric soprano. I kind of think this is where her physique works against her. She’s a rather large woman. I think Caballe who was discussed in this thread is another case — lyric voice who didn’t look girlish and cute. I was actually thinking that Moore actually sounds somewhat like the young Renee Fleming.

          • Luvtennis

            It’s a shame to think of such things affecting a career -- but given Mrs. JC’s thoughts regarding Caballe and the fact that Moore’s signature role is now Aida -- what is there to say.

            I hear Moore’s voice as having a very soft-grained, luminous quality with more projection in the middle than Fleming. Is that how she sounds in house?

            • Ivy Lin

              Moore’s voice does have a luminous glow and is larger than Renee’s. But both have that soft grained quality. Where one expects metal there’s a glow. It’s a beautiful voice but even last year in the small Rose Theater in the Tosca her voice didn’t have the cut for the declamatoey parts. It was wonderful however in the softer lyrical parts. Desdemona, Mimi, Violetta, Contessa … I feel like if she looked different those would be the parts she would be offered.

            • Luvtennis

              Sigh. I would love to hear sing Mimi or the countess.

              And here is something out of left field -- Agathe.

    • Porgy Amor

      I doubt she’ll be discouraged too much. She’s a professional who sings a lot of places, and she knows you have great nights and not-so-great nights. Discouragement usually only sets in when there are persistent and intractable problems and the bad nights are strung together. There does seem to be a variety of opinion expressed in what I’ve read (no formal reviews) on how much she salvaged it.

      I’m sure she wanted Tuesday to be a big success, because it was the first in a series of performances of her Met breakthrough role, so the timing was unfortunate. However, she is performing well along in pregnancy. She has two more opportunities in the short term (tonight and December 2nd), and is back for another in the spring.

      Last year when the Iolanta opening night had to be postponed because of the blizzard, Beczala put something up on Facebook, quoting an unnamed colleague: there are five days of the season when the voice is as good as it can possibly be…and you don’t have a performance. I hear it from baseball players too. Sometimes pitchers are throwing in their warm-up and they just know it’s going to be a great game for them, and sometimes they can tell they’re going to have to be crafty to succeed.

  • LMacbeth

    OT. Jonas Kaufmann has cancelled his tour of Japan. Anyone in the know about what ails him? Very sad circumstances.

  • Well I decided to compare and contrast the Met’s warhorse Aida with another warhorse (NYCB’s Nutcracker). My thoughts on both performances here: