Cher Public

Purists

I suppose the most significant moment of the season premiere of Bellini’s I Puritani at the Metropolitan Opera occurred when someone—a deranged purist no doubt—heckled Javier Camarena from the balcony of the opera house for withholding the infamous high F during “Credeasi, misera.” 

Honestly, the criticism seems a bit unfair, as Camarena’s singing was truly beautiful, even, and artfully phrased throughout the evening. Such uncompromising demands of singers—that they jump through difficult hoops, no matter the costs—reduce the art of singing to merely a sport, a feat of physical accomplishment.

While much can be argued about this approach to singing, this reductive lens erases the totality of an artist’s skills and talent, leaving little room for the more delicate and subtle ways in which a singer inhabits music. These concerns are more preoccupied with muscle than finesse, zeroing in on the physical limits of a voice, disregarding the manner in which that medium is used, and to what effect. Ultimately, it ignores the maxim that through the art of singing one embodies the essence of the material, revealing the composers intentions though the filter of one’s body and soul.

Indeed, it is this kind of vocal artistry that gives I Puritani much of its appeal, making it a rather ideal example of bel canto repertoire. The plot, with a libretto by Carlo Pepoli, is slightly boring in its conventional twists and turns. Set during the English Civil War between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists, the opera explores tensions between private longings and public duties to God and country.

A simple narrative provides ample opportunity for extended sequences of spectacular singing. And in the roles of Elvira and Arturo, Diana Damrau and Javier Camarena are skillful artists who fulfill the evening’s exacting demands.

Damrau, who recently rang in the New Year as Juliette in Gonoud’s Roméo et Juliette, was a sprightly Elvira, unwinding long lines of shimmering, well managed sound. Damrau, who is a bit like the Laura Linney of the operatic stage—elegant, technically proficient, and a tinge vanilla—perhaps lacks the bombast and spontaneity suggested by the role of a lunatic. However, her technical proficiency and bright enthusiasm brought a lovely vitality to her work.

Camarena’s pliant, luxurious tenor matched Damrau’s deftness. His eager and sincere persona served the role well. Even absent the high F, he displayed the artistry of a singer concerned with something more than the mere athletics of his role, a musician who uses his voice to invest his character emotionally.

In contrast to the romantic leads, Alexey Markov as Riccardo (Elvira’s intended) and Luca Pisaroni as Giorgio were competent, slightly bland and vocally unexciting. Their duet concluding Act II was especially devoid of dramatic momentum or musical radiance.

And as Enrichetta, Virginie Verrez’s round, thick mezzo was quite effective in the small, though memorable role. Her worldly, grim approach to the imperiled Queen served as a clean foil to the lighter, more girlish effervescence of Damrau’s Elivra.

Maurizio Benini’s conducting of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra moved sloppily through the score, a disappointing juxtaposition against the unblemished performances on stage. And Sandro Sequi’s puritanically conservative production, created for Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti in 1976, is as static as doldrums, corralling most of the chorus upstage as they stare, shocked and concerned, at the individual actions occurring in front of them. Meanwhile, the opera’s leading characters spend most of their time crossing down stage right and down stage left, gesticulating wildly to indicate their internal struggles.

The sets and costumes by Ming Cho Lee and Peter J. Hall are picturesque, though remarkably void of any provocation. The interesting notions of private and public responsibility go largely without comment, forcing the audience’s focus to rest squarely on the efforts of the singers.

Fortunately, the evening’s drama shines through the two lead voices, where Damrau and Camarena reign supreme. Unlike many sports, the art of singing is a complex, multifaceted practice that requires singular qualities of the body and soul, a deeply sophisticated understanding of music, and the ability to negotiate limits with style and grace. Under such a definition, Damrau and Camarena perform their duties with exquisite finesse, heckled or otherwise.

Photo: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera

  • southerndoc1

    “the criticism seems a bit unfair”

    No, the screamer was a fucking asshole.

  • quoth the maven

    It should be remembered that Rubini, the first Arturo, undoubtedly had a very different technique from that of today’s tenors. The premiere came only a few years after Duprez introduced the full-voiced high C in GUILLAUME TELL. Rubini’s technique above the staff probably relied a lot on a mix of chest and falsetto. Which makes it absurd to expect today’s tenors to attempt the F using modern technique.

    In short, the heckler was a fool.

    • Camille

      Mr. Maven—

      Just as a clarification and in no way whatsoever as a reproof, (please believe me). . . . In actual fact, Gilbert DUPREZ started the mad trend towards an integrated head/chest voice high C sometime after the premiere of Puritani, in January 1835.

      As per a letter from Adolphe Nourrit dated 19 October 1836, and courtesy of Mr. Henry Pleasants wonderful little book The Great Tenor Tragedy — The Last Days of ADOLPHE NOURRIT As Told (Mostly) by Himself), Monsieur Nourrit writes:
      You have, perhaps, learned from the newspapers that Duprez has just been engaged by the Opéra.” That is to say, Duprez HAD been singing the mixed high C voice in Italy and elsewhere, but he only established himself at l’Opéra sometime AFTER the première of Puritani, that’s all, thereby driving M. Nourrit not only out of the temple of his august art, but on to Italy, and to a piteous and premature suicide. Truly, a terrible cautionary tale for tenors, of all stripes. Tenors! Don’t let those high notes make you jump off a roof!

      To generalize: As Bellini was writing for a specific tenor, G. B. Rubini, (and with whom the composer had a longstanding working relation from 1826 on), it would have been understood at that time and in particular as sung by that singer to have been the type of acuto which would have been executed in voce di testa or falsetto or voix de tête, (etc. ad nauseam and however best described), nothing more nor less.

      Ergo, to penalize the wonderfully graceful and scrupulously musically observant Sr. Camarena for NOT making a strangulated --and almost always unsuccessful — sound on that superacuto has got to be not only errant and rampant nonsense, but subjective partisanship on behalf of someone else who MAY have sung the infamous FA in whatever fashion but “sing” it they did! (There is apparently a recording of Pavarotti, or was it the wonderful Mr. Gedda?--of the note.)
      And for as much as I do adore sopracuti, I just don’t give a hoot about that High Fa —much preferring to hear a consistently even, brilliant, and ringing tone on all notes above, say a H5 or so.

      Anyway--I now cede the podium to Stefan Zucker, the expert on this turf.

      As well, Mr. Camarena also carefully observed the musical phrase markings in a manner Ms. Damrau certainly did not: particularly grievous in her coming to a near car crash in the Polonaise Quartett on that F# trill, and of which Polonaise a good 4 pages were cut to facilitate her, I assume. It was plainly to be heard that she was ill but that only seems a part of the problem. As she is a more than usually intelligent interpreter, it may be bettered by re-thinking and re-working some of her career choices. That the E flat in alt that crowns the second act cabaletta did not fall splat was a relief but the runs which preceded it denoted desperation and were quite ill-at-ease, and as she has been one of the most gracefully fluent of Koloratur Soprans, I am hoping for a return to form. It must be remembered she has been ill a lot, i.e., cancelling the recital she was to have given in December—so one hopes she will truly recover her health fully as well as all her formidable ability, as soon as possible.

      It must be said though: overall it sounded like a general rehearsal, with some notable honkers from the horns and nothing special going on with the style, and it was just about the poorest “Suoni la tromba”, a sure fire hit, I’ve ever, ever heard, with the onus on the lower voice of the pair. Thanks be the higher option at the end was NOT taken.

      In somma and Morale of the Story:
      Higher is not always Better!

      (Take heart Javiercito, mi corazón! I will be there to hear you on St. Valentine’s Day and will be bringing Jalapeños!!!)

      !Arriba, ARRIBA!

      • MisterSnow

        Yes, the recently departed Gedda did sing the hi Fa as can be heard on his recording with Sills
        https://youtu.be/9w_TTK7UP1c

        • Camille

          He was a wonder, he was!!

          Truly one of the greatest. I so regret that never I was anywhere he sang, to be able to have caught him in actual performance. Just this past week Sirius was playing the famous “Trilling in Thirds” Sonnambula with Sutherland and I missed it each time!! Next time.

          • grimoaldo2

            I did see him once, in 1997, as Abdisu, Patriarch of Assyria in “Palestrina” at ROH
            http://www.rohcollections.org.uk/performance.aspx?performance=6996&row=0&searchtype=workprodperf&keyword=palestrina
            Of course, that was well past his prime, in a little cameo role, but to actually see and hear Gedda live was the main interest for me in an excruciatingly dull evening, what a boring opera and with a ridiculous story.
            Yes, you have been sorely missed Camille dear but I do understand taking time off from opera and from this site, I did it myself for about a year after a string of dismal performances of some of my favourite pieces. To hear these masterpieces being traduced actually makes me depressed, it is such a downer, who needs it? But I would say things have improved in the last year or two, there have been some performances I have enjoyed tremendously.

            • Camille

              To acknowledge all this Welcome Wagon committee I must humbly and gratefully say thank you very kindly, but it sorta all makes me feel like Baba the Turk. I’ve been here all the time, it’s just been time off for good behavior, or maybe bad, I dunno. Opera is an old habit with me — fifty-five years and counting now, so at times I just have to have some breathing space.

              Grimoaldo: I have an opportunity next month to hear G&S’s “The GRAND DUKE”, done up by my favorite little local group, and am wondering if you, one of the resident lovers of G&S, have anything to say about this work, apparently their last, and one that was none too successful. The reason I ask is that the character list alone has me intrigued (Not QUITE as good as that of Palestrina‘s “Dead Master of Music” list(!),) but I’ll admit that “The Count of Monte Carlo” has got me olde imagination dancing with happy thoughts.

              What sayeth thou, O Noble Lover of G&S?
              Yea, or Nay?

