Cher Public

Lady for a day

On this day in 1959 soprano Leonie Rysanek made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Lady Macbeth. 

Robert Coleman in the New York Daily Mirror:

In our book, Mme. Rysanek is the most distinguished addition to the Met’s roster since Renata Tebaldi. Few stars can match her for looks, and only a handful can act in the same league with her. As for her voice, it has a remarkable range. Forte or pianissimo, it is always under perfect control. Her lower register is rich. Her top notes soar above a chorus. She has amazing facility and flexibility. We found her the most exciting artist to reach the Met in many a semester. Frankly, we’ll take her any day in the week over Callas. She’s at home with Wagner or Verdi. Few others are. And she’s modest.

  • Angelo Saccosta

    For me, the two roles in which Leonie had no equal and may never have an equal are Senta and the Empress in Frau. BTW, in The Opera House movie there are a couple of places where she and Warren appear in rehearsal or something. Does anyone know whether one of those Macbeths was filmed ?

    • GiacomoPuccini

      I’ve seen through the years a variety of photographs of Warren and Rysanek rehearsing Macbeth. I think that production got a lot of pre-opening press and the rehearsals were well documented but i’ve never heard of a film.

    • Camille

      You know, I hate to make absolute judgments about singers, saying someone is ‘the greatest ever’, but in the case of Leonie and the two roles you cite — well, HAS there ever been better?

      WILL there ever be better is unforeseeable but from what evidence we have now I am trying to think of someone else better (Eleanor Steber was a terrific Kaiserin from what I’ve heard, e.g.) but come up with a big zero. Maybe someone else’s style, or manner of singing, or a meaningful and personal in-house experience may have you vote for someone else but that’s more personal taste. These things are so hard to say.

      • August

        This is all subjective of course. No denying Leonie left her impressive imprint as Kaiserin, Senta and Sieglinde in her early to late-early days. For the most part, however, to me, she was a blunt singer with little dynamic variety, when the intonation was working, which was seldom. But she had also a strong persona and stage presence and dramatic instincts that cannot be denied. There have been other notable exponents of these roles over time and it’s a matter of personal preference. For me (so shoot me), I prefer the more lyrical but also powerful Studer in all three roles. Here is her Bayreuth Senta, for example.

        https://youtu.be/yWJfRmA2YJc

        And the electrifying Finale from the same performance

        https://youtu.be/ks2Pa9TgUYQ

        BTW I still love Rysanek’s Verdi disc. But cannot wrap my ears around her Desdemona with Vickers.

        • Camille

          Oh, that IS interesting, as I like both the Verdian arias (but only very early) and her Desdemona with Serafin et al. Later on, it got DIRE, the death threats and all…

          Didn’t there used to be a compilation of Leonie screams on youtube — for if there was I can no longer find it. Instead, here is her personalised Easter greeting to Turriddu -- something I’ve been hearing a lot of lately. The ‘maledizione’ starts around 2:50.

          Leonie Rysanek, to me, and in spite of a glorious instrument, was always first and foremost a Bühnentier.

          The voice was extra, and a lot of it WAS wonderful, and a lot was not wonderful but I accepted that as the price one paid for her wonderfulness. No artist is perfectly rounded and does everything right, there is always some forte and some diminuendo. One has to choose one’s poisons carefully.

          https://youtube.com/watch?v=BUixDF6FCdc

          • August

            Oh dear. What death threats?

            • southerndoc1

              During the early 60s when she was still singing a lot of Verdi at the Met.

            • Camille

              Yes, it was after her initial successes in Verdi and things had starting going south in that repertory, and it was at a time she sang Desdemona. You need an oldtimer to get all the facts of the matter or there may be something in Mr Bing’s autobiography.

              Since I’ve only read some repetition of these old stories here on parterre, I’d have only thirdhand knowledge.

              And as this is definitely the domain of mrsjohnclaggart she could inform us were she still here. There may be something n her writings somewhere.

        • Herb Fontecilla

          There’s no scale to measure greatness in a role. But there is such a thing as becoming so identified with a role -- by whatever means: vocal, personality, looks -- that for many they “own” it. For many, Rysanek performances transcended in some roles. Live she WAS Sieglinde, Senta, and the Empress. Photographs and recordings cannot explain it. She just was.

          • Camille

            Yes, that is it in a nutshell, thank you—that she transcended in those certain roles, or maybe eclipsed others, blocking out their own considerable lights.

