First Met broadcast of the season

Rolando Villazon not apparently in his very best form but La Cieca is very impressed with a) his willingness to sing out and take chances even when he is less than 100% and b) his well-supported legato that is the basis of even his most vehement singing. Anna Netrebko found a way to interpret Gilda as a lyric. The sound a little glassy when close-miked, but the singing always has meaning. Very interesting how she slowly straightened out the tone as the character died, a little less vibrato on each phrase. If Joe Volpe is wondering why more people aren’t willing to spend $250 at the opera, he can take a hard look at Carlo Guelfi. No voice! (as Charlie Handelman would say) and so he (Guelfi, not Handelman) tricks out the performance with whoops and gasps and the whole Benoit shtik. Ascher Fisch knows how to make Verdi go; La Cieca would quibble only with his eclectic choice of cuts. Though goodness knows no one would want to hear Guelfi faking yet another verse of “Ah veglia o donna.” It warmed the cockles of this old heart to hear such campery on the Quiz; Stephen Blier is such a dear mad old thing. And if the rest of Volpe’s book is anything like the pap he read today, they’re going to have to give away insulin with every copy. And what’s the deal with him sucking up to Renee Fleming — is she supposed to serve as an example of his masterful casting abilities? (La Cieca was at that Pirata and the poor dear was pretty damn near inaudible, and that hysterical Susannah you all saw!) Was that business about the “heart shaped face and melting eyes” creepy or what? La Cieca was totally ready to hear Uncle Joe go on about Renaay’s “pert pouting breasts” and “firm supple thighs!” Oh, and listen for the claque next week during American Tragedy: they sure know when those arias dribble to an end!

24 Responses to “First Met broadcast of the season”

  1. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    I have to be honest, I didn’t hear “Pirata” although I would have liked to…but I was at the Susannah and loved it. I thought Fleming did a simply amazing job with the role…much better than the trash Studer released on CD – I always wished Renee had made a recording of the opera. Of course, it’s hard for folks to touch Miss Curtain’s stunning rendition (hell, it was written FOR her!)…but I felt that Renee did a fantastic job with the opera – Jerry Hadley and Sam Ramey (who I’m sort of iffy about) also did great performances. I was at the opening night of the opera and loved every moment of it.

    And as for Rigoletto…I wish they would call Diana Damrau back to sing Gilda. The clips of her on her website are so awesome – and she’s certainly the one carrying the torch for Best Queen of the Night at present. Watch the video on her website – I LOVE how she throws Pamina halfway across the stage!! Brilliant!

  2. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    P.S. La Cieca, I (Unfortunately and much to my dismay), received a recording today taht contains some of what you describe here as ‘filth.’ It truly breaks my heart to even admit it as such because as I have mentioned many times before in my postings how much I truly adore this great artist now past. I’m sure we can all recall the famous video from La Scala of Verdi’s “I Lombardi” with Carreras, Carroli, and Carlo Bini featuring our much-loved Dimitrova as Giselda. For those of you who have seen this video, you will take note of something quite astonishing from the woman who sang more Nabucco’s than anyone on God’s green earth. The first thing is how miraculous her pianissimo’s were! She does some of the softest most beautiful singing in the ‘Salve Maria’ that you could ever hear her sing! She then proceeds to give us something to live for in the aria “Oh madre, del ciel” – where once again there are some exquisite pp’s in the upper register.

    This is followed by that most treacherous of all Verdi cabaletta’s…”No, non giusta causa”…where Ghena begins with a fire in her belly that just gives us a reason to live!! That is the most fantastic A that she gives on “spargi-ME!” however, through the course of the mad-scene, it seems that Ghena becomes a bit unnerved and sort of loses herself, her breath support, and her control over her top and really struggles through the rest of the act. She also experiences some major technical difficulties in her third act aria “Qual prodigo!” where her runs run away from her and she has a hard time negotiating the high C’s. However, in the video, she does manage to get through all of it satisfactorily enough that we at least know she has the part under her belt – there is even a moment when she gives a quick glance to the conductor with this look of fear in her eyes that lets us know that something out of the ordinary is going on.

    Well, La Cieca, I managed to find another recording of Ghena singing this role. It is labelled as being performed on April 24, 1986…the video was taped in 1984…but it is the same production, same cast, conductor, etc. I have not yet concluded whether this recording is in fact from 1986…it may just be a recording of one of the other performances in the 1984 run…but it is most definitely different from the video.

    I say this because Dimitrova truly loses it throughout the entire Act II finale. her pp high Db doesn’t quite make it and she really just barks her way through the rest of the cabaletta. It’s the most tragic thing that it actually made me cry listening to it because I felt so terrible for her! She is truly struggling through it and it’s apparent that her one goal is survival!!

