Cher Public

Ever ever ever

basseyHappy 80th birthday songstress and diva Dame Shirley Bassey.

On this day in 1734 Handel’s Ariodante premieres at ROH Covent Garden.

Born on this day in 1915 bass-baritone Karl Dönch.

Born on this day in 1923 bass Giorgio Tozzi.

Born on this day in 1924 composer Benjamin Lees.

Born on this day in 1926 soprano Evelyn Lear.

Happy 79th birthday bass Yevgeny Nesterenko.

Happy 71st birthday opera director Elijah Moshinsky.

  • Nyssa of Traken

    From the BBC’s Christmas Eve special. The Dame has still got it but I suspect there has been a little pitch correction during post-production https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iuE_T9fJvI

  • Lady Abbado
  • Juicy Bjoerling

    for those of you who know your history, i had a question about the historical background of Vespri Siciliani. specifically, what are the duke and duchess of austria doing in sicily? as you may know from the plot, elena, the duchess, joins the sicilian resistance against the french because monforte, the french governor, had her brother executed. grazie for any elucidation.

    • grimoaldo2

      That’s a good, and intriguing, question. I have been trying to discover the answer to it, but I cannot. Although Scribe’s libretti play fast and loose with history, it is doubtful that he would simply have invented such a detail wholesale so I think it must be based at least vaguely on something historical.

      • Luvtennis

        Oh yes he certainly would have!!!!! He invents all the time. Often to the detriment of good taste and good sense, sad to say….

        • grimoaldo2

          Yes, Scribe’s grand opera libretti have invented stories and characters against a basic historical background with an element of fact to it. I could tell that “the Duke of Austria beheaded because of events in Sicily” was the sort of historical background that he would not have invented.

          • Luvtennis

            Lol!

          • Luvtennis

            So does Keeping up with the Kardashians.” ????

        • Lohenfal

          Even a Wagnerian like me wouldn’t go that far.

          Budden quotes a letter from Scribe to Duveyrier, his collaborator, which shows Scribe definitely interested in the historical background of the Sicilian Vespers. Note these words: “In that case Hélène could be the sister of the young Frédéric who had been beheaded with his friend Conradin by Charles d’Anjou and the French.” This shows someone historically informed, however free he might have been with the facts.

    • Lohenfal

      Grim is right: the detail is based on something historical.

      Check out the following:

      en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_I,_Margrave_of_Baden

      Frederick was the claimant Duke of Austria and became involved in the wars of the period. He was executed by Charles of Anjou, the French King of Sicily who was expelled because of the Sicilian Vespers revolt.

      • grimoaldo2

        Yes, thank you Lohenfal.
        Frederick accompanied his friend Conradin, Duke of Swabia, who was claimant King of Sicily on an Italian expedition to put Conradin on the throne of Sicily but Conradin and Frederick and their armies were defeated, and they were both beheaded in Naples.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conradin
        So the answer to Juicy’s question is that the (claimant) Duke of Austria never got to Sicily but his sister has joined the plotters there to get revenge for her brother’s death.

        • Juicy Bjoerling

          thanks, grim and lohenfal, i did search for both frederick and his father, but there’s no mention whatsoever of the duchess helen. i find it interesting that this duchess helen would not only be in sicily but she has a palace there! to which she retires during the opera. she’s a fascinating character, she goes from trying to assassinate monfort to later rejoicing in being his daughter-in-law. now i’m wondering, did scribe invent this character or did she actually exist?

          • Juicy Bjoerling

            here, the wikipedia entry does not show a daughter named helen for herman VI:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herman_VI,_Margrave_of_Baden

          • grimoaldo2

            My guess is that the character of Helen is indeed fictional.

