Speaking of “Vespri”, did anyone hear La Fleming singing at the new Colorado Opera House opening concert?? “Merce dilette…” featured a particularly horrendous attempt at a top Eb that really should appear in the filth section of this website — one of those desparate upward scrambles that just makes you wince. In fact almost none of the singing was worth a damn. And please GOD why do people keep comissioning music by Jack Heggie? His music is soooooo painfully boring!
True, my initail comment about La Fleming was indeed on the nasty side and if I offended I apologize. None the less, her singing last night was pretty messy. Yes, I know she is a human and because of that she is prone to occassional bouts of imperfection. This does not negate the fact that as a major league singer (a title I DO feel she rightly deserves) she can give some pretty lifeless I-don’t-give a-shit performances. I have no doubt that she is a lovely person but does that really mean we shouldn’t examine her singing with a critical lense? As for Jake (thank you, my mistake) Heggie, I just don’t get it.
Does anyone know if Renee has ever performed the Bolero from Vepres live before? I’m sure she must have…but either way…a High E (not Eb) is always an unnerving experience for any singer (except Dessay of course! God how I love her!). I’d be interested to hear a recording of the performance. What made her attempt so horrendous? was she off pitch? bad placement? lack of volume? And although I’ve heard a few cute pieces by Mr. Heggie…I don’t find his music all that great (and neither did I ever find Ned Rorem’s music to be all that great either). What is, however, particularly striking about Heggies compositions, is his manner in text-setting. Both Rorem and Heggie are considered top of the line when it comes to word-painting and creating a vocal line that enhances the natural inflections of the words. In my opinion, this doesn’t always yield to the prettiest or most interesting of music…but maybe as a bel canto singer, I’m biased because I just like to hold a vowel and sing a roulade of 16th notes that have more to do with the emotion and vocal abilities than to do with the text, in most cases. (But one cannot ignore the fact that our three most famous Ottocento composers all payed VERY close attention to the drama, the text, and the characters when composing these bravura arias and scenes – they just believed that they could be just as effective with 40 notes in a three syllable word as opposed to only 3-5 notes for a three syllable word. Just a difference in style and result). I will also add that the only reason I ever hope to work with Jake Heggie is so that I can see him up close and in person – from his press photographs, he does appear to be quite the cutie (although his ‘marriage’ to that old woman piano player does kinda disturb me in some ways – I can understand the strong and infallible musical connection with her and their acceptance of being musical soul-mates. But for a young, beautiful, (gay?), man to marry some 85 year old bat…it’s just beyond my comprehension. Oh well, at any rate, if you want to hear some good Heggie pieces, listen to the ones recorded by Flicka von Stade…they are very good!
No, in fact the high E was never reached but it was apparent from the upward scale pattern Fleming was executing that she had meant to go there. Upon realizing mid-scale that she wasn’t going to make it, she bowed out not so gracefully. It was, now that I think about it, a lot like her ending to “Era desso…”. When I said that it made me wince it was more out of pity than spite. Really, the rest of the aria was fine (kind of). I have always liked Fleming’s trill even if it is often accused of being “fake” — the Bloero relies heavily on a good trill. The passage work was generally clean but lacked that rythmic “snap” that enlivens coloratura. The aria just doesn’t seem a great fit for her, but then again all of the rep she sing in the concert (save for the final duet with Heppner “Gia nella notte…”) seemed strange to me. She opened with “Ebben ne’andro…” which, it seems, every soprano longs to sing yet so few manage to put across with any success. Later we got a very strange version of “O mio babbino caro” that Fleming made sound like the card scene from Carmen. The ending duet was lovely though, with everything in place. Desdemona is easily one of the great Fleming roles and it showed. The reason I made mention of Heggie had to do with the fact that Colorado Opera had comissioned a piece by him for (I think) the coming season. He and the soprano Kristin Clayton performed a scene from the work. It just struck me as very long and monochromatic. I kept waiting for some sort of melodic inspiration to appear — something to indulge the sensual aspect of opera that we (I think, hope?) all love — and it never came. I do agree with you though, Heggie is really cute. Is he really married to an 85 yr. old woman??? Oihme! I will check out the Flicka recording — I know he has written pieces for Asawa and have always wondered if they are worth learning as there is so little modern rep for countertenors. Ciao.
Hmm…tamerlano…I find your comments about Fleming interesting. I’m assuming you have heard her album where she recorded the Bolero and the Wally aria? Both which are executed magnificently. However, we always must take into account that a studio recording is far different from a live performance – very few singers sound exactly the same in both settings (Edita Gruberova being one of the rare cases – and at any rate, most of her recordings are live).
You are very right to acknowlegde the soprano-obsession with the Wally aria. They all strive to sing it – the problem is that the role is a very very heavy, dramatic role…but the aria can be negotiated quite well by voices lighter than what the role requires. I think Fleming’s recent choices of singing coloratura repertoire is very good for her. I must refute your thoughts about her “Era desso…,” as I am once again assuming that you are speaking of her recording of said aria. Please forgive me if you meant that she performed the aria at the same concert – I am only intimately familiar with her recording of that scene.
I will say, in my opinion, her recording of the “Era desso” is not only the best recording of that scene that I have ever heard (I love Caballe, but she didn’t have an Eb to go with it…Callas was fantastic dramatically, but just wasn’t anywhere near the beat, and I unfortunately have not found a recording of Edita yet). Her Bb on “E spento” is spine-tingling!! And her cabaletta is one of the finest renditions of any cabaletta! I was often curious about why Renee decided not to end the aria with a high Eb and chose to do the Eb several bars earlier. After some though and several more thrilling listens, I came to conclude that it was not a bad choice at all. I mean, the Eb she does sing is phenomenal and really builds up to the penultimate Bb’s that she sings. There is an avid belief that singers should never sing interpolated high notes at the end of Mozart, Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti…except in some very rare cases – but usually those cases only yield to high Bb’s and C’s – with the occasional D and of course the Lucia Eb’s. It’s very hard to make such generalizations about the performance practices to be employed in this genre of music (see my previous posting about the subject)… But there was one day, when I was a freshman in college…I was performing the “Una furtiva lagrima” for our Italian diction class. The woman accompanying me (who later became one of my closest friends and teachers, until she passed away suddenly and sadly) was a woman who was the protege of conductors Max Rudolf and Richard Bonynge and worked very closely with just about every great singer in the busniess during her short 53 years in life. I decided to, as many of us tenors are prone, pull a small diva-moment for myself…and sang a high Bb, pianissimo at the end of the aria…thus moving upwards on the word “d’a-mor.” She let me finish the note and then scolded me – in front of the whole class and said “Never! never sing the last note up – the mood of the piece does not allow it. You may hold the F as long as you like, but it must always be (and she sung with a downward dominant to tonic) “d’aaaaaaa-mor.” Always!” Anyway…the point of this rather long (my apologies) anecdote is that there are many who have philosophies about the nature of these interpolations…but in some cases, the actual text or dramatic action deigns that it is nearly essential to not take the high note. I find that Renee’s rendition of the “Era desso” is quite successful with regards to that principle. She provides a stunning High note complete with choir and intesity…an upwards arpeggio and then, if you notice, she sings the second Bb slighly off the beat…giving it an exciting syncopation which then propels her to sing the final note down instead of up. She definitely didn’t wimp out!
