Cher Public

Debuts and farewells

“Ich möchte tanzen noch, und Abschied nehmen von meiner Mädchenzeit.”

While Handel wrote 17 full-length music dramas that begin with A, he’ll have to wait until next month. Richard Strauss wrote just three but the right choice for today’s “Trove Thursday” must be Arabella with Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting a prime-time 1980s Munich cast of Lucia Popp, Wolfgang Brendel, Peter Seiffert, Julie Kaufmann and Marjana Lipovsek. I know this opera is sometimes looked down on as the poor step-sister of Der Rosenkavalier but I love it and sometimes even prefer it to its grander predecessor. 

It’s difficult to believe it’s been 24 years since that horrible time when the world lost Popp, Arleen Augér and Tatiana Troyanos all in a five-month period, each just 53 or 54. I heard Troyanos many times and Augér twice but Popp never. I had tickets for her Pamina in Die Zauberflöte on the opening night of Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 1986 season but she canceled as she had done the previous season as Eva. Her final US opera appearances must have been Pamina at the Met in early 1981. I might have caught her in recital at Lincoln Center in the fall of 1991 but somehow I missed it—alas!

Lots of sopranos have graduated from “young” to “mature” roles in the same opera but Popp seems to have done that more often than most. She was a notable Zdenka before taking on her older sister, Sophie then the Marschallin. It occurred even more often in Mozart: Blonchen-Konstanze, Despina-Fiordiligi, Servilia-Vitellia and more. I’m not so convinced by the heavier Wagner roles she undertook later part of her career but Elisabeth on the Bernard Haitink recording of Tannhäuser has many fans. Seiffert, of course, was married to Popp during the final seven years of her life.

I understand that some dislike her; a squeezed, glassy quality sometimes appears but nearly always the charm, the shining vivacity, the wistful beauty of her singing win me over. The very first opera LP I ever owned was highlights from the Klemperer Zauberflöte which likely made me a Popp (and Gundula Janowitz) fan for life.

Brendel’s Met debut at 28 as the Count in a new Nozze di Figaro didn’t attract much attention; he wasn’t on a broadcast and didn’t return for twelve years. I vividly remember seeing a photo of his San Francisco debut as Rodrigo in Don Carlo in the late 1970s—a certified “barihunk” with pornstache long before either term was coined. My first encounter with Brendel in the flesh (so to speak) was as a dashing Onegin at Lyric, the production with Mirella Freni, Peter Dvorsky and Nicolai Ghiaurov which was later telecast.

His eventual return to the Met (where he sang regularly for the next 20 years) was cemented by the premiere of the first Zeffirelli Traviata as he was Carlos Kleiber’s preferred Germont at the time. I was grateful to have attended that performance as it was the only one with Kleiber conducting the announced cast of Edita Gruberová, Neil Shicoff and Brendel—first Shicoff called in sick, then Kleiber decamped!

Brendel’s Mandryka will be familiar from the Met DVD where he courted Kiri Te Kanawa; my recollection is that he was not originally scheduled for those performances but brought in to replace…Bernd Weikl perhaps? He now teaches at Indiana University alongside Teresa Kubiak and Carol Vaness.

R. Strauss: Arabella
Bavarian State Opera
9 January 1985

Arabella: Lucia Popp
Zdenka: Julie Kaufmann
Adelaide: Marjana Lipovsek
Fiakermilli: Ulrike Steinsky
Fortune Teller: Cornelia Wulkopf
Mandryka: Wolfgang Brendel
Matteo: Peter Seiffert
Waldner: Alfred Kuhn
Elemer: Norbert Orth

Conductor: Wolfgang Sawallisch

Concluding a (Janet) baker’s dozen of past “Trove Thursday” treasures:

Last week we had Alfredo Kraus as Cherubini’s Nadir but there’s also the sublime Alain Vanzo as Bizet’s in Les Pêcheurs de Perles. 

Cavalli isn’t the only great Italian successor to Monteverdi as a marvelous performance of Il Tito by Antonio Cesti demonstrates. 

As Rosa Ponselle did, Renata Scotto prepped for Norma with Spontini’s La Vestale.

Unfortunately the concert’s promoters were unable to provide tickets for Parterre Box to attend José Carreras’s New York farewell tonight at Carnegie Hall, but we can remember his voice in its prime as Nemorino pining for the Adina of Ileana Cotrubas in a 1976 L’Elisir d’Amore.

Arabella, Ali Baba, Adriana and Attila can each be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the posting’s audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Nearly 100 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts also remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.

