Cher Public

With a song in my heart

Another five-Thursday month invites “Trove Thursday” to offer a combo of shorter works. This week a song trio from some sterling sopranos: Dorothea Röschmann delves into the mysteries of Mahler’s Das Knaben Wunderhorn; Véronique Gens strolls through Cantaloube’s arrangement of Chants d’Auvergne; and Jessye Norman soars and broods in an early broadcast of Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder

Following Jonas Kaufmann’s Lieder eines Fahrenden GesellenChristian Gerhaher’s Rückert Lieder; and Janet Baker and Jess Thomas in Das Lied von der Erde, Röschmann sings half of the magical Das Knaben Wunderhorn.

I was lucky to hear these artists perform these six songs together as well as the Fourth Symphony at Carnegie Hall a few months after this broadcast as part of a complete Mahler cycle by the Berlin Staatskapelle, the only time I heard Boulez conduct.

Röschmann began her career singing mostly early music (Bach, Handel, etc.) but I didn’t much care for her then; despite her enthusiasm the sound was shallow and a bit squeaky. However her voice evolved dramatically becoming round and rich and she also grew markedly as an interpreter.

Her Susanna, Pamina and Ilia at the Met are among the finest Mozart portrayals I’ve ever seen there.

Recently she has encountered some difficulties particularly at the top of her voice and has drastically reduced her operatic appearances to mostly the Countess and Donna Elvira although there have been outings as Agathe in Der Freischütz and Marenka in The Bartered Bride.

Her Jenufa (opposite former Jenufa Angela Denoke as Kostelnicka) in Vienna last year was streamed but I missed it while some of her dips back into baroque music haven’t been much to my taste. These Mahler songs from nine years ago tomorrow though find her in her prime form.

Mahler: Das Knaben Wunderhorn (exc.)
Salle Pleyel, Paris
3 November 2008

Dorothea Röschmann
Staatskapelle Berlin
Pierre Boulez — conductor

The ever-elegant Gens too began her career with the baroque; I heard her a half-dozen times from the late-80s to mid-90s performing Lully, Rameau and Purcell with Les Arts Florissants during their frequent tours to the US.

I may be wrong but I don’t believe she’s sung in New York since 1996 when I attended her wonderful Handel concert with LAF that included a magnificent Silete venti. I was lucky though to catch her as Giunone in Cavalli’s La Calisto at the Bavarian State Opera in 2005.

Other than occasional forays into German roles like Eva and Agathe, she seems content to continue in Mozart and to explore fascinating rare corners of French opera. Her superb 3-CD set Tragediennes with Christophe Rousset provides an invaluable survey of 17th to 19th century arias, and her just-released collection “Visions” excavates even more obscure repertoire.

Beyond arias, she has recently performed complete in concert such rarities as Godard’s Dante, Saint-Säens’s Proserpine, Gounod’s Cinq-Mars and Lalo’s La Jacquerie. Her conductor in this selection from the much-loved Canteloube collection is the noted composer Matthias Pintscher, music director of the Ensemble Intercontemporain,

Canteloube: Chants d’Auvergne

5 March 2015

Véronique Gens

Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra
Matthias Pintscher — conductor

Norman and Wagner had a complicated relationship; Elisabeth in Tannhäuser was the role of her stage debut at 25 (!) at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and she sang it again at Covent Garden in 1973. She only returned to it for only four performances in 1987 at the Met where her other two Wagner roles were Sieglinde and Kundry, both of which she performed only at the Met.

I attended her first Kundry in 1991; it was my first Parsifal too but I recall her being dramatically scattered and vocally strained at moments.

Of course there is a complete recorded Elsa with Placido Domingo conducted by Georg Solti but it was Isolde that everyone hungered for. She sang the “Liebestod” many times including that celebrated concert with Herbert von Karajan at the Salzburg Festival,

but neither a rumored recording (with James King) nor a complete performance ever came to be. In 1981 around the time of her return to performing opera on stage after a hiatus, she did do act 2 in concert at Tanglewood with Jon Vickers and Seiji Ozawa.