            • grimoaldo2

              In 1838, Scribe and his collaborator Charles Duveyrier wrote a libretto for a French grand opera at Paris with music by Donizetti, “Le duc d’Albe”, with the background of the rebelliion in 16th century Flanders (modern Belgium and the Netherlands) against Spanish rule.
              https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_duc_d%27Albe
              The prima donna’s role, Hélène, is the daughter of the Count of Egmont, who has been executed by the Spanish Duke of Alba and she joins a conspiracy to assassinate him in revenge for her father’s death.
              But the leading lady intended for the role ar the Paris Opéra disliked her part and Donizetti did not finish the opera. It was completed by a student of the composer after his death.
              When Verdi got a commission for a French grand opera at the Paris Opéra more than ten years after Donizetti’s abandoned project, Scribe and Duveyrier recycled the unused material of “Le duc d’Albe” into “Les vêpres siciliennes”, changing the historical background from the Flemish revolt against Spain to the Sicilian reviolt against the Norman French, but with the role for the prima donna also called Hélène, and instead of seeking revenge for her father’s death wants revenge for her brother’s execution.
              So I feel that the character of Hélène in both versions is an invention of Scribe and his collaborator.
              Thank you for an excuse for me to wallow in this STUPENDOUS opera again, one of my favs, vastly underrated if you ask me, a MONUMENTAL masterpiece.
              Italian version with Maria Agresta, Ildar Abdrazakov, and the great Gregory Kunde (fabulous singing of ” Giorno di pianto” 2:03:30) 2011Torino
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uS5sf_YQWMc

            • Juicy Bjoerling

              thank you both for your replies. it’s interesting, again, that elena would have a palace in sicily, if as you point out, her brother didn’t make it there.

              something else that is interesting, that this would be a french commission for verdi as the opera ends badly for the french…

              this came up because i have been listening to an in-house recording of a met perf. from the 70’s with a fabulous cast: gedda (fantastic!), montse, milnes and raimondi, with levine conducting.

            • Juicy Bjoerling

              i think the first time i heard this work was more than 20 years ago, the recorded one with the same as above but with domingo and arroyo (for gedda and montse). at the time, i didn’t really care for it.

            • Lohenfal

              You’re welcome. I heard that broadcast live in 1974, but with Diaz, not Raimondi. If I remember correctly, it was Levine’s first major project at the Met, and was impressive both for his work and that of the singers.

            • Juicy Bjoerling

              do you know the (studio?) recording with arroyo and domingo? i find arroyo to be too placid (ha!) for this role… maybe montse as well. elena needs a little more fire in her.

            • grimoaldo2

              You could try this audio only recording of a 1964 performance with Gencer the Great (nobody ever called her placid)

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKAwclftz_c

            • Lohenfal

              Yes, I did hear the studio recording many years ago and thought it was OK but not outstanding. Certainly, it didn’t leave the imprint on my mind that the 1974 Met broadcast did. At that time, there were numerous studio recordings of standard and not so standard works, and I heard most of them on NYC classical radio stations, which were abundant at the time.

              In general, I found Gedda always more likable than Domingo, albeit within a smaller, more select repertoire of lyric tenor roles. Caballé, when she did appear (!), also was unforgettable and more expressive than one might expect. That’s why the broadcast was bound to stay in my mind up to the present, probably the best performance of this opera I’ve ever heard. Not that I’ve heard that many, considering how infrequently it’s done.

            • Luvtennis

              I think the Muti performance with Scotto on Gala is the best. Virtually note complete, and Scotto is riveting if over parted in places.

            • PCally

              Agree, that is the overall best performances, the whole thing is electric. The scala performances eight years ealier is also pretty special and she’s in slightly fresher voice. The met broadcast however is one of the most beautiful things I’ve heard Caballe do and while it’s a big lacking in intensity, it’s a pretty lovely performance. I don’t know to what extent this is true, but I’ve heard that Caballe’s success on the broadcast came only after she’d apparently faked and guessed her way through the role on opening night and threatened with being fired.

            • Lohenfal

              I never heard this particular story about Caballé’s shortcomings as a musician, but it might well be true. In 1974, the cancellation problem hadn’t yet become significant, if it existed at all then, and all the broadcast performances with her at that time were memorable. Sometimes voice and technique can conquer almost everything, and as I said, she could be quite a good interpreter.

