impossible discs
part two: the women

No, this is not an musical saga in which the operatic equivalents of Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford and Miss Norma Shearer duke it out. Rather, here we return to the Land of It-Might-Have-Been, this time to find which divas replaced each other on various recordings.

OH, MONTSY!

Last time , I promised to tell of "five Caballe replacements." Four of these fit the pattern you probably expected -- Montserrat Caballe unavailable or unwell or not prepared, so another soprano had to deputize. But there's at least one set which featured everyone's favorite quick study (her sight-reading skills are so legendary in the business that one writer jokes you can hear her cutting the pages on a score as she records it) filling in for someone else when she was indisposed. On the CBS recording of Rossini's Il turco in Italia conducted by Riccardo Chailly, Renata Scotto withdrew at the last minute, and Miss Caballe had to rearrange recording sessions for her Andrea Chenier (also with Chailly, and also a highly troubled project!) in order to salvage the Rossini. Unfortunately, the results were not overwhelming.

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But with the four sets from which Miss Caballe withdrew, the replacements at least matched what she might have offered, and arguably all four worked out very well. Martina Arroyo, for instance, had she not helped out on two of these recordings (the RCA/Levine Les vÍpres siciliennes and the EMI/Muti Un ballo in maschera) would have had much less commercial documentation of her voice in its absolute prime tackling Verdi: just the CBS/Bernstein Messa da requiem and the EMI/Gardelli La forza del destino, plus Aida and Macbeth arias on a recital disc.

The just-released Decca/Bonynge Ernani, recorded over a decade ago, offers Dame Joan Sutherland at the end of a great career, but she's rather good in much of it, and I doubt whether Montsy would at that point have done better; in any case, the Spanish soprano had recorded the opera for radio broadcast (now available on cheap CDs) several decades earlier. And last but not least, a manic stretch on the recital circuit nixed the unusual plan of a Caballe Musetta (for the Philips/Davis Boheme); this gave promising newcomer Ashley Putnam the chance to feature her lovely timbre and natural musicianship in a recording debut which, alas, led to nothing else from the major studios.



IS THE PRICE ALWAYS RIGHT?

Two wonderful sopranos, one American and one Welsh, share a surname (Price) -- and a reputation for cancellations. But whereas Leontyne Price in fact just became increasingly careful in scheduling her operatic appearances (a few memorable withdrawals, like her Met Ariadnes in the late '70s, aside) until she retired from the stage and became a full-time recitalist, Dame Margaret Price always was and remains justly notorious for her cancellations. She was meant to appear on the second EMI/Muti Messa da requiem, taped live at La Scala (Cheryl Studer filled in at the eleventh hour), and at least one of the Lucia Popp recordings of the Vier letzte Lieder was but one of several planned versions with the Welsh soprano; none has emerged. Still, Dame Margaret has not (to my knowledge) withdrawn from any opera sets (in fact, she made a splendid for-records-only Isolde with Carlos Kleiber).

Leontyne Price, however, has defected from at least two: the RCA/Leinsdorf Lohengrin (Lucine Amara filled in, as she would later not be asked to do in those Met Ariadnes!) and the RCA/Levine Otello (on which Renata Scotto was the sublime replacement). Now, both of these would have marked role debuts for Miss Price, but she obviously didn't feel ideally suited to either; she memorably told interviewers how she couldn't see herself as "eine reine Elsa" and how her voice didn't have Desdemona's "bionda quality" (though the Act Four scena has been a concert staple for her). On the other hand, those pesky rumors persist that Placido Domingo nixed her from the Otello recording . . . did they, so often paired onstage and in the studio, sing together after that?

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Leontyne Price perhaps earned the right to cancel a few recordings later in her career, since early on she had not once but twice helped out her parent company (RCA) as a fill-in. Both times the late, great Leonie Rysanek was the planned soprano for Verdi projects, and both times we got Leontyne Price instead. Evidently the conductors on these recordings -- the Reiner Messa da requiem and the Solti Aida -- did not see eye-to-eye with Miss Rysanek, and so one of the century's great Verdians got an early start on what would prove a long and exceptionally distinguished recording career.

But add to these events Miss Rysanek's disappearance from the Solti Elektra (Dame Gwyneth Jones was also considered here) and the Leinsdorf Die Walkuere (with Marie Collier and Gre Brouwenstijn filling in, respectively), and one may begin to realize why this wonderful artist never felt happy in the recording studio. Only once did she, whose Met debut was as a replacement (for Maria Callas in Macbeth), get to sub for a colleague on a recording: the RCA/Serafin Otello, itself originally slated for Jussi Bjoerling and Victoria de los Angeles under Fritz Reiner's baton. After that 1960 project, it would be an astonishing thirty years before she would make one last commercial recording Herodias on the DG/Sinopoli Salome. (In the meantime, broadcasts of her Die Frau ohne Schatten and Jenufa were released on on major labels, and of course the soundtrack of the Friedrich film of Elektra was made in a studio.)