    However, I did also acquire a recording of Ghena doing an all Verdi Concert in Padova where she does some of her best singing. Arias include the scene from Otello, ‘Tacea la notte,’ ‘Ecco l’orrido campo,’ and ‘Arrigo, ah parli a un core’. I also managed to hunt down a complete recording of Macbeth that she did – I haven’t finished listening to it yet, but the first act is astounding! I have never heard ANYONE sing Lady Macbeth’s opening lines ‘Ambizioso spirto’ the way she does in this performance – sheer brilliance!

    Anyway, forgive the long entry…I tried so hard this time with my earlier entry to be brief…but I felt that these discoveries were too wonderful not to share!

    However, La Cieca, if you wish for me to email you an mp3 of this Lombardi Act II finale either for your own amusement or to ass to your collection of operatic filth…I would be more than happy to do so. Just say the word!

  3. Cole D. Napata Says:

    I am of wo minds about Renée. Her best work is her BOOK! Thoughtful and readable. She does have a great voice, part-Moffo and part-De Los Angeles. But she’s often ridiculous, like a parody of Leontyne Price. Yet imagine what she could do with this instrument and a little discipline.

    As for Ghena, she was wonderful. As you say, her pianissimo was fantastic for a muscle singer.

    BTW, last night, out of the blue, I listened to an Albanese recital I had almost listed on Ebay. Well, it is great. Stratas like. Of course, there is something “common” about her voice colour. It is a maid’s voice, not a princess’. But she was possessed. Is Fleming ever possessed?

  4. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    What happened to La Cieca’s commentary on yesterday’s broadcast Rigoletto? I had looked forward to that broadcast, even taped it, but then found myself totally disappointed. La Cieca’s words tell me that the fault was not with me but with the performance itself. How old is Guelfi? I didn’t think he was nearly as old as he sounded.

    It was my first time hearing Villazon “live,” and let’s just say that I was not overwhelmed. Definitely not in the class with the young Pavarotti, Bergonzi, Gedda…

  5. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    I’m surprised that no one has commented on the earlier post by ITDCS on the topic of tenors singing soprano arias.

    Lieder is often sung by both male and female singers with just as much success. But this is rare with the standard operatic repertoire. (I’m not including Handel here.) I’ve tried to imagine what Aida’s “O Patria Mia” or Amelia’s “Ecco l’orrido campo” would sound like transposed for a tenor. And I understand that Marilyn Horne used to sing “Celeste Aida” for friends. Would love to hear it.

    I believe ITDCS was thinking more along the lines of female coloratura vehicles but I would expand the suggestion. La Cieca has any thoughts?

    Perhaps ITDCS should make a CD and share it with us so we can judge…

  6. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    ITDG…the thought is always on my mind 😉 But I’ll have to come out with a few Tenor aria albums first!!

  7. rysanekfreak Says:

    What I liked most about Villazon was that he sang both verses of his cabaletta. Usually, we’re lucky if we get one verse of it.

    I thought Guelfi was absolutely dreadful.

    I assumed Netrebko was suffering from the after-effects (or pre-effects) of a cold and that was why she was being so cautious. I don’t need the interpolated high notes in “Caro nome,” but I do sort of like the final one in the “Si, vendetta” duet. I can understand when singers do NOT interpolate, but I was just a tiny bit disappointed. When she did one in the “Addio” duet, I assumed this meant she would also do one for the “Vendetta” duet.

    But I carp. The point of this was that Villazon is to be congratulated for doing both verses of his cabaletta.

  8. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    rysanekfreak, I agree. I do feel cheated when the tenor omits the cabaletta and it was great to hear it on Saturday.

    The high note at the end of the 3rd scene is not on the score, just as the high note of Sempre Libera is also interpolated. Shouldn’t criticize a soprano for not adding them. But, boy, it sure sounds more exciting when the high E flat is added. Like you I missed it.

    Villazon didn’t join Netrebko at the end of the Addio duet in the second scene, did he? I missed that too. Although they sang some music that I don’t remember hearing before. Always good to hear omissions reinstated.

  9. While listening to the broadcast, I thought that I had truly entered the Twilight Zone of disgraceful performances. I have never posted before, but excuse me while I rant a bit. How can anyone accept Villazon’s singing at the Met? Perhaps, some C level house in Germany would be more appropriate. I am not looking to see Adonis onstage, but to suffer Mr. Bean visually as well as aurally is beyond my comprehension. I understand that we are in a world of the newest, latest, hyped, publicized singers so as to attract the public, but egad are we all ingesting some type of Prozac so that we accept any sublevel performer? Mr. Villazon only emitted ingolata tone throughout; rather I should say “inculata”, as it is more precise. He struggled consistently with the tessitura and the only time he produced an attractive sound was when he was being “musical” and easing up on the pressure on his chords to make a pianissimo. The only time Mr. Villazon sounded better in this performance, was his last lines of “La donna e’ mobile” at the end of the opera when he was walking offstage. As for Guelfi, what were they thinking?