  • Bill

    I saw Popp sing Arabella in Munich with an almost identical
    cast and it could not be easy (as Claire Watson attested) to perform Arabella in Munich (not to speak of Vienna or elsewhere) when
    Lisa della Casa’s assumption of the role had been the post war
    standard. But Popp was a lovely graceful Arabella -- she had a natural charm and the voice was very fluid and she did not push her voice -- an of course she was a practiced Zdenka occasionally seen by me in Vienna to Janowitz’s lovely Arabella . It was about 1979 when Popp first took on slightly heavier roles, first Roselinde in
    Fledermaus, then Marenka (Marie) in The Bartered Bride and eventually Eva, the Marschallin, the Figaro Countess and eventually Fiordiligi -- I first encountered her as Karolka, Barbarina, then Blondchen, Frasquita and Najade and as an Angel in Palestrina -- later Marzelline. I saw one of her only two ever Zerbinetta’s in Koeln and as Zerlina there and she was an impressive Queen of the Night in the Met’s Chagall Zauberfloete -- and later a lovely Pamina. At first to me she seemed to be just another light high soprano with a pleasant and cheerful Eastern
    European face but she developed and developed in the Central
    European manner, She was lovely as Glauce in Medea, made her first affirmation outside of Vienna (and Slovakia) as Oscar in Ballo at Covent Garden though she sang few roles of the Italian repertory, the Priesterin in Aida, some Gildas and Rosina and a few recordings of Donizetti which she may well not have sung on the stage. Her early death was a shock her last performances
    being around 1993 but in some ways hardly a short career as she was at the Vienna Opera already in 1963 the same year as her Bratislava debut -- so 30 brilliant years -- and we must not forget
    her contributions to choral works such as Haydn’s Creation and occasional lieder recitals. Thanks for posting this

    • Armerjacquino

      If you’re talking about her work in Italian rep, there’s also a beautiful and heartbreaking Mimi auf Deutsch with Araiza, and a far-from-idiomatic but utterly heartbreaking Angelica (with Lipovsek as auntie).

      There is such glorious singing in her early work that it sometimes eclipses what came later- but her Countess on Marriner’s bafflingly underrated NOZZE is very moving, and her Vitellia for Harnoncourt is extraordinary in an almost extra-musical way; she knew she was dying and the knowledge radiates from every note.

      • Bill

        Thanks Amerjacquino -- I was unaware of these Puccini presentations of Popp -- did she actually sing either of these roles on stage ? Or were these recordings or concert performances on air ?

        • Arianna a Nasso

          Her Mimi and Angelica are commercial studio recordings, EMI and Eurodisc respectively.

          Bill, Would you share your impressions of her Zerbinetta? Clearly she didn’t feel it a good role for her, if she dropped it so early. Was it truly a bad fit for her voice, or was it just not at her usual high standard at a time when there were several very good Zerbinettas like Reri Grist?

          • Bill

            Arianna -- I happened to be in Koeln
            and an Ariadne was scheduled though
            I did not know the cast until I got to the
            opera house and Popp was listed as the
            Zerbinetta among some routine German
            singers in other roles. I thought she was
            charming, able to dance a bit (not as
            spritely as Reri Grist however) and
            she seemed lovely in the Prologue and seemed to be relaxed and having fun with the role. In the Grossmaechtige Prinzessin she seemed to be absolutely fine until the very high note (not the last high note) which has a trill (which Gruberova observed but many skip) and she got up to the high note and then it slipped and she had to go up to it again. She finished the aria with aplomb
            and received normal applause but as I was sitting on the extreme side I could see her walking off the stage and as she got to the wings she threw down her fan to the floor in disgust which most in the audience could not observe. As I understand it Popp sang only two Zerbinettas in her career, both
            in Koeln where she was engaged alongside Vienna and I do not know if this was her
            first or second rendition of the role. In any case she never sang Zerbinetta in Vienna but as you mention, there was Grist, Streich and others at the time who admirably filled the bill. It may be the only time I heard a bad note from Popp but there is a Salzburg
            Rosenkavalier where she went disastrously flat on the final note of the duet with Octavian at the opera’s end. Each time I heard Popp as the Queen of the Night she
            was precisely on pitch for every high note
            but it could be that after that Koeln
            Zerbinetta she no longer desired to risk
            singing the role which indeed except for the mishap on one difficult note, she sang beautifully.

            • Camille

              That extreme high note in the middle, is an E, whereas the final cadence is a D. A world of difference therein. However, if she were still doing the Könegin der Nacht…?

            • Bill

              Camille -- I have no idea why Popp did not
              continue to sing Zerbinetta -- most singers do not give up a role due to one bad note in
              one performance. This E in Ariadne must be held longer than any high notes which the
              Queen of the Night has to sing where some singers just peck at them. Perhaps Vienna simply did not ask Popp to sing the role (there has hardly been a season from 1943 on where Ariadne is not done at least a few times in Vienna. At the time I saw her do
              Zerbinetta, Popp was also engaged in Koeln as well as Vienna and maybe Koeln asked her to sing it and she did it to indulge them or to fulfill a contract with so many yearly performances required. Another season during that period I saw Popp’s Zerlina in Koeln which was the night Margaret Price made her continental debut as Anna (Roger Soyer was the Don and it was a new production with a weak Elvira and tenor, but Price had a total triumph as did Popp and Soyer.

            • Luvtennis


              The staccato were easier for her than the sustained forte acuti, I think. And she lost the extreme top quite early.

            • Arianna a Nasso

              Thank you, Bill. It’s great to have your first hand experience on this, as with so many artists. Since Popp was an EMI artist in the 60s, I wonder if she was to have recorded the role on the Kempe set. That could have been one for the ages . Or was Sylvia Geszty a star on the rise at the time, as much as Popp?