            • Luvtennis

              She wasn’t cancelling in that era but she was showing up unprepared. And it was during that time that she started to manipulate the voice by huffing the middle, forcing the top, crooning the high pianissimi, and leaving out words whenever it suited her. Sometimes when she was in good voice she could still do wonderful things, but man was she willful (or at least it seems that way).

              Compare (with a minimum of odiousness) her recording of Chenier with that of Scotto. Renata is way overparted and shrill on high but everywhere else is serious and sometimes wonderful. Caballe is also hard edged in the high climaxes, but she offers only intermittent (and often musically and dramatically inapt) moments of vocal display in compensation. A long line (missing some the words) here; a disembodied ppp there. The character is nowhere to be found.

              Just my opinion of course.

            • Lohenfal

              When Caballé went into verismo roles, she did receive some criticism, as I remember. In that period of the Vêpres broadcast, she was still concentrating on bel canto and suitable Verdi, so the vocal display component counted for much more than it did in verismo. Still, I don’t recall her ever having stirred up as much controversy as Scotto, at any point. Eventually, the cancellations, lack of preparation, willfulness did catch up with her, leading to her persona non grata status at the Met. Those of us who liked her understood the Met’s position but missed her nonetheless. At this distance in time, it might be difficult to comprehend these reactions, which reflect being around at that time, something one can’t get only from listening to a recording at present. The recordings reveal all the faults you mention all too clearly.

            • Luvtennis

              There was nearly a riot at La Scala over a very unfortunate Anna Bolena.

            • Lohenfal

              You must mean the 1982 Bolena. Yes, I remember that. But is a riot at La Scala proof of a controversy? Domingo and Freni in Ernani, Pavarotti in Don Carlo, Fleming in Lucrezia Borgia--they were all booed and reviled there. I have nothing against that theater, but it seems like a badge of honor to have a failure there. Some in their audience were even upset when Barenboim opened the 2012-13 season with Lohengrin instead of a Verdi opera to commemorate the Verdi/Wagner bicentennial.

            • Luvtennis

              The Bolena incident was a little of both, as I recall from accounts here ever the years.

            • Lohenfal

              Of course, if she didn’t sing well that night, she wouldn’t have a success. I believe that her previous cancellations also had an influence on that debacle. Still, a riot? A poor performance should be handled by silence or tepid applause, much more effective in my opinion.

              I note that this performance is available on YouTube. At my leisure I will listen to it and determine if the denizens of La Scala were justified.

            • Luvtennis

              Lol! There is a story that Ponselle got a first hand glimpse of the “assertiveness” of Italian audiences and declined any further engagements on the boot. And this after triumphant performances in Florence (as I recall).

              And I think the audience was out for blood because she had cancelled an earlier performance or was late starting one or something they chose to interpret as capriciousness on the part of la Caballe.

              Maybe one of our archivists can tell us how often Sutherland, Nilsson and Price performed on Italian stages after their initial triumphs there in the late 50s to mid-60s.

            • DonCarloFanatic

              That’s a very interesting point. Does La Scala scare away some excellent talent? I suspect the answer is yes.

            • Lohenfal

              “At the same house last season, Montserrat Caballe caused riots in the galleries. She was to sing Donizetti’s ”Anna Bolena” in the Luchino Visconti production done originally for Maria Callas. She cancelled, and the audience went wild, even hissing down their favorite retired mezzo, Giulietta Simionato. The performance had to be cancelled. It happened again at the next performance; Caballe was announced as indisposed, the audience rioted. At the third performance, Caballe sang but was under form, and was severely booed….”

              Christian Science Monitor, March 23, 1983

              I’ve also read about Ponselle’s hesitation in returning to Italy after her successful Vestale in Florence. She didn’t have to be there long before she realized the risks.