            And you HAD to see her, absolutely. When I walked into the opera house the first time I saw her I’d known of her for a good ten years and was not expecting to experience being electrocuted, but that’s what happened, and I never felt quite the same afterward about opera, nor what it was supposed to REALLY be about. Such was the power of Leonie Rysanek.

        • Luvtennis

          I learned Otello from that recording so I didn’t have anything to compare Leonie too. Now, I just focus on the totality of the performance which electrifying. The live met broadcast from ‘39 with Martinelli, Rethberg, and Tibbett is my touchstone. With the Toscanini as my reference studio despite the fact that Nelli and Vinay lack something in sheer vocal glamour.

          • August

            Agree that the Martinelli, Rethberg, Tibbett Otello is something else and should be a touchstone to many.

      • Luvtennis

        I would put it this way. I cannot think of anyone better than Leonie as the Empress at her best. As for Senta and Sieglinde, I would say that I can think of no one more galvanizing than Leonie at her best in a live performance. That said, I prefer other singers in the latter two roles from a purely vocal perspective (never saw Leonie in anything) and for the former, I think Luana De Vol is spectacular in the dvd of the Tokyo production. I also love Schwanewilms in the Loy dvd, even if she is not at her vocal best.

        • I don’t have have studio Senta but I have a live one (also with London) from Bayreuth and they are sensational.

          Re: Sieglinde. I’ve always said that I think no one captured the spirit of that character better than she but I can’t say the role was a great vocal fit.

          • PCally

            I love Rysanek but I’m sort of with LuvTennis in that as galvanizing as I think a great deal of her work is, there tend to be other singers I prefer from a musical perspective. As Sieglinde I think as riveting as she can be in parts of the role, there are just so many phenomenally sing interpretations of this part, one of them her direct contemporary Crespin.

            I love many Sentas but I have to say that on record there are very few who possess voices that are conventionally beautiful. So Rysanek probably is my favorite but more by default.

            • Crespin is probably my favourite Sieglinde. But as you say, the role has been sung so wonderfully by so many different singers.

            • Luvtennis

              Ditto! I must say that Studer is incredible on the Haintink studio. I also heard Voigt sing the hell out of the role in San Francisco about 20 years ago. I also confess a deep love for Resnik (Clemens K.) and the now underrated Hilde Konetzni. Not to mention Lotte L. ????

            • PCally

              I think if you could swap out Marton with literally anyone, you’d have a pretty great trio of ladies in that Walkure. Meier is also a really great Fricka and in very good voice.

            • Luvtennis

              I hate say it but Marton is absolutely unlistenable for me on that recording. Only Linda Watson is worse from a vocal standpoint. Horrible intonation, wobble, squall on anything high or loud. I was so disappointed. I couldn’t believe emi released it. A great disservice to Marton. Imagine that recording with Anne Evans or Johanna Meier….

            • I think Resnik is a very intense and gripping Sielginde but she’s also the most matronly one I’ve heard. To me, she sound even more matronly than Jessye, who sings the music as beautifully as anyone I’ve heard.

              I haven’t heard Studer.

              What I love about Crespin is that the music sits beautifully in her voice and she’s able to convey youthfulness unlike Resnik or Jessye.

            • PCally

              I think Crespin is the most “complete” in the part. She comes close to the intensity of Rysanek, but also manages to get close to youthfulness and vulnerability of Janowitz, and of course she sounds sexy as all hell. I think there are few sopranos who can encapsulate as many colors in her basic sound as Crespin.

              Studer sounds amazing on the recording and there’s a live recording from around the same time in which she’s also pretty stunning (Behrens is the Brunnhilde and she also is in good shape). I unfortunately saw her Sieglinde in mediocre form towards the end of her career. She wasn’t bad but it just didn’t add up to much.

              Among the ladies I’ve seen in the role, Meier wins in a landslide. The role suited her voice more than a lot of her soprano ventures and she was absolutely staggering every time I saw her. Westbroek comes second. In her prime she sounded amazing and was exceptionally moving.

            • August

              You probably mean this performance
              https://youtu.be/JWPAlUsDYqg

              There is also this
              https://youtu.be/H0wzJeqnyrA

              And this
              https://youtu.be/bvvcqxdmKTQ

              This too (marred by the dreadful and inconsequential, to put it mildly, Alan Woodrow)
              https://youtu.be/jrDP0Pg4mbk

            • August

              The problem I have with Crespin is that she seems ever so careful in her singing, to a fault. It’s all about the silken and luxurious beauty of her voice. It’s not enough for me. I miss something deeper and more primal, from the gut. However, in song and works such as Ravel’s Shéhérazade she was riveting.

