Non piu Olga?

After what an insider described as a “messy” dress rehearsal that included several cracked high notes (due to allergies? or nerves?), Olga Borodina may or may not be singing the prima of Cenerentola at the Met tomorrow night. On dit that Joyce di Donato has been rushed through the staging in preparation for a last-minute jump in. (Maybe we should start calling Borodina “Milena Skittish?”)


20 Responses to “Non piu Olga?”

  1. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    That’s odd. I saw her in a music rehearsal for Cenerentola less than two weeks ago (not the open dress rehearsal, and albeit, I hadn’t attended a great portion of it), but Olga sounded fine from what I heard. It must be allergies/illness because if anyone, that woman has the most secure high notes of any mezzo soprano alive! I hope she recovers to be in good voice tomorrow night! In bocca lupo, Olga!

  2. Olga just sang the opening “L’Italiana in Algieri” in San Francisco and she was all wrong for the vivacious Rossini, which made me sad because she was so awesome as “Dalila” back in 2001, singing tenderly at one moment and then peeling the paint off the walls when she felt like it.

    I want to hear her do Marfa in “Khovanschina” instead of Rossini. Now that would be killer.

  3. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    As a Rossini singer myself, I’m going to have to disagree with you for the most part, sfmike. I admit, when I first heard Olga and Dolora Zajick’s aria albums…the inclusion of Rossini arias baffled me to some degree. I just didn’t think that women who were capable of hollering out Amneris and Eboli would be capable or have the want/need to sing such lighter repertoire that requires a singer to do SO much work (in a different way than dramatic singers have to ‘work’) because let me tell you, singing all those runs ain’t always a walk in the park – but then again, I’m sure that singing all those high B’s for a mezzo isn’t always a picnic either!

    But then to hear both those great ladies do justice to Master Rossini’s work really impressed me. I had also read in an Opera News article some time ago that Olga had started by singing alot of Rossini and had been longing to return to some of that repertoire now that she is established. She is a very very smart woman. So many singers get caught up in the “I have a huge, heavy voice, I can’t do runs” or “My voice is too small and weak and I can possibly sing on my breath and into my resonators and project my tone past the edge of the stage!” mental situations. It is very important for all singers to do what they can to be as proficient with their instruments as possible. Yes, different voices are naturally inclined to different things. I was heartbroken when I began college to discover that I’d never be a Wagnerian/Dramatic tenor…but I was thrilled to discover that I had natural disposition to coloratura and that singing florid music comes ‘easy’ to me moreso than many other male voices. The point is, Olga is a great singer and her recent excursions into the world of Rossini mezzo-roles in major houses is probably in part a way for her to keep up her technique – to not allow the voice to push and get heavy in such a way that it will prevent her from stretching her mouth open and giving us those clear, gorgeous, round, perfectly placed and spun high notes that send shivers up my spine just thinking about them! And, for my own personal opinion, I think she sounds rather good in the roles. I haven’t seen her perform an entire L’Italiana or Cenerentola, so I cannot comment on her dramatic interpretations of the parts…however, as far as listening goes, the woman hits every note beautifully.

    Where I will agree with you, should this be one of the points I picked up from you, is that it does seem that her singing in the lighter florid mezzo roles is ‘less interesting’ than when she is pouring gravy all over the big girls – Carmen, Dalila, Amneris, Eboli, and the Russian ladies. I have gotten the feeling at times that she sings with too much technique and not enough artistry/drama/interest/heart – whatever you want to call it – in the Rossini heroine parts. Miss Borodina doesn’t seem to be one to stray too far from the notes written on the page…she doesn’t indulge in many variations and only a few select interpolations here and there. The good thing though, is that in many cases, she does phrase differently in the repeats which helps make the music more alive and interesting. I do also have a recording of a live concert she and Dimitri did together where the both sang pieces from Barbiere. She interpolates a High D at the end of the Rosina/Figaro duet – totally unexpected and breathtakingly GLORIOUS! I kept rewinding and listening to that note over and over again I was so stunned! Now, if ONLY she would interpolate a High C at the end of “Cruda sorte” I think I’d marry her (Incidentally, I think EVERY mezzo should interpolate a High C there…it just screams for it – plus I think the low C is kinda tacky – even when Marilyn does it, and she always sounds great)!

