Cher Public

Tongue tied

After January’s well-received Mozart concert-aria-orgy, Trove Thursday’s latest folie de grandeur is an overflowing three-part explosion of post-war divas in live performances of unexpected arias always in the “wrong language.” 

This week’s exaltation of songbirds includes (in alphabetical order) Irina Arkhipova, Janet Baker, Gabriela Benacková, Montserrat Caballé, Maria Callas, Ileana Cotrubas, Régine Crespin, Gertrude Grob-Prandl, Elisabeth Grümmer, Sena Jurinac, Raina Kabaivanska, Pilar Lorengar, Christa Ludwig, Valerie Masterson, Jessye Norman, Leontyne Price, Leonie Rysanek, Renata Scotto, Anja Silja, Giulietta Simionato, Elisabeth Söderström, Eleanor Steber, Rita Streich, Pauline Tinsley, Tatiana Troyanos and Dunja Vejzovic.

Due to the instant popularity of supertitles, opera performed in the vernacular occurs far less often than it used to. But as one can see from the many examples over this three-part series, many, many top-level performers have at some point in their careers sung complete works (or occasionally just arias) in languages other than the one in which they premiered.

Some of the works included today might be less surprising than others—operas written in Czech or Russian were rarely be done in the original language a few decades ago. Meyerbeer and Spontini regularly wrote works in French but for a long while they were most often performed in Italian translation.

A number of these excerpts will likely be familiar to many—the Callas Mozart, the Scotto Meyerbeer and the Simionato Berlioz, for example, but some listeners for example maybe have never heard the Giulio Cesare of Troyanos, particularly as her Met appearance in that role (in Italian) was not broadcast.

Many of the prima donnas sampled here only sang this music in translation—there was never a Ludwig Cenerentola in Italian or a German Kabaivanska Lustige Witwe. Some might cry foul at my including Grob-Prandl’s thrilling “Ozean du ungeheuer” but of course Oberon premiered in English and besides I can never get enough of the great G-P!

Benacková and Söderström did sing their Janacek roles in Czech but I have a particular fondness for these translated versions. Nearly all the selections are just arias except for a couple including Söderström’s which feature an assisting artist, the most extended is an enthralling beginning of the third-act of Die Frau ohne Schatten which Tinsley shares with Norman Bailey.

The sublime Jurinac was particularly versatile at doing roles in every language. In addition to an Italian Agathe, Pamina, Micaela and the Lisa excerpted here, recordings also exist of her Tatyana, Manon, Desdemona, Suor Angelica, Donna Anna, Iphigénie and Kostelnicka–and no doubt others–in German. Thanks to “Or la tromba” for her Tchaikovsky clip.

To facilitate listening, these 26 excerpts have been divided (in no particular order) into three groups. Please be warned that the sound quality of these clips can vary wildly from crystal-clear broadcasts to iffy in-house “pirates” so you may occasionally need to fiddle with the volume from piece to piece.

First Program

Maria Callas
Mozart: Die Entführung aus dem Serail
German -> Italian
Milan 1954

Janet Baker
Strauss: Ariadne auf Naxos
German -> English
Glasgow 1977

Irina Arkhipova
Bizet: Carmen
French -> Russian
Moscow 1975

Giulietta Simionato
Berlioz: Les Troyens
French -> Italian
Milan 1960

Christa Ludwig
Rossini: La Cenerentola
Italian -> German
Vienna 1959

Montserrat Caballé
Spontini: La Vestale
>French -> Italian
Barcelona 1982

Eleanor Steber
Strauss: Arabella
>German -> English
NY 1955

Valerie Masterson
Handel: Scipione
Italian -> English
Paris 1979

Renata Scotto
Meyerbeer: Robert le Diable
>French -> Italian
Florence 1968

Elisabeth Söderström (w. Susanne Marsee)
Janacek: Kát’a Kabanová
Czech -> English
San Francisco 1977

Second Program

Régine Crespin
Mozart: Così fan Tutte
>Italian -> French
Paris 195?

Rita Streich
Mozart: Die Zauberflöte
German -> Italian
Rome 1953

Pauline Tinsley (w. Norman Bailey)
Strauss: Die Frau ohne Schatten
>German -> English
London 1981

Jessye Norman
Meyerbeer: L’Africaine
>French -> Italian
Florence 1971

Gabriela Benacková
Janacek: Jeji Pastorkyna
Czech -> German
Vienna 1979

Raina Kabaivanska
Lehar: Die Lustige Witwe
>German -> Italian
Naples 1986

Ileana Cotrubas
Tchaikovsky: Evgenij Onegin
>Russian -> English
London 1971

Anja Silja
Offenbach: Les Contes d’Hoffmann
>French -> German
Vienna 1966

Third Program

Leontyne Price
Puccini: Tosca
>Italian -> English
NY 1955

Leonie Rysanek
Smetana: Dalibor
>Czech -> German
Vienna 1969

Pilar Lorengar
Meyerbeer: Les Huguenots
>French -> German
Berlin 1987

Gertrude Grob-Prandl
Weber: Oberon
>English -> German
Milan 1953

Dunja Vejzovic
Gluck: Alceste
>French -> German
Frankfurt 1982

Tatiana Troyanos
Handel: Giulio Cesare
>Italian -> English
San Francisco 1982

Elisabeth Grümmer
Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro
Italian -> German
Köln 1951

Sena Jurinac
Tchaikovsky: Pikovaya Dama
>Russian -> Italian
Florence 1952

Next week another wild pride of lionesses (including Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Marilyn Horne, Cristina Deutekom, and Leyla Gencer) tackle more other-tongued arias.

Each of the three diva-tracks can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

Over 140 previous “Trove Thursday” podcasts remain available from iTunes for free, or via any RSS reader.