            • Lohenfal

              I’ve read favorable reviews about that performance but haven’t actually heard it. I do remember Scotto’s Elena on a Met broadcast from 1982. She was dramatically effective but had serious problems with certain passages. The Bolero in particular was obviously difficult for her to get through, and all of Levine’s genius in assisting singers was needed at that moment. Since the Muti performance took place in 1978, she may have been more successful in negotiating the problems at that earlier date.

            • Luvtennis

              She was indeed more successful. The bolero is not Sutherlandian by any stretch but it works perfectly in the context of the performance. Perhaps the relative size of the theatres also made a difference. I think the performance is from Florence. I assume that the house there is a bit smaller than the Met. Finally, I think a lot of her confidence at the Met was gone by ’82. She had a lot of resentful detractors -- some were fair in their assessments, but others were just haters who just wanted to cause trouble for her. Purported Callas mafiosos…if the accounts are accurate.

              After having been a member of the former camp (based on recordings only -- I was still a teen at the time of her retirement from the Met stage), I have come to be an admirer of her considerable gifts. She was intensely musical, with an intensity of phrasing, that was mesmerizing at her best. Like Maria, she did not have a “Rolls Royce” quality vocal endowment -- the top was wiry and the timbre was penetrating without a lot of natural plush, but she could make it tell. Her early Lucias were gorgeously phrased. Her rep choices were “ambitious” and even foolhardy at times but she was a risk taker. I actually think her performances in early and mid period Verdi were remarkable at times. I think she should have avoided Tosca and Gioconda, but she wanted a great career in the great houses and so she had to take chances in those roles. It’s not like the Met was offering Straniera or La Battaglia di Legnano during that era. Ricciarelli suffered a similar fate. The music best suited to their voices, early Verdi, Bellini, Donizetti, Pacini et.al was not being performed on a regular basis anywhere but the smaller houses in Italy. All which could be quite inhospitable at times…. I think Scotto understood her voice and technique better than La Katia, even if she had a little less to work with.

              But recall that this was an era of flameouts. Think of how different the operatic world would have been in that era if Souliotis at one end and Susan Dunn at the other had not flamed out so soon.

            • Lohenfal

              You’re absolutely right about Scotto’s musicality and intensity. Her performances in the early Met telecasts (Mimì, Manon Lescaut, Desdemona, Luisa Miller) were generally praised at the time, and deservedly so. By 1982, she was going into heavier parts, and the voice wasn’t as pleasing as it had been. The Elena didn’t cause too much of a stir, but her Norma, Lady Macbeth and Francesca da Rimini certainly did, both among critics and public. Looking back, I think she was right in attempting these roles, but at that time the general reaction and my own feelings were negative, to say the least. You can sense some of that in my comments about her problems during that 1982 broadcast, even after a lapse of 35 years.

            • Juicy Bjoerling

              you guys made me dig up the muti gala cd set from 1978. sorry, but i find little renata almost unlistenable. the tone is pretty ugly. whoever told her she was a dramatic soprano? she should have stuck with lucia and rosina.

            • La Cieca

              La Cieca apologizes for her tardiness in approving the above comment, which was actually submitted in 1982.

            • Juicy Bjoerling

              1984, actually. the year i was born.

            • Luvtennis

              I think the mics catch her voice with greater warmth and presence than any of her studio recordings. And the voice possesse more weight and thrust than i frankly expected.

              The recording as a whole is noteworthy.

            • Juicy Bjoerling

              you’re more of an expert than i, it’s just that i find that she pushes the tone a lot.

            • PCally

              “whoever told her she was a dramatic soprano?”
              Is this a dramatic soprano role? And I here almost no pushing here. She sings it just about perfectly IMO.

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySxYEbKFEXg

            • Juicy Bjoerling

              i went back and re-listened to the whole thing today. she seems to take a more veristic approach, and to me, it sounds like she’s pushing a lot of the middle voice for dramatic effect, and in the process, making some pretty ugly sounds. her top is sometimes strained as well. OTOH, she’s a good tragédienne and also produces some lovely moments.

              i didn’t mean that elena was a DS role, was alluding to her more ambitious attempts (gioconda, lady mcbeth, etc.). she even recorded abigaille!!!

              maybe i just don’t get her.