And I must make note, there are very few of us who are able to trill well. I find that it really depends on which part of the voice I am singing a trill in to make it work properly. So much of the time, I must employ something that sounds and functions like a trill (in the lower voice, below the passaggio) to give the same effect. Perhaps this is what Renee also encounters because I’ve never had much of a problem with her trills. So, to hell with those who criticize trills! Let them try and do it.
If I may oblige, I have a cute anecdote to share about people who criticize other people in general. We all encounter someone, at some point in our lives, who looks at us aghast and exclaims “You don’t know that!?” or “You don’t know how to do that!?” Now, admittedly, in some cases, if a person says that to you, it’s probably because you really should know whatever the item is…for example…if you are a musician, you should be aware of the fact that Beethoven was deaf….or, if you drive a car, you should know how to change a spare tire (which I admit, I still haven’t taken the time to learn – shame on me!), etc. etc. But haven’t we all experienced a moment when someone goes off on us about something that really we may not have any reason at all to know or may rather just not care to know?
Well, this anecdote comes from Martina Arroyo who was telling me about how she and her husband were abroad somewhere where a man was completely astonished that she didn’t know how to fillet a fish! He exclaimed “You don’t know how to do this!?” and she replied “Well, do you know how to sing Aida?” Well said Martina!!! And that’s just what singers should say to the damn critics: “Can you trill on a high D?” “Can you sing a low F and be heard over an orchestra?” “Can you run around the stage being chased by a gorgeous baritone screaming note after note as Tosca?” I think, in most cases, not.
As for Heggie…yes, he married this old pianist because of their shared love for music. I am almost certain she was 85 – she may have been 75…there was an article about it in opera news several years ago (in 2000/2001 I believe). She died several years after their marriage and made out rather well. If I may be candid, I have wondered whether he married the woman a) to hide his homosexuality to himself (do we even know if he is gay? is he open about it? I admit I can only speculate.), b) to make musical connections since she was a rather seasoned and well-connect musician herself, c) to have someone to promote his compositions and/or d) to win a large inheritance and let an old woman die happy and unalone. I really don’t know to be honest, and I certainly make no judgements at all on Mr. Heggie’s character or personality, seeing as I don’t know him from Adam. All we can say is that it is rather odd that a very attractive and talented young man with homosexual tendencies married an octegenarian pianist who died shortly thereafter. What anyone makes of it is their business and whatever Mr. Heggies reasons or motives behind the action are for him to know. *Shrugg* But please know, that I do not speak ill of him at all – I do respect his art and his talents very much – and quite honestly, wouldn’t mind if ever he was to write me a song or two (perferrably with lots of runs and high notes – *grin*)
Actually, when I spoke of the “Era desso….” I was refering to the La Scala pirated version not the studio recording (which I have heard and like). I appreciate your Arroyo anecdote — yes, criticism is indeed a slippery slope (I can’t sing a low F, but, sadly, I can trill a high D…and I can change a tire…I have never tried doing both at the same time though). It is interesting that after all this chatter, I encountered an interesting and rather illuminating documentary on Ovation last night in regards to Fleming. I don’t know if you have seen it, but it proves a remarkably keen look into the “World of Renee”. She does indeed seem almost disconertingly normal considering she is a major player in the rarified world of opera. I think this is definitely a huge part of her draw for people. She is just a good old American girl — we can add to that list: Graves, Graham, Upshaw, Swenson — and Americans really like that. Interestingly enough, the role I have always found her to be the most exciting in is the role of Alcina. Yes, it is a mess as far as baroque performance practice is concerned but it is really EXCITING to listen to — “Ombre pallide…” is phenomenal, totally inauthentic, and gorgeous. As for Heggie, I think very often gay men have the tendency to assume that people are gay when they may in fact simply be straight men with characteristics that, externally at least, seem gay. I am totally one to do this…very often a case of desparate wishful thinking I assure you:) Ciao.
I never knew that there was a pirated recording of her singing that at La Scala. I’ll have to try and hunt it down – but knowing now that she doesn’t do the HIgh Eb upsets me in advance. Are you speaking of the Alcina commercial live recording with Natalie Dessay? I wouldn’t consider that inauthentica at all – mainly because it IS exciting. I’m a big fan of Handel’s orchestral music (being an orchestral musician myself) and find that his vocal music is, to say the least, boring as hell. There are only a few ditties here and there that really stoke up my fires – and they are almost all very fast, upbeat, and have a larger orchestra (for Handel). I often find that the slow vocal pieces are too damn slow and thus become monotonous and boring. But, these are tastes, this just happens to be mine. Thank God no one has asked me to sing any Handel operas yet. I think I’d jump off a cliff first! (Although I have sung the Messiah and have sung Let the bright Seraphim many times – the autograph score does not specify gender to the role – it merely says “Voice”) You are very right in your estimation that too often gay men think someone is gay because it is wishful thinking. I assure you, I would never make such a statement about Heggie without plenty of evidence supported by musicians that I have worked with who know him personally and have spent adequate amounts of time in his presence.
The final aria appeared on the internet (this website was where I came across it) and was quickly removed by most on threat from Decca I would imagine. It was a big deal at the time because Fleming was treated rather savagely by the Milanese audience — I am sure this was largely a claque issue. It came out later that the booing had more to do with a disliked conductor than the diva herself. None the less, Fleming was rather unnerved by the whole experience (rightly so!) and it definitely shows in the finale where she scatters up to a kind-of Eb and then just drops out. The whole thing was the aural equivalent of watching those hideous “Faces of Death” movies. I listened once and had had enough, basta. Of course, I can understand a tenor not loving Handel — he didn’t write all that much for them. Bajazet is a great role though, sort of the Baroque equivalent of Verdi’s Otello. I recently saw an interesting (and very long) video of a Gotingen Tamerlano that featured the VERY sexy Bajazet of Tom Randle — it was worth seeing for him and the AMAZING Anna Bonitatibus. There isn’t much coloratura in the part though and high notes are few and far between. Handel wrote the part for a sort of Bari-tenor voice. Ciao.
What wonderful postings! I find it quite pleasurable to read about your points of views and your operatic experiences. (Well, yes, I enjoy the gossip too.)
As I see it, it all depends on the specific singer, piece of music, and performance context. As you say, sometimes an interpolated high note at the end of an aria or ensemble enhances the performance. At other times, it may detract. Sometimes the midway interpolations are the ones that count.
I’d love to hear from you more examples of different types of interpolations, where you like them, where you don’t find them appropriate, etc.
I’ll share one of mine. I have a recording of a live performance of Il Trovatore from Salzburg with Corelli and Price circa 1962. Herbert von Karajan is the conductor. There Ms. Price interpolates a couple of high C’s in the cabaletta that follows the Miserere. (Not at the end.) I find them to fit the drama and the music like a glove. Terribly exciting. But I’ve never heard any other singer do it. Not even Ms. Sutherland.
And how do you feel about the Eb at the end of Sempre Libera? Fewer and fewer sopranos do it these days and I miss it.
The omission of cabalettas is also a topic I would love to hear you comment on. Rigoletto and Traviata, for example, are not long operas. Why are the second-act cabalettas for the tenor omitted more often than not? Even Pavarotti skipped it at the Met some years ago.
