Cher Public

Three sisters who are not sisters

Due to bandwidth limits “Trove Thursday” must post some more modest offerings in months with five Thursdays. As in the past here are three short works—this time all for soprano. The perverse (?) line-up includes Elly Ameling angelically exalting Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate; Marisa Galvany barnstorming through Beethoven’s Ah! Perfido; and Eva-Maria Westbroek navigating uncharted American waters with Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915. 

A celebrated lieder- and concert-singer, Ameling performed almost no opera. She did participate in the Dorati Haydn opera series on Philips and recorded some arias but sang only one role on stage–Ilia in Idomeneo. Accompanying her in today’s live Mozart is her countryman Bernard Haitink still active at the age of 88 having led the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in a concert at the BBC Proms just last week.

Mozart: Exsultate, jubilate
Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
8 November 1969

Elly Ameling

Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra

Conductor: Bernard Haitink

Barber’s lovely setting of a passage from James Agee’s A Death in the Family has been embraced almost exclusively by American sopranos—from Eleanor Steber who premiered it in 1948 to Leontyne Price, Judith Raskin, Dawn Upshaw, Sylvia McNair, Kathleen Battle, Renée Fleming, etc., although a few Canadians have also gotten into the act. I wouldn’t have predicted Westbroek might gravitate to it and it’s an unusual performance. Her Barber shared the concert with Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été!

Barber: Knoxville, Summer of 1915
Concertgebouw, Amsterdam
20 June 2015

Eva-Maria Westbroek

Amsterdam Sinfonietta

Conductor: Candida Thompson

It’s become a common place to claim that Singer X or Y who was taken for granted in the recent past would be a big star today, many might make that assertion about Galvany. The reckless flair of her singing is probably not to everyone’s liking but it must have been extremely exciting in the theater. Her flamboyance and habit of tossing in interpolated high notes not usually heard from a voice like hers earned her a minor cult reputation.

A great friend of mine has known Galvany (no relation to Maria) for decades dating back to her Paterson, NJ days. He heard her many many times and still keeps in touch with her. He has suggested to me that New York Times critic Harold Schoenberg’s antipathy toward Galvany hurt her local career although she did sing quite a number of roles at New York City Opera in the 70s and 80s. Nearly always though she appeared in the second or third cast. For instance City Opera’s productions of Nabucco and Medea premiered with Grace Bumbry although some preferred Galvany.

I only recently learned she also sang unexpected roles like Gilda and Violetta there. Apparently neither Beverly Sills nor Julius Rudel were big fans which might have also played a part in her erratic career at City Opera.

Her relationship with the Met was very odd—many know of her last-minute debut replacing Shirley Verrett on the first night of the 1979 Norma revival. Despite having saved the day, she didn’t return until six years later and only then for the national tour during which she did several performances of Gertrude in Hansel and one Ortrud! A couple of Kostelnickas in Jenufa later that year was it for her.

She appeared in Macbeth and Salome at the Cincinnati Opera in the 1980s; I regret not having seen her but I was off local performances at the time. Perhaps Galvany was not greatly ambitious as she didn’t sing that much internationally nor in other big US theaters. Or perhaps her idiosyncratic voice and style just weren’t appealing to many opera companies of the time.

I love this Beethoven scena and her ballsy approach may not be the most elegant but it’s stirringly persuasive despite a mediocre orchestra. I just may need to root around further in my friend’s extensive Galvany pirate cache.

Beethoven: Ah! Perfido
Des Moines Symphony
20 November 1971
In house recording

Marisa Galvany
Conductor ?

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  • Camille

    Alternate Thread Title:
    “The Three Weyrd Sisters”.

    Can’t wait to hear what havoc Galvany will wreak in the classical straitjacket of “Ah, Perfidious One!” Heard her twice and she was a barrel of fun!

    What a combo platter. Rice, beans and the whole enchilada plus mango salsa.

