Giuseppe Verdi


A weekly Quixotic pursuit for appreciators of opera who don't expect too much, would-be appreciators of opera who don't know what to expect, and those somewhere in-between,
such as your host.

Thrown together in haste every
Saturdee morning by
Rip Rense

Giacomo Puccini

SATURDEE OPRY LINKS 69: All Kinds of Sopranos

                              Leah Crocetto                                    Margaret Price                                         Bidu Sayao

Saturdee Opry Links Overture!
"La Clemenza del Tito," by Mozart.

Lucia Popp started out with a coloratura---a light, elastic voice capable of runs, trills and delicacies of Mozart and bel canto singing. The voice acquired weight later, and she turned to heavier roles, even venturing into Wagner. In the main, though, her singing was marked by beauty, warmth, and enormous skill, and she is considered one of the "greats." Her Mozart is still revered. Here is the exquisite, "Deh vieni non tardar," Susanna's aria from "The Marriage of Figaro." "Oh, come, don't be late." 
Role: Susanna, maid to the Countess of Almaviva, fiancee of Figaro
Setting: The garden of Count Almaviva
Synopsis: In order to tease Figaro, who thinks Susanna is cheating on him with the Count, Susanna urges the Count to come quickly to her.

About Ms. Popp: 

Perhaps few come close to the control, specificity of tone, and great beauty of the voice of the Spanish soprano, Montserrat Caballe. She had a long, spectacular career that centered on bel canto, Puccini, Verdi. Still with us at 84 despite a recent tax evasion conviction (and suspended sentence.) There really is no one like her; her voice is that identifiable. Here she is long ago with the tender, poignant "Al Dolce Guidami," from Donizetti's "Anna Bolena." 
Here, the doomed Anne Boleyn longs to return to happier times.
Al dolce guidami castel natio,
ai verdi platani, al quello rio,
che i nostri mormora
sospiri ancor.
Ah! colà, dimentico
de' scorsi affanni,
un giorno rendimi
de' miei primi'anni,
un giorno sol del nostro amor....
Al dolce guidami castel natio,
un giorno rendimi
del nostro amor...
on giorno sol del nostro,
del nostro amor.

Lead me to the dear castle
where I was born,
to the green plane trees,
to that brook that still
murmurs to our sighs...
there I forget Past griefs;
give me back one day of my youth,
give me back one day of our love.
Lead me to the dear castle
where I was born;
give me back one day
of our love..
just one single day of our love.

Caballe: Voice of Passionate Grandeur

Is Anja Harteros the greatest soprano of our time? Judging by this clip, it's a valid, if unprovable, contention. She is certainly the greatest soprano you most likely have never heard of. Excerpt from a recent NYT piece:
"Her voice suddenly turns gray and hazy, without losing its steely core. Sinking to its depths, its texture is like weathered velvet. She transforms before our eyes from a cheerful girl into a woman who’s peered into the heart of grief. The conductor Christian Thielemann put it simply: “The voice is one of the most beautiful which has been ever around.”
Here she sings an arresting "Pace, Pace Mi Dio" from Verdi's "La Forza Del Destino." Speaking of which, the reason that she is not claiming hers, at least operatically, is nothing short of noble. She has placed the illness of her husband ahead of career.
Role: Leonora, the daughter of the Marquis of Calatrava
Setting: Outside the cave where Leonora has come to live out her remaining days in repentance.
Synopsis: Leonora calls for peace from God on her tortued soul. She still loves Alvaro after all these years and the bad things that have happened. She calls upon God to end her suffering.
The translation is apt to her circumstance:
Peace, peace, my God!
Cruel misfortune, alas, forces me to languish;
my suffering has lasted for so many years,
deep as on the first day
. . .
Full translation: 

What’s Keeping One Of Opera’s Great Sopranos From Singing?