Ahh…Tenore di Grazia – you have brought up some very interesting topics. Here are my views (and incidentally for all those who read, I do take a very deep and invested interest in researching all the musical and styllistic matters that I discuss…I try to avoid having opinions that rely soley on my own tastes…I enjoy taking the time to discover what the general tastes of the time periods were and the particular tastes of individual composers and then liken my own to theirs most of the time):
The recording of Trovatore that you speak is a very famous recording. There are plenty of instances where, in all of Leontyne’s recordings of Trovatore, that she interpolates notes that some friends of mine and I think Verdi should have written! (Yes, this opinion is based mostly on my personal appetite for high notes…I admit it!). There are some things she does in the duets with the baritone that really stick out and certainly the High C’s in the Miserere. Leontyne was not the first to sing those, but she did make them her signature. There is evidence of turn-of-the-century sopranos having added a high C to the very last repetition of the phrase (4 repetitions in total, a C on the 4th). This was adopted by Sutherland (I have a recording – her very last performance at the Met – where she does the opera and sings the High C…along with some very unique variations throughout the opera.) and I believe Callas also sang the C’s at one time or another. I know that there are several other sopranos who have done this and sadly they aren’t coming to mind right now – if I think of them I’ll let you know. The C’s really do make a wonderful effect musically and dramatically and I would like to think that Verdi would have approved of them – he was a man for writing exciting music, surely he would have appreciated a singer finding a way to enhance that excitement.
As for the High Eb – Verdi himself did not care for it. I mentioned in a previous posting that he expressed his dislike for it, but at the same time knew there wasn’t anything he could do about it because such an interpolation is an inherent “tradition as old as opera itself” and thereby knew that he couldn’t stand in the way. However, I also would tend to believe that the sopranos of his time who would have been singing Violetta would not have had an Eb as secure as many of the diva’s we have come to know and love through the latter part of the 20th century and the modern era…and so he may not have enjoyed the interpolation because he hadn’t heard anyone do it with solid vocal technique and conviction. But alas, this is a mere speculation of mine based on information that I have gathered from reading Verdi’s letters and, luckily, some documents of musicians and singers who worked extensively with him (like memoirs of the first Lady Macbeth and retellings of his relationship with the woman [Sofie something-or-other] that he composed the soprano roles of Attila, Lombardi, Ernani, and Nabucco for). Personally, I love a good High Eb. You know, when one thinks about it, the Sempre libera is a sort of mad scene for Violetta. She is struggling with so many inner and external forces…sometimes the Eb can really help propel those emotions (rarely it serves that purpose, and quite frankly I don’t give a damn, as long as the bitch can sing the hell out of the Eb!). But then, one encounters some women (Like Caballe and Frittoli) who sing the shit out of the aria as it is on the page and don’t make any bones about not singing the Eb and the listener is not in the least dissatisfied! It has become one of the staples of that aria, and at this day in age, it is imperitive that a soprano who does not have a comfortable upper extension or for dramatic/musical reasons doesn’t want to take the Eb must make the rest of the aria so utterly convincing that the audience is not upset or feeling rebuked in it’s absence.
Now, you bring up cabalettas and their depressingly frequent omissions.
I look at it this way: If the composer wrote it, you should sing it. I simply despise cuts in scores (except in secco recitativi!!!…Lord knows we don’t need any more of those!!! They are such beasts to sing!), especially when it’s only a few measures here and there that have been cut. Examples: The last few measures in the trio Act II of Ballo…the last few measures in the trio Act I of Trovatore…The 8 measures in the middle of the Ecco ridente in Barbiere…that hideous unmusical cut in the trio Act II of Barbiere…the list really does go on and on of pointless and inane cuts!!
Here are a few anecdotes about cuts and cabalettas, however.
A) A good friend of mine, who is very prominent in the radio industry concerning opera, was asked by a teacher at my university to sit in on her studio class and give advice to each of the singers who performed that day. A female graduate student, a lyric soprano with a horribly fast vibrato and a cat-being-torn-to-shreds-like tendency in the upper register who sang alto in choir but believe with all her might and soul that she was a Wagnerian dramatic soprano (no such thing, mind you – seriously, the girl couldn’t be FARTHER from it – Look, I’m not being mean, I’m being honest – the girl had plenty of potential, but her attitude and the way she treated her colleagues and professors was astoundingly rude and self-centered and her teacher destroyed her voice and instilled false hope into her – this sort of thing happens CONSTANTLY) had gotten up to sing an aria assigned to her by this teacher…she was going to sing the “Bel raggio lusingher” from Semiramide. And so she delved into the aria and just before the orchestra brings in the “Dolce pensiero” she stopped and awaited her applause. My friend exclaimed “Where’s the rest of it? Where are the runs? Where are the High E’s??!!” and the girl rudely replied “Well, I don’t need to sing it. Dr. [So-&-So] said that it’s a cabaletta and therefore it is optional.” Now, mind you, does ANYONE who has EVER heard this aria (sung wonderfully or otherwise) EVER thought…”Hmm…she should stop right there…the rest isn’t necessary,” or, in a given situation like this, wouldn’t exclaim something akin to the words of my friend, a man who heard everybody from Joan to Edita to June sing that aria till Kingdom come! Clearly both she and her teacher needed to do some homework regarding the bel canto form and structure of opera.
B) This was a personal anecdote…and I will not go too far into detail with it, but will give you the jist of the conversation. I recently just did a production of Barbiere, where, we unfortunately did not work much with the conductor until the week before the performances. This very highly-esteemed and educated conductor was having us perform the traditional cuts along with some others created by him to help save time given the circumstances surrounding the performances. In the cut lists, I had noticed that he had requested the traditional cut in the Ecco ridente…which I wasn’t very pleased to see. I have only ever sung the aria in it’s entirety and find it offensive when tenors do not sing those few measures. Well, I was called into the very first staging rehearsal where I was to stage just the opening scene up to Figaro’s entrance…then the Bartolo and Rosina (both who were present) were to commence staging their scene together following her aria. So the director (who was the MOST down-to-earth director EVER) mentioned the cut to me and I had simply and kindly stated to her that I personally would prefer not to do the cut, but would like to sing through the aria, but that this was a notion that I was going to mention to the conductor and then await his decision. Fair enough. She had no qualms about it and just said “No matter to me, we’ll stage it both ways and then whatever he decides we’ll do. Incidentally, I’ve never understood why they take this cut…I mean, it’s only a few measures and honestly, I’ve never heard what it sounds like.”
Now, I realize that some of our readers truly enjoy the gossipy nature of postings, but I am going to avoid describing the battle that ensued and only impress the important points that relate to our conversation topic. :-)~
Well, I gently and matter-of-factly replied to this director “Well, honestly, it’s because most tenors can’t sing those measures – it really isn’t a time saving device.” She nodded her head and was about to move on with the rehearsal when our dear pianist literally JUMPED up from the piano bench (Mind you, NO BODY was talking to her) and shouted in my face “NO! You are wrong! I have never heard any tenor sing this part. The cut is traditional and every production of this opera that I have ever been in and every audition that I have ever played, everybody takes this cut. This is the way it is done and YOU better get used to it!” At which point I told her “Sit down. No, YOU are wrong. The reason why this part of the aria is cut just like so many other technical vocal parts in this opera are cut is not to save time, but because back in the early 20th century when this opera was being performed, most singers at the time, particularly tenors, were not trained to sing this kind of literature properly. They were usually lyric tenors or heavier voices who were not capable of negotiating the runs and therefore made cuts in the music to accomodate them and thus the cuts stayed. But for singers who are specialized in this kind of singing – people like Rockwell Blake, Francisco Araize, Ramon Vargas, Juan Diego Florez, Ernesto Palacio, need I go on? – they do NOT take this cut – and like I said, this is a decision I will leave to the conductor, which incidentally, you are not.”