            • Bill

              Arianna -- Geszty was five years older than
              Popp, came to Berlin in 1961 from Budapest and was engaged for a decade with the Berlin State Opera in East Berlin and had Zerbinetta there in her repertory. The EMI Ariadne you refer to was taped in Dresden, also in East Germany, and some of the artists in it (Schreier, Theo Adam and originally ,Kempe himself) began their careers in East Germany. Although Hungarian, almost all Geszty’s career was in German opera houses so she was very much a known factor though she also made excursions to other countries in
              Europe. Kempe probably knew her work
              but one is often unaware why one singer
              was utilized for a recording rather than another (with the exception of some singers who had long term contracts with a specific label. ) At the stage of the recording Geszty’s career was more established than Popp’s who was just first coming to the Met.

            • CCorwinNYC

              Popp as Oscar in “Ballo” was posted on “Trove Thursday” earlier this year--


              And Geszty in Cimarosa’s “Il Marito Disperato”


              Look for something else to Popp up before the end of this year.

        • Lindoro Almaviva

          There is also a video of Her as Musetta from la Scala and a pirate recording of one of the performances.

          I think she also performed Mimi on the stage in Vianna (my guess in German) as, allegedly, evidenced by a picture I recently came across.

          • Bill

            Lindoro -- Popp never sang Mimi at the
            Vienna State Opera which, in any case, presented Boheme in Italian from 1960.
            The Volksooer presented Boheme auf Deutsch normally -- she could have tried out the role there -- the photo is very touching -- it could be from a TV presentation of Boheme -- but it could represent another role of Popps such as Marzelline (just looking at it I would think
            Louise, an opera surely Popp never essayed.)

      • Luvtennis

        I admired her later performances, but the squeezing sound became a real distraction for me shortly after her Pamina for Haitink. I adore her glorious Queen for Klemperer. And her Despina is deluxe in the funereal Klemperer Cosi.

        I never heard her live though only on recordings.

      • Damianjb1

        There’s also a very beautiful studio recording of her singing Gilda. Her voice has always gone straight to my heart. And her Four Last Songs is my second favourite (after Jessye).

        • Lindoro Almaviva

          Her 4LS is my absolute favorite. That recording with Klaus Tennstedt to me is as good as it gets; I like it better than Janowitz, and i adore that recording too

          • Damianjb1

            I should say I love them both equally. I have the Janowitz recording (with Karajan). When I first got it, much to my surprise, I had a problem with the conducting. To me it sounds very fussed over.

            • Lindoro Almaviva

              wait, there is more than one recording with Janowitz?

            • CCorwinNYC

              There are at least two live VLL with Janowitz around. I have the one with Celibidache on CD and there’s also one with Haitinck. Both are now available on youtube.

            • Damianjb1

              I thought there was only one studio recording. The one with Karajan. Is there another one?

            • Armerjacquino

              There’s only one studio recroding but as Mr Corwin says above, there are at least two live recordings in circulation- one of which, with Haitink, was included in the big DG box set and therefore gained a kind of ‘official’ status.

  • My experience with Popp is limited but very positive.

    For years, my only frame of reference to the VLL was Jessye’s recording with Masur. Then, some years later, I heard Popp’s recording with Tennstedt. What a difference! It struck me as the perfect complement to the Jessye recording – lighter in touch, fleeter in tempi. I love everything about her way with those songs, from the voice to the phrasing. Whenever people ask for VLL recommendations, I immediately recommend those two.

    Since then, I’ve heard many more versions but it was that revelation of hearing the Popp recording that made me realise just what a world of possibility Strauss created with those song.

    This Arabella looks very appealing. Thanks, Christopher.

    • Damianjb1

      So happy to read your comment about the VLL. They are my two favourite versions.

  • ich bin mude

    “The very first opera LP I ever owned was highlights from the Klemperer Zauberflöte which likely made me a Popp (and Gundula Janowitz) fan for life.” Almost exactly the same thing is true of me. My very first highlights LP was of the Klemperer Zauberflote, and at the age of 12 I became an instant convert to Lucia Popp (a bit less so to Janowitz). The Klemperer is still a favorite recording of mine.

    • Dan Patterson

      Actually, there are three of us. The Klemperer Flute highlights wasn’t my first LP, but it sure made me a lifelong fan of its leading sopranos. I listened to this performance in its most recent CD incarnation, newly remastered, and I still think it’s one of the best Flutes out there, and certainly has the best Pamina and Queen of the Night. People complain about its lack of dialog, but I think that’s a real bonus!

  • Kenneth Conway

    “some dislike her”? Can that possibly be true? I am truly shocked.

  • Dan Patterson

    I am glad to know someone besides me prefers ARABELLA to ROSENKAVALIER. It’s one of my favorite operas, in fact, and I always get teary-eyed in the final scene. Thanks for posting this splendid performance!

  • Rick

    Ms Popp is one of my favourite sopranos, I find the special silvery (?) sound very appealing (and always recognisable). One album I really love is her album of operetta, not least the quite silly “Sei niet bös”….