    It’s true, Olga doesn’t quite give us balls-to-the-wall singing in the lighter repertoire, but she finds ways to turn every phrase and spin off those runs with grace, ease and true virtuosity. I sincerely applaud her in her work and look forward to seeing her performance in Cenerentola at the Met in the upcoming weeks.

    (P.S. I do have the broadcast recording from last year when she and Juan Diego did L’Italiana at the Met – I wasn’t around to see it in person, but the recording is brilliant. She really sounds wonderful.)

  4. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    I saw Borodina in L’Italiana last year at the Met and found her wonderful both vocally and dramatically. The feeling that she communicated was of comfort and being totally at home in that repertoire. (Yes, it came as a surprise.) I also have a recording of the broadcast and haven’t changed my opinion after listening to it a couple of times.

    She does seem to be singing L’Italiana quite frequently and in many places. She’ll be doing it here in Washington next spring also with JDF.

    I’m only sorry that my schedule won’t allow me to go to see her Cenerentola in NY this fall. (Not that I care for that production much.)

  5. ilbarbiere Says:

    Being involved with the production, I can tell you she is having trouble, and there was already word at the ‘Italiana’ in San Fancisco that she was having troubles with Rossini.

    Also remember, ‘Cenerentola’ is a completely different beast than ‘Italiana’. They could not be more different. Cenerentola’s gran scena is at the end, and sits very high for Borodina. ‘Italiana’ sits much lower in general, and is more her speed at this point, although it is becoming clearer and clearer that she needs to start avoiding this repertoire.

    She also declared that the aria would be transposed down, so if she does go on, it will be B flats at the end instead of B’s. This whole situation has nothing to do with illness, although the Met will sell it as such. Transposing down, and throwing around your weight about cancellng is the hallmark of a singer starting to have technical issues, not someone who is sick. Borodina is notoriously touchy as it is, and is known for leaving if she is pressed. However, missing a prima like this would not be a good move for her, and she knows it, as the word has been spreading about vocal issues.

    It will be interesting to see what happens.

  6. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    IlBarbieri, I gather you have good information. Unfortunate news, though. I would have thought that tackling this repertoire would be vocally healthy, but what do I know?

  7. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    ITDG, I agree with you about this possibly being vocally healthy for her, as it is my guess that she is striving to keep her technique in line and flexible.

    Yes, ilbarbiere, Angelina’s part is a veritable monster for anyone and extremely differnt from the part of Isabella. It is possible that this is a mistep in judgement on the part of Borodina and that perhaps the role of Angelina requires her to sing too far out of her fach and her natural abilities. I’m also almost certain that her recording of ‘Non piu mesta’ is in the original key, although I never checked to be honest. And you know what, if tenors can crap out and sing ‘Che gelida manina’ down to avoid the High C, Lord knows I certainly don’t have a problem with her singing Bb’s instead of B’s – they will probably be glorious just the same.

    I agree with IDTG that your information is probably reliable, but I guess I choose to be an optimist for the moment and put my faith and trust in Olga – a very tempramental, often visually stoic, but-god-I-love-her-anyway singer – and believe that she will pull through.

  8. Just Another Tenor Says:

    So did she show? If she did, how was it?
    I am seeing her Italiana in DC next May – I am very excited to see it, especially after the buzz her Italiana at the Met generated last year.
    I could imagine how Cenerentola would not be quite as well suited to her voice – the role is so high, even notable Rossini Mezzos have had troubles with it (including hte superb Jackie Horne).
    I hope she did show and that she was superb.

  9. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    With Borodina’s husband in the cast for all the performances, she’ll probably cancel only if that’s the only way around whatever difficulties she may be having.