            • Luvtennis

              That’s always possible and perfectly fair.

            • grimoaldo2

              Beautiful! thank you for posting that! That aria is one of the most heavenly inspirations in all music imo.
              For some reason Covent Garden stopped engaging Scotto after the early ’60’s which was before even MY time, and since London is where I lived until a while back and I have always enjoyed live performances and singers I have seen live much, much more than any kind of recording, I am actually not that familiar with Scotto over her range of work, but that performance is really memorable and treasureable.

            • Delmonaco

              Scotto was certainly at Covent Garden around 1981 for Macbeth with Muti/ Bruson -- it was pretty well received by the UK press

            • Porgy Amor

              The live recording of that is worth checking out. Lloyd is Banquo; Shicoff is Macduff. A few years back, I listened to several Macbeths just for my own pleasure — I had seen or was about to see the opera live, and wanted to brush up — and that was among those that impressed me most. I remember finding a cheap CD issue of it about 12 years ago on Ponto, expecting it was going to have intolerable sound or something — not the case at all, it was a good buy. The final disc had a bunch of earlier Scotto fill-ups with Queler and Maazel conducting (Medea, Bolena, Armida, and Pirata arias).

            • Delmonaco

              It’s a good recording -- Muti really has a way with early Verdi, although apparently the director Elijah Moshinsky had lots of conflict with him during that production. The Tito Gobbi / Amy Shuard recording from CG around 1960 is interesting too, although Gobbi was unwell for it.

            • grimoaldo2

              Yes, you are right, Thanks for the correction.

            • Juicy Bjoerling

              oh my dear belzebub, really? the french are massacred by a game show audience????? did they just vote them off the island? i only watched towards the end (from “giorno di pianto” onwards) but this staging is… peculiar. oh well, the cast is good.

              you are right, grim, it’s a monumental work, although i haven’t seen it live yet, but all the four main characters are driven by strong motivations and desires as well as torn by internal conflicts (well, except procida, who knows exactly what he wants). it is a compelling work that deserves to be seen more often.

          • Lohenfal

            I agree with grim that Hélène is probably a fictional character. If you could find some proof she existed, so much the better.

            There’s one factor that has to be considered in discussing Les vêpres siciliennes. Scribe was actually recycling his libretto for Le duc d’Albe, written originally for Halévy and later given to Donizetti, who didn’t complete the music. The character of the vengeful woman in Le duc d’Albe was Amélie, daughter of Count Egmont, who after the execution of her father joins the Dutch rebellion. I don’t know if there was such a historical character as Amélie, but in any case Scribe needed to find an equivalent character in this new Sicilian setting. Hélène was the solution.

            • grimoaldo2

              Oh sorry Lohenfal I did not notice that you had already posted some of the same material I repeated later.
              Yes that character is callled “Amélie” in the Italian version of ” Le duc d’Albe”, ” Hélène” in the uncompleted Donizetti French version.

            • Lohenfal

              That’s OK. Your further elucidation of the backstory was welcome.

              As for the name of the heroine, my understanding is that Amélie was the original name given by Scribe when he wrote the libretto for Halévy. He later changed it to Hélène for Donizetti, and then retained Hélène in the recycling for Verdi. At least that’s my interpretation of Budden’s discussion in The Operas of Verdi.

  • Ivy Lin

    So … anyone see the Candide? I did, here’s what I wrote:
    http://poisonivywalloftext.blogspot.com/2017/01/candide-not-best-of-all-possible.html

  • Juicy Bjoerling

    if anybody still cares, here’s l’arroyo’s elena.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KOSd0n3W2Q

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyLNpdiOOsg

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktZT78jHb_A

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLdrYEK6nSM

    to me, as i said, a somewhat restrained approach, but what a rich, velvety and warm voice.