    • Apulia

      I greatly enjoyed Ameling several times in lieder recitals but whenever I heard her with orchestra the results were disappointing--once in the same Mozart Exultate Jubilate she came to grief at the end, and another time in the Berlioz Les Nuits she simply couldn’t be heard enough of the time, albeit what one did hear was lovely. That being said, one of her lieder recitals, in a fairly small room, was one of the best recitals I’ve ever heard in my life. A testimony to the choices she made most of the time? I think so. I also had the privilege of seeing one of her master classes and I had the same impression as Camille.

    • Apulia

      I don’t mind Galvany in the Beethoven, it’s such a high energy piece anyway (and the Nabucco excerpt is more than OK). And I’m glad to hear someone with a larger voice take on the Knoxville instead of the lighter voices I keep hearing in the piece lately. Steber, and then Price, after all, were not light lyrics, and I assume both could deal with the orchestra in a ive performance. Equally importantly, they both brought something meaningful and even personal to the language, since the sentimental text is central to the piece. Westbroek unfortunately fails here — too many compromised vowels and difficulties; I didn’t recognize or remember some words I thought I knew, and I finally had to stop listening. Yes,Camille, Weyrd.

      • Camille

        Thank you for your many considerations, mia Apulia, as they make a lot of sense and make me reflect. Just now finished listened to La Galvany and it must be said: it sounded not only much better but not at all camp nor did it come undone, as I had feared. She drove her voice through in a way that made it sound the music served her and not the other way around and there was no particular shading nor emphasis on the text, but, that’s okay, as anyway they get through it alive is acceptable with this intractable bonbon.

        Now I’m on to Mevrouws Ameling en Westbroek. Sorry to hear EMW didn’t quite nail the accent — it would have surprised me had she got it down to a tee but many Hollanders speak really good English, so I had hoped….and, what you have to say about the volume issues with Ameling’s voice answered a query I had about her…on the one recording of hers I own, (all Schubert if I recall correctly), it’s all very very quiet and at one level of volume. That’s okay on a recording as it’s a special circumstance. Battling an orchestra is quite another circumstance. Her interpretive skills and her echt=ness as an artist though-- that’s pretty much always in evidence and a huge plus.

        Thank you for your thoughts!

        • Apulia

          Camille, you remind me to add that when I heard Ameling at her best there was a much greater variety in the sound (both color and volume) than I heard on her recordings. I felt at the time (oh, so many years ago now!) and have never had reason to reconsider that there was something about her voice than simply didn’t show on recordings. Maybe it was just her rather magical presence, but it seemed to have been in the voice, too. There are those singers one wishes one had had the opportunity to hear live, but Ameling is one I am extremely grateful I did hear, because I would not have truly appreciated her from her recordings.

          • Camille

            So noted. I had a similar experience listening to Dame Janet Baker. If I’d not attended those performances (which I had to be cajoled into) I’d never, ever have had a clue as to what this Lady had going for her. TKS!

            • Dame Kenneth

              Agree completely about Baker. I had found her voice rather arch somehow, if that’s possible of a voice. Ever after her seeing in recital, it was something different. She was an absolute stage animal in a way I never would have expected. And I realized there really was a primal quality to even her rather refined-sounding singing. She put so much into it!

            • Apulia

              Exactly. I was lucky enough to hear her five or six times in recital over a span of quite a few years, and while the vocal resources were less toward the end the emotional and intellectual commitment was not. What she sang about always mattered so much. She was the only singer I could stomach hearing sing what I call those “Hey-ding-a-ding” songs so over present in English repertoire. Instead of annoyance they turned into some kind of affirmation of human energy and life.

            • Camille

              Yes! It was The Voice of The Stiff Upper Lip, as I then called it.

              She was utterly a different creature in person and demonstrated one of the greatest displays of artistry I’ve ever witnessed, a lesson to one and all in ‘how to do it right’. She was mistress of her own domain in such a way and to an extent that boggled the mind.

              It was Les Nuits d’Été, as conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini I fortunately happened to hear, either in 1980 or 1981, in Los Angeles, and it’s something which has stayed with me all these long years. She got more from just standing still on the stage than most of the rest of them get from all the gymnastics they engage themselves in. Remarkable.