There are those who wished that later in her career she’d explored other Wagner roles like Erda or Waltraute or even Fricka but that, alas, did not happen.

A recent rebroadcast of this mid-1970s Wesendonck from an off-the-beaten-track venue presents Norman at 33 in her early prime.

Wagner: Wesendonck Lieder
October 2, 1977

Jessye Norman

Radio Symphony Orchestra Saarbrücken
Hans Zender–conductor

A complete opera returns on November 9!

In the meantime this week’s trio of Mahler, Cantaloube and Wagner can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on each selection’s audio player and the resulting mp3 files will appear in your download directory.

More than 100 other “Trove Thursday” podcasts also remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.

  • Christopher: Jessye was 23 (a couple of months shy of 24) when she made that debut.

    There are a few live recordings of her Wesendonck Lieder with piano and orchestra but I haven’t heard this one. Thanks!

    Like you, I wish she had taken on other roles in the Ring. She sang Sieglinde gloriously but didn’t project much vulnerability or youthfulness in the part. She could have been an Erda for the ages.

    • CCorwinNYC

      Oops, my bad math! I saw that it was 1969 and somehow came up with 25..ugh. Thanks for pointing this out. Hope you enjoy all three!

      • Thanks. I’m sure I will.

        I’ve liked what I’ve heard of Röschmann in Mozart and I imagine Mahler would be a nice fit. I have to admit that my limited exposure to Gens has been overwhelmed by the one time I saw her sing on video and her top lip quivered so distractingly that I only associate that image with her – which is not fair.

        I never heard Jessye’s Met Kundry but I’ve read less than favourable things about it. On paper, a role Wagnerian role sitting between soprano/mezzo in 1991 was a good idea. Unfortunately, the role’s high-lying parts all come at the end of the strenuous second act, by which point the singer is tired. I’ve heard that she struggled audibly with those sections.

        • PCally

          I saw that Kundry, my first Parsifal. I thought that the bulk of the role seemed to sit in the best part of her voice but that she crooned through most of it. The last ten minutes are so were pretty bad but hardly the worst I’ve heard (I saw Polaski a few years after and she could barely get through the last high bits) but Norman just didn’t have anything else imo to distract one from how bad those moments sounded because her onstage behavior was absurd (I personally didn’t think Polaski was as excited as others clearly thought but I still thought she had more to offer overall). It seemed to me that once she lost a ton of weight she was if anything more inhibited onstage than she had been before and that’s just not going to work for kundry, especially if your singing it a time when Meier is around.

          • I think that even if Meier hadn’t been around, Kundry was not a dramatic fit for Jessye. On the opera stage, she had a pretty limited interpretive palette. She could be the epitome of glorious grandeur in the right role and moment but a lot of other dramatic expression was beyond her. Porgy Amor has said that she sings Kundry as beautifully as anyone on the Levine recording.

            • PCally

              I’ve never really been sold on the recording myself (I think personally it’s the least successful Domingo Wagner role, ditto Levine in Wagner) but she certainly sounds better and gives a bit more. I have to admit I generally don’t listen to a lot of her stuff past the late 80’s and imo none of her later Wagner recording match the first sieglinde

            • I don’t have that Parsifal either. It’s so expensive and not enticing enough for me to spend the money. Oddly, I don’t have her first Sieglinde which is always highly praised. The second one for Levine didn’t find her in best form (she was much better in the video). The Elsa is really gorgeously sung. She sounds too grand but vocally pretty great. Things are not helped by the fact that her Ortrud, Eva Radnova, is overwhelmed by Jessye. It should be the other way around, but Jessye was not typical casting in the part. It’s a shame because Radnova is actually a good Ortrud but she can’t compete vocally. It’s a shame that she never recorded Elisabeth commercially. The Met live performance has a past-it Richard Cassily.

            • PCally

              I do find it annoying that in a decade where Rysanek and Norman were singing the role the met decided to take Marton instead (Marton is actually very good but I wish there was a video of Rysanek since the role was not great for her vocally).