            • grimoaldo2

              So delightful to have these chats with you again cher Camille.
              “The Grand Duke” was the least successful of the G&S collaboration and their last. It is really the fault of Gilbert as author of text that the work is not on the level of the best of their earlier pieces, there is too much wordy dialogue and overly complicated plot features such as a card game that if you lose renders you legally dead, combined with the fact that that law is going to be annulled in a day so various characters take advantage of this to be legally dead for one day.
              But it does have some delightful features, the main story revolves around a touring theatre company currently presenting Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida” involved in a plot to assassinate the ruling Grand Duke of the small German state they are in. The conspirators have to identify themselves to each other by eating a sausage roll.
              Yes, the Count of Monte Cristo gets one of the best songs, the roulette song
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1S6KDs5y7Y
              G&S felt the show was too long after the first night and made some cuts, this song is not in the published vocal score and sometimes is not in staged performances, unfortunately.
              You can get a taste of some of the highlights in this video --
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWC_2cperYg
              As you have enjoyed other G&S pieces so much I think you should definitely go and take advantage of this rare chance to see one of their lesser known works, I am sure you will find something to enjoy!
              All best wishes to you
              grim

            • Camille

              HA! If it’s wordy I’ll probably like it, as a one time employer of mine said to me: “Camille, you never manage to say anything in less than a paragraph that you probably could actually say in a sentence.” Grumble and grouse!

              That’s what I thought, that it was a comparatively rare opportunity to hear this work. so—--

              Thank for the directive and I’ll see how the spoonful of sugar goes down and then judge. This group always makes every thing they do so enjoyable that I will probably take a chance but I’ve to convince my grouchy old man, who is less than enthusiastic even if he likes this group’s efforts.

              At any rate I shall let you know what happens and perhaps JJ will review this so you’ll have some further information.

          • Lohenfal

            Welcome back, Camille. You have been missed.

            I was fortunate enough to see Gedda live at the Met several times. In fact, I was at that 1963 performance you’ve mentioned. It was one of the first opera performances I went to, so you can see that I started on a high level. Yes, he was sensational as Elvino, and added to the excitement of Sutherland’s accomplishment.

      • Luvtennis

        Camille:

        Although it has been reduced to the status of mere anecdote, Duprez’s famous C must have been absolutely revokutionary, no? I always wonder about the ripple effect it must have inspired. Did sopranos begin to alter their singing of high notes to match the greater volume and weightier tone coming from tenors who adopted Duprez’s method? What about baritones? What about the stylistic incongruity of singing operas written before the change in the soon universal Duprez style? Did Baritones also change?

        There is also the question of how composers adapted to the change…. As you have pointed out, the high notes in the pre- Duprez operas were often passing notes, integrated into a phrase and written into the score, not the climactic isolated and usually unwritten showstoppers that we are now so accustomed to hearing. But over time, composers stopped asking for those written supracuti, and as far as I can tell, there are very few operas written after 1850 that require the tenor to sing anything higher than top C. Was there a cause and effect or was the compositional shift entirely unrelated to the change in vocal technique?

        • Camille

          Luvtennis,
          What happened to my reply? Jeez--this new system! I’ll try to post it yet again (the third time!) tomorrow when i have time as there is something I wanted you to read in re all the above intereogatory.

          Hasta mañana!

          • Luvtennis

            Lol! I can’t wait! ????

            • Camille

              Luvtennis, esq. —

              Finally got to the bottom of what is going on here: it’s a problem with such a lengthy and (possibly) protected document such as the one I attempted to import — as such was perceived as Spam by the Disqus Discothèque.

              So, here is the name of the dissertation:

              “Adolphe Nourrit, Gilbert Duprez, and the high C: The influences of operatic plots, culture, language, theater design, and growth of orchestral forces on the development of the operatic tenor vocal production”. Its author is Micheal Lee Smith Jr., and is written for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The actual URL address just will not appear herein, so I point you in this direction and say buona fortuna!

              When YOU HAVE THE TIME, I do strongly urge you to read and absorb this information, as you please, as it is set forward in a very straightforward, sane, and cogent manner and will answer the myriad questions you (legitimately, mostly) have regarding this MASSIVE SEA CHANGE in singing. A change so vast that we live with it to this very day, just ask any tenor! Further, I found this fellow’s hypothesis about the structural changes in Italian theaters and its influence to be a critical part of change in vocal culture, as it had been pretty much the same for at least a century and beyond.

              My further prattling or speculations upon the nature of the changes would only serve to confuse or spark off a contretemps in a teacup here, so I leave it to this gentleman’s serious effort to further elucidate you on this HIGHLY complex and, to me, fascinating topic.

              Be warned, though, the soprano evolution is an entirely separate beast, as sopranos most certainly are, in general, chimeræ.

              Best of luck.

      • simonelvladtepes

        IIRC, La Cieca commented once that the source of that high F was an error on Rubini’s part, who mistook the note for being written a line higher than Bellini wrote it originally. Since he did it so well Bellini moved the note higher.

        Kunde did an amazing ringing high F on cast 2 at the MET with Netrebko about 10 years ago. I taped it and the wonderful tape did the rounds.

        • Camille

          tee hee hee! How like a tenor to ‘accidentally’ sing the higher note! I had not heard that story so thank you.

          Yes, I did hear Gregory Kunde’s amazing High FA!!!! It is now inhabiting a very enlightening compilation by our old friend coloratura fan and I tried importing here but it did not come through. I strongly urge everyone interested in the notorious “High FA Affair” to go listen to the various attempts, starting with the stentorian efforts of Giacomo Lauri Volpi, of all people!! Kunde and a couple others were by far the best. Wonder that he is now singing Otello and other roles of the nature. Never heard him sing, too bad.

    • aulus agerius

      Perhaps, but I heard live Gregory Kunde (not dead) sing the F in 4 separate successive performances and it was thrilling, as intended given the context.

      • Tinhtrai Viet

        I also saw Gregory Kunde nailing that high F at the MET when he replaced the ailing Eric Cutler (who got the telecast) five times opposite Anna Netrebko and Elizabeth Futral in 2006-07. There are 3 Sirus broadcasts as proofs of his feat. And more recently Lawrence Brownlee successfully hit the high F six out of seven performances (except the final one where he lowered the progression to Bb-Db rather than the written Db-F) the last time the MET revived I Puritani in 2014. There are also 3 Sirius broadcasts as proofs of his feat. So yes, there are current singers more than capable of singing the high F without sacrificing any tonal beauty or artistic qualities of the role.

        • Armerjacquino

          ‘there are current singers more than capable of singing the high F without
          sacrificing any tonal beauty or artistic qualities of the role.’

          But is that the sole criterion on which the part should be cast? An unwritten circus trick? Because if it is, then we’re, you know, screwed.

          • Camille

            Unfortunately, armer, this circus trick IS written right into the score, much as that sudden high C Pollione has to pull out of nowhere in his cavatina (and which I had unsuspectingIy thought was an oppure), until someone brought it to my attention. It’s all there in the score; hence the righteous indignation at having dodged the note.

            I would much rather have the entirety of the role sung expertly rather than one note sung expertly, as thrilling as that MIGHT be, and if you follow my meaning.

            • QuantoPainyFakor

              Camille, dahlink, where have you been? We’ve been worried about you. So happy to see you here again.

            • Camille

              To quote today’s everyone’s favorite anti-heroine:

              “Libre elle est née et libre elle mourra!”

              I just have been in Eboli’s convent, meditating on the current mad state of world affairs and wondering what is the good of worrying and chattering about an antique art form…it all started with the demise of Johan Botha, which I took very hard, truly mourning his premature passing. From there --Wie? Was? Entsezten! There was Guillaume Tell, largely a letdown and then the notorious Ashgate Affair, in which I lost my performance of l’Italiana, much to my chagrin as it is an opera I adore and have not seen for over a dozen years and god knows when I shall again. It all has become a mish-mash and a big clot of hyped up crap. People trying hard and working hard and being professional, and yet somehow, all the heart is gone out of things. It’s so corporate.

              The “La Serenissima” project at Carnegie Hall is revitalising me at the moment and am bravely venturing back finally to hear Puritani, no matter the conducting and the primadonna panegyrics, just for Bellini and El Orgullo de Xalapa Veracruz. So there is always SOME recompense. One must look harder for it, is all. And the glorious Miss Garanca will give a lovely recital next month at Carnegie.

              Everyone has heard me flap my vagine here on parterre for forever and a day and I decided to step aside and allow some fresh blood in as mine is tired, that’s all. I have some time today, and the inclination, too, but Camille is as capricious as her sister Carmen, and
              likes to come and go as she wishes. The state of the world depresses me mightily and I seek to help persons in real need out in the real world and to cease my all consuming preoccupation with all things musical, my personal
              Opiate.

              If only all this talk about opera really did someone or something any good or helped to improve the lot of mankind. I doubt it does!

              In fede to most illustrious Maestro
              QPF. I always emember the fabulous youtube of Leonie’s Farewell you posted, an invaluable treasure which I LOVE so!!

              Ciao 4 now, my loving regards, and much gratitude for your concern--

              Camille la Capricciosa

            • QuantoPainyFakor

              Thank heavens your blood is still pumping! It clearly feeds your cervello with brilliance. Sei Gesund.

            • Camille

              Maestro!

              Bad grass never dies; don’t worry!

              xxxooo

            • Armerjacquino

              Ooops. Stand corrected. The general point holds, though, I think.

            • Pirelli

              The high F is indeed in the score, but as others have pointed out, that note, like all tenor acuti written in the bel canto period, were not meant to be can belto. So we certainly judge it with different expectations than audiences did then -- despite the fact that obviously it still would have been a bravura moment. Just with a different kind of vocal approach.