    I am not by far looking for perfection, nor a “glitchless” singer, only a real talent. As mentioned earlier, the great Dimitrova was not consistent perfection, but what she had in raw material is incomparable to the dressed up mediocracy that is being paraded in the opera world.

    One last soprano rant: Would someone please tell Ms. Fleming to stop translating everything she sings into one of the Elfish languages? She should save it for the adaptation of the Tolkien Ring. La Voight should please stick to the German rep and the Italian rep should be given back full time to the only true soprano d’Italianita out there..La Millo.

  10. meretrice i. d'oscena Says:

    With all the cheering, why should Mr. Villazon offer anything special? The Met audience confounds me week after week, shouting bravo for singing that is ‘not bad’ at best.

    Fine, doing an even adequate job in Verdi is more than most of us could do; and we’re Americans and we don’t want to be rude. So give some polite applause and don’t boo. But for Heaven’s sake, stay seated and don’t yell ‘Bravo/a!” as though someone just cured cancer with his/her voice.
    Grade inflation at the Met. Feh!

  11. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    Some very interesting commentary going on here…and I find that there are some very astute observations being expressed.

    I’ll say this much:

    I haven’t heard Villazon in person…I liked very much what I have heard on videos of him (the Don Carlo DVD and the duet concert he did with what’s-her-face on those islands in Europe)…I also found that he looks much less like Mr. Bean on video…he just doesn’t photograph well.

    I’m iffy about Netrebko…there are some things she does very nicely (taking pictures is one of them) and some things that don’t suit my tastes at all and lead to me believe that she has a very inconsistent technique and a habit of singing the wrong fach. Alas, I did not hear the broadcast and cannot comment on the performance.

    However, I will comment on what has been mentioned about the quality of opera performances, particularly at the Met. I have experienced the same embafflement as voiced by others. Regarding the Met audience alone, it seems that the opera going public no longer knows how to judge good singing from bad. I get the notion from conversations that I overhear in the lobbies that the general public, even musicianly people (orchestral and choral musicians alike), have the idea that just because someone is singing at the Met, therefore they must be one of the best singers in the world. Obviously we know this to be extremely false.

    As for the workings in the casting department, I really don’t know how to explain it – I’m just as confused and annoyed as anyone else who appreciates GOOD opera singing! I’ve heard far more bad things at the Met than good ones and it’s very depressing.

    I mean, listening to Graves and Swenson wobble in their top ranges during Wed’s Carmen was very depressing…esp since it’s two women who had such gorgeous voices!!! I don’t know what happened to Graves for her to have been sounding so off the mark for so long (I haven’t heard one good thing about her in over two years!!!) and Swenson, in my opinion, gave up what was a fantastic career as a great coloratura for a career as a very mediocre lyric. Perhaps she felt her voice was moving in that direction…or maybe she was doing as Jane Marsh calls “Reinventing her career.”

    Jane, who is a very lovely woman for those of you who don’t know of her, and a very accomplished singer as well…has described in lectures the idea that each vocal category, each fach, has it’s own lifespan. To clarify a bit: The basic notion is that dramatic voices last much longer than lighter voices…insomuch as to say that a soubrette will not be singing soubrette literature by the time she’s 45/50 nearly as well as she had been when she was 25/30…but with strong technique and intelligent planning, could easily be singing very decent and successful lyric repertoire by that later age. An example being Scotto who made a concious effort to sing the much heavier repertoire towards the middle of her career to ensure that she would still have a successful presence in the opera world. But even without such a drastic fach change as hers was…plenty of singers naturally progress in this manner…Nicolai Gedda as an example…began singing very light lyric repertoire and by the end of his career was singing some very heavy, demanding roles…but everything was paced evenly and planned out.

    At any rate…there are plenty of people singing on that stage who really don’t belong there (even some chorus members – one particularly warbly alto who always sticks out!)…perhaps it’s because they do casting far too in advance so that 5 years after the singer has been cast…their voice may not be suitable for the role any longer…perhaps it is a desire to sell tickets and thus promoting singers with big publicities (The Alagna’s for example) thereby infringe the idea “This singer has so many albums and has so many photoshoots and so many millions of dollars for their publicity, you must come hear them sing!” and so the opera houses draw the attention of a public who is no longer smitten with opera but with other forms of musical entertainment but believe that because this particular singer is being promoted like a movie star, therefore they MUST be what good singing is – and then the opera house sells tickets.

    I’ve always said I’d rather see a 300 lb Violetta who can sing the shit out of the part than some skinny Victoria Secret model-wannabe who looks like Violetta and dies halfway through the first duet!

