Cher Public

Soreness and burning

“Ms. Fleming, 58, and Ms. Dessay, 52, faced the same problem over the past decade or so.” [New York Times]

  • southerndoc1

    Best headline ever.

  • questocor

    The comparison between Fleming and Dessay seems forced to me. Dessay had surgery to remove nodes from her vocal chords when she was in her late 30s and retired from full opera before she even turned 50 y/o. Fleming is 58 y/o now and has had no history of surgery to remove nodes on her vocal chords. This suggests to me that Dessay’s decision was based on an inability to sing certain roles and not a lack of age appropriate roles.

    • John L

      I think your interpretation of events is more likely. It did seem like she was having technical or vocal burnout issues towards the end of her staged operatic career. Nevertheless I’m really interested in seeing her perform tomorrow. Maybe some time off and rest off the stage has served her well.

  • Camille

    Who is Natalie and who is Renée in the above picture?

    Why would these two sopranos be considered comparable and put into relief together at all? I do not perceive it as appropriate. Fleming has sung a wide variety of roles, certainly not just in the -INA Fach, wherein ageing is a concern. She is also renown for her rock solid technique which Dessay never seemed to have had while sliding merrily by on her prodigious gifts until one fine day….

    Fleming is 58 and just now singing her farewell(?) to the Met and Dessay is 52 and that Cleopatra was what? three years or so ago, while in her very late forties. Almost a decade of difference.

    Another thing, Dessay always wanted to “Act” and that was the last thing on Fleming’s mind.

    I do not understand the necessity of bringing up
    Fleming in a review of Dessay’s performance. It starts out like one of those Times “think pieces”, or “Critic’s Notebook” things.

    Why wasn’t Debbie Voigt thrown in for good measure? She was around at around the same time.

    • Nelly della Vittoria

      Yeah, it’s a largely meaningless gambit of Zachary Woolfe’s to compare them. Whom is he writing for, what imagined reader of the NYT who knows something (but not much) about the opera, knows that Natalie “retired” and that Renee “isn’t retiring”, and that they’re both singing in the city this week, and wants to see them compared?

      May I say in aside that I went to Natalie’s concert on Wednesday and was very glad to have gone, and that she sounded better than she has in a long time? That old quality of the small voice “speaking in your ear”, the old impatience with some concert chestnuts (Ach, ich fuhl’s tossed off in some haste), the old sorcery that turns other chestnuts into diamonds (a Gretchen am Spinnrade that left me with nail marks on my arms). I won’t pretend that the troubles of her last few years in opera were invisible — there’s a rippling seam between middle and low, and grain that sets in under pressure — but she sounded healthy and strong, and held the problems easily in rein. And how the people loved her! There were opera students behind me (not always the kindest audience) and after the excerpt from Pelleas one turned to the other and whispered, “Will I be able to sing that pianississimo when I’m 52?”

      • Camille

        Well, Nelly—
        It’s very, very good to hear that the evening went well and you enjoyed her. For my part, I’m no longer able to face her and want her to remain in my memory as she was in 1997 and 1998 — a comet of rare dimensions that one sees a few times in one’s lifetime. Perhaps, had she not sung the Pfitzner, the Chausson had been done with the requisite quartett,
        AND she hadn’t veered dangerously near Bianca Castafiore territory with the inclusion of “Ah! Je ris de me voir…”,
        Perhaps--I would have gone.

        If it made you happy and she was able to even kindle a bit of the old magic fire, that was fine tho’

        Thanks kindly.

  • PCally

    Like woolfes writing a lot and the actual review is terrific. But I agree that the comparison between Fleming and dessay makes absolutely no sense. They are completely different as performers with strengths and weaknesses that almost directly stand in opposition to each other, they shared almost no repertoire, and their career trajectories were not even remotely similar. And Dessays repertoire is far more dependent on youth and age then flemings was.

    • John L

      Dessay’s opera career was kind of predictable for a coloratura soprano. However I can’t really think of any other soprano who has had a similar career to Fleming. She started out with Mozart but then dropped that. Made a few forays into bel canto. Taken on lyric soprano roles maxing out on Tatiana and Rusalka. Taken on lyric Strauss roles such as the Marschallin, Arabella, Capriccio, stopping at Ariadne. Almost completely avoided Verdi and Puccini. She really knew her strength and weaknesses and maxed out on what she has to age 58.

