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Subject: Re: What's being sung well now? - A. HARTEROS
From: "Padillo, G. Paul" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Padillo, G. Paul
Date:Wed, 9 Sep 2009 17:14:46 -0400

text/plain (46 lines)

I have been a big follower and fan of Ms. Harteros and am one of those who finds her to be "the real deal."  She is a marvelously moving actress, striking dramatic good looks and the voice has an odd blend of steel and velvet to it that we don't hear in a lot of sopranos these days.  Her Violetta at the Met was a HUGE success last year - she was, one of the few sopranos not to be dominated by that enormous Zeffirelli set and I would have gone every night had I lived in New York (or stayed throughout the run).  Hers was perhaps the finest of a number of great Violettas I've seen in many years, with a real "old school" spinto that was capable of riding all of Violetta's big moments.  Her great scene with Zeljko Lucic's Germont Père was watched through a veil of tears - not only by me, but by nearly everyone around me.  Though the voice is a larger sized lyric with spinto leanings, she sounds terrific in everything from Verdi, Wagner, Handel and Mozart.  

There are a large number of singers today who are worthy of being paid attention to, though I'm certain many oldtimers won't believe it or, perhaps, can no longer hear it having only a certain group of voices embedded into their minds as "right" or "correct," or (even worse) "perfect."  The old variations of the cliché "she ain't Tebaldi" are always, in my opinion, useless arguments and serve absolutely no purpose in helping opera stay alive as a living, breathing art form. 

Of course, each time I say something like this I'm bombarded with responses claiming that "well, opera really WAS better back then."  I can only respond with "but better for who?"  Seriously, most of the big names "back then" were (ensconced in the major houses and seen by considerably smaller numbers who could travel to New York, La Scala, Covent Garden and Vienna.  Add to this that in the "golden age(s)" an enormous number of operas were presented highly edited or in some truncated form (particularly true in Wagner, but not limited to him). Further, from much of what I've read many, if not necessarily most audiences, couldn't have given a rat's ass about the opera itself - but were there - admittedly to see the stars.  Nothing wrong with this, of course, but it's more a form of "hero worship" than it is dedication to the art of opera itself. This age old phenomenon continues today where we continue to read of the disappointment whenever so-and-so cancels.   

I'd venture to say that there are a fair number of opera lovers (like myself) who get the bulk of our opera from these smaller companies.  We are often dismissed as provincial rubes, unsophisticated or less "savvy" than our big city counterparts who attend opera only at places like The Met or Covent Garden,  While the big names tend to play the big houses this does not negate the fact that there is terrific opera being performed "under the radar" (so to speak) in a world of opera far away from galaxies containing names like Fleming, Domingo and Hvorotsovsky.  

Not playing judge here, I do have to admit that I sometimes question the "love" of the opera lover who will only attend star-sung performances.  I recall a time when I would attend just about any performance within easy traveling distance for the sheer joy of getting to hear Verdi, Mozart, Gershwin, Beethoven and Massenet - it mattered little to not-at-all whether the name was new or familiar, so long as they could transfer with reasonably adequate artistry - the notes from the page to the stage.  

Niel mentioned the lack of natural Verdi and Wagnerian singers - and while I agree there are fewer of them, I've still been able to enjoy some astonishing performances of Wagner and Verdi - and numerous other favorite operatic composers over the past decade.

I have been thrilled to tears and pieces by:

Thomas Hampson as Onegin, Macbeth, Doktor Faust; Zeljko Lucic as Macbeth and Rigoletto; Deborah Voigt's Empress, Chyrsothemis and Ariadne; Karita Mattila as Salome, Elisabeth and Chyrsothemis;; Renee Fleming stunning as Desdemona, Thais and Tatyana; Patricia Racette's scorched earth portrayals of Blanche de la Force, Ellen