    My last thought for the evening has to do with the public’s perception of what ‘accessible’ opera is. I have found that the majority of non-musical people that I encounter…when I say that I sing opera…reply with one of the following phrases:

    “Oh, so you’re gonna be on Broadway someday?”
    “Oh really? Do you sound like Josh Groban? I love him!”
    “Wow, you’re gonna be the next Boccelli, right?!”
    “Opera? people still do that stuff?”
    “Oh I love opera…Charlotte Church/Russell Watson/*insert name here* are really good.”

    Needless to say, the general public don’t seem to realize that these ‘popular’ artists don’t quite fit the description of an ‘opera singer.’ Yes, there may be some operatic qualities to their voices and styles…and I must sadly acknowledge that Boccelli is officially an opera singer, although I personally find that he is best suited to stick with his non-classical repertoire…just my own tastes.

    A solution to this? I don’t have an answer, but something must be done someway that will educate audiences and bring the operatic theatre to life in good ways – not crappy avant garde productions just to draw attention to make the theatre more like a movie.

  12. Well put, ITDCS! It just kills me when people start going on and on about how Bocelli has the most beautiful, amazing operatic tenor voice (I can’t stand the sound of it, myself) and then try to put him on the level of, say, Pavarotti. Nuh-uh. And I’m not even much of a Pav fan, either. And then they wonder what’s so wrong with enjoying him (if I’m close enough to answer them according to their folly), when there are so many wonderful tenors out there who don’t have half the publicity of Villazon, even, who doesn’t have half the publicity of Bocelli.

  13. ffoperabitch Says:

    Re Ms Church. Coming from Wales, whenever I go back there (not often), I’m mentally assaulted by those who still insist on perceiving her as an operatic performer. All credit to her for reinventing herself and she’s got plenty of character and spirit. But what has happened to the public ear on this type of matter? I’m seriously tempted to write streams of abuse to radio presenters and the like who insist on describing her former warblings as operatic. It’s Christmas, and I feel I should be getting into the spirit of things, but on this issue the only spirit of Christmas that I can engage with is Ebenezer’s, pre conversion. Bah, humbug!

  14. a certain retired great diva from the Met was in the opera shop one day… she asked the salesclerk for a recording by a young Italian tenor who sings popular songs, she could not remember his name. After a little thought the clerk asked “Do you mean Andrea Bocelli” and without missing a beat this great lady said “No, I mean someone who can sing!”

  15. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Who is Charlotte Church? She’s actually a singer? I thought it was a name made up by ITDCS.

  16. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    Unearned applause? At the Met of all places? You must be kidding.

    Seriously, I’ll take the applause any day if we could eliminate the de-rigeur standing ovations.

    Incidentally, what was the applause half-way through Netrebko’s “Caro Nome” about?

  17. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    My two cents worth on the applause issue: I suspect that a majority of the opera audiences at the Met – or elsewhere – is not musically trained. They are at the world-famous Met, watching an elaborate production with good-looking people wearing rich-looking costumes, singing pretty music while cavorting all over the stage, standing on their heads, etc. Is it unreasonable for them to assume that this is what grand opera and great singing are? They paid high prices for their tickets. Should they leave the theater thinking that they paid to hear mediocre singing?

    From my personal experience I put the blame on the demise of expert and comprehensive musical criticism. As I’ve said before, I’m not musically trained.
    When I was in school and started listening to opera and attending performances, I learned lots from the reviews I read in newspapers and magazines. (I’m going back to the times of Harold Schoenberg and Irving Kolodin and Andrew Porter.) Their reviews would more often than not comment on a singer’s aspirated coloratura, particular effort on some passages, interpolated or omitted notes, poor vocal support, etc. I didn’t have to agree with what they said, but I was able to then listen and learn. Aha, this singer’s coloratura runs are like this and that other singer’s is like that. And one is supposed to be good and the other one isn’t. Hmmm, I see what they mean by one singer’s voice fitting the music better than some other.

    It may sound silly or trivial to you musical professionals and experts but it allowed me to develop I guess a sense of judging by myself, of listening to certain details, etc. Am I suggesting that I’m now “knowledgeable” about music and singing? Surely not. Not in the least. But I do have my own criteria now. I can tell a scream from a solid high note. And I know better than to think that because a singer makes lots of records or is a regular at the Met or La Scala, that he/she is better than someone else.

    But how would I learn that if I were a teenager now? Very few operatic performances are reviewed these days. And the reviews rarely say anything about the singing itself. How is the general public to learn from those who know more?

  18. meretrice i. d'oscena Says:

    Again, with the Met audience behaving like a bunch of opera novices whose tour bus took them to the Met instead of the Schubert Theatre by mistake:
    That spot towards the end of ‘Caro nome’ that sounds like it’s over, but it’s not. I wonder if audiences in Verdi’s time did that.