              I like but don’t love Norman’s Elsa, don’t know why because I do think she’s in very find voice. Imo her first sieglinde shows how good she could have been singing Brunnhilde on record. She’s way more dramatic sounding than the Brunnhilde.

              I just can’t really get into her later sieglindes, on the video I think she’s basically in good voice though I think she flattens up top when singing loudly. Certainly the most glamorous sound in the whole cycle (once again, kind of would have prefferred her walkure Brunnhilde to Behrens). But the production really is imo just ludicrous in this opera and she has so little chemistry with her siegmund it’s actually unbelievable to me.

              Adore her in most French things, love the met Judith and Bluebeard, and love the dido which i find surprisingly straightforward for such a dramatic sound.

            • Was Rysanek still singing Elsa in the 80s? I’m very glad to have her Ortrud on video (though I’ve heard she was better a year or two later at SFO). I love her Bayreuth Elsa from 1958 but her voice was different then, with fewer holes, and better able to command the lyrical lines than she would’ve been in the 80s. She’s the most passionate Elsa I’ve ever heard.

              What could have been interesting at the Met is a Jessye Elsa paired with a Marton Ortrud.

            • PCally

              I was referring to Elisabeth. I think from a purely vocal point of view her 1958 Elsa is one of the best things she ever did, much more even and sung with more freshness and finesse. And of course her and varnay are terrifying together. She had dropped it a while ago (I think she may have been supposed to sing Elsa in 1980 until the opera was switched to elektra and she stepped in as chrysothemis, but have heard conflicting stories about her involvement in the planned Lohengrin run) but she was singing Elisabeth at the met as late as 1987 I think and I believe that was one role that got better for her as she got older and her voice lowered. I imagine Elisabeth was perfect for Norman, the prayer sat better for her than many others, certainly more so than Rysanek.

              I’m just surprised how uninterested the met seemed in capturing Rysanek and Norman in a role which certainly played more of a part in their careers than martons.

            • I think the Met was just spreading the wealth. Jessye certainly got her fair share of telecasts. Half her Met roles were telecast. Rysanek def’n deserved more telecasts than she got. I’m trying remember if she had any beyond her Chrysothemis and Ortrud.

              Here’s the NYT review of Jessye’s Elisabeth which also mentions Rysanek.

              THE trouble with coming upon real quality at the opera is that it makes you impatient with anything less. That happened last night at the season’s first ”Tannhauser” when Jessye Norman suddenly illuminated the Metropolitan stage with her second-act ”Dich, teure Halle” and went on to create as vocally electrifying and dramatically moving an Elisabeth as that stage has known in years. Though different in almost every way from the Elisabeth of Leonie Rysanek, long the reigning soprano in this Wagnerian role, Miss Norman’s Elisabeth was on the same high level, up there where the air is thin and few singers survive.

            • MisterSnow

              Martons got a lot broadcasts including Elsa in Lohengrin and Trovatore. I know there were broadcasts of her Turandot as well but can’t remember if that was from the Met or elsewhere

            • PCally

              There are three Marton turandots available: Vienna 1983, met 1987, and San Fran Francisco 1994

            • Yeah, that Leonora was a bad idea. And from what I recall, Marton’s Elsa was only good in the third act when she turned on the intensity in her questioning of Lohengrin.

            • MisterSnow

              A shame that there was less of her in the dramatic Wagner roles for which she was uniquely suited -- Brunnhilde, for example.

            • Armerjacquino

              Randova (sic) gave one of the most shattering performances I’ve ever seen, as the Kostelnicka at CG. It’s hard to think of her being overwhelmed by anyone.

            • I’m talking vocal power. Randova’s Ortrud has personality and is well-interpreted. But when Elsa confronts her near the end of the second act, Jessye kinda powers her off the stage.

  • BTW, I enjoyed the Tsar’s Bride you posted last week or the week prior. Goodness, I’ve never heard Borodina sound more gorgeous.