              This reminds me of a quip Stravinsky supposedly made about the opening of “The Rite Of Spring” -- namely, “if I knew bassoonists were going to get so good at playing that opening figure, I would have written it higher.” ;-)

            • Camille

              Can belto? It’s more like Can Belcho!

              Very well stated Mr. Pirelli.

              All this has reminded me of the written high C in the cadenza Azucena sings in her II act duet with Manrico. No one ever bitches or complains about the lack of that note. Few sing it. Verrett did it though and took a holiday on it, much to my delight!

              I only pray Mr. Camarena doesn’t try to answer his critics and make a foolhardy attempt to “go for it”--I trust he is too secure in himself and sure of what it is he does to make such an attempt but I’ll find out on St Valentine’s Day.

        • Camille

          Who?

          Michael Spyres most likely could and he is a stylist for that kind of singing.

          Mr Brownlee, very sorry to say, came nowhere near making a good sound on the note the afternoon I heard him. Neither do I recall him doing so over the radio but would be willing to re-listen.

        • Pirelli

          I believe you mean “Ab-Db” not “Bb-Db.” (The Bb is in the phrase regardless, but the substitution is an Ab where the written Db is.)

          And, in fact, I wonder if this had anything to do with the (unwarranted, rude, and idiotic) shout-out afterward. Tradition seems to be that the first phrase is changed to end on an Ab so that the Db to come (in place of the F) will still sound as part of a building progression. Tenors who attempt the high F sing the music as written, with a Db ending the first phrase. BUT -- Camarena did sing the Db in the first phrase, which I think does lead to an expectation that the F will be next. But he sang another Db instead -- which was a surprise to me, and others as well, I’m sure.

          Still, that’s no excuse for that awful comment from the audience.

  • Sanford Schimel

    You know, I was just thinking about this yesterday. I listened to a complete Hoffmann with Gedda, Grist, Elias, Lorengar, and Von Stade and Grist didn’t sing any of the usual alterations to the Doll song. And I was disappointed. She was certainly capable of them. It was gorgeously sung but I was still disappointed.

    • ines

      http://www.corgrisi.com/2017/02/sorella-radio-il-trovatore-da-vienna-premiere-5-2-2017/
      Hi all. Just want to present a site, where only dead singers are appreciated…. I read it regurarely… with a grain of salt

      • Armerjacquino

        Wow, tough crowd- to read such a screed of criticism of Netrebko’s spectacular recent Leonora makes me suspect that it is indeed a site which prefers its singers dead!

        • James Nickoloff

          No, that’s not what we want. Anna was fantastic years ago--Lucia, Manon, etc. But her Leonora was dreadful. If that’s the best we have today, so be it. But there is no point in pretending that she’s at the level of Price, Tebaldi, or Callas.

          • Armerjacquino

            ‘dreadful’.

            Ok, sure.

            Tebaldi never sang Leonora live, by the way.

            • James Nickoloff

              Sorry. I was thinking of the “Forza” Leonora.

            • Armerjacquino

              …which Netrebko doesn’t sing.

            • James Nickoloff

              Hasn’t sung--yet.

            • Armerjacquino

              ‘This singer cannot be compared to this other singer who didn’t sing the part under discussion, because that other singer was better in a completely different part than I imagine this singer would be if she ever sung it at some point in future’.

              Quite the journey you’ve taken us on there.

          • spiderman

            Oh! I heard Anna yesterday as her very own dreadful Trovatore-Leonora! She brought the Vienna State Opera down. How dreadful.

      • Camille

        Very interesting and thank you as I had not known Il corriere della Grisi was/is translated into English; a google translation perhaps?

        There’s an awful lot to be learned from the Grisi crowd. I’d certainly agree about Armiliato, and wonder how he gets all the work he does, as it has seemed to me to be all about the singer’s appreciation of his level of accommodation skills: this seems to bear that out.

      • aulus agerius

        Verrrrry interesting :-)

      • grimoaldo2

        I listened to the broadcast, thanks manou, and enjoyed it tremendously. I can see what the writer means about Alagna, Nebs and d’Intino even though I do not agree, I do agree about Armiliato, but vehemently reject what it says about Tézier. I think he was just glorious, a marvel, an absolute pleasure to listen to.

        • DonCarloFanatic

          I agree. Tezier was wonderful. Alagna seemed in dire straits, and the less said about his “Di quella pria” the better. Luckily for him, people were paying a whole lot more attention to AN.

  • Parpignol

    Markov and Pisaroni both better than this review allows, refined, elegant, beautiful in tone; all four principals perhaps a little more lyrical than some of the giants who have inhabited this production in the past; the direction of the revival was thoughtful, and, even against a very traditional production, brought out some of the fine points of Bellini’s sense of drama; the singers brought the piece alive, and the crowd in the opera house (which was by no means a full house) was kind of loving it, I thought, and with good reason--
    it was a very good night at the opera, with Camarena as the biggest star of the evening, but an ensemble evening nevertheless, as it rightly has to be for this opera, in which even some of the most famous arias open out into ensemble pieces--

    • Brackweaver

      Agreed. The men sounded fine on the broadcast. Recently I listened to a cassette of Sutherland’s last radio performance from the Met. (early 80’s?) The men roared and woofed but were rather messy.

  • Armerjacquino

    Lovely writing, but *someone* needs to watch more Laura Linney.

  • La Cieca

    “In Puritani…[Javier Camarena] has become a sort of walking definition of “beautiful singing” as it was understood then: precise control of every technical aspect of the vocal art, at the service of exquisitely poetic expression.”

    Our Own JJ’s take in the Observer: http://observer.com/2017/02/tenor-javier-camerena-goes-old-school-at-the-met/

    • Camille

      Well stated about the manner in which he takes that note in “A te, o cara”--it’s ABOUT a feeling, it’s written that way for a reason and to make an effect about a sentiment -- the words being “se rammento il mio tormento“, with the note occurring on the second syllable of ‘rammento’, underscoring the great distress Arturo/Elvira have up to this point already survived in their fraught relationship. There is no corona on the note but there is the marking col canto in the piano/vocal accompaniment. Don’t know what full score has noted.

      Bellini always judged and matched the words to the music very acutely and precisely.

      I’m well pleased that he is reviewed as the star he surely is. Perhaps a few more people will be encouraged to show up at the next performances? The house is very poorly sold as of yesterday.

      • Luvtennis

        Welcome back, dear Camille!

  • jackoh

    When the presentation of an opera rises or falls on the execution of ONE note, I begin to wonder what has become of us all.

  • Ivy Lin

    Hi, if you want to hear the heckler as well as the entire third act, it’s on my blog:
    http://poisonivywalloftext.blogspot.com/2017/02/i-puritani-no-high-f-but-who-cares.html

    The sound is a bit distant but I think Camarena sounded excellent.

  • James Nickoloff

    I don’t care about the high F; Javier was stupendous. I hate to say it but he was better than Juan Diego--more meat, less shrill, completely relaxed throughout, at the top of his game.

    But Diana: please! Was she sick? She was constantly out of breath, taking gulps of air at the most inopportune moments, completely disfiguring the musical line. “Qui la voce” was horrendous--no feeling, no pathos. I’m shocked that she would give such an inadequate performance.

    And, unlike most of you, I support booing. Yes, the singers work hard, but they are also well paid. Give me La Scala and Parma any day over the (polite but unknowledgeable) Met audience. Last night’s performance (February 10) by Damrau deserved censure.

    • Bill

      I believe Damrau had been ill earlier in the week (missing the dress rehearsal) and probably was not fully recovered -- it is true she was not in very good form at the prima of Puritani and it was quite evident to the audience at least those who know her work. Let us see what evolves for her vocally in subsequent performance. Her singing certainly was not so wretched that she should have been booed -- not many singers do not have an occasional off night --

      • James Nickoloff

        Of course your measured comments are correct, Bill. The performance of Feb. 10 (which I heard on Sirius radio) put me in a bad mood, I’m afraid. Nevertheless, I am still surprised that Met audiences have so little knowledge of history. New York audiences are probably more sophisticated than others in the U.S. and perhaps Europe too. But are people so unfamiliar with earlier recordings of “Puritani” that they would be tempted to shout “bravi” at this performance? I know that many opera-goers and opera singers too object to making comparisons between today and the past. (I’ve had a running argument with Joyce DiDonato about this; she does not want to be compared with my favorite Giulietta Simionato.) But why pretend that comparing can be avoided? When one has had the best steak dinner ever or enjoyed a fantastic bottle of wine, it lingers forever in the memory. It doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy lesser creations, but they remain lesser. Every time I go to the opera, I’m hoping (not expecting) that the singers will hit a “home run.” Almost never does that happen, and I enjoy the “game” anyway. But in my mind and heart is the vivid recollection of near-perfection that I once experienced. And if it’s an opera recording, it’s available to me at any time.

        • Armerjacquino

          Joyce DiDonato doesn’t like being compared with Giulietta Simionato? Go figure. I’ve heard Ann Hallenberg finds the Fedora Barbieri comparisons wearing, too.

          • James Nickoloff

            Wearing but inevitable. But that’s the game. If you want to play, that’s one thing it’s about. “Just accept me for who I am” is fine in private life. But artistic performance is not private. Singers enter a long and rich public tradition when they take the stage. Joyce and Ann are making their own contributions--and most importantly, bringing pleasure and insight and challenge to those fortunate enough to hear and see them perform. If not for people like them, willing to dedicate years--their lives!--to this art, the rest of us would have ONLY the recordings and the printed page. So I honor the work and sacrifice of those who take up singing today. But…I will not--and cannot--remove past performances from my memory. Renee Fleming’s voice is gorgeous and her Rodelinda and Armida were things of beauty. No one has surpassed her in Rodelinda. But she came nowhere near the peak that Callas reached with Armida in 1952. Not even close. Can contemporary singers accept this?