Well, dear readers, I’ll let your imaginations wander about what happened next…but I will tell you, that in the performance, not only did I sing the entire Ecco ridente, but I also performed the tenors big aria “Cessa di piu resistere” (which is almost ALWAYS cut except for the aforementioned tenors – Cesare Valetti being the reviver of it, I believe) complete with penultimate High F in the performances, much to the pianist’s dismay.
Forgive me if I came off a bit direct, but the lesson to be learned (especially for those of you who are musicians) is that the research element of what we do is so important when one encounters situations like this. The music industry is so full of people who are so set in their “traditions” that they don’t even bother to find out where these “traditions” came from and what their purpose was or whether this would be something hailed as appropriate by the composer, singers and listeners of the day. Thankfully, I was working with a truly GREAT conductor and director who were both willing to open their minds and hearts and I am eternally grateful to them for having allowed me to sing not only those 8 measures…but an additional 10 minutes long aria that is almost never done! I could not be more thankful to them for their trust and support in me and for their generosity to me and to the other cast members, so please do not feel as though I gloat over the opportunity that I was given. The point is that this pianist was very set in her ways, and sadly for her got up in my face and breached the level of professionalism which we were expected with not only me, but with plenty of other individuals involved in the productions. I also want to point out that I in NO WAY disrespect the many great and not-so-great-but-equally-successful singers who have sung the role of Almaviva. Yes, Tito Schipa and Luigi Alva were famous for the role and they did take the ‘trad’ cuts…it didn’t make them any less of a singer or of an artist and it didn’t mean that their performances were any less beautiful or aesthetic. It was a very different time period and a different mental/musical disposition. They existed in an age where ‘fachs’ didn’t exist – at least not on a grand thought-out scale as they do in the modern era.
As for today, this is when I find cuts ‘offensive’ (as I had mentioned earlier) and often pointless. The way it looks to me, is that in many cases, singers/opera companies/unions/conductors/audiences/whomever are just very lazy and overly concerned with the monetary aspect of opera – so they make blatent cuts so that they don’t pay the singers and the orchestra and the stage crew overtime and so that the audience isn’t in the theatre for more than 2.5 hours, blah blah blah. Also, in a lot of cases…cuts are made because a) the singer is incapable of singing the role as it is required to be sung, b) the singer/conductor is lazy and doesn’t want to make the efforts of learning ‘all those notes’ c) they are ‘traditions’ that have nothing traditional or authentic about them! or d) the director feels that the particular section is not doing anything to propel the action on stage…which, sorry to say, in Mozart/Bel Canto/Verdi/etc. that’s not the point!!
Pavarotti would cut the Act II cabaletta late in his career because he was unhealthy and had made some very unwise decisions concerning repertoire during his career. Thus, he no longer had the necessary agility and comfortably high-tessitura he once had. I saw the very last performance given by the Three Tenors. My teacher was playing in the orchestra and told me the next day that they had to commission some man in California to transpose and write out ALL the orchestral parts of Nessun dorma down a THIRD for Luciano and had them OVERNIGHTED for the morning rehearsal. Imagine that. So Luciano sang a beautiful Nessun dorma with a G instead of a B. Oh well, who cares – it was still the most beautiful sound and I am eternally thankful that I was able to hear that voice live at least once in my lifetime, even if it is the only time. But also, the cabaletta’s in both Trav and Rig are very difficult and demanding for the tenor, so alot of tenors decide not to sing them because of the pitfalls. I don’t agree with it, personally – I think it’s a cop out. Others cut it because they are further along in their careers and their voices may not be as fresh as they once were, but they avoid (smartly) from going into repertoire that is too heavy, but find that they need to stick to their ‘standard’ rep, but can’t deliver some of the more difficult and higher passages as they once could. This to me, is a much more noble reason for cutting a scene than because one is too lazy or one’s voice is too destroyed to accomodate the music.
But now, I shall conclude seeing as I have once again written to the earth’s ends and have probably bored most of you to tears – hell, I’ll be shocked if any of you even made it this far down the page!!! My sincerest thanks! I hope my digressions, ITDG, gave you some new food for thought and helped you draw some conclusions to your queries. Good night all – until my next novel – haha (My friends all tease me that my stories are too long!)
Speaking of cuts, I have never understood the cut in the Duke-Gilda cadenza at the end of È il sol dell’anima… in Rigoletto. Surely the reasoning behind this cut cannot be that the music is too difficult, so what is the logic (if any) behind this cut?
Dear ITDCS, what a wonderful posting. Yes, I read it all the way, twice, and would love to hear more. I’ve read and heard opinions regarding bel canto practices, etc., from many but not from singers like you and The Interpolator who actually sing the roles.
I have no problem with singers cutting, altering, transposing, etc., to accomodate their specific talents. If I understand it at all, that was precisely the practice in the early 1800’s. Singers even substituted or interpolated arias from other works. What bothers me is that the omission of the cabalettas mentioned and others seem to be the default option these days, rather than the opposite. (Example: your rehearsal accompanist.) Just as with Count Almaviva’s music, which incidentally is what I like the most of that work.
As for the Trovatore high C’s, I’ll have to check on my several recordings. I honestly don’t remember hearing them sung by anyone else, and I’m always looking for them in actual performances.
I’m sorry you didn’t get to hear Pavarotti in his youth. He truly had a magnificent voice, and I always found his phrasing unparalleled. I guess one advantage of being not so young anymore (the only one?) is having the memories of what we now think as a Golden Era of Opera. Mind you, that I was very young at the time! Just to make you drool, I saw Sutherland and Pavarotti in Puritani alive at the Met in 1976. With Milnes and Morris in the cast also, no less. Spectacular.
Now, here’s a thought for you, the Interpolator, and possibly some of the other fellow posters. A compilation of your postings might make a very interesting book some years from now. You mentioned reading letters from Verdi and others; your musings would provide future generations of singers with insights on the operatic scene and how bel canto techniques were practiced at the turn of the millenium.
Anomimo – I can’t agree with you more about the Duke/Gilda duet – the music isn’t hard, and it’s only a few measures in duration. Once again, an example of a rather pointless cut. I’ve heard argument before that there are “just too many ‘addios!'” and so the cut has been used to bring the duet to the climax without hesitation. If you think about it, it’s one of the few ‘comical’ moments in the opera…she just can’t say goodbye to him, and he of course, doesn’t want to say goodbye to her…even though someone is approaching, they carry on with the addios. And if you notice in the uncut music…it builds to a brief climax that doesn’t quite resolve and Verdi, in a very Beethovenian style, brings us back down just a little bit and builds again to the actual climax of the number (hopefully complete with interpolated High Dbs from both parties).
ITDG, thank you for your kind words. Yes, I am envious of those who heard all those great voices in their primes. There are wonderful singers today on the scene, but there is also a whole lot of garbage out there too – it’s very sad.