    One question for ITDCS and you all. Is it possible to transpose down “O patria mia” ? I saw a discussion in one of this forums about Milanov’s difficulties with the high C, something shared by most other Aidas. Tebaldi and Ponselle abandoned the role rather early in their careers on account of that treacherous high C. But I’ve never heard of any soprano transposing it down. I’m not a musician and can’t tell for sure, but it seems to me that there’s no easy way to transpose the aria down and then bring the tonality back up for the rest of the act. There may be instrumental limitations too. Can you musically proficient forum colleagues illuminate me on this?


  10. Yes, it is possible to transpose “O patria mia.” Zinka Milanov used a half-step transposition her final season of singing Aida at the Met (1956). It works this way:

    In the original, the recitative line “che vorra dirmi? Io tremo” is sung on the notes G# – #G – A – C – B – E- F – D. On the third syllable, Aida simply repeats the G# instead of going up a half-step to A, which makes the phrase G# – G# – G# – B – A# – D# – E – C#. The tremolo then comes in a half-step lower than written, and the piece would continue lowered a half-step. And then, following the applause after the aria, the original F major tonality would be restored by playing the orchestral coda of Aida’s aria at pitch.

  11. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Very interesting. Thanks, Mme La Cieca. Are you aware of other singers who did that?

  12. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    That is a very interesting fact, La Cieca, and I admit I was not aware of such a thing in existence, although I didn’t doubt that it has probably been done before. ITDG, the biggest issue with transposing an aria like that really has very little to do with the soprano and a whole hell of a lot to do with the oboe solo. As it is, most oboists quake in their boots when they have to play that piece…it requires some extremely difficult low passages and phrasings towards the end of the aria that doesn’t yield entirely well to the instrument. It is SO difficult even for the best of players to come in on those low D’s and C’s quietly, in tune, and without too harsh of an attack on the reed. Transposing the aria down would probably cause an oboist to shit himself to death! A simple solution to the problem would be to have an English Horn play the part as there are places in the score where Verdi does write for one.

    Something else of interest that I am noticing as I am looking at the full score presently (a smiliar situation in “Pace, pace”) is what the appropriate dynamic for the High C is. Everyone automatically assumes that the note MUST be sung as softly as possible. If you want to hear that done successfully, just listen to Caballe’s recording – it’s really classic operatic filth, but her “O patria mia” is quite beautiful. Many, though, feel that this is too soft for the high C and prefer a note with a little more presence.

    The score itself does not specify a dynamic for the High C. There is a crescendo from a pianissimo indication over the text “no, mai piu…” and the crescendo leads all the way to the High C which is then marked “Dolce.” As far as ‘I’ know, the only composer who used the term ‘dolce’ to reflect a sense of dynamic was Beethoven. When Beethoven uses the term, he intends that there be no use of crescendo at all in the designated passage.

    I have not found evidence anywhere that Verdi adopted this practice…although when I was studying the role of Fenton (my first role at the age of 19 believe it or not) I noticed Verdi’s INCESSANT use of the term on virtually EVERY phrase. I still to this day don’t know exactly what his purpose was for notating the score that way. I wonder if perhaps, because Fenton is such a light character and a lighter vocal role…at that time, tenors had been striving to really open up their sounds and adding weight into the tops of their voices to accommodate the music of Verdi and Puccini and Leoncavallo, etc. that perhaps he made such a notation because he did not want any tenors who would be singing the part to sound too much like ‘tenors’ and to sound much more smooth and youthful and without too much ping and squillo in the voice. I have often wondered if this is the idea presented here in Aida’s vocal line.

    People often misunderstand this part of the score because they assume that since the orchestra is written at pianissmo, therefore the vocal line must also follow suit. I don’t believe that this is a very strong argument all the time. These composers were such geniuses, they devoted alot of time to writing in the balance of the entire musical fabric into their scores. That is the case with “Pace, pace.” Never anywhere does it state that Verdi expected the soprano to sing that high Bb as softly as possible – his intent in writing such a thin and soft accompaniment was to guide the singer to understand that the Bb was not to be sung in a manner as it is at the end of the aria when the full orchestra is at full blast! But it doesn’t mean that the note has to barely exist!!! Too many sopranos and conductors get so worked up over making that note so soft (and the Aida note as well) that they lose sight of the bigger and more important pictures – the expression of the text and the emotional state of the character. What probably happened is that some diva somewhere who had an amazing pianissimo (perhaps Milanov or Gencer and the likes of them, or more likely, a very light soprano like Tetrazzini or Melba who just couldn’t pour out so much sound and therefore took advantage of their softer notes when opportunities presented themselves) sang those notes as such and impressed and moved everyone who was listening and forced a trend that turned into mindless pointless tradition that has forced every subsequent singer into the same exact mold.