    While you guys are slamming the PBS-Pledge-Drive-Popera crowd, don’t forget that incauta maledetta Sarah Brightman. Her black hair extensions hanging like seaweed below her spiky Little Mermaid crystal tiara; she is lifted on wires above the stage to lip-synch: “Iiiiibiiinnn nih undrooo lootoooooonoo…”

    I start singing my vengence aria everytime I see her.
    I think she flying on the wires bit is inlcuded to keep her away from Tebaldiani who might try to stone her to death. Of which I am one. Maledizione! [spits]

  19. I have a confession. I came to opera…via…SB herself! Do I still listen to her regularly? Hardly. Do I now recognize there are better singers? Most certainly. Of all the popera crowd and its associates, I can stomach her the best, for it is not terribly difficult to like her and then move on. As long as they do. Also, at least Josh Groban doesn’t claim to be an opera singer / sing all the arias–the fault is many consumers’ education deficiency.

    I love paddypig‘s diva quote!

    As far as the applause “during” “Caro nome,” it doesn’t sound to me like it’s quite over yet. Rather, at that point, I believe people in the audience were thinking, “Oh, famous aria–the most commonly extracted part is over by now! Must clap!” Personally, when it ends with that cadenza, I feel shorted to not be offered the magnificent whole-step trill at the end. Also, I prefer Gilda to be sung only by a soprano whose throat can produce a true trill–not to downplay the merits of those lacking in that department, but the trills are crucial in that aria.

  20. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    (Warning: This is gonna be a long one)

    I think ultimately the root of the problem is with those who do casting for opera companies – it is often the general managers or conductors who make those desicions – and we all know that just because one is an opera conductor, doesn’t mean that one knows how voices work! (i.e. Karajan – who destroyed many beautiful voices by forcing them to sing literature not appropriate for them and then having the orchestra drown them out. Granted, what that man did with orchestra’s is astounding – if I listen to his opera recordings, it’s more because I’m listening to his choice of tempos and orchestral balance moreso than the singers). At any rate, also, many general managers and opera administrators are just that – they are administrators, business people who aren’t well educated in musical art and don’t have, in most cases, enough understanding of which singer is going to do the best job in the role…they are more concerened about $$ than about beautiful singing.

    What you’ve said, ITDG, is not at all to be undermined…even though we know that critics opinions are to be taken with a grain of salt (if you are the one being criticized) but back in the day, opera was much more of a common commodity in society and you could say the name Marilyn Horne or Martina Arroyo and people would know of whome you spoke…so in general, people were better educated and also, singers were trained in such a way that they knew how to give moving and uninhibited performances, even if it wasn’t quite the right literature, it was still exciting and techniques were built in such a way as to allow the singers to be successful singing rep out of their fachs. Nowadays a fault lies in voice teachers and coaches of young singers that either try to push the students too far too soon or they force them to sing only art songs until they are 25 years old because “they’re too young to sing opera.”

    This point may be met with some argument, and I’m certainly not making a generalization…but I and many of my colleagues, both young and old, have agreed that we are finding that voice teachers in America are (maybe without realizing it) attempting to make young singers all sound the same. The moment someone has something refreshing and new and disctinct to offer, it is automatically met with negativity on almost all levels. So a soprano who sounds a bit like Leontyne or Maria Callas or a young singer with a very large instrument will be overlooked in auditions and competitions for various reasons and teachers who encounter such a student often will begin by ‘breaking down the voice to rebuild it.’ Many voice teachers try to make their students sing the way they themselves do and others try to make their students sing like other people – their favorite singer, perhaps.

    I know a very famous voice teacher who does everything in her power to make all of her students sound like Tebaldi. The problem is, none of her students ARE Tebaldi, so how can they sound like her? One can only sound like oneself. I’ve been told that my voice reminds people of Nicolai Gedda…perhaps that is because I listen to so many of his recordings and to a small degree I have tried to emulate him – but I try to emulate his proficiency in languages, sometimes his musicality, his constant deveotion ot good vocal health and selection of good repertoire for the voice…but I in no way try to sound exactly like him! His is a very different voice from mine. This is often why older singers advise against young singers learning roles and arias with recordings…then the singer tries too hard to replicate exactly what they are hearing…often that will include wrong notes, wrong rhythms, vocalisms that are natural for the one singer and not natural for the one who is learning…perhaps the singer they are listening to has a very comfortable passagio or a strong high or low voice, but the singer who is listening struggles with ithose parts of the instrument…direct mimicking of sounds heard can be extremely detrimental to a young singers development.

    I also know a voice teacher who had a fairly good career singing mostly verismo repertoire. So, that is the repertoire that she knows best and therefore is what she assigns to her students…all voice types. She has 17 year old girls singing Ernani and Butterfly and 20 year old tenors singing Turiddu and Cavaradossi. Her students not only sound dreadful but she has done them a great disservice by not being well informed and well rounded enough to know literature other than the things she herself was capable of singing.