            • Armerjacquino

              ‘Inevitable’? For the avoidance of doubt- I can’t believe I’m typing this- I don’t think anyone has ever compared Ann Hallenberg and Fedora Barbieri.

              As for your final question: can you name even one contemporary singer who has said ‘I think I am better than Callas’?

            • Bill

              Amer -- no I doubt that any contemporary singer feels they are better than Callas (though some have more beautiful voices).
              Sass and Suliotis, at least in some people’s
              eyes and ears, were compared to Callas in
              their early years, but neither succeeded nor had very long careers without vocal problems.
              Callas was unique -- but in her day, many (particularly Zinka fans) did not care much for Callas’ voice. One had to adjust to Callas’s voice upon first hearing -- it was more her expressiveness and how she utilized her voice and technique to advance an interpretation which was a marvel -- she also had the ability to make a dramatic statement purely with her voice which is nowadays rarer than perhaps it once was. Calas had a unique timbre, instantly recognizable upon hearing only a few notes.
              Today I would almost always instantly recognize Fleming on the radio for example, more for her vocal mannerisms, than for pure voice. A singer such as Janowitz,
              I would instantly recognize on the radio,
              for the voice alone.

            • James Nickoloff

              I meant that comparison is inevitable, not that particular comparison.

              No, I am not aware of anyone saying that in words. But the choice of repertoire by both Fleming and Netrebko (“Armida” and “Il Pirata” for the former and “Puritani,” “Lucia,” “Il Trovatore,” and especially “Macbeth” and “Anna Bolena” for the latter) seem to be asking, “Am I not as good as, or even better than, Callas” (in these roles)? Same for Radvanovsky. I am sorry to say that there was no joy for me in listening to Anna sing Lady Macbeth or Anna and Sondra sing Anne Boleyn. As Christine Goerke said to me many years ago when I asked her about singing Lady Macbeth, “Are you crazy? Callas ruined it for all of us.” (I still think she should do it--now more than ever! Second to Callas, or to anyone in history, is fantastic.)

            • Armerjacquino

              ” But the choice of repertoire by both Fleming and Netrebko seem to be
              asking, “Am I not as good as, or even better than, Callas” (in these
              roles)? Same for Radvanovsky”

              You need to make a distinction between what people do in your head and what they actually do. If singers restricted themselves to roles that aren’t associated with Callas the repertoire would be pretty damn small.

            • James Nickoloff

              Without “Pirata,” “Macbeth,” and “Anna Bolena” the repertoire remains enormous. Fleming in Straus; Netrebko in anything Russian--can’t do better.

              I’m just saying that, in my opinion, those two have chosen to do things for which they are not suited in my opinion--and things for which Callas is the standard. If they tried Brunnhilde, one would quite naturally think of Nilsson and Fladstad. Can anyone think of Brunnhilde without thinking of them? Varnay, Stemme, Modl, Eaglen, Voigt, et al., and Goerke (whom I haven’t heard yet) probably all made valuable contributions, and kept Wagner alive, in their time. But anyone who takes up the role today should know that the well-versed in the audience will have a memory (at least of a recording) of Nilsson and Flagstad in mind.

            • Armerjacquino

              When Stemme sings Brunnhilde, does she ‘seem to be asking Am I not better than Flagstad or Nillsson’? or is that attitude reserved in your imagination for Netrebko and Fleming?

              I don’t know why I’m even engaging with this, to be honest. It’s not as if Netrebko is the first Leonora since Callas last sung it (in 1956) or Bolena (1958). Armidas and Piratas are rarer, but maybe rather than thinking ‘I AM BETTER THAN CALLAS AT THIS YES I AM’ Fleming may just have, you know, wanted to sing them?

            • James Nickoloff

              There was no way (for me at least) to listen to Netrebko attempt the coloratura in “Trovatore” and not recoil. She was asking us to watch her do it--and she couldn’t. And this was at the Met, not a small regional opera house. Netrebko has a beautiful voice, but she cannot sing coloratura effectively, not even as well as she herself could 10 years ago.

              No way I’ll ever believe Fleming did not have Callas in mind when she asked the Met to do “Armida” and “Pirata.” Perhaps she did just want to sing these parts because she likes the music, but she knew (or should have known) that there would be inevitable comparisons.

            • Armerjacquino

              I’ve heard better coloratura than Netrebko’s but I think it’s beyond hyperbole to say that she couldn’t do it. Opinions again.

              And as for Fleming: knowing that there would be comparisons and saying ‘Am I not as good as or better than Callas?’ aren’t the same thing, though, are they? Nobody’s suggesting there wouldn’t have been comparisons, just questioning your weird idea that ‘being better than Callas’ is a deciding factor when singers are choosing which roles to sing.

            • Armerjacquino

              Recoil at how she can’t do it, parterriani (YMMV) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FwwmxvfvnE

            • James Nickoloff

              Wow! You and I must be using two completely different standards of evaluation. This is the very performance I was referring to as “horrible.” The coloratura runs are dreadful--slow and awkward. But one can only know this by comparing it with others (for example, Callas’ 1956 recording of the cabaletta). And Netrebko’s acting! Is it about the desperate situation and her love for Manrico, or is it about Anna? I rest my case and withdraw from the discussion. There really IS no point in arguing personal likes and dislikes. What moves one person may infuriate another.

            • Armerjacquino

              You could compare it to the Tebaldi recording Yige Li posted above, too, which is much, much slower- and muddier in its coloratura. So Netrebko’s coloratura is less good than Callas’ but better than Tebaldi’s. Cool, now we have a league table, but where does that get us?

              As you say, there’s no point arguing taste but before you withdraw completely I’d be interested to hear more about the ‘desperate situation v about Anna’ thing you mention. What is it in that performance that leads you to your conclusion?

              BTW, just in case you missed it, I posted the section on Callas from Fleming’s book.

            • James Nickoloff

              I was referring to Leonora’s desperate situation at that point in the opera. That is what Netrebko is supposed to be singing (and acting) about.

              In one translation:

              “You will see that never on earth
              was there a stronger love than mine;
              it defeated Fate in violent strife,
              it will defeat death itself.
              Either at the cost of my life
              I shall save your life,
              or, forever united to you,
              I shall descend into the grave!”

              For me (and perhaps for no one else) neither Netrebko’s singing nor movement expresses this moment in Leonora’s life. When I saw this (on HD broadcast) I was appalled. I was aware of her, Anna, trying to impress us with her singing instead of seeing Leonora in the agony of love. In other words, Netrebko’s performance--for me--was not believable. This is not how I felt when I saw her Manon in Los Angeles. She was very convincing in that role--and sang it beautifully.

            • Armerjacquino

              Well, that’s certainly one interpretation. To be honest neither the libretto nor the music to ‘Tu Vedrai’ suggest agony to me- that’s surely held in ‘D;Amor Sull’ali rosee’ and the Miserere- so much as resolve and determination. I’m not sure a pained, introspective version of a big cabaletta like that could ever really work

            • James Nickoloff

              That was definitely not my weird idea. I don’t know where you got that unless you just want to fight. I don’t want to fight. I’m looking for insight.

              My point was that it was impossible for Renee (and her agent) not to think of Callas when she considered those roles. Her hope, I presume, was that she could add to the performance tradition of those two operas. In her book she states that she doesn’t like the sound of Callas’ voice, and of course her book is called “The Beautiful Voice.” The problem (for some of us), as has been said many times, is that a beautiful voice is not enough. What really matters, to me at least, is whether a singer shares his/her own soul through the characters s/he portrays. That is something Renee rarely does. She came closest (for me--no objectivity here) in “Traviata” (2003--I had the good fortune to be present for Opening Night) and “Otello” (1995). “Louise” in SF was good too. Otherwise she has been way too bland most of the time.

            • grimoaldo2

              ” it was impossible for Renee (and her agent) not to think of Callas when she considered those roles.[Armida and Il Pirata’s leading lady]. Her hope, I presume, was that she could add to the performance tradition of those two operas.”

              I am not that familiar with Pirata but in the case of Armida it is at least within the realms of possibility that there may be a few other people in the world besides me who actually value Rossini’s opera as something more than just a vehicle for a star soprano. In fact the parts of that opera I love the most are the ballet music, very unusual for Italian opera of that time to have a ballet, and the fabulous trio for tenors, the most thrilling part of the score.
              Hell, I even like the *story* and comparing Rossini’s and his librettist’s treatment of the same subject as Lully and Gluck’s previous versions of it.
              I don’t particularly associate the role of Armida with Maria Callas, I know she did it yonks ago and it was a success but I first came to love the big soprano rondo aria through this performance
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xTigL6FtWo
              which I listened to a thousand times and when I finally heard Callas’ version (just of this aria, I never heard any of the rest of her recording), I didn’t like it nearly as much and have only listened to it maybe twice.
              Then I got to know the whole piece through the complete recording with Cecilia Gasdia and the fabulous Bruce Ford, the real star of that performance imo.
              I think it would be ridiculous if no one ever put on Rossini’s excellent opera “Armida” because of Maria Callas, thank god people in the opera world don’t think like that.

            • Armerjacquino

              “But the choice of repertoire by both Fleming and Netrebko (“Armida” and
              “Il Pirata” for the former and “Puritani,” “Lucia,” “Il Trovatore,” and
              especially “Macbeth” and “Anna Bolena” for the latter) seem to be
              asking, “Am I not as good as, or even better than, Callas” (in these
              roles)? ”

              “just questioning your weird idea that ‘being better than Callas’ is a
              deciding factor when singers are choosing which roles to sing.”

              “That was definitely not my weird idea. I don’t know where you got that unless you just want to fight.”

              This is all getting a bit ‘FAKE NEWS. Sad!’ for me.