WHAT THE FACH?

Many are the mezzos who have attempted the ascent to soprano repertoire, with a wide range of success. Some, of course, committed their worst such efforts to tape -- remember how Fiorenza Cossotto followed up her excellent Lady Macbeth with a truly disastrous Verdi aria recital featuring one flat high C after another? Jessye Norman, on the other hand, has recorded many soprano roles, including her debut recording (the Countess Almaviva) and many others from her stage repertoire (Alceste, Elsa, Ariadne, the Erwartung Woman, Kundry, and two goes at Sieglinde, all respectably vocalized, some more than that).

But the more recent soprano recordings, all studio-only ventures, have been hit-or-miss -- a Salome which impressed as thrilling sound but was too obviously a full-tilt, all-or-nothing sing with little sense of the proper voice-character, plus a breathy Antonia and fairly secure negotiations of Leonore and Santuzza. Though she was in good shape (if hardly idiomatic) on the Philips recordings of Un giorno di regno and Il corsaro, clearly someone (if not the artist herself) thought better of her once-threatened recordings of the soprano parts in Aida, Don Carlos, Messa da requiem and Tosca -- all have reportedly been reassigned to new Philips hire Galina Gorchakova.

Another mezzo ascendant, Shirley Verrett, never commercially recorded two of her famous portrayals: Carmen and Tosca. For the former, the Decca/Solti, commemorating a Covent Garden production in which she was the star, ended up using Tatiana Troyanos instead of her or Teresa Berganza, both announced at different times. (Happily, a pirate has emerged of this production, with Miss Verrett's excellent anti-heroine intact.) The latter was slated to grace the Decca/Rescigno recording, but Mirella Freni appeared in the end. How this overlaps with a once-planned Decca/Karajan/Freni/Pavarotti Tosca I don't know, but I suspect that Karajan's choice of Placido Domingo for the Ponnelle/Freni film of Madama Butterfly (with Mr. Domingo's voice looped into the existing Karajan-Freni-Pavarotti recording) may have had something to do with this mess.

But the most important Zwischenfach artist of the last several decades has the richest catalog of recording switch-offs to her name: Christa Ludwig. She would fill in on three Decca/Solti Wagner operas -- Fricka in Die Walkuere, Waltraute in Goetterdaemmerung (both of these made available when Kirsten Flagstad died and negotiations with an offended Astrid Varnay broke down; Marga Hoeffgen sang Erda in Siegfried, also offered to Miss Flagstad) and Venus in Tannhaeuser (for Regine Crespin) -- and only disappoint that maestro once, when his Die Frau ohne Schatten "dream" recording came too late for her to make a records-only debut as the Nurse. (Reinhild Runkel was the exciting young fill-in then.)

But she also has three prominent withdrawals to her name. Most recently, Hanna Schwarz took over for her as Waltraute in the DG/Levine Goetterdaemmerung (though the veteran mezzo graced the Met's video production in this role); in the late 1960s, when Miss Ludwig was obviously seriously rethinking her soprano options, she declined to follow through on plans to record Ariadne (EMI/Kempe; Gundula Janowitz took over beautifully) or the Siegfried Bruennhilde (DG/Karajan; Helga Dernesch filled in). While she had ventured an Ariadne onstage (a broadcast tape exists of her in good shape), Christa Ludwig never did sing more of Bruennhilde or Isolde than the former's Immolation or the latter's Liebestod.

NAUGHTY TERESA

Now we (to borrow Ethan Mordden 's phrase) ascend the Mount Everest of artists who tend to cancel, and atop it we find (of course)

Teresa Stratas . She filmed a wonderful Salome with Goetz Friedrich, and no less a Straussian than Karl Boehm proclaimed her the composer's dream exponent of the impossible role. But when Herbert von Karajan let it slip that participating in his EMI recording would of necessity entail doing the staged performances as well, Miss Stratas would have none of it; years later, she told interviewers about how she was looking forward to recording the French version for Virgin (under Kent Nagano's direction), but for reasons perhaps only known to her she withdrew again, leaving us with the committed but uneven Karen Huffstodt.