  • Cicciabella

    Nitpicker alert; it’s Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The “des” is possessive. Lovely selections, by the way.

    • Lohenfal

      I’ve seen that mistake so many times that I’ve come to discount it. What about Der Ring des Nibelungen, which is sometimes translated The Ring of the Nibelungs (plural), not at all Wagner’s intention.

  • PCally

    Thanks so much for this. When these three ladies are at their respective bests, they really are excellent. I’ve never seen Gens in anything live unfortunately but it seems that in the long run she’s held up the best.

  • Camille

    What is La Jessonda dressed as? The Great Pumpkin? She does do outlandish getups better than almost everyone else.

    I really cannot take the Canteloube works, just done to death for a decade or two by all manner of ambitious and cloying sopraninos, but Mme Gens may make it work for me. She is a very interesting and lovely singer IF you catch her in the right work. The “Tragédiennes” is quite a worthwhile walk in the park, excepting the parlous “Toi, qui sus le néant”, which was a bridge too far for her.

    Röschmann I have had but one hearing of, that “Dido” done in Carnegie Hall a few years back by I cannot recall whom--and sensed it was not her “A” game, and should have heard her earlier, in Mozart. It was an ll right performance but not thrilling.

    Jessye’s BEE-YOO-ti-full Elisabeth is available to be heard, at least from the Met. I heard it once via Sirius, and arriving a doubting Thomasina, I left, believing in the BVM and all the saints in heaven. A beautiful assumption of the role and meaningful.

    • Véronique Gens seems very much involved in the Palazzetto Bru Zane’s revivals of rare French operas.

      • grimoaldo2

        Speaking of Gens and rare French operas --
        The beautiful “Ah mon fils” from Le Prophète

        • Bru Zane continues to release these interesting French rarities at an amazing rate. I see two more are reviewed in this month’s Opéra Magazine, including Benjamin Godard’s Dante again with Véronique Gens. I can’t keep up -- they bring them out quicker than I can get to know them.

    • Camille chere, when it comes to the Tanglewood Tristan be aware that there is some flat singing. That whole section involving the high Cs is iffy. But once the music settles into the long, building lines, she and Vickers are masters.

      The pic is an amusing still from her video of Dido’s Lament.

      • Camille

        Thanks for Brangäne’s Warnung.

        Actually, just now we had the time to listen in to it and found it quite a tantalizing document. What was “iffy” to me was all the singing with Brangäne before Vicker enters. That was lugubrious, nervous, and unsteady but mostly on the part of Brangäne, who seemed to infect her mistress with a similar funereal, twittering, pushed anxiety pill. Once past the entrance, in which she seemed chained to a wild horse and clung on for dear, dear life—the heavens parted and the sun broke through, or mostly, with most predictably the lieder-like portions the most successful. By the end one did remain intrigued-?????--what would it have been like to have had an entire staged performance, or even the entire enchilada in OONY styled concert form at Carnegie Hall? It remains fabric for Il Teatro della Imaginazione, and that’s all.

        I have a particular little angle on Tanglewood and The Great Jon, as it was on a summer night, skiing down the Taconic Parkway in the pitch dark, when first I heard the recording of Vickers/Dernesch as conducted by Herby von K, which I’d always avoided because of Helga and who utterly distinguished herself in this instance. Jon never disappoints.

        As far as La Jess in this valuable
        document, she truly lived up to something here, and if only…. but, in actual performance, I am prone to think the first act would have overtaxed her in a bad way and forced her to push, push, push—but then, we’ll never know, will we? Wise woman that she seems to me to be, perhaps she wanted to leave us wishing for more—unlike so many NN around these days who are overexposed.

        • Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that the first act might have proven too much in live performance, even in her absolute prime. But too bad about no studio recording materialising.

          I think she and Vickers paired very well together. The cragginess of his mighty tenor blended very nicely with the warmth of her voice. And both of them were masters of long-phrased, long-breathed singing. It’s been quite a while since I heard it, but that’s what struck me the most about it. The way the two of them ride the waves of the music with endless line.