You are right to note that there was a common practice that singers would transpose and substitute arias for each other. The practice of transposition is still in effect today. Believe it or not, but so many tenors transpose “Che gelida manina” and “Nessun dorma” down a half or a whole step so that they don’t have to sing a High C or a High B – which I think is ridiculous. Marilyn Horne transposed “O don fatale” down a third – thereby giving her low F’s and only a high G in the aria. She sounds AMAZING in it…the problem with a transposition like that is because the music is so through composed and so declamatory, Verdi wrote the high B the way he did for a reason. You’ll notice, the orchestra is building in intensity and the vocal line is rising…and then…un grido!…it builds up to this moment where Eboli lets out a scream! (Hopefully a beautiful, in-tune, and dramatically satisfying one) The G in Horne’s recording…even though Jackie sounds magnificent, loses that effect to some degree. Even Marian Anderson sang that aria down a step – with a High Ab on top instead of a B. Tenors sing the aria in Pearl Fishers down a half-step all the time…Baritones sing “Scintille diamant” down a step as well (although this was a transposition okayed by the composer)…but we see these practices still employed today. The practice was most common during the later part of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. Caruso, Tetrazzini, Melba, Ponselle, were all notorious for transposing arias into keys that better suited their talents. They can be ‘forgiven’ of this practice because, as I said earlier, they did not have an idea of how to categorize roles and voices. Therefore, since any soprano who sang Violetta was also expected to sing Elvira in Ernani and Leonora in Trovatore…one finds that each soprano did what she could to redesign the roles to accomodate her abilities. The practice has lessened in our modern age, but is still prominent in many cases like the ones I mentioned above. It seems to be a cop-out in many ways for alot of singers, and some singers have legitimate reasons for wanting to make these transpositions. I have even sometimes thought about transposing certain arias myself – like the Ottavio arias, which I find I would prefer to sit in a higher tessitura. Seeing that it is Mozart, and this was something that singers of that day would do, I should be able to make such a decision, however, I would be met with alot of negativity behind it – especially so early in my career. But lord knows, if I could have the “Il mio tesoro” taken up a minor third – I’d be in paradise! But I’ll just have to content myself with hard work and suffice to sing the aria in it’s original key as best I can.
Now, as for substitutions of arias…this is a practice that ended in Verdi’s time and rarely existed in French or German romantic opera. Once the Classical and Bel Canto periods moved into Romanticism, this became taboo and unecessary. I mean, one can’t think of inserting Cilea’s “Io son l’umile” in place of “Vissi d’arte” – they are both singing about their art and dying for it…but such an act would be declared as a crime! From the early Baroque to certain areas of the Bel Canto realm, singers substituting arias in operas with arias specificially written for them under a certain dramatic pretense (revenge aria, romantic aria, etc. etc.) was a very common practice. Castrati did it ALL the time; Handel, Mozart, Haydn, Gluck, Salieri, all wrote arias for singers that they would carry around with them and include in various performances because a) they didn’t like the pre-existing aria or weren’t comfortable singing it or were too lazy to learn it, b) they felt that the pre-existing aria didn’t show off enough their virtuosity, so by having an aria for just such an occasion that fit into the plot made life a whole lot easier or c) the singer felt that there weren’t enough solo pieces in the opera for them and so they needed to add more scenes into the opera. I will say, Verdi did take part in this practice early in his career, despite him being quoted to saying that he would never write an aria or scene for anyone singer just because they wanted it. However, we know him to have broken his vow because Ricordi published some time ago and wonderful book called “Inediti per tenore di Giuseppe Verdi.” In this volume contains several scenes and arias written by the maestro that were either alternative arias for his own operas, or pieces that he did not wish anyone else to see. Pavarotti recorded the entire set with Claudio Abbado. There is even a wonderful cabaletta for one of the arias in I Lombardi where Verdi wrote High Eb’s for the tenor (I think 4 in total) and yes, Pavarotti sings them!
But, helas, as regards the contemporary cutting of great cabalettas (and even arias at times)…it is a pathetic mixture of unions, lazy musicians, and underpayed orchestras and stage crews. *Sigh*
ITDCS, Thanks one more time for those interesting comments. I had never heard those alternate tenor arias by Verdi. I will immediately start looking for the recording.
Speaking of recordings, you guys are costing me some money. The Interpolator got me curious about Rossini’s “Mathilde de Shabran,” an opera I had never heard of. I surfed the web looking for a recording, but found none, but did find a couple of interesting Opera Rara recordings. Ay, ay, ay, those are expensive!
ITDCS, here’s a question regarding Il Barbiere. I understand that sometimes the vocal lines are exchanged among the different singers. Have you encountered this? Does it happen often? Just in Il Barbiere? I suppose this falls in the area of customizing the music to the specific performers’ capabilities, right?
I have a recording (sadly not in full) of Mathilde di Shabran…it was from 1993 at the Pesaro Rossini Opera Festival – the debut performance of Juan Deigo Florez with Elizabeth Futral. It is some great singing – but the recording that my friend made for me is not the entire opera. That is the only recording I have ever known of the opera. You might be able to find it pirated somewhere.
Please be careful with the Opera Rara recordings – I love them and hate them at the same time sometimes. What I love is that fact that they are a (now booming) private industry that is devoted to providing recordings of so many great and lost works of opera. The sad thing is that sometimes their selection of singers is not so great – but they do market Renee, Elizabeth, Rockwell, Laramore – some very phenomenal voices.
As for Barbiere…this is a very common thing that is done where some of the voices are exchanged in certain parts. Examples are: Act I duet w/ Figaro and Count…Figaro’s line “Cinque parrucche” on high E’s is sometimes given to the tenor so that the poor baritone doesn’t wear himself out singing SO many E’s. Another is in the Act II trio – the second statement of “Zitti, zitti, piano, piano” is supposed to be sung by Rosina, but is often sung by Figaro. This is usually done only when Rosina is being sung by a soprano for the purpose to giving her the phrase in a high tessitura and the baritone the one in the lower tessitura. I personally think this disturbs the harmonic textures Rossini put in the counterpoint, but that is my matter of opinion I guess. Another instance is at the end of the Act II quintet…The Count states the “Buona sera, mio signore” first, with interjections by Rosina who then takes the melody on herself, then Figaro last…sometimes Rosina and Figaro are switched for the same reason given above – the issue of tessitura. Those are the only moments I can think of or that I’ve encountered singing the role. There’s nothing terribly wrong with it – it’s better to have the soprano sing something more comfortable if she is unable to do justice to the written part because it is too low. Better that she sing the ‘wrong’ music well instead of cracking or pushing the ‘right’ music. Of course there is always the question of whether sopranos should be singing Rosina at all – Rossini didn’t like it, he said “that’s why I wrote soprano parts in La gazza ladra and Semiramide and Otello” – but that is a horse of a different color and honestly, my take is: can she sing the role? works for me.
Also, something else I’ve noticed recently, and I wonder if The Interpolator (from whom we have not heard recently) has any information to provide concerning this. I recently heard Vessalina Kasarova’s duet album with Mr. Florez. I like her voice very much – sometimes the top isn’t placed quite right, but she seems to hold her own interpretatively (is that a word?) and Juan sings superbly throughout. The did a duet from Rossini’s Otello (which is an opera I have currently been studying – for the role of Rodrigo…both Otello, Iago and Rodrigo are all tenor roles). So I was particularly interested in this part of the cd and when I looked inside, it said that the mezzo was singing the part of Otello and Juan singing the part of Rodrigo. I was rather shocked by this and the liner notes had said that back in the day, extremely virtuostic female singers would sometimes take on male roles to add to their repertory.