    If I might add as a disclaimer her, I bring up certain examples in my own life because they are examples closest to me and my exeperiences – I cannot speak for other people’s experiences – I know that my inclusion of personal anecdotes here has been met with adversity by some readers who think that I am bragging about myself…if anything, I know that I may have many good qualities to offer the operatic world and that I devote much of my time researching and trying to learn and understand many aspects of the operatice world, but I also have many more things to learn and to experience and often bring up certain things because I enjoy hearing the discussion and ideas and experiences of other readers and musicians.

    That said, I will say this much about my training. When I began singing opera, I was very young – and in fact I began by singing alot of the Mozart baritone arias…ones from Figaro and Zauberflote…mainly because I had recordings of them and enjoyed them. It was my dream to one day sing the Commendatore. At the time I had a low A and an upper extention to a High F-natural (the Bell Song E-natural) and so I would also sing many soprano arias – Queen of the Night, Violetta, Butterfly, even Aida. And then I began to learn the tenor roles of everything from Barbiere to Aida and Siegfried. As far as I was concerned, I could sing all of those role – I sang along with recordings as I imagined myself in place of Pavarotti or Domingo or Bergonzi…whomever it was I was listening to…and just sang because I loved the music so much. I thankfully did not do any damage to my voice because at the time, I didn’t know what a fach was, I didn’t know what it would be like to sing with an orchestra, I didn’t know what it would be like to actually attempt to sing those things the way they were intended to be sung…I just sang with my voice and didn’t care nor knew that Radames was a heavy role and that one had to be able to crank out tons of sound in the middle voice…I just sang with my middle voice and didn’t care what anyone else thought.

    When I got to college, things changed. I was heart broken to learn that I would never sing Radames or Don Jose or Siegfried. As an instrumentalist (I also have a degree in bassoon performance…as does Werner Krenn and Siegfried Jerusalem, both tenors), it is not a question whether or not something is too ‘heavy’ or too ‘light’ or has ‘too many runs’ or is ‘too high, too low.’ If you are an instrumentalist, you are expected to be able to play whatever is put down infront of you and you develop certain tools to be able to do that. If you have to play the “Rite of Spring,” you make a high-note reed and play on a high note bocal to make sure you perform the passage to the best of your abilities should you find that your talents don’t excel in the upper register of the instrument. If one has to play Beethoven’s 4th symphony, and if one doesn’t have a strong ability to single tongue very fast, then one must learn to efficiently double tongue so that one can succesfully that beast of a solo in the 4th movt. So the point is, if you’re going to be a professional instrumentalist, should someone throw down the Jolivet concerto in front of a professional bassoonist, he cannot cop out and say…well, I don’t have a High F and that piece is just too high and too heavy for me, how about I play some Vivaldi.

    Obviously this is not how things work in the vocal world – they did a century ago when people really had to sing whatever was being written at the time – nowadays things are much different. Well, I, in my beginnings as a singer, didn’t look at things this way. I felt that if there was a run on the page or a high note or a low note, so long as I had it in my range, I had to sing it. I’m often asked by people why I have strong high notes and why it is that I’m able to sing fast Rossinian and Handelian runs – the response is that I never looked at them as being something that should have been difficult to do. Granted, my voice probably had a natural disposition to them long before I ever knew it, hence why I am so comfortable in this type of repertoire, but also being an instrumentalist and having a strong knowlegde of harmony and theory makes it very easy to sing that kind of music – I learned from my instrumental teachers in the past (having played piano, saxophone, bassoon, flute, clarient and trumpet) how to phrase within a phrase and how to group notes and to understand which notes in a run belong to which rhythmic or harmonic motives – and so my ear has always been atuned to be able to look at a run on a page and know what it is supposed to sound like before I even attempt to sing it. But, these are my talents…I lack in other abilities. I was particularly blessed that both of my bassoon teachers (HS and College) and that my voice teacher through college and even now, along with the many coaches that I have worked with…all of them have had the same ‘correct’ approach to teaching.

    The make of a great teacher is one who doesn’t force their student into one particular mold to perform in only one particular fashion…but is one who takes the time to discover the student’s natural abilities and talents, and assess them in a way that they are improved upon, not destroyed and rebuilt, whilst building the other aspects of technique and performance persona that need to be built up. I am so thankful and blessed to have had teachers like that. My voice teacher in particular has always turned out so many fantastic singers because he doesn’t mess around with the things that are already good in their voices when they are young. My teacher also strove to prepare us to be ‘opera singers,’ not just ‘singers.’ Many of the other voice faculty at my university felt that 18 and 19 year old should be singing any opera other than maybe some lighter Mozart. I personally think it is atrocious to give a young, unappreciative, and uninformed singer Susannah and Despina and Zerlina arias…Mozart is too deep and too difficult to be sung be someone who doesn’t have a strong musical foundation or vocal technique. But my teacher was always very wise in his selection of song and aria repertoire for all of his students and always knew how to help the student find ways to do more than just sing the notes on the page.