          • Camille

            They DID sing very well together, and as if they were old partners--did they sing together at all besides this,
            I wonder? Her voice and manner really calmed down and went to work in the right way once their music commenced.

            It really is kind of a shame she didn’t at least record the entire work, all things considered. She is and was a bit of a conundrum, vocally and in her persona, and in the why of certain things working so well, and others maybe not. The one thing which always intrigues me the most about her is the fact the voice seems to be totally unclassifiable. It sounds simultaneously (the overtones, I reckon) Iike every possible vocal category, and that is fascinating to listen to and interests me very keenly.

            • They sang Act I of Walküre at Tangelwood in ’78. I’m sure that experience was the impetus for the Tristan. It may also have been her first attempt at Sieglinde, since it came during her years away from the opera stage (’75-80). I don’t think it’s his greatest Sigmund or her greatest Sieglinde but it’s an exciting performance.


              They also sang Mahler’s Das Lied together but, as you know, there’s no actual singing together in that one.

            • Camille

              Thanks. I’ll take a listen as it’s sure to be worthwhile.

  • CKurwenal

    Roschmann was already having vocal difficulties in 2007 -- after a run of Cosi at the ROH she planned to take 6 months off to address issues with her top, although I don’t think she ever made much headway in that regard. As Fiordiligi in that run, although much of it was lovely, she was doing silly things like standing on tip toe for high notes, as if being physically higher would somehow help. It is a pity she never managed to resolve her difficulties which kept her operatic repertoire so limited, but fortunately she has found various works that are within her means, such as this Mahler. Her ROH Pamina was very special indeed and remains a vivid memory. I also enjoyed her Countess although the rather forthright approach didn’t go down well with everyone. I think she’s really an artist to treasure, and as with all those who have strong personalities and who present compelling interpretations, but have vocal issues, in a way I’m glad she didn’t work TOO hard on ironing them out because she’d have been a different artist if she had.

    • PCally

      Roschmann is one of my all time favorites in Mozart. The Berlin Cosi is incredible as is the Vitellia but in both it’s pretty evident that she’s operating at maximum capacity. At the ROH Cosi the night I went she was mostly great, surprisingly so in Come Scoglio, but after singing what would have been the second greatest per pieta I’ve ever heard live, she fell apart so totally at the finish of the aria like no one I’ve ever heard and while she was mostly lovely the rest of the evening she never really got it completely together.

      I happen to think she’s terrific in the ROH Figaro but for some reason (and I’ve found this to be the case with Gens, though I don’t know why because they are otherwise not very similar as artists) I think the role seems to expose her technical flaws more openly that other ostensibly more demanding things do. I’m not really crazy about her Elvira either though again I’m not sure why exactly.

      But I loved her Pamina, though her debut Susanna at the met was the best Mozart performance I’d seen live, and I think all the recordings she made with Jacobs are remarkable. Lovely Rodelinda as well, though my live experiences with her in Baroque have been fun without being ideal.

      • CKurwenal

        I think essentially it’s a tightness and slightly unsteady vocal production (due to tension, as is nearly always the case) which is why slow sustained stuff at the most punishing possible tessitura (Dove sono and Porgi amor are constantly sitting on or skirting around the upper passaggio) is more difficult for her than things that move (Come Scoglio, most of Elvira’s music).

        • PCally

          Exactly! You’ve also summed up exactly what I always thought the problem with mattila of all people, who I felt like roschmann could actually have sung many more parts than she actually did because she could never completely control a certain unruliness that seemed inbuilt in her vocal production.

    • southerndoc1

      “as with all those who have strong personalities and who present compelling interpretations, but have vocal issues, in a way I’m glad she didn’t work TOO hard on ironing them out because she’d have been a different artist if she had”

      Callas without the wobble or Lehmann with good breath support somehow would have been lesser artists?

      I think that’s a dangerous argument to make.

      • PCally

        Since when does different translate to lesser?