I admit, I haven’t had much of a chance to sufficiently research this practice, but I have learned in the past of two rather outstanding instances of this. The first was, I believe the London premiere, of Verdi’s Ernani in which a very famous mezzo-soprano of the day had substituted last minute for an ailing baritone – and thus sang the part of Carlos in the opera. (Legend has it that Marilyn Horne did the same thing at one time, but I haven’t found evidence of this and haven’t been able to ask her myself at present) Also, when Maestro Saint-Saens helped to discover the manuscript of the French version of Gluck’s Orfeo (with the role of Orphee as a tenor), they revived it in Paris with none other than Miss Viardot-Garcia as Orphee – singing the tenor keys, not the ‘mezzo’ keys from the Italian version. At any rate, Miss Kasarova sang the part beautifully – it makes me wonder if such a fad might reintroduce itself to the opera stage in the bel canto repertory. I think it would yeild some very interesting results.
I myself sing many soprano arias – particularly some of the Mozart concert arias and I use Zerbinetta’s aria as my warm up. I was using it to warm up one day before a coaching with a conductor at the Met…and he walked into the room and said “Sounds great, but you’ll never fit into the costume!”
Fascinating. Horne did sing the bass part in the Ernani trio at least once. It was part of a Sutherland – Pavarotti – Horne concert televised I think all the way back in the 1970’s. I remember it well and can assure you it’s not “legend.”
After going underground (or undersheets), for a couple of days to get some much-needed rest, the Interpolator has now flown to the Southern Hemisphere for orchestral aria concerts before his staged engagements commence for the 2005 – 2006 season. After enduring a 10-hour flight directly south nonstop from Houston, the Interpolator has been strangely reinvigorated by stepping out of the summer and into the fading winter of the South.
The Interpolator admits to having spent a wonderful day in Houston, however, before the overnight flight directly South, spending some time with a gracious and prepared conductor from Houston Grand Opera to go over score editions and – yes – cuts and cadenzi. Now, for those of you hell-bent-for-leather on ascertaining the Interpolator’s identity, please realize that digging up HGO’s announced repertoire for the next season or two will be no help. Realize only, of course, that conductors work with many singers in many places, and the Interpolator often finds himself rehearsing with conductors in one city (for convenience) even though he will next meet that conductor for actual performances in another city. The Interpolator does not wish to insult any of the (very great) intelligence reading this post with such information, but those uninitiated with the comings-and-goings of singers may not have realized this was the case.
And now, munching on some tapas take-out, the Interpolator feels compelled to respond to some of the very interesting, very studied, and quite stimulating discussion that has taken place in his recent absence. However, before beginning that exercise, the Interpolator must make one concession to Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba:
Namely, the Interpolator is of course impressed with ITDCS’s knowledge of performance traditions, composers’ histories and contexts, the tradition of singing itself, and the technique of executing the job of “opera singing.” In fact, the Interpolator will happily concede to ITDCS almost ANY point of historical accuracy on which we might differ, as the Interpolator is quite sure that ITDCS would be correct, anyway. ITDCS’s posts have truly been spot-on accurate regarding any historical and factual points. Bravo, and much appreciated. Please keep up the work and inform us as you do so!
However, the Interpolator does, respectfully, disagree with a few extremely minor points of execution – though not by way of fact, of course! – and we shall come to those in good time. To begin, the Interpolator would like to address some of the points made and argued regarding cuts, cabalette, cadenzi, and such matters. Again, although the Interpolator is not the scholar that ITDCS is (and the Interpolator has never claimed to be!), the Interpolator speaks only from actually doing the job for a living in A-houses on pain of not paying his light bill or his mortgage. It sounds as if ITDCS has had the luxury of investing much more time into the study of scores (how wonderful!), composers, authenticity, and performance practice than the Interpolator has had. Again, Bravo! How wonderful to hear your views!
In a previous post, it was probably ITDCS who correctly opined that many singers arrive unprepared, or at least underprepared, and have not invested sufficient investigatory time into the performance history and musicological context of their assigned stage role. In some respects, ITDCS is, of course, totally correct. But the problem is actually quite thorny, and even thornier to resolve. I address this first.
The Interpolator does not (and has never) worked in an academic setting. Yes, the Interpolator has had the benefit of marvelous tutelage at major conservatories, but he was blessed (or cursed?) enough to begin a fulltime performing schedule almost immediately after his schooling had ended. In part, that is due to the Interpolator’s readiness (even eagerness) to sing extremely exacting bel-canto literature such as I Puritani, La Fille du Régiment, and L’italiana in Algeri straight out of school while also singing the light-lyric roles such the Duke in Rigoletto, Alfredo in La Traviata, and the Italian Tenor in Der Rosenkavalier.
The Interpolator’s desire (and, perhaps, ability) to sing the “lighter” repertoire (which is a misnomer) and bel-canto roles with a full voiced mechanism on the top, not resorting to excessive lightening for the coloratura, was a huge factor in the Interpolator’s being asked to sing the bel-canto literature in such large houses so quickly. And to ensure that the Interpolator kept his voice grounded in full sound, with a low laryngeal position, without recourse to flutter singing, and without resorting to overuse of a falsetto mix in the extreme top, the Interpolator’s agent (a very wise man) generally insisted that, for every “coloratura showpiece” of Bellini, Rossini or Donizetti that I accepted, I likewise had to accept a full-lyric role to balance it, such as Traviata, Rigoletto, and even Lucia (which really doesn’t require any coloratura for Edgardo, though it does require a high E-flat per score).
As a result, from his mid-twenties, the Interpolator was to be found on many continents every year, singing many roles for the first time, without having the foggiest clue about the specific performing conditions of the first staged performance of a work, what the composer “intended” beyond what he wrote in the score, or what was truly expected of a singer from that era, beyond what the Interpolator had learned in conservatory. (At this point, I’m sure ITDCS has just had a coronary, but he must know it is true nonetheless. Hell, he probably knows who I AM, so who am I divulging NEWS to??)
Now, having said this, please realize that the Interpolator is no slouch, either. I may be stupid in many ways, but I do know the difference in a Handel cadenza and a Bellini cadenza. Generally, the Interpolator writes his own and submits them to the chef-d’orchestre or head studienleiter for approval. This has always proved satisfactory, though I cannot be absolutely certain what Rossini’s original singer would have done with the part in his day. ITDCS, on the other hand, could likely NAME the singer, then instantly produce the hand-written variants the singer used on stage.
The problem, unfortunately, is a very boring one: it is economics. The Interpolator simply chooses not to take more time off than vocally necessary between specific engagements, during which he might otherwise have the luxury of further score study and investigation. Having said that, please understand that Interpolator has NEVER, to his knowledge, actually arrived unprepared for the rehearsal demanded. My colleagues deserve far better than that of the Interpolator, and generally, they get it!
From ITDCS’s previous posts, the Interpolator infers that ITDCS may also be blessed with an academic post of some sort – teaching, or artist-in-residence, or something, thereby giving him access to time and materials of research. How wonderful, if so! But the Interpolator, to his own great surprise, finds himself in a very different position.