    This all brings us to the discussion of operatic audiences and their tastes. If teachers don’t teach their students correctly and don’t allow each student to flourish as an individual, but force them to be just another sheep in the giant flocks that are the struggling opera singers of this world…opera companies are left with slim pickings of whom they hire to sing on their stages. Furthermore, as long as their are unmusical idiots (no matter how nice of people they may be) running the operatic business and making casting decisions and acting as critics for the industry, then the public has no way of knowing what is good singing and what is bad – lest they should have a well informed friend who can coach them through it.

    Another example, if you will, on the types of idiots who make decisions about singers brings my thoughts to a Met Competition I sat in once in the mid-west. A young baritone got up and offered to sing the Prologue from Pagliacci. (This kinda goes along with the whole ‘Caro nome’ thing discussed by some commentors here). The man is singing, and singing extremely well…he gets to the end of the aria and we all know that there is a moment when it sounds like it’s over…just before he says: “Il concetto vi dissi…” And one of the women auditioning him (someone who is SUPPOSED to know what she is doing and one would THINK knows this aria!) had her head down, heard the pause and shouted “Thank you!” The poor baritone didn’t really know what to do…but he went ahead to finish the last six measures he had to sing…and the women just kinda looked up with a confused expression making it obviously apparent that she didn’t know there was more to the aria.
    There were actually 4 more instances where this SAME thing happened where all three judges interrupted the singers at inopportune moments. One girl was perparing to sing the “Sempre libera” and got down with her ‘gioirs’ and this judge began to say “Could we hear…” just as the piano began the melody.

    Perhaps I’ve read too far into this particular instance…maybe the judges really just didn’t want to hear the rest of the arias because they didn’t like what they were hearing, or already heard enough to make their decisions…but the bottom line of that scenario is that, even if the judges did know more aria was to follow, they handled the matter very unprofessionally and with much disrespect to the performers. However, having been there and seeing the judges for myself (no, I was not competeing at the time, I went to support a friend of mine who was) it seemed that the judges were more clueless about the repertoire than they really should have been. One doesn’t cut a singer off in the middle of a musical phrase.

    So the only way audiences are really going to become better educated about good singing is for them to hear it when they spend their money to go to the opera house or when they buy opera news. When casting directors start casting operas not Hollywood films and critics stop critiquing theatre the way they would movies, perhaps the audience won’t expect to see the unnecessary things they see (bad avant garde productions and skinny pretty opera singers who can’t carry tunes) and better understand the things they hear and should be hearing.

    A word on critics: Once again I will pull something from my own life. I have been very thankful to have received very good reviews on my performances. Not all of my work has been reviewed, but of the things that have, I have always received very generous compliments from the reviewer except in one instance where I was accoladed vocally, but my ‘interpretation’ was met with dislike. I had been doing Henrick in “A Little Night Music” and as we all know, his character is rather screwed up and has many many personal issues. The director of the production was an outstanding director whom I loved working with and really loved his ideas and his vision – and although it was a very difficult role to perform, I enjoyed discovering it with his guidance. The reviewer, however, did not like how I potrayed the character and said that I was an “all-too flustered of a Henrick.” I had great big outbursts after drawn out moments of reservation and sadness…the character really struggles with so many moral and internal elements that it is somewhat necessary to bring forth all these dynamics of his personality – this I might add, is what my DIRECTOR wanted. I performed the role according to his desires and did what I could to fit into his overall vision of the work…of course, one needs to put ones own personal thumbprint somewhere to make it ones own…and I concentrated on doing so vocally. But the bottom line here is that often critics only comment on what they see and don’t take into account that there are other forces at work. If my character was too over the top, it wasn’t because I wanted him that way, it was how I was directed to perform it, to balance out the effects and personalities of the other characters on stage. Someone I know once got a bad review as the Queen of the Night for being too cold and serious and didn’t move around, but was told her singing was “In tune and filled with vengeful fire.” Mind you, the director had insisted that she stand perfectly still and make no movements other than her face while singing the role. That was the directors vision, not the performer – she couldn’t help but follow her instructions, and she got reamed for it as though it was her decision. This is a very unfair approach to criticize singers. Sometimes the ‘acting’ part of being an opera singer has to do with the singer and their ability to act, other times, it has more to do with what they have been directed to do.

    So, ITDG, perhaps the critics you had been reading when you were young were much more well informed about the operatic art than the ones today who sit there and say “He was too short and heavy to play Otello” rather than “He was a great Otello who sang the role with vibrancy and, though he is of a short stature, convinced us with his voice and dramatic intensity that he was indeed the Lion of Venice.” (Two critic responses to the same performance of an Otello that a friend of mine did). Obviously, one critic has a brain and the other watches too many movies.