            • MisterSnow

              I saw Janet Baker in 1979 singing Idamante in Mozart’s Idomeneo. I was very familiar with her singing from her many recordings of choral and vocal music by British composers such as Vaughan Williams, Delius, Elgar etc., but nothing prepared me for the live experience. The way her voice carried in Covent Garden, the intensity of her singing, and the dark burnished sound of her timbre could only be experienced live,

      • Camille

        I understood maybe three words so don’t know what language it was sung in. Nice sinfonietta though. She ought to take time off to re=study and re=organize her voice but that’s not going to happen. I won’t ever pay to hear her sing again and that’s a shame as she’s so very gifted on the stage and so absolutely lovely.

  • rapt

    Quel recherché title!

  • Monabel

    I had the pleasure of hearing Ameling’s Ilia. Lovely.

  • Donna Annina

    I was in high school when I heard Ameling perform Der Hirt auf Dem Felsen with Thomas Schippers at the piano and the Cincinnati Symphony’s Richard Waller on clarinet. Her warmth and delight in the piece projected all the way up in the nosebleed seats. It’s still the touchstone performance for me.

  • Laura

    Re: the Barber. Painful. Wobbly vibrato, often flat. Many great performances of this to choose from, this isn’t one of them. I would recommend starting by listening to the first: Steber.

    • Camille

      This piece has always, always, ALWAYS given me a lot of problems, especially keeping quiet as others around me wax poetic on it. Part of the problem is the thick accents and “aw shucks, I’m jest plain folks” posture assumed. I think that does the work a disservice and think maybe Steber got it right as it all must be done subtly or not at all, and she, as a West Virginian, was a tad closer to Knoxville than so many others (who shall remain nameless lest I cause rancor.) I don’t think this should be oversung nor indulged in, and all that gooey, homey, sticky, syrupy sentimentality, even if it would SEEM viable in this, is to be avoided like the Bubonic Plague.

      Mebbe I’ll go listen to Steber, that CONSUMMATE artist, sing it. Maybe it was set up by her to be sung by her and remain “her” piece, a musical conundrum Catch 22. I don’t know at all for sure but I do know it’s been many years and am still awaiting the blinding bling of Verklärung.

      • berkeleygirl

        For sheer naturalness, I recommend Dawn Upshaw’s recording. I worship Steber but, when I was learning the piece about a dozen years ago, I still found it a bit grand. If I recall, there’s still a rolled “r,” which has since gone out of fashion in American literature.

        • Apulia

          All this Knoxville talk made me go see if there really was more than one Steber recording of the piece, as I remember (one Dumbarton Oaks, one with Louisville). Instead I found one with Steber and piano (Bitcliffe) and, miracle of miracles, this, from a radio broadcast, which I had no idea existed. How did we have Steber and Farrell at the same time and not die of sheer joy?

          • Daniel Swick

            Well, THAT what was gorgeous. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever heard Farrell do…maybe second to her Counsel aria.

          • Camille

            Thanks so much for unearthing this one — it had been discussed a couple years back on parterre and at that time I thought it the best of all possible Knoxvillian worlds, and still do. This woman was incredible for the way she could leap from one genre to the next effortlessly. We always knew she was a great singer but with all these old radio performances and not very well diffused recordings turning up on YouTube it has opened up vast amounts of repertoire we (I) had no idea she’d sung. What a wonderful surprise.

            • Apulia

              The first time I heard her singing Depuis Le Jour I was dumbfounded; as you say, I had no idea.

        • Camille

          Why thank you for the suggestion and it does have the virtue in this instance of a performance being sung by an actual native of the state of Tennessee--a decided plus--however--that naturalness to which you refer is not one of those qualities which goes down without a digestivo with me. So many times it’s carefully managed amd studied “artlessness”. Now, in her case, I don’t recall having heard her sing Knoxville, or I’ve forgotten it, if I have. Because of the native patois she does merit a listen i do ike her interpretation of “Glitter and be gay”, so maybe. She was very cute and peppy and out loud as the sherpherdess in --Tannhäuser twenty years ago this fall. That I still remember well.