    Getting back to the Aida aria.
    As we said, the orchestra is written at pianissimo. What I imagine MOST vocalists don’t know is that a large portion of the orchestra ENTERS at that very moment – exactly at the same time the soprano is to sing the High C. In the two proceeding measures, there is a bassoon solo which then turns into an oboe solo which provides the only accompaniment to the ascending vocal passage. This oboe line is marked piano. Notice, Verdi has indicated that the vocal line be SOFTER than the oboe part at first and graudally get louder. This is probably because the part of the voice where this passage starts is a relatively loud area in the soprano tessitura and so therefore, not to cover up the oboe, which is only in its middle register, requires the soprano to lighten her tone and then increase volume as she moves higher in register, while asking the oboe to maintain it’s dynamic (with good musical phrasing, of course!) – he knew that the oboe will sing through at the right volume complimentary to the dynamic changes in the soprano tessitura. By the point of the High C…we are to INFER that since Verdi did NOT indicate a specific dynamic to the note, that since the note begins at the conclusion of a crescendo, the note must indeed be of a dynamic louder than the start of the phrase, which was at pianissimo. The pianissimo in the orchestra on the inverted F Major chord is for the instrumentalists ONLY. It is there to ensure that the orchestra DOES NOT play the attack too loudly and doesn’t get in the way of the soprano’s high note. This is NOT to say that the High C should be “LOUD” or should be a “Forte.” Verdi probably expect the soprano to sing a note with good body, tone, beauty, and lyrically enough as to allow her to descend through the slurred staccati that completes the phrase. In no way does the score suggest that this High C should be the softest note sung by the title role!! I said earlier that most singers as so unaware of this because most singers barely even know what a full score is!! Vocal scores very rarely provide such useful information as this, therefore the singers just infer that if there is a dynamic marking in the piano part, their vocal line should be a reflection of it. This is not a good rule of thumb to follow.

    An opposite example, however, would be the duet between Lucia and Edgardo – during the ‘Verranno a te” section…the orchestra is VERY light througout the passage until the accellerando and crescendo at the end of the melody…strings marked pizzicato and at a piano dynamic. The singer (both Lucia and Edgardo respectively) are required to sing in a musically tasteful and intelligent manner as concerns phrasing and dynamics. SO MANY TENORS sing the “Spargiu d’amara lagrima” at a forte dynamic even though there is a reiteration of ‘piano’ in the string parts. In a case like this, I would find it wise that a singer look to perform their dynamics comprable to those found in the orchestral parts, it seems to fit the style of the melody and thus, one doesn’t blow ones wad too soon!!

    In reference to a comment made some weeks ago by The Interpolator…yes, it is true to when a singer is in high demand and singing many things in many different places all the time – there isn’t much time to run to a big library and read letters and contemporary recollections and various treatises and articles about composers and pieces and performance practices, etc. etc…but part os what I meant in saying that vocalists (and solo instrumentalists AND CONDUCTORS) need to devote more time to adequate and thorough study of their music is to really take an invested interest in EVERY direction a composer has provided for you.

