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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