            • Luvtennis

              The biggest problem with Jessye’s first recording of the role is that you keep hoping she will sing Brunnhilde instead or too!

            • MisterSnow

              Voigt also recorded Senta and one of her earliest successes was as Chrysothemus, another Rysanek role.

            • August

              Unfortunately Voigt never had the dramatic or interesting instincts of a Rysanek or a Studer or others in those and other roles.

  • Rowna Sutin

    Off topic: Sure hope La opens a chat room for tonight. Bring on Parsifal. I emptied my evening calendar for this.

    • La Cieca

      The chat room will appear early this afternoon for a 5:55 starting time.

    • Camille

      Don’t neglect to prepare an ‘Amfortas cot’ to lay down on during the loooooooong stretches of this opera and make sure to stock up on your favourite balsams, either to drink or to be applied topically.

  • La Cieca

    Perhaps the cher public would care to bide the time between now and Parsifal with favorite Rysanek clips.

    https://youtu.be/e4r9t7YY4tw

  • August

    A wonderful portrait of her
    https://youtu.be/ybIfaCbz5MM

  • Dan Patterson

    I’m posting this because I was there, and it is one of my most cherished memories. I didn’t see Rysanek live until 1985, but thereafter I saw her in all of her later Met roles. Elisabeth, Sieglinde, Ortrud, the two Janacek roles, and thiss Queen of Spades.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmEZPYD_P2g

    • Herb Fontecilla

      So often forgotten: it’s the special singers that make opera magic. Not the directors or designers but the singers that reach across the orchestra and grab us by the heart and leave us with life-long memories.

      • August

        Exactly. Without them there is nothing.

      • Dan Patterson

        That is SO TRUE! Sure, I remember some stunning scenic effects I saw at the Met and elsewhere, but it’s the singers who give us the best and most enduring memories.

        I see in my list of Rysanek roles I saw that I omitted the first, before I had moved to the northeast. A good friend invited me up to see Nilsson’s return as Elektra, and Rysanek, of course, sang her unforgettable Chrysothemis.

    • Camille

      Oh thanks! I saw that and thought about posting it but am glad someone who was actually in attendance did instead. It must bring up powerful emotions.

      Mr Dan, I took some photos of that Tosca case with all the historic photos, but there are not enough nor many good angles. I intend to take more if I find the case is still there when I next go. If they turn out all right I’ll try sending them to Madame La Cieca and see if she can use them to some good effect. Just wanted you to know I thought of it, that’s all.

      • Dan Patterson

        Thanks, Camille!

    • southerndoc1

      Leonie’s last Met performance and DH’s first Met run.

      Sad.

  • Rysanek was a legendary Ortrud, of course, but I’m posting her Elsa instead. It was early in her career and the vocal bumps were more minimal. She may not be the most beautiful-sounding Elsa but no one is more passionate. This is a superb performance all around.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAc2sTnIo-M

    • PCally

      I’m going to offer a minority opinion here. I never saw her live in the part obviously, but I think Rysaneks met video ortrud is actually kinda terrible. The park just lays hopelessly low for her to make any real musical points at all and she’s so campy that there’s absolutely nothing scary about her.

      Her Elsa on the other hand is one of her best sung recordings imo, lots of very genuinely beautiful singing. And her and Varnay going head to head is unreal.

      • Arianna a Nasso

        I thought someone here once reported that she was ill during the Met Lohengrin run, so the telecast didn’t catch her at the best. She apparently was in better form for San Francisco and Vienna broadcasts which float around.

        • PCally

          I’ve heard audio bits from other performances. She’s more accurate to be sure but so much of act two just lays squarely where her voice just doesn’t function that well imo. All of the text driven music that opens the act just kind of sounds like mush to me

  • Camille

    Forgot to post this yesterday:
    https://youtube.com/watch?v=hqkaFEU-gpk

    I often wished she had kept singing Turandot and let Birgit have Lady Macbeth and Abigaille. She gave it up because of what a West Coast critic,
    Albert Goldberg, said in a review of her performance that’he would ‘not like to see this beautiful voice ruined by this taxing tole’, words
    to that effect. She took him seriously and did just that.