    As an orchestral musician, I can tell you, very rarely does someone seated in the second violin section going to examine a score to a symphony they might be playing and study in full detail what dynamics and articulations are notated for the trumpet parts. Maybe in Mahler or Strauss one might find the need…you never know with those two! But as every professional orchestral musician will tell you – it is IMPERITIVE to know MORE than just your own part. You have to know what the strings, the woodwinds, the percussion, the brass, and the conductor, are doing and what the composer is requesting of them. It is important to know these details to sa certain extent so that the music making is more complete and whole. It is not only the conductors responsibility to know what every instrument is doing. One needs to know if ones part is doubled somewhere else; if you have a solo, who is accompanying you; who are you accompanying; who do you give or take your melody/counterpoint to/from; who has what notes of what chords – for tuning purposes; what dynamics are those around you playing and how does your part fit into that texture; etc. etc. etc.!!!

    Singers, whether they be choral or solo tend to be really full of themselves for that reason. It’s always “I’m the soloist” “I’m the one singing” “They have to do what I’m doing” “I don’t care what the orchestra has to do, as long as they are with me.” This attitude from singers is very detrimental to themselves, the people they are working with, the audience, and most importantly, the music they are supposed to be performing! It is not enough to know only your part or to know the part of the person singing on stage with you – but it really is useful to know and understand the workings of the orchestra and chorus that are singing with you – they can provide much help to you and you to them when one takes the time to listen and learn. It really isn’t a very time consuming thing either. But people in ‘casts’ often only think of the ‘cast’ as a ‘team’ and don’t really include the orchestra to be a part of that – the SAME goes for them too as concerning dancers or singers or soloists of any type.

    So much can be learned from what these geniuses have written on the page for us that it really is our responsibility should we intend to bring them to life to take some time and really investigate them and understand them.

    I do sincerely apologize for going on quite a while about this, but I feel that it is an important issue to bring to light to not only those of us who are performers, but even to those who listen. I sincerely ask – How many of La Cieca’s readers have ever sat listening to ‘O patria mia’ and gave a rat’s ass about what the oboe is doing?!

    Until next time – buona sera!


  13. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Fascinating. Thanks, ITDCS. This is the sort of information that I enjoy and heightens my enjoyment of music. The more I know a piece, the more interesting it becomes the next time I listen to it. Always a new detail or nuance to discover.

    As to the oboe issue, I had in mind when I referred to the possibility of “instrumental limitations” in my original post.

    Thanks to Mme La Cieca for participating and allowing for these discussions, to ITDCS, and to all who contribute. Perhaps I should change my user name to Il Tenore Grato or Il Tenore Contento.

  14. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    IlBarbiere, can you report back to us on Borodina’s Cenerentola? According to the NYT, she did sing, but that’s as much as I’m ready to believe from a reviewer.

  15. ilbarbiere Says:

    Yes, she did go on, and she got through it. It wasn’t exactly a trumph. I’ll leave it at that.

  16. I’m fascinated with the opinions listed here. I discovered La Cieca’s podcast trough Itunes, and now i donwload them every week…i was hokked with the opinions about Borodina and Aida’s aria. SO i decided to get my ipod, find the questioned aria, and give it a try. I must confess, i’m not an Aida fan, but this kind of music examples, as well as mentions to singers or players, give me enthusiasm to rediscover o get into new perspectives…

    I’m not brave enough to give an opinion here yet, but i enjoy reading this…

  17. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    IlBarbiere, why so reticent?

    I bet you can contribute interesting comments to our forums.

  18. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    ITDCS, I just posted something for you on the Scotto forum.

  19. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    Thanks ITDG – I’m not sure what year the recording is that I have. I want to say that it is 1968ish…I could just be making that up though. It’s a burned copy so I don’t have all the pertinent info aside from the cast and conductor’s names. It is a great recording. I’ll have to ask Madame Scotto about it when I work with her in June.

  20. Oh my god this is SO INTERESTING!

    I’m fascinated with all our singery-techno stuff and esp. with the current crop of Russian singers in particular. I lived and studied in Moscow for a semester (’83) ostensibly studying the language, but really spent all my free time (illegally with the help of an instructor there) sitting in on student voice lessons. Singers are singers everywhere but the Russians have their own particular challenges/ glories.

    Yikes I love this post and this comment stream. I have to go do a quick errand and then I’m coming back to finish reading!

    Viva La Cieca! I’ll be back in 20 minutes …

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