            • Camille

              Mr. Nickoloff:

              Sir, as a matter of record, it’s important to note that Renée Fleming’s book is entitled The inner voice: the making of a singer. I’m not making this up, you know, consult Amazon, or Juilliard Book Store.

              The title is actually intriguing and somewhat similar to Waltraud Meier’s autobio film entitled “Ich folg’ dem innern Triebe” or —
              “I follow the voice within me”.

              The fact she finds Maria Callas’s voice not beautiful does not surprise me nor does it seem a criticism in particular as it had its own very individual color and timbre, unearthly and peculiar at times, making for such a wonderful Kundry, in my opinion. Her Gioconda and her Medea are my very favorites and absolutely extraordinary, again, in my opinion.

              However, many times it was not at all conventionally beautiful and as she was so much about technique and the ability to dominate her instrument and to use it to show various musical moods and patterns — that, in and of itself, is a beautiful thing. Certainly, at other times it did have an absolutely fascinatingly beautiful and individual sheen and shimmer, and of course, the overtones would have made for much in her case. I, as do most others here, never had the experience of hearing her so it’s all rather a moot point. One never really knows a singer without hearing them live, again, in my opinion.

              Curiously, I think neither of Fleming nor Callas first when referring to the role of Armida, but of the Dutch soprano Cristina Deutekom. As an afterthought, Miss Fleming. it’s probable. waited too long to bring it to the MET after her initial great success in Pesaro in the early nineties, or so it would seem to me. I do know that the first time I heard the recording of her singing the final rondo or cabaletta of Armida from her initial recording, over a radio transmission in about 1995, I was astounded but her facility, and doubly so as I had previously only known her as a most piteous and movingly beautiful Rusalka, a few years previous. That she could encompass both roles within her voice and her sterling musicianship is truly a formidable and absolutely admirable feat, for which she should be respected and praised.

              Cheers! And Chacun à son goût!

            • James Nickoloff

              Thanks for the correction on the book title, Camille. I was confusing it with Fleming’s album called “The Beautiful Voice.” As for her comment about Callas’ voice: I don’t have the book here in front of me, but as I recall Renee seemed to say or imply that she did not find Callas moving. Well, I can easily understand why someone would not find the Callas voice beautiful, but I have a harder time understanding how you could not find it moving. When she sings “Al dolce guidami” in “Anna Bolena” (especially in the 1957 live performance) it is to me excruciatingly moving (and beautiful).

              I don’t know Deutekom’s Armida, but I will try to listen to it. Thank you for putting me on to it. I love the opera, and Callas’ stupendous’ performance in 1952 introduced me to it.

            • Camille

              Not at all.

              Well, that is different as I find her vocal sound tremendously moving and drenched with pathos, but at times, and not always where one would have it

              Her fourth act of Gioconda has always meant a very great deal to me and I was flabbergasted to read, many years after, that she considered it one of the most representative things she ever recorded. Representative of what it was she was searching to express and as a successful effort of that search. So, I was happy to note I’d landed in the right spot.

              On the other hand when I was very young I had that album of French arias and just loved to hear her wobble her way through the great coloratura showcase of Philine’s in Mignon I just had never heard anything quite like that. Interestingly enough her Dalila excerpts on this recording I found so persuasive and beautiful! Shame she never did that role on stage, but that would have implied repudiating herself as a soprano and reclassification to the lesser status of mezzo-soprano, something which many an ego can’t handle. Wise those who do.

              Over the past weekend I chanced to hear her Medea from London, 1959: an astounding assumption of a role, the like of which I have just rarely heard anything the equal of, for the continuous dramatic tension and coloring of the voice and the freedom and mastery with which it was deployed!!! Absolutely no wobble in sight here and an absolute revelation. As there are several Medeas, I have not heard this particular one, or in its entirety, as I had another with she and Vickers which I listened to years ago. I preferred it in excerpts as it was so INTENSE and so hair-raising, it was best consumed in bit size doses.

              Mevrouw Deutekom’s voice is a mixed baggage and many are her detractors and of her curious “yugga-yugga” technique, but at times she asserts herself successfully over certain of her vocal eccentricities and she always displayed many, many excellent qualities of il belcanto. Although Dutch, she did study with an Italian maestro, Ricci, and had an absolutely formidable personality. A backbone of steel! You may not like her singing but one cannot deny she had technique!

              At some point I would like to re-listen to the Armida as I was left very unmoved by Miss Fleming when I saw her in the HD, strange to say….perhaps in the house?

            • Armerjacquino

              “I believe the ultimate goal of an opera singer is to create a legacy. In the case of Maria Callas, her legend has remained strong and vibrant after the success she achieved in her lifetime, and that was already tremendous. Her singing could often be uneven, and her voice was not universally considered beautiful. Some have said that it wasn’t even particularly large, but as a consummate musician she used it effectively to place her own personal stamp on everything she sang. Once, when I was in Paris, I asked Michel Glotz about Callas’ acting. He had been her manager, and they were close friends. What made her unforgettable onstage? So little videotape of her exists. Did she chew the scenery? Was she given to pounding the floor? What was it about her that captured the imagination of so many opera lovers? He said that she did almost nothing. Onstage, she was still, and therefore any movement or vocal gesture had enormous impact. For that reason, people couldn’t take their eyes off her. She seized the focus from the blur of the activity around her. For me, in purely vocal terms, it was the sound of sadness in her voice that was most moving- something in its chiaroscuro sound is like a knife in my heart. It’s impossible to know if that was the sound her voice was naturally imbued with, or if it was the heartbreak in her life that colored it so. She set the current standard for what a great singing actress could be’

              The Inner Voice, p180-181.

            • Luvtennis

              Renee’s first Armida recording is stunning. I think the voice took a metallic edge on top in later years that bothered me at times. But the Armida -- wow. And the rest of the performers are quite good. As a performance, I greatly prefer it to the poor sounding Callas pirate.

              I also don’t enjoy the very measured tempi Maria favored in Rossini.

            • Yige Li

              I suggest you to try to listen to this attempt of coloratura:

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=23zf5nwRIyc

              If one living in the same era with the great Callas dared to record it down with such quality of coloratura when she had the choice not to (as this cabaletta was a traditional cut then--Milanov who recorded Trovatore in studio just several years before didn’t include it), I assume a singer could give a permission of trying it on stage 60 years after Callas singing Trovatore.

            • Ivy Lin

              So I guess no one should ever sing anything ever again. That’s the vibe I’m getting from you.

            • Armerjacquino

              Of course not, Ivy! Fleming is allowed to sing Strauss and Netrebko is allowed to sing Russian rep. Do try to keep up.

              Personally, I think they only sing that stuff because I’ve decided in my brain that they think they’re better than Della Casa and Vishnevskaya. How dare they do that in my brain!

            • spiderman

              I think we can easily bring it down to this: Mr Nickoloff loves italian opera and Maria Callas even more. This is why everybody is awful going that way. He has not much idea about german and russian opera, so everybody can try to sing this. If he really knew a bit more he would have named a few definite portrayals in this rep as well (armer was referring to two of them), so in conclusion nobody should sing those operas anymore as well.
              But according to James Nickoloff it is still “allowed” but simply because he doesn’t care for it.

            • grimoaldo2

              Well I saw and heard Radvanovsky as Aida in June and she was much better than Callas, no question about it, in fact she was the greatest Aida ever, end of story.
              That same night I had French onion soup at a nearby bistro, best French onion soup ever, and ever since then whenever anyone is enjoying French onion soup I try to broaden their horizons by gently pointing out that that French onion soup is not as good as the nonpareil of French onion soup I had in Paris.

            • Yige Li

              Mafalda Favero:
              “Her (Claudia Muzio) Norma was an unforgettable creation. She had the quality I consider so essential in an artist to make the public suffer along with her… Callas was a phenomenon, but she had no femininity and she never produced chills down my spine”.

              Gina Cigna:
              “For me Callas could not touch Muzio. With Muzio you suffered agonies with her heroines, with Callas never. I am not taking away from the Greek that she has great presence but, goodness, she sang with three voices!”

              Consider Callas even had a relationship with Aristotle Onassis who decades ago was a lover of Claudia Muzio in Buenos Aires, with your logic, the choice of repertoire as well as the choice of lover seems to be asking, “Am I not as good as, or even better than, Muzio?” And apparently, some giants of opera performing history who had listened to both LIVE in theater answered the question with solid “no”s.

            • Camille

              That is quite interesting and provocative, actually—maybe that’s why he ended up marrying Jackie?

              If there was anyone EVER who epitomized the phrase “lacrime nella voce” and could really bind one by that texture of voice, it would be she.

              What a crying shame there are no extant recordingsn of the premiere of Il Trittico at the MET. I wonder why that didn’t happen?

        • Uncle Kvetch

          “But are people so unfamiliar with earlier recordings of “Puritani” that they would be tempted to shout “bravi” at this performance?”

          Being a fairly recent convert to the art form, I will take this comment to heart. I will no longer applaud any performances at the Met (let alone let out the faintest “bravo/a/i”) until such time as I have familiarized with all extant recordings of the opera in question. In the meantime, however much I may enjoy a given singer’s work, I’ll just sit with my hands folded in my lap and remember that it’s up to the more knowledgeable members of the audience to determine how much enthusiasm (or lack thereof) is warranted. The last thing I would want to do is expose my ignorance and ruin the experience for my betters.

          • James Nickoloff

            What do you do when you are having dinner with a friend who raves about the food or wine but you know that they do not come close to what you have experienced before? As a friend, you probably try--gently--to enlarge their horizon and perhaps you resolve to invite them to another place at another time so that they can experience what you have experienced. And it is not necessary to have eaten every steak dinner ever prepared or listen to every recording ever made of an opera. One may be enough to overwhelm you and convince you (and anyone else) that what you saw and heard at the Met last week is grade B. Go ahead; give it a try. Listen to any one of Callas’ recordings of “Qui la voce” (1949, 1952, 1953, or 1957) and see if you think Damrau is in the same league. If you do, fine. But many people, having drunk the elixir, are “spoiled” for life.