"For sheer loveliness of timbre, affecting sensitivity, elegance of line and utter ease in florid passagework, she was hard to top. By the 1950's she was a mainstay of opera houses around the world and widely admired for her portrayals of leading lyric soprano roles, including Puccini's Mimi (from "La Bohème") and Madama Butterfly, Verdi's Violetta (from "La Traviata"), and Massenet's Manon, Bizet's Carmen and Debussy's Mélisande. Though her sound was not enormous, she knew how to project her voice so that it carried effortlessly in the opera house. She even sang lighter Wagner roles with effectiveness and allure."
This is Anthony Tommasini writing of Victoria de los Angeles in her NYT obituary in 2005. In a way, he could be writing about any number of great sopranos, and that's where the challenge of describing (and understanding) different voices, vocal characteristics, comes into play. What makes a great soprano unique? What sets her apart from others? In some cases, it's merely personal taste, I suppose, and in others (Callas) it is an innate and sincere emoting, in part, that is the distinction. She made landmark recordings of Puccini's "Boheme" and "Tosca" with Bjorling in the '50's. Here she sings "Mi Chiamano Mimi" from "Boheme." (Me? I like the way her voice lilts, and her no-frills/affectations delivery.)
"We are a people that sings naturally," she said in a 1980 interview, referring to her nationality. "When we have a sorrow, it is a wonderful sorrow; when we have a happiness, it is a wonderful happiness, it is a big happiness." 
Role : Mimi, a seamstress
Setting : Christmas Eve in a room in an attic
Synopsis : After Rodolfo tells her that he has fallen in love with her, he asks Mimi to tell him something of her. She responds, telling him (among other things) that her name is Lucia, although she is called Mimi.

Elizabeth Schwarzkopff was a Nazi, period, end of story. She was a teenager when she joined, seeing the move as to her advantage, career-wise (it was), and she later claimed variously that her father forced her to join and that she always separated art and politics. I also find objectionable her cantankerous dismissal of most other sopranos, late in her life. Yet there is the voice. From a column by Martin Kettle in The Guardian:
"When she sang in Fidelio, recalled Kirsten Flagstad, “I thought I never heard a lovelier sound coming from a human throat.” Sviatoslav Richter, who never suffered fools gladly, said “Whenever this great artist sings, she is always at her superlative best.” “Nothing failed,” wrote the Guardian’s Philip Hope-Wallace of a late Schwarzkopf recital in St Pancras town hall in 1972."
Once again, human artistry has its beauty and integrity, no matter the beliefs of the artist. Chopin was an anti-Semite. Should we therefore dismiss his profoundly moving, rhapsodic, uniquely delicate work? I suppose it all comes down to one's own priorities. I could not resist posting the sublime final trio from R. Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier," with Schwarzkopff, Sena Jurinac, Anneliese Rothenberger from a 1962 film of the opera. With English captions.

Schwarzkopff: Does Art Excuse the Politics?

Rita Streich was born in Barnaul, southern Siberia, in the Russian part of what was then the Soviet Union, to a German father who had been a prisoner of war there, and a Russian mother. She moved to Germany with her parents during her childhood. She grew up speaking both German and Russian fluently, something that was extremely helpful during her later career. She became one of the most significant sopranos of the post-war period, spending most of her career in Europe. She had light, almost bird-chirp of a coloratura voice (listen to her "Queen of the Night" aria from Mozart's "The Magic Flute") but was also capable of subtly beguiling charm. How many times have you heard "O Mio Babbino Caro" from Puccini's "Gianni Schicchi?" Probably so many that you don't ever care to hear it again, I might guess. (I sometimes feel this way, thank you, car commercials and so-called classical radio stations.) BUT. . .Watch Streich sing it, and you'll find yourself fighting to not be moved. There is almost a capriciousness about it, a disarming earnestness, of the type one might expect from the teenaged girl character (Lauretta) she is portraying. It's all in the voice. 
About the aria, translation:
And here is more characteristic Streich with "Die Holle Racht," the Queen of the Night Aria, from Mozart's "The Magic Flute," just for contrast: 

The diminutive Brazilian soprano, Bidu Sayao, was restricted by her small voice to the lyric and coloratura repertory. She often lamented that she could not sing heavier roles such as Tosca and Butterfly (she performed excerpts on stage, anyhow.) Still, her interpretations of Manon, Violetta in ''La Traviata,'' Mimi in ''La Boheme'' and Susanna in ''Le Nozze di Figaro,'' among other roles, received consistent praise, with critics stressing her expressiveness, sensibility, girlishness and excellence of phrasing. Here, from "Manon," by Massanet, is the gavotte,
"Obéissons quand leur voix appelle." 
Role: Manon Lescaut, a young woman, cousin of Lescaut
Setting: A busy square in Paris, France, 18th century
Synopsis: Manon appears in the crowd and tells her admirers about her philosophy to live only for the moment, caring not what happens afterwards. After all, there is little time in youth. One should spend it loving, singing, and dancing.