    Lastly, concerning Miss Sarah Brightman…I love her…I do not consider her an opera singer, but one who could have had an operatic career had she wanted to and really been trained to perform in that venue. I don’t think that she tries to be “operatic” even when she sings arias, because there is always some sort of other element brought into the performance of them. I have seen her live, and I’m sorry, but any bitch running around here who can sing the aria from La Wally halfway decent while doing flips in the air 50 feet about the stage with 6 inch platform boots gets an A+ in my book. I love Sarah for who she is – she doesn’t try to be anyone else and she really is a great performer.

  21. Il Tenore di Grazia Says:

    ITDCS, by no means did I imply that I took – or take – reviews at face value. Not at all. My point was that they directed my attention to actual musical aspects of the performance that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise.

    That’s also one reason why I enjoy this forum, I get to see the things that people who know more than I do pay attention to.

    Incidentally, since you mention that your voice may resemble Gedda’s, Gedda did not really move into heavier repertoire later in his career. He made his Met debut as Faust in the mid-50s and 30 years later, towards the end of his career, he was still singing in Traviata, the Abduction, Don Pasquale, Lenski in Onegin, Lucia, etc.

    He did sing in Vespri at the Met in the 70’s but I believe that was a rare digression. I remember reading an interview with him many years ago where he said that he had sung Lohengrin at Bayreuth one season and immediately realized that it affected his voice. He didn’t try it again.

  22. And ITDCS–I entirely agree with you on SB. I was just too chicken to admit to everything I think about her. Also, some evidence of her now-past option of an operatic career may be heard perhaps best when she sings (motet, I know) “Alleluja.”

    (Tebaldiani attend SB’s concerts??)

    Enough about her, though. Uhh…isn’t Callas great? My brother had thought very highly of SB’s “Ebben? …” until he heard a recording of Callas singing it (side-by-side, no less), entirely displacing the ranking. Hah! Callas wins again!

  23. Il Tenore di Coloratura Superba Says:

    Absolutely ITDG…I understood what you meant. I was just elaborating on the topic in that critics of today comment mostly on looks and superficial things more than anything else…they tend to be less informed and much more swayed by the glitzier aspects of operatic careers rather than the stuff that is meaningful.

    You are right about Gedda…and overall his voice at my age was much larger than mine is…I probably won’t ever venture singing the role of Faust until I’m at least 35/40…it gets very heavy towards the end…I will probably sing Alfredo and the Duke before I even touch something like Faust. Romeo and Edgardo are still a long way away for me. But Gedda did sing roles like Arnold in Guillaume Tell and Cavaradossi and whats-his-face in Manon Lescaut. He also sang certain arias and duets (Aida and Forza to name only two) in recitals and concert work…things that I really won’t ever be singing. But Gedda was a very smart man who planned his career and his repertoire very wisely. He knew at a young age to say no when Karajan asked him to sing Bacchus in Ariadne. Bacchus is so deceiving because it is rather short and it sits high…so a tenor like myself or Gedda or Florez would look at it on the page and think “Well, that looks like it sits in a comfortable range for me…much like the Italian singer in Rosenkavalier…” But he was wise to reject the offer because he knew that it was far too heavy and would have destroyed his instrument. Other individuals like Ricciarielli, sadly, took his invitations to sing heavy Verdi roles and pretty much ended their careers. Freni even commented how singing Ernani and Aida were two major mistakes in her career due to him.

    I’m happy to stay with the lit I’m in now. I keep getting told by people that I’ll be singing the heavier rep sooner than I think…my instinct tells me to stay my course and that when I know I’m ready to sing the heavier stuff, to wait at least 2-3 years before doing it.

  24. I didn’t get to hear the Met broadcast (no stations where I am carry it), but I have seen both Villazon and Netrebko live in the theater. There is no excuse for Netrebko. She’s fun to watch, and for short pieces the voice is loud and beautiful (damned with faint praise much?), but the technique is so faulty I don’t want to imagine her in a a Gilda-length role. As for Villazon, though, that’s another thing. I was taken aback when he first took stage (Mr. Bean is an apt visual comparison, or maybe some weird computer composite of Harpo, Groucho, AND Chico), but as soon as he began to sing I thought, “this one’s the real thing,” which is a rare thing for me to think. And the atmosphere throughout the house altered as soon as he sang. THAT I haven’t experienced since before many of you were born. The voice was beautiful, individual, personal. I was put in mind a bit of Schipa, a bit of Kraus, probably because of the beautiful support. Even in his scenes with Dmitri Hvorostovsky (whom I had gone to see, I and every Russian lady over the age of 85 in the Bay Area), he stopped seeming like a funny looking little guy as soon as he sang. So, maybe in the year between then and now he has sullied the voice, maybe he had a bad night, maybe the Duke is a role infelicitous for him, maybe the radio waves are not his friends (not all voices broadcast to best advantage, after all), but a year ago he was something real. I hope the hype surrounding him doesn’t break him.

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