Candidly, the Interpolator will admit that he has, at times, wondered HOW THE FUCK DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME? That is, when singing Così fan Tutte at the Met (yes, the Interpolator will admit to that one), I was paralyzed irrationally at the sitz-probe, thinking “Of all the great tenors that have sung ‘Un aura amorosa’ on this stage, why would they possibly want me?” Did I sound like Mozart’s Ferrando? Did I sound like an Eschenbach Ferrando? Did I sound like a Muti Ferrando? How about Levine Ferrando? May I ornament on the return of the A section (yes, I did)? Dare I cap it off with a high A (of course not)? Was it too loud, too much like Bellini (probably)? Am I truly a Mozart singer, in the way that Kiri or Renee or Soile is a Mozart singer (probably not). But can I do a good Ferrando anyway (yes – I mean, I sang it at the Met for God’s sake, so at least somebody thought I sang a serviceable Ferrando)?
The Interpolator admits to being well-paid, which is both an honor and a responsibility. Yet the Interpolator also knows that his voice may not be able to do at 55 what it has done for this past decade or so. Thus, the Interpolator increasingly delves into the more truly lyric parts with abandon. At this point in the Interpolator’s career, a certain amount of cash generation, and a certain amount of performances, are actually required. Not really contractually required, but “required” nonetheless. At some point, the Interpolator will be happy to expound upon the minefield of big-house, big-career arts management and the major agencies. Believe the Interpolator: it is no picnic, and I sometimes hate it so much I could vomit.
The gentle readers here just could not begin to imagine the dynamics of the giant WHINE that would simultaneously issue forth from New York and Paris if I were to say “You know, I am going to take off a few months for deeper score study.” No, my friends, this simply isn’t possible. In part, that’s because everyone (everyone who counts, that is) would immediately assume that the Interpolator needs time to fix an unannounced vocal problem, not score study! It is truly that brutal.
So, although ITDCS has a wonderful point about singers being underprepared, I hope he can forgive the Interpolator’s view that – sometimes – we just do the best we can.
Now for other things mentioned.
The E-flat in “Sempre Libera”: Come on, who are we kidding? It is a must. Even when the soprano doesn’t do it, many people feel let down. True, Caballe, Freni, Frittoli, Gheorghiu, and others omit it. But don’t you feel ripped off?? I know, I know; Violetta requies “3 voices” and all that bullshit. But still, when a soprano does deliver it, there is an emotional, cathartic response that the Interpolator does not find present in presentations that omit the note, no matter how well sung the aria is in general. Frittoli and Gheorghiu are prime examples: the high C’s and fioriture are wonderful – but the missing High E-flat is a let down. Having had the pleasure of singing Alfredo to Ms. Gheorgiu’s Violetta, the Interpolator will reveal that Gheorgiu did, in fact, sing the high E-flat in some performances in Europe at a major house. This came from the era of her “Casta Diva” recording, in which she sings several high E-flats. These were not beautiful high E-flats, and yes – they were a stretch for the soprano. But the emotional impact they delivered was well worth it, the audience cheered madly, and the soprano was re-engaged (as was the Interpolator, but for a different opera!). Too bad she did not do so in her video from Covent Garden.
The gentle posters have also written of tenors not singing cabaletta installments following cavatina strophes. This is ridiculous should it happen, and the Interpolator has not often run across this practice at all. Certainly, repeated verses (or strophes) of some cabalettas are routinely cut, although the Interpolator always requests to include both verses of the cabaletta, ornamenting the second time around if appropriate (it is almost always appropriate, as we are talking about a cabaletta, right?). Let’s look at them individually:
First, Alfredo’s “Ah mio rimorso infamia” is often omitted. I do not think it is omitted for difficulty, as it ascends only to a B-flat, and optionally to a high C at the end. It is not long, and it is not overly taxing. Musically, it is pretty, and it is energizing. Dramatically, there is not much to it, however, and that is usually the reasoning: it halts the drama, so let’s just get on with the rest of the Second Act, which is so full of marvelous musical moments, so let’s not waste time. Or something like that. But the Interpolator will go on record as saying that, in every Traviata performance he has ever delivered, he has sung Alfredo’s cabaletta. In a few productions, the cabaletta was on the “cuts” list, in which case the Interpolator politely requested to open the cut. The request was always granted.
Yes, in most instances, the Interpolator has sung both verses, ornamenting heavily on the second (because the melody is so delightfully simple that it will bear up to some nice renegotiation – just as Joan Sutherland does with the “tu vedrai” cabeletta from Il Trovatore). The Interpolator has generally closed the aria with a high C, but this is not strictly necessary. In fact, the Interpolator is not convinced that it is either musically appropriate OR dramatically relevant. However, once one has barged into a cabaletta, with orchestra, at full voice, with a paying audience in a large house – the expectation is simply there: sing the high C, or shut the fuck up. You are free to disagree, but the Interpolator promises you: He sees this from the money-and-paychecks side of the house, not the Critics Corner and reserved chair for the music critics from Berliner Bilt, Le Monde, Die Zeit München, or Corriera della Sera.
As for the Duke’s cabaletta “Possente amor” after “Parmi veder lagrime” in Rigoletto, this is a wonderful and fun piece of singing. Now this one is often cut for difficulty because the tessitura is high and it comes after a very difficult aria. The Interpolator, for his part, feels that “Parmi veder lagrime” is very possibly his least favorite aria in his active repertoire, simply because of the way it sits vocally. But “Possente amor” is the payoff for having to suffer through “Parmi.” Yes, the Interpolator is partial to capping this with a high D, akin to the final Lucia scene, but the Interpolator has run across conductors who will not allow it, even though Gilda is free to ornament “Caro Nome’s” cadenza beyond any recognition, including the ridiculous high E-natural at the end, much as Leontyne Price does in her recording. Now that high E, much as I love them, is simply not appropriate. Gildas who pip and squeak on their little staccato high D-sharps are fine – but a sustained high E to close is NOT right. That is NOT the way the aria is written. And face it: even Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills, two of the most sympathetic “interpolators” ever to grace a recording studio, did not dare drop that in.
Now, why is that crazy cadenza cut at the end of the Gilda/Duke duet before the “Addio” bit? Actually, it is often cut because it is VERY VERY difficult to sing those bars in tune, and thus it becomes a nightmare to rehearse and perform. In fact, listen to recordings by true masters (Sutherland/Pavarotti, Sills/whoever) and you can hear that VERY few people sing that cadenza in tune. I very seldom perform it when singing the Duke, and every major house except one I’ve sung it in has cut those bars. I don’t mind this cut. It is just too difficult to rehearse and perfect, given the amount of rehearsal time we are given. And even when it goes right, it’s not ALL that great, so it may not be worth the investment, anyway. Sure, I want to be authentic, and I generally am – but this is a very rare exception to my rule of “no cuts” to otherwise unrepeated music. And yes, the “Addio” should certainly be closed with high D-flats from both singers. In fairness, it usually is. And guess what? Although I am generally not in favor of downward transpositions (certain circumstances excepted), I once alternated singing the Duke with a very famous tenor (of an older generation, but a fab singer, and very famous) who could not sing a high D-flat. However, he agreed that the “Addio” needed that closure and effect to give the audience the exciting close. So…the “Addio” was transposed down one half step to C-major (rather than D-flat major) so that the tenor could cap it with the high tonic – now a high C, which he could manage, rather than a high D-flat, which he could not. And you know what? The Interpolator actually agreed with that decision! It worked PERFECTLY well: the “other” tenor did not kill himself with notes out of his comfortable vocal range, yet he “delivered” to the audience a fabulous ending to the “Addio.” That’s a good solution in my book.