            • Ivy Lin

              So you’re going to tell your friend not to enjoy the meal? You sound like a ball of fun.

            • James Nickoloff

              My question was sincere. What do you do, Ivy, in that situation?

            • Ivy Lin

              I don’t know, how about I just let them enjoy their meals? I work with kids. Once on a field trip the kids wanted to get ice cream, so they got ice cream. I let them eat their ice cream. According to you I should have “gently” told them that they had poor taste and limited palettes because once they’ve tried the finest gelato in Rome they’ll never be able to eat ice cream again. Am I following you correctly?

            • James Nickoloff

              Ivy, there is no point in distorting my comment or maligning me. Of course you let the kids eat the ice cream--in peace--and they’ll love it. But some day, probably when they are older and if they have the resources to visit Rome, they may run across a gelato the likes of which they never imagined. They’ll never forget it.

              That actually happened to me, with a cannelone dinner in Florence. As a kid, of course i loved Italian food. But when I had this meal, I knew I was eating the food of the gods! I’ve never forgotten it. No one had to tell me anything. And I’ve never found its equal anywhere. I’ve ordered it in many restaurants, even expensive ones, but nothing compares. I keep ordering it because I enjoy even an “average” cannelone. But the memory of “perfection” remains.

              There is no need to correct anyone or tell them their taste is inferior. But it doesn’t hurt to share recordings of unrepeatable performances with friends. Isn’t this what we do in education--when we expose the next generation to Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Beethoven?

              Good luck in your work with the kids.

            • Uncle Kvetch

              “But many people, having drunk the elixir, are ‘spoiled’ for life.”

              Yes, I know — it’s something I noticed very early on when I started reading this blog. And for awhile I took the comments of those people far too seriously, to the point where I began to question my desire to keep immersing myself in recordings and videos of the great singers of the past. Because it honestly seemed like the more I knew about those singers, the less I would enjoy going to hear contemporary performances. At some point the only reason to bother going at all would be so that I could catalog all of the shortcomings the next day on Parterre.

              But then, after doggedly continuing to attend (and enjoy) any number of operas, even when I knew “Callas did it better,” I snapped out of it.

              If you honestly do feel “spoiled” in this way, the question in my mind is: why go? Why subject yourself over and over to almost-certain disappointment, rather than stay home with your recordings and memories of near-perfection? (That’s an honest question, I’m not being rhetorical or flippant. And I apologize for the excess of snark in my previous post — it’s a habit I’m trying to break.)

            • James Nickoloff

              Thank you for your apology. I too get drawn into nastiness sometimes. Like you I try to avoid it because we are talking about opera!--something incredibly beautiful, sacred even.

              So, to your question: why do I go to the opera instead of staying home with the recorded “champs” from the past? First, because the music itself is very moving and lifts me to another level of Life. It also can give expression to how I’m feeling or have felt. It can heal; it can challenge. But second, because I am bowled over by people trying to do this--especially the singers. I can’t imagine doing it (as someone who can’t sing a note). I know it takes years and years of hard work and personal sacrifice, and as I’ve said elsewhere, without people willing to put in the work as performers, I would have nothing but recordings and the printed page of the score. I return to the meal metaphor: we all need to eat, and not every meal will be (or can be) out of this world. But a good meal is worth it. The “best meal ever” is a gift from God--hoped for but not expected. I go to the opera open to a peak experience. The view from a 4000-foot peak is not the same as from Everest (I imagine)--but it is beautiful nonetheless.

              Does this make any sense?

            • rapt

              What’s hard for me (and I’m guessing for some others) to sympathize with in your position is the idea that performers are to be responded to according to some fixed scale (which also implies that there is some fixed Platonic optimal performance of a particular opera). To me, this view seems to take the audience away from responding to what is presented to what is not being presented (not “what is here?” but “what is not here?”).

              I can understand your feelings about having a different response to an artist from that of another listener/viewer who has less experience with the art form. I do find myself cringing when an opera non-aficianado asks if I don’t think Fleming is the bee’s knees, because I’m thinking about how much Fleming herself can annoy me, as I wish she would (to spare my delicate feelings) be a different sort of performer from the one that she is (and the one that, my memory tells me, she sometimes has been). But I think this says more about me and my tastes than it does about any external reality. So what do I do (in answer to your question about the meal)? I congratulate the non-aficianado on having found something they love, and I affirm the qualities that I can appreciate in Fleming (dropping the meal metaphor here), and I leave it there, trusting that the future may (or may not) bring our tastes more in alignment. I do know that I’ve never been brought to love something by being told I ought to love it.

            • Uncle Kvetch

              To James Nickoloff: yes, you do make sense here. Especially this:

              “I am bowled over by people trying to do this--especially the singers. I can’t imagine doing it (as someone who can’t sing a note). I know it takes years and years of hard work and personal sacrifice, and as I’ve said elsewhere, without people willing to put in the work as performers, I would have nothing but recordings and the printed page of the score.”

              This pretty much sums up my feeling when I attend a live performance, with the one qualification that I’ve been a choral singer for the last 20 years or so (albeit strictly as a pastime). I’d always been curious about opera, but it was only when I started really putting an effort into singing myself that I wanted to delve in to opera, because I began to understand on a personal and visceral level what an extraordinary feat is pulled off by so many people, on any given night, on stages all over the world. And I hope I never lose that blessed sense of wonder, that recognition that even a run-of-the-mill night at the Met is something sublime, bordering on the superhuman. And if just one singer, or even just one aria, gives me that “wow” reaction in the course of the evening…well, that’s icing on the cake. (I may even feel compelled to let out a “bravo/a,” the cognoscenti be damned.)

              I fully understand that a professional critic like our esteemed JJ is in the house for completely different reasons: s/he needs to maintain a rigorously critical ear and eye throughout (and then write compellingly about it afterwards, which is no mean feat), whereas I have the luxury of kicking back and losing myself. What seems somewhat odd to me is the way in which many of my fellow fans (mind you, I’m not singling you out here) seem to willingly put themselves in a similar critical frame of mind, to the point where they end up sounding like they’re judging a gymnastics routine at the Olympics: “He ducked the high F — 0.5 points off.” “Strained quality in the middle register — deduct 0.25 points.” “Gedda’s C# in that aria had so much more confidence and poise: FAIL.” Etc. etc. To put it as simply as possible, it sounds like a relentless drag. Why expend so much money and time on such a pointless and joyless exercise?

              Apart from that, the eloquent comment by rapt about there being “some fixed Platonic optimal performance of a particular opera” pretty much sums up my thoughts.

              As for your question:

              “But are people so unfamiliar with earlier recordings of “Puritani” that they would be tempted to shout “bravi” at this performance?”

              The answer is yes. Yes, I would wager that the overwhelming majority of your fellow attendees at the Met are really that ignorant. And unless you want Peter Gelb to start requiring a pop quiz to all prospective members of the audience before they’re allowed entry into the hallowed halls, you’re going to have to live with it.

            • James Nickoloff

              Uncle Kvetch, you’re moving beyond here what I said or implied. The idea of a “fixed Platonic optimum” or a pop quiz is of course ridiculous. In art (unlike math, I suppose) we are talking about personal likes and dislikes. The paintings, poems, or opera performances that I find to be “divine” will most likely appeal to some and not to others. That’s why I’ve been using the food metaphor since I think it’s easier to understand.

              At the same time, there is such a thing as an “educated palette.” New-born babies don’t have one and need to be “exposed” to an ever-increasing variety of foods before they are ready to know what they like and don’t like. But even after wide exposure, other factors will enter into their deciding their likes and dislikes--biology, personal experiences, age, health, etc. This is why discussions about food, wine, and opera are possible and fluid--and fascinating. We don’t--and probably can’t--always agree. We ourselves also change. Vive la différence!

              As for the possibility of being able to enjoy something while maintaining a critical posture: I guess I take a both/and approach. In fact I don’t see how it is possible to “turn off” one’s memory of previous experiences. Not only professional critics can do both things at the same time; I think even ordinary fans like me can do it. I can marvel at the skill and commitment of performers on even an average night at the Met--or in a tiny regional opera house. (I loved a performance of “Lucia” in Concord, NH I once attended that had only six singers and a person playing piano.) But I can also see that this or that performance, while good, fell short of what it could be (because I’ve seen or heard something much more moving), of what the “greats” have done. I am most critical of the “big names”--which is where this discussion began. Diana Damrau is a big name (and well paid); her performance last Friday at the Met was, in my view, very sub-par. Perhaps she was ill or just had a bad night. But there is no way I could say I enjoyed it, even though she was better than what 90% of contemporary singers around the world can do.

              One last point, going back a couple of days: what I am saying about the memory of past performances, experienced live or through recordings, does NOT mean being stuck in “golden age” nostalgia. The greatest male coloratura singing in the past 100 years, especially of tenors, is in my opinion happening now. In 2002 I was listening to the Met radio broadcast of “Barbiere di Siviglia” with an unknown (to me) tenor named Juan Diego Flórez. I was stunned--paralyzed almost--by his rapid-fire singing. I immediately phoned an opera-loving friend to make sure he was listening. I was hearing coloratura singing by a MALE singer the likes of which I had never dreamed. In fact, I came to realize that I had come to assume that coloratura could only correctly be done by female voices, especially high ones. But Juan Diego was doing it--to perfection. This was a first for me. And he seems to have opened the door (Brownlee, Camarena, etc.). Now, when I listen to Rossini recordings BF (before Flórez), such as from the 1930s, 40s, 50s,60s, and even 90s, I am amazed to find how “sloppy” the male singing is, how they simply couldn’t--or at least didn’t--hit all the notes. In many cases they didn’t even try; they left it to the soprano. And I had not even noticed. But I do now. Now when it’s a duet between tenor and soprano, the effect is significantly reduced for me when a man (or woman) can’t do the fast runs. Juan Diego and his confreres have spoiled me.