This soprano hits a note that would have shattered glass in a Three Stooges Short. It comes very close to approximating the sound of a Theramin. You'll have to find it yourself. This is the almost freakishly gifted French soprano, Mady Mesple, still with us, singing the Bell Song ("Ou va la jeune Hindoue?") from Delibes' "Lakme." From Wiki: "The archetype of the light French coloratura soprano, Mady Mesplé was noted for her technical security, her musical refinement and her charming stage presence. Her voice was particularly recognisable for its quick vibrato, intensely focused intonation, the instrumental-like quality of her runs and an amazing upper register extending easily to high A-flat." 
Role: Lakmé, daughter of Nilakantha, a divine priestess
Setting: A public square in a town in India
Synopsis: Ordered by her father, Lakmé sings the legend of the pariah's daughter. The girl was walking through the forest at night and comes upon a stranger who has been set upon by wild animals. She rings a magic bell that is on her wand and saves the man, who is actually Vishnu, the son of Brahma the Creator. Vishnu takes her up to paradise for saving him.
Ms. Mesple, not incidentally, has bravely devoted herself to campaigning against the disease from which she suffers, Parkinson's: 

Okay, you have not heard of Leah Crocetto. She is not one of the "greats." She has had quite a difficult, unsettled time of it, becoming an opera singer---chiefly due to crippling stagefright. At 37, with her gift for both power and lyricism (she is a lirico-spinto, a lyric soprano capable of big notes) and should be a household (opera) name, but. . .she avoided auditioning for conservatories when she should have. Fear factor. After studying voice briefly at some nondescript Christian college, she dropped out and became a waitress at the Olive Garden in Times Square. Yech! At night Ms. Crocetto snagged jazz singing gigs in piano bars. At one point, in a fit of desperation, she tried to salvage her would-be opera career by auditioning for the Met chorus. She was rejected, not because she wasn't good enough, but because she was far too good. The judges told her she was a soloist, and told her to continue studying. But it was not to be. She abandoned everything to take care of her dying father, who told her, "Go back to your voice teacher and figure this thing out." And so she finally did, winding up at the San Francisco Opera's Merola Program for understudies. (Her high C took the place of a resume.) Before long, she was starring in "Aida" and as Liu in Puccini's "Turandot." Ms. Crocetto made her Met debut in 2015 as Liu, and has gone on to other major roles. She has the sad problem of weight that borders on obesity, and one hopes that she gets it under control. As her father told her, "This is your gift---this is what you're born to do." Here she is as "Liu" in "Turandot, with "Tu, che di gel sei cinta" ("You who are encircled in ice.")
Role: Liú, a slave girl
Setting: The gardens before the walls of Peking
Synopsis: After being captured and tortured because she knows Calaf's name, Liú is asked by Turandot why she resists the torture so well. She replies that her love for the "Unknown Prince" keeps her from telling his name. She sings that Turandot's icy heart will one day be melted by Calaf and that Turandot will love him as Liú does now. 

And here she is with "Un Bel Di" from Puccini's "Madama Butterfly."
About the aria, translation:

In today's “All Kinds of Sopranos” SOL, we turn at last to one Margaret Price. The wonderful critic Tim Page said of her 1985 recital at Carnegie Hall, “Her voice has both majesty and intimacy — an all but impossible combination — and her artistry seems capable of illuminating every human truth.” Such are the grasping statements prompted by the artistry of the human voice, eh? What do you year in Ms. Price's rendering of the transcendent "Liebestod" from Wagner's "Tristan und Isolde," also known as "Mild und Liese?" Is Page on target? Ms.Price was born in Wales, and but for a music teacher interceding between her and her father, would have become a biology teacher. (Superlatives for teachers here.) She began as a mezzo, which you can still hear in the richness and creaminess of her tone. Alas, she battled weight problems and died of heart failure at 69 in 2011, her last years spent in retirement, raising golden retrievers at her home on the Welsh coast. 
Role: Isolde, an Irish princess
Setting: Tristan's castle at Karoel, Brittany, legendary times
Synopsis: After Tristan has died, Isolde looks upon him in a trance. She believes that she sees her beloved coming back to life as she hears a lovely melody around her. The hallucinations become stronger and stronger until, at last, she falls down dead next to Tristan.

Margaret Price’s Obituary:

Saturdee Opry Links Encore!
Anna Netrebko goes nuts.
"My Lips' Fiery Kiss," by Franz Lehar.
With English subtitles.

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