And next, as for transpositions in general: The Interpolator thinks, in general, that “key color” and “tonal palette” are very important concepts. Therefore, ITDCS’s wry suggestion of transposing Ottavio’s arias up (for instance, taking “Il mio tesoro” from B-flat to G, or whatever) does not meet with the Interpolator’s sense of “what’s best for the listener.” On the other hand, the Interpolator is wise and humble enough to know that he will never, and should never, tell a fellow singer what to do or how to sing!! Thus, if such a transposition is necessary, then ITDCS should do what is necessary to maintain his healthy vocal platform, serve the drama of the piece, be a good colleague to other singers, and secure his return engagement to the house (if indeed that is part of his aims).
Having said that, however, the Interpolator is also fairly sure that taking “Il mio tesoro” from the regal, warm key of B-flat to the bright, annunciatory, declamatory key of G would cause other problems, perhaps as many as it solves. The Interpolator has, in recent years, developed a new-found appreciation for this aria by incorporating some amazing variations on the second strophe (the return of the A section) which take the Interpolator whizzing up and down to high B-flats on several occasions, all within the style of the writing, true to text, and true to Mozart.
(And at some point, the Interpolator will tell you the story of how he convinced the sublime Karita Mattila, who was singing Donna Anna to the Interpolator’s Ottavio a few years ago, to sing a FABULOUS high D at the end of “Or sai chi l’onore” at the first orchestral rehearsal with the conductor. The conductor just about had a heart attack – as he should – while Karita sat on that high D for 3 full bars. I bought her several drinks at dinner that night – she can drink the Interpolator under the table, those fuckin’ Finns – and the other soloists and chorus still remember that evening. And yes, Mattila has a good high D. Have you heard the Martern Aller Arten on that first CD she made after winning the Singer of the World competition in Wales?)
Also, either ITDCS or ITDG has searched for a recording of Mathilde de Shabran. Even the Interpolator has only a bootleg from Pesaro many years ago (in which JDF sang the tenor role, later inherited by the Interpolator). Have you found a score? It is in print and available. It is worth buying and studying. How about you, ITDCS – have you seen this score or heard any of the divine music it contains? You are such a scholar that the Interpolator is SURE you must have.
The Interpolator has, in fact, much more to say but feels he must cut this off lest the post not accept such a high word-count. He would, however, be thrilled to hear all reactions to this hideously lengthy post. More to come very soon – as the Interpolator is again on the road, and all alone.
Which is not to say lonely, but…some things are better with company.
Well, well, well, Mr. ITDCS: Guess what? I have a tape of that recital we talked about earlier where Sutherland, Horne and Pavarotti sang the Act 4 trio from Ernani. The date was March 23, 1981. I can’t vouch for the quality of the tape after all these years, but would be glad to copy it to a CD and offer it to you. So you don’t think this is a trick to find out who you are, I would gladly mail it to a post office box or a friend of yours, or whatever.
I should say that ITDG’s work is suffering on account of his being fascinated by this forum. Last night I went looking through old LPs trying to find the piece referenced by The Interpolator. Tonight, I unburied my boxes of old cassette recordings. And of course, now I simply must listen to a lot of this anew.
Incidentally, I don’t think that Pavarotti ever sang Norma on stage, but at that 1981 concert, he sang the Act 1 duo with Horne and then Sutherland joined them for the concluding trio. I don’t need to tell you what I’ll be listening to tonight. As soon as the Yankees game is over, of course.
I shall briefly post some comments and then place myself in bed seeing as I have three major auditions beginning tomorrow and the following day.
First I would like to thank the Interpolator for his kind words and I want to assure him and other readers that I, as one who is beginning a career similar to the one the Interpolator has just described himself as having begun after he completed his studies, am completely aware of the lifestyle that singers in demand have – and obviously, adequate time is generally not available to allow such in depth research of things as I myself enjoy. Lord knows even I haven’t always had as much time as I would like to investigate certain subjects because of engagements and auditions and recitals and such (both as a bassoonist and as a vocalist). Alas, I am not a teacher and my name hasn’t quite reached the same precipices that the Interpolators has, so therefore my identity is not nearly as secretive, ITDG, but because I too have made some direct statements about artists – all with utter respect – I refrain from revealing that identity. My personal hunger for musicological knowledge comes from my own interests – it serves me as a hobby in many ways – I love discovering new things about my art and take whatever time I have available to devote to it (that is not to say that I don’t have a life outside of music…don’t worry, I know how to have a good time and I could probably drink every last one of you under the table – but that is a seperate matter!).
Interpolator: -You’re thoughts on JS’s High E’s are completely shared by me. The transposition subject, I am completely aware of your take on the matter and do not disregard it’s validity or value. I also believe that “key color” and “tonal palatte” have a whole hell of a lot to do with any piece of music. That is one reason why I tend to disapprove of transpositions. However, I did not intend to lead you to believe that I would consider singing the Ottavio aria in any key but Bb…I thought I had made that evident in my closing statements of that topic :-\ I merely stated that for my own personal vocal comfort, I would find the aria to sit ‘better’ in a higher key for me rather than to sing those wretched F’s (sorry, but I despise singing those held F’s).
-I am, however, extremely glad to know that you are comfortable and willing to ornament the second A section of the aria as Mozart himself would have expected. In a letter to his father, he described having snuck into a performance of Don Giovanni in disguise and sat and listened. He was so excited about the fact that the tenor had ornamented the second part of the “Dalla sua pace” and praised the tenor for his creativeness. Clearly, the same would apply to the more florid aria.
-Mathilde is a stunning opera and I have viewed the score on several occasions – but I have only come in contact with the old Kalmus edition which is not very clear and contains far too many errors. I have not taken the time to see if Maestro Zedda and his team have printed a critical edition of this opera.
Also, it seems that you misunderstood which part of the Duke/Gilda duet that I was speaking of. I should have been more clear. What you say of the cadenza is true, but the part we had mentioned is the part towards the very end of the duet. There are several measures that are cut. Both voices sing an ‘addio’ on an Ab which goes down to a Db, then the run in the strings upwards to the final “Addio” on the Bb, Ab, Db. It is the penultimate “addio which is cut. This has never made sense to me.
-I choose to sit on the fence about the end of the “Caro nome” – I for one, LOVE when a soprano can sing the High E (well) – quasi – Moffo and Price. And that recording alone, shows us that Leontyne Price was capable of singing ANYTHING WELL. Her High E is perfect and sooooo beautiful. I don’t think it is a bad interpolation at all. But I am certainly not expectant of it and am completely satisfied with the ending as it is written on the page.
Tenore di Grazia:
Thank you so much for your generous offer, I might just take you up on it. It is good to know that the instance is not a ‘legend’ but I was under the impression that she sang the entire role – perhaps the individual who mentioned this to me was mistaken and therefore I was also mistaken. I would be very interested to hear her sing that. Thank you for your help in the matter!!