Three recordings of glorious American scores remain, all fine prospects for Teresa Stratas' unique gifts, all left somewhat the poorer for her absence. Interestingly, the one with which she had been most closely associated -- Charles Strouse's Rags, which closed on Broadway after a handful of performances -- suffered least from her departure; excellent though live tapes reveal she was in the part of the immigrant mother, the producers were able to find another soprano who would prove superb when they and Miss Stratas could not agree on her salary for making the album.

The replacement? Julia Migenes, just as in that notorious Met Lulu telecast. In the event, she was seamlessly integrated with the experienced Broadway cast and sang gloriously. That leaves two other fascinating, important projects, both done for EMI: John McGlinn's note-complete Kiss Me, Kate (Dame Josephine Barstow the unhappy sub) and the premiere studio recording of Carlisle Floyd's Susannah (Cheryl Studer looped in a year after everyone else once Miss Stratas quit and Dawn Upshaw realized the part was too heavy for her modest instrument).

A FEW MYSTERIES

Perhaps parterre box readers can help me clear up a few mysteries surrounding some replacement casting on records. I have four for your consideration; of course, I know which soprano ended up making the recording in question, but I don't know whom she replaced. Here they are:

Maria Callas on the EMI/Serafin Cavalleria rusticana, reviving a role she'd done only as a teenager and would never do again onstage.

Teresa Stich-Randall on the EMI/Karajan Der Rosenkavalier -- was Anneliese Rothenberger originally planned here?

Renee Fleming on the Decca/Solti Cosi fan tutte, coming to a label which would pick up her up as their first American exclusive artist since Marilyn Horne.

Suzanne Danco on the Decca/Krips Don Giovanni -- Eleanor Steber says in her memoir that she (E.S.) arrived in town just a day too late to have been selected as the replacement Donna Anna.

Joan Carlyle on the DG/Karajan Pagliacci -- did she replace Raina Kabaivanska, perhaps? Maybe Mirella Freni?

MEZZO TROUBLE

The late Tatiana Troyanos, already mentioned for her taking over of the Solti Carmen, also replaced Yvonne Minton on the Decca/Solti Ariadne auf Naxos, meaning that the former got two studio recordings and a video appearance in a role, leaving nothing for the latter. Stage fright may have troubled her in prospect of live performances, but she managed to land a few other replacement gigs too: the Plasson Werther (for Teresa Berganza) and the Bernstein-conducted West Side Story (for Marilyn Horne, who herself ended up singing "Somewhere" instead of a overbooked Jessye Norman).

Ever wonder what effect the spacing out (over years!) of recording sessions for the EMI/Karajan Lohengrin had on the principals? Well, poor Ursula Schroeder-Feinen screamed her voice out in between these stretches, so early tapes proved unusable when the diva could not return to finish the job adequately. Hence Dunja Vejzovic was left to save the day (if you can thus describe her raw singing).

Another, earlier Wagnerian switch provides an interesting tale; it takes us back to the RCA/Leinsdorf Die Walkuere. Though Rita Gorr makes a fine Fricka on the finished project, Birgit Nilsson was shocked to see her at the sessions, because her friend Grace Hoffman had been contracted to appear on this recording. When the soprano phoned her friend in Stuttgart to learn what had happened, Miss Hoffman was shocked and in turn called her manager (Alfred Dietz) at once.

It emerged that he had been happy to let the company make the switch (Leinsdorf didn't like Grace Hoffman because she had asked for a clearer beat at an earlier session) -- he represented Miss Gorr as well. Outraged, Miss Nilsson and George London (the Wotan) went on strike until RCA promised full financial remuneration to the spurned Fricka. (Evidently the shameless Mr. Dietz wasted no time in claiming his commission on this sum as well . . .)

Once we mention the odd replacement of Rosalind Elias on the aforementioned RCA/Reiner Verdi Requiem (in for the rather preferable Giulietta Simionato), all we have left are assorted small substitutions, some unusual (like Anna Reynolds for Fiorenza Cossotto on the Decca/Maag Luisa Miller Ė did Signora Vinco change her mind about a short role, or did she accept another, more lucrative assignment?) and some mysterious (Beverly Wolff for Lili Chookasian on the CBS/Ormandy recording of Rossini's Stabat mater, or, to end as we started, Gillian Knight for Yvonne Minton on the CBS/Maazel Madama Butterfly).

THE OTHER SOPRANOS

We begin with a mezzo triumphant, replacing a soprano -- Jennifer Larmore, in for Cecilia Gasdia on the Teldec/Lopez Cobos Il barbiere di Siviglia. More recently, Christine Brewer got a Big Recording Break when she was invited to replace the same soprano and record her own most celebrated role on the Telarc/Mackerras Don Giovanni. But at least Miss Gasdia has had the chance to do some replacing herself: she ended up starring in the Telarc/Rizzi Faust, once connected with stars as disparate as June Anderson and Marie McLaughlin (neither remotely a dream Marguerite).