              So--what I’m saying is: judging is spontaneous, not calculated. One is just given the gift, unexpectedly, of a superior performance. It’s just there, knocking your socks off. And that can happen while listening to a recording of Rosa Ponselle from the 1930s, while remembering a performance of Plácido Domingo from the 1980s, or while (innocently) listening to a broadcast today. In each case an indelible memory is formed. These are treasures--to be held with gratitude and not used as weapons against anyone. It’s not surprising that very few people can do what Juan Diego does. I myself can’t even sing a note! But his work, his achievement--a breakthrough in my own history of listening--has raised the bar. Perhaps that’s why so many other tenors are trying to match his technique, or even surpass it.

              One last word: I envy you your ability to sing and your history in choral music. I think that puts you in a much better position than I’m in to be able to appreciate the finer points of opera performance. I once forced myself to take a singing class at the local adult education center. It was painful for me--and for the teacher! But I learned about voice production, etc., and it did enhance my appreciation of the art (and work) of singing. Enjoy!

            • manou

              Dear James Nikoloff -- I largely disagree with you on most points, but I do want to commend your courteous replies to the opposition.

              I cannot help myself as the resident pedant and nitpicker and must point out that an educated palate is indeed necessary to appreciate gourmet food -- an educated palette would be more useful to a painter.

            • Camille

              hahaHA! Manou —

              don’t EVER go read reviews on Sephora, for those little painted strumpets are constantly raving about their fave “PALLETS”. Another favorite misspelling is “DEFINITELY”, which is almost without fail spelled “DEFIANTLY”, which makes for some particular and felicitously hilarious turns of phrases.

              I had had previously no idea how far standards of grammar, syntax and spelling had fallen (Haha, other than my OWN!), prior to reading these reviews. As well, if you are ever feeling in the cups and down, go look at the “Beauty Reviews” proliferating all over YouTube. They are spellbindingly mesmerizing and hilarious. Woman, thou art Vanity!!!!!

            • manou

              Ah now of course pallets are definitely another kettle of fish -- seeing as they are connected with shipping -- or maybe on Sephora chipping, connected with nail polish

            • Camille

              Haha! Pallets loaded with chippies on Sephora abound in AH-MAAAAAZ-ing quantities!!

            • James Nickoloff

              Oh, dear. More disagreement. But thanks for your correction and erudition. I don’t think I’ve ever used the words “palate” or “palette” before (in writing) and was not even aware of the difference.

              But as a nitpicker, please be so kind as to spell my last name correctly: Nickoloff.

            • manou

              Touché!

            • Uncle Kvetch

              Thank you, James. I’m still finding you a bit hard to pin down, in that you seem to veer between the opposing poles of “it’s all a matter of taste” and “it is beyond question that [singer] gave the definitive performance of [role] to date.” (The “educated palate” metaphor strikes me as a useful way of delineating a middle ground between the two.)

              But no matter. I come here to learn about opera, and part of that education has been learning about what makes opera fans tick, in their many-splendored variety. 8^)

              And I’ll second manou’s comment: thank you for the courteous replies.

            • grimoaldo2

              Flórez is indeed marvelous but it is not the case that all Rossini tenors before him were sloppy. I think maybe the change came with the establishment of Rossini Pesaro festival in 1980. Before that a lot of Rossini’s operas were very seldom performed. In order to sing such florid music of course you have to train and practice and there was not much point in doing that since the music was so seldom performed.
              In the 80’s and 90’s we had Rossini tenors such as Rockwell Blake, Chris Merritt, the already mentioned in this thread Gregory Kunde, and best of all Bruce Ford. Here he is in the great trio for tenors from Armida, with William Matteuzzi and Paul Austin Kelly:
              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scw0XobJFoM
              In Naples where a lot of Rossini’s serious operas had their premieres there were often two great tenors in the same cast, Ford and Merritt specialised in roles written for Andrea Nozzari, which require a lot of vocal heft and dramatic singing combined with flexibility whereas Florez is more suited to roles written for Giovanni David, who had a lighter voice capable of incredibly florid singing.The first time I saw Flórez was at Covent Garden in Rossini’s Otello, as Rodrigo, a David part, and Ford was in the role written for Nozzari, Otello.
              http://www.rohcollections.org.uk/performance.aspx?performance=6106&row=0

        • Bill

          James -- Simionato set a standard which
          has stood for decades -- I recall a Santuzza at the Met which she sang together with Bjoerling and it was stupendous -- not only vocally but Simionato was a fine actress and embraced the role with all sorts of telling dramatic nuances. Superb. Yet even Simionato at her peak was compared to her predecessor Ebe Stignani and Simionato was at first relegated to smaller roles at La Scala and in Italy until she came into her own. As Simionato neared retirement, Cossotto emerged as a legitimate heiress in Simionato’s fach.

          I had never thought of Di Donato in the
          same breath as Simionato as by the time I was hearing Simionato she was singing mostly heavier dramatic Mezzo roles (though still maintaining Cherubino in her repertoire and retiring at La Scala singing Mozart) but Di Donato, who I think is a fine singer, should feel honored to be contrasted to Simionato.

          But, unlike JJ, I do compare singers I am hearing to ones who previously sang the same roles including a bevy of wonderful artists who are now dead (but very much alive in my memory). Using DiDonato
          as an example, she was actually one of the
          better Komponists the Met has had in recent decades -- actually in all its history
          of mainly Mezzo Komponists. Of all of those at the Met since Kersten Meyer, I found Stratas to be the finest -- but then I have also heard and seen Seefried and Jurinac who remain the standard bearers for that role even to this day. DiDonato remains in my memory (the first of the two times I heard as the Komponist was better than the second) as, unlike many Mezzos who embrace that Strauss soprano role, DiDonato had a very bright top and did not sound strangulated with the B flat at the end. And DiDonato is now this week essaying Semiramide in Munich -- a role that few Komponists in history (Lotte Lehmann and Marie Gutheil-Schoder being the first),
          if any, would dare to attempt.

          As to Puritani -- I first became acquainted
          with the opera from the EMI recording on
          Angel with Callas then in her best and most expressive voice. The opera is usually revived when a singer of note wants to sing Elvira -- Sills, Sutherland, Gruberova, Netrebko (and I guess Devia though I never heard her as Elvira) -- and so it was for Damrau at the Met. I did not expect Damrau to surpass the others (above) I have seen -- and each had varying attributes to triumph as Elvira. Damrau may have them as well, but not singing at her best last Friday, one could not correctly assess her possibilities to make the role her own.

          • James Nickoloff

            Yes, Simionato was compared to Stignani--and ended up, in many people’s estimation, being considered superior. And yes, Cossotto was in turn compared to Simionato--and, in many people’s view, did not surpass the older singer. So, for now, Simionato remains supreme (in certain repertory). Of course, this could change at any moment. THAT’S why we go to the opera--in hopes of a transcendent experience and perhaps even a life-defining one.

            • Armerjacquino

              “So, for now, Simionato remains supreme (in certain repertory”

              Wait, there was a vote and nobody told me? You prefer Simionato to Cossotto, or other mezzos: fine. Knock yourself out, she was a wonderful singer. But quit mistaking your taste for objective fact.

            • James Nickoloff

              I said “in many people’s view” each time. My likes and dislikes are far from objective fact.

            • Armerjacquino

              You then took those ‘many people’ and turned their putative opinions into a definitive statement.

              Many people prefer Stignani or Cossotto to Simionato. That’s just as true. It doesn’t mean any of the three singers now ‘remains supreme’.

            • James Nickoloff

              What you say is true. So is what I said.

            • Armerjacquino

              It is not ‘true’ that Simionato ‘remains supreme in certain repertory’. It is an opinion.

              This is painful.

            • PCally

              I’m totally with Armer here, I find this need to use dead singers as a way of criticizing or lamenting the lack of fine singers today (a total falsehood imo) a pretty ridiculous argument for a number of reasons. First, it involves some ridiculous claims about standard setting, followed by an obligatory recording which though tremendous on many levels is more often than not flawed in some way. Secondly, it totally fails to take into account the way performance traditions change per generation. Bill references Seefried and Jurinac a lot. I happen to admire and respect those two artists and think they had beautiful voices. However, those women sang with tremendous amounts of cuts, had barely any grasp of the languages in a great deal of the repertoire they sang, and there is literally TONS of recorded evidence that show both of them (Seefried as Fiordiligi comes to mind immediately, she makes more mistakes than I’ve ever heard someone in the role make) barely being able to cope with the demands some of their roles place on them. It’s one thing the prefer those women in certain roles and it’s also understandable I think if those women are people’s personal favorites (I listen to Seefried in Lieder a lot more than I listen to other singers sing Lieder) but most of the “golden age” singers people bring up over and over had all sorts of flaws that seems to mysteriously vanish when they are brought up in relation to current singer.

            • Armerjacquino

              I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a CARMEN on Met Player with the Golden Age cast of Barbieri, Del Monaco and Gueden. It’s a total mess- wrong notes everywhere, style all over the place, dodgy French. In every respect (bar perhaps Gueden’s lovely, if very Viennese Micaela) I’d say it is inferior to yesterday’s routine, goodish broadcast. So what does that prove? It proves nothing, either way.

            • fletcher

              See also that Maazel Carmen from Berlin with Moffo, Corelli, Donath, and Cappuccilli, with guest appearances by José van Dam (Zuniga). Frasquita and Mercédès are Augér and Berbié. The whole thing is a hot catastrophe.