      • John L

        Maybe Lisa Della Casa and Anneliese Rothenberger and for that matter Elizabeth Schwartzkopf have had similar repertoire.

        • Bill

          John -- della Casa and Schwarzkopf sang quite a few Italian operas in their earlier
          careers (in German) but later dropped most of those roles -- both della Casa and Schwarzkopf started as high sopranos and
          gradually stayed in the lyric soprano range
          with a few forays (Schwarzkopf as Fidelio,
          della Casa as Salome and Chrysothemis)
          into heavier roles. but they sang some of the same Mozart and Strauss roles as Fleming. Rothenberger was at first more of a soubrette but later did do 1 Traviata in Vienna and 2 Komponists -- and did Fiordiligi in Salzburg one season but then stayed away from the role. None of them would attempt for example Rossini’s Armide as Fleming did and Rothenberger stayed with Sophie most of her career and did not graduate to the Marschallin. Sometimes I think Fleming attempted to imitate some of the mannerisms Schwarzkopf displayed
          particularly but less successfully (as they seemed more of an irritation when Fleming sang Schwarzkopf style). The 3 ladies mentioned were of another era and since their time the operatic repertoire has broadened (German lands did not do much in the way of Bel Canto ) and I think Fleming has had more options to broaden her range of roles.

          As to comparing Fleming to Dessay -- I do not think they had much in common other than each has been celebrated but not in the same fach -- Dessay seemed much more spontaneous in her roles, but but both now are cutting down in opera and branching out to other things,

          • John L

            Fleming and Schwarzkopf are always tied together in my mind. They both have mannerisms and inject affectations into their interpretation of roles. I know Fleming studied with Schwarzkopf. But I wonder how that came about, if Fleming tried to adopt it on her own or if Schwarzkopf kind of instilled it in her.

            • Bill

              John L -- as far as I know much of Schwarzkopf’s teaching of other singers
              was through master classes rather than working with individual young singers for years at a time -- in a couple of master classes the student then would
              maybe garner some sage advise regarding interpretation but maybe not so much
              as to actual vocal technique. It is interesting that both Schwarzkopf and Fleming became more mannered as time went along.
              In my opinion Schwarzkopf got away with her vocal mannerisms more successfully than Fleming but I guess that is a matter of personal choice --

      • grimoaldo2

        “Almost completely avoided Verdi”

        I saw RF in London as Amelia Grimaldi, Desdemona and Violetta and in the Requiem (and loved her in all of those) so I would not call that almost completely avoiding Verdi.

        • Cameron Kelsall

          But it’s completely fair to say that she “knew her strengths and weaknesses”--and I would argue that excepting Desdemona, Verdi was never one of her strengths. Nor was Verdi ever a cornerstone of her rep. Those three roles are the only Verdi roles she sang, and I don’t believe the Boccanegra Amelia was a frequent role for her. I’m sure she knew full well that the heavier Verdi roles were not going to be in the cards for her.

          As for Puccini, I think the only roles she sang were Mimi and Musetta very early in her career (although she recorded a lot of his arias).

          • John L

            Maybe the only bad move I can think of was when she did Armida at the Met. She just seemed to run out of gas with some of the coloratura. It seemed like she had alot of success doing Armida earlier in her career (?La Fenice). But her voice probably changed since then. It also seemed like she had some mixed reviews with Ariadne (?Zurich). It just seems a half step too low and too big for her. Though admittedly I didn’t see her in it. Just saw a few clips only.

        • Armerjacquino

          Swap Tosca for Rusalka and Fleming’s career matches Te Kanawa’s pretty closely.

          • Peter

            Yes, very similar. They both shared Mozart and Strauss roles, Desdemona, and Amelia but Fleming’s repertoire was much broader. She sang more bel canto roles (i.e. Lucrezia, Pirata, Armida) and more new works such as Streetcar and Dangerous Liasons.

          • John L

            True! Lyric sopranos who preserved their gifts well after 50.