In the late 1960s, Beverly Sills' growing international demand led to her abandoning two RCA projects -- the Ormandy Elijah and the Leinsdorf Beethoven 9 -- to Tchaikovsky Competition winner Jane Marsh, who otherwise has had precious little exposure on records.

The death of Lucia Popp deprived the world of her planned outings as Leonore and Elsa, among others, with recordings to document them. Charlotte Margiono at least brings some artistry to the Teldec/Harnoncourt Fidelio (without Miss Popp's tonal luster, unfortunately), but the less said about Sharon Sweet's work on the RCA/Davis Lohengrin, the better. Mrs. Seiffert herself made at least one substitution: as Pamina on the EMI/Haitink Die Zauberfloete. (Helen Donath was announced here, as she had been on the Decca/Solti, where Pilar Lorengar took over; thankfully, her glorious voicing of the role can be heard on the RCA/Suitner set.)

Once upon a time, Cheryl Studer seemed to grace every new DG opera set, but that day seems to have passed. (We only await her in-the-can Rigoletto and Der fliegende Hollaender on that label.) Of the many projects once mentioned for her on that label -- Aida, Der Rosenkavalier, Manon, Arabella (this one may in theory still happen) -- we can note that at least three have emerged with other sopranos. The DG/Sinopoli Die Frau ohne Schatten, planned in the studio with Miss Studer and Bryn Terfel, ended up as a Teldec live recording with Deborah Voigt and Franz Grundheber.

DG has released two others which once bore her name, though -- a Sinopoli Elektra (with Deborah Voigt, who declined the maestro's offer of the title role opposite the Studer Chrysothemis, which EMI had already recorded) and a Levine/Met Idomeneo (with Carol Vaness in a part for which Miss Studer had gotten raves at Salzburg and in New York). (In fact, the Met Idomeneo originally claimed Kathleen Battle and Anne Sofie von Otter, but in the event Heidi Grant Murphy and Cecilia Bartoli took their parts too.) Miss Vaness, in turn, yielded a planned recording of her own -- the EMI/Conlon Oberon -- to Deborah Voigt.

Two potentially interesting (if not ideal) Trovatore Leonoras never followed through on plans to record it -- Regine Crespin (EMI/Schippers; Gabriella Tucci did the honors) and Mirella Freni (Decca/Mehta; the newcomer Antonella Banaudi was the often wonderful surprise). At least Mme Crespin made luscious recordings of the two big arias! Mmes Tucci and Freni have also both been named as the Liu planned for the EMI/Molinari-Pradelli Turandot; I don't know why, but Renata Scotto appeared instead.

Les contes d'Hoffmann has led a strange and varied life on records, and I'm not just speaking textually. Two planned Olympias -- Maria Callas (!) and Edita Gruberova -- never made the EMI recordings announced for them (Cluytens and Cambreling, with Gianna d'Angelo and Luciana Serra, respectively, filling in). (Miss Gruberova, who has done the part onstage, later recorded all the heroines on the DG/Ozawa set.) Later still, on the new Erato/Nagano recording, Barbara Hendricks (whose Antonia can be seen on the unusual Des contes d'Hoffmann video) was replaced on the CDs by Leontina Vaduva.

Four completely disparate recordings and originally planned sopranos close our scattershot survey. Lucine Amara recently claimed that the EMI/Santini Cavalleria rusticana, intended as a companion to the EMI Pagliacci she'd done with Franco Corelli, should have had her Santuzza as well; in the event, we got an undergunned Victoria de los Angeles, who evidently never met Mr. Corelli at a recording session. Anna Moffo, slated to remake Madama Butterfly for Eurodisc, was replaced by Maria Chiara.

Dame Joan Sutherland actually began recording Messiah for Sir Thomas Beecham, but they were quite incompatible stylistically (a later conductor referred to the recording he conducted with her as "Mad Scenes from Messiah"), and Jennifer Vyvyan took over. And, desperate as ever to spend every waking (and performing) moment with her husband, Angela Gheorghiu got out of her contract for the RCA/Slatkin Romeo et Juliette and proceeded to record a Mr. and Mrs. Alagna version for EMI; Ruth Ann Swenson was her fine replacement.

Some conductor changes, plus a grab-bag of entire recordings -- some only planned, some begun but left incomplete, and some even finished but still languishing in someone's vault -- in part three!

Ortrud Maxwell

This article originally appeared in parterre box, the queer opera zine.