            • PCally

              Armer, that’s the other thing that bothers me, in fact it’s one of the things that bothers me most. So many golden age singers take enormous liberties with what’s on the page and for some reason that’s all well and good. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Rysanek but did she ever sing in tune? Ever sing in time with an orchestra? How many recordings are there were she mixes up words, and comes in late (every one of her Salome recordings sounds in some way shape or form like she’s sight reading)? But that’s nothing compared to a fraud like Fleming taking on a role Callas sang (and of course Callas’ Armida is also far from flawless and filled with cuts).

            • Armerjacquino

              It’s always one way, too; always ‘this singer’s Aida is inferior to Leontyne Price’s’ and never ‘this singer’s Sophie is superior to Nadine Conner’s’ (no offence to Ms Conner, etc).

              I suppose it’s just too boring to accept that some singers now are better than some singers sixty years ago and vice versa.

            • Camille

              Perhaps it helps to remember all the cries of horror ascending the heavens when Caruso came on the scene here in New York at the Metropolitan, replacing the matinee idol and seemingly *godlike* Jean de Reszke, who could do almost everything well, from Romeo to Siegfried. After Caruso, there was the new god Gigli, and then Martinelli, et seq.

              It’s impossible to quantifiably measure these things—ultimately it’s all irresolvably and forever subjective.

              Or—maybe the wise whore Zerbinetta said it best:

              Kommt der neue Gott gegangen --hingegeben sind wir stumm, stumm“.

              Amen, sister.

            • PCally

              I also find this “very much alive in my mind” stuff to be a bit much as well. There is quite simply no way that one doesn’t inflate a performance in one’s memory as the years go by. In my mind Mattila’s Ariadne was just about perfect. Realistically it probably wasn’t.

            • Bill

              PCally -- I also loved Rysanek and she may have been the leading singer I have seen
              the most often in my life, almost assuredly.
              Everyone knew she was not always on pitch (though her high notes more often were) and she was certainly not word clear even in her native language. But she created a role to fit her resources, through herself into a performance dramatically and
              certainly had a great following as well as detractors as all great singers seem to have. She (like Mara Zampieri) had different sounds in different registers --
              and there were certainly cuts in many of the
              performances she sang (in particular Wagner or Strauss). But she was thrilling on the stage and became a legendary interpreter of a number of roles

              As to cuts which you mentioned earlier
              I do not believe any of the Wagner
              Operas which entranced so many
              New York patrons in the 1930s at the Met
              with Flagstad and Melchior were ever done uncut -- entire chunks of Walkuere or Tristan were omitted. There are full arias in Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte or Le Nozze di Figaro which are hardly ever heard, even today. This would seldom be the singer’s fault -- perhaps the conductor’s or perhaps
              tradition or in the case of the Met, not to have to pay overtime to a large staff if the opera goes on longer than midnight. When Siepi first sang in Parsifal at the Met his role, Gurnemanz was cut -- when he went to Vienna to reprise it he had to learn some sections as the performances of Parsifal in Vienna, while perhaps also partially cut, restored some sections which the Met did not perform.
              Many of the best conductors of the last
              generation, von Karajan, Boehm, Krips,
              Furtwaengler did not open up traditional cuts. Has anyone ever heard an uncut
              Rienzi or Les Huguenots on stage?
              There are sometimes a stretta to an aria cut
              at the request of a certain singer as the singer in question is not comfortable singing it, and we all know of singers who have asked to have certain arias transposed downward (or in the case of Lily Pons -- upward) to suit their vocal abilities at the time. And we also know of conductors
              (von Karajan for example in 1963 in Vienna when he dumped di Stefano as Rudolfo for the Boheme premiere as di Stefano wanted his aria lowered a half tone) as they wanted a certain sound or conductors who prefer slightly different versions of a single opera. Like many of us who are not musicians by training or education, we are not notoriously
              precise in demanding what we want to hear
              but still have sufficient experience to be
              able to determine whether a performance of a certain singer is to our taste or not.

              And for me, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to see certain singers such as Bjoerling or Flagstad or di Stefano in their last years on stage. And I suppose there are some of the younger generation who will, way in the future sixty years from now, be glad they had a chance to hear a Domingo, a Gruberova etc. even if many feel their retirements from the stage should have occurred a decade ago.

            • PCally

              Bill- As I said above, I have absolutely no problem with someone preferring one singer over another. It’s when people set up ridiculous qualifiers and apply them to a current singer and then don’t apply said qualifiers to a singer they are essentially glorifying in their mind. A poster above compared Netrebko negatively to Tebaldi. Now I personally do prefer Tebaldi to Netrebko as well. But disqualifying Netrebko from certain repertoire because her pitch is suspect and her coloratura is faulty while blatantly ignoring the fact that Tebaldi had severe pitch problems fairly early in her career and lost whatever flexibility she had almost immediately into her career is just absurd. And people who compare living singers to dead ones almost always do things like that.

            • Bill

              PCally -- as to Tebaldi I heard her from her
              first Desdemonas at the Met circa 1955 until her retirement and there have not been many Italian sopranos in my experience with such a sumptuous middle voice (the top having hardened over the years). Somehow, though Now that Netrebko sings some of the same roles as Tebaldi , I do not equate their voices or their stage temperaments as such. Whatever faults they may have had vocally Tebaldi was a great star in her day and
              Netrebko is now. I heard both for example as Traviata and it never occurred to me to make a comparison (perhaps a bit more as Manon Lescaut as Tebaldi’s radiant assumption of the part vocally remains in the mind even today). After achieving fame, Tebaldi pretty much stuck to her fach no longer singing roles such as Elsa, and Netrebko has had a much wider spectrum -- Mozart, Russian Operas and Bel Canto operas and is only now moving more and more into Tebaldi territory (Andrea Chenier, Adriana, Aida, Tosca and such.)

              And some comparisons with dead singers
              need not be made -- the two singers
              at the Met who sang Salome this season
              might be compared unfavorably in vocal
              terms with almost all other Salomes living or dead. one does not have to reach back to
              Welitsch to know that Racette and the other Salome (name forgotten) were not
              raising anyone’s vocal standard in that role.

              We all have personal tastes and standards.
              I do not like wobbly voices but excused
              Jones. I am not fond of considerable
              vibrato but found Lorengar a lovely artist.
              As you and others well know I rather like
              the post war Viennese style of Mozart and
              R. Strauss singing having been raised hearing that style -- instrumental type voices
              but I might not care for a Violetta as sung
              by Stich-Randall or Schwarzkopf (Gueden was an excellent Violetta by the way)
              and I would include Victoria de los Angeles among those with pure instrumental voices though I only heard her sing German in lieder (quite fine), and mostly in French roles, Marguerite, Manon, Melisande etc.

              But I have also heard some excellent young singers particularly in Vienna, Budapest and
              some Slavic lands who will, no doubt,
              have long and brilliant careers.

              We have all heard wretched opera performances not only in provincial
              theaters but at the Met in the Bing era
              or in Vienna even when von Karajan was
              director there. Unspeakably badly sung Aidas or Trovatores where not one or only one cast member was of memorable standard -- embarrassing casting plus well known singers totally off form. Conductors who could not hold the orchestra and chorus together. Forgettable boring dreary evenings with entire ensembles off pitch or out of sync But remember, when we
              compare the present to the past, we
              generally look back to the excellence we have heard for comparison and not the mediocrity we may have endured. .

            • Lady Abbado

              Indeed, I for one always thought Stignani had the richer, more beautiful, “truer” mezo voice than Simionato. For example, listen to the amazing sound between minute 5:45 -- 6:15 in this Norma duet:

              https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mi6AxdRpMQk

  • Rowna Sutin

    From the chatter . . . I heard that although not announced, Ms Damrau was suffering from bronchitis. In fact, after act one, she almost decided to quit. I believe this to be true as the bottom of her voice sounded raspy, a condition that would manifest itself from congestion. Her top sounded very good, if a tad labored. I had no idea she was singing under the weather, so to me she sounded a bit worn. But now, I can only have even more admiration for her. My point is that we are all quick to judge (especially moi) and maybe we should take a step back sometimes.

    • Bronchitis (called severe in the Boston Celebrity Series announcing the cancellation of her recital here) seems to be stalking her this season. She was trying hard but was obviously not at her best during the broadcast of Romeo et Juliette a couple of weeks ago.

      • Camille

        When was that recital, Will?

        Her recital here in Tully Hall was the first week of December if I recall correctly. Bronchitis does take a long time to cure, and certainly singing a heavy role in a cold New York winter is not the cure! Hopefully she will be allowed some vacation and rest soon!!!

        • It was to have been December 4th and i remember wondering if she’d be better for NYC because I know that bronchitis can take a long time to clear up.

          • Camille

            Oh I see and thanks — the NYC was about that same time--December 10th. I was very sorry to lose it as it looked a very promising, very interesting program. I wish the rest would have done her more good than it seems to have!!!

            • I felt the same way about the program and I think she would have been perfect for it. What worries me is that the singing I have heard her do on the radio ever since hasn’t been up to her usual standard and I hope she hasn’t damaged the voice by returning to the stage too soon.

            • Camille

              Yes,
              Exactly.
              She is also having a bit of a transition as she has sung a great many of the roles her voice is suited best for, and with great success, but are not really entirely age appropriate any longer, Juliette, for instance. I hear her forcing in the middle a lot or maybe it is as result of illness. I perceive her as very intelligent and am sure she’ll get it together again but certainly she first needs to get well and rest her precious cords. I’m sure she’s opted out of tomorrow’s performance to save herself for Saturday, as I hoped she would, so I’m very glad of that!, as well as delighted to hear Pretty Yende’s first attempt here as Elvira.

              We’ll see. Damrau is so gifted I certainly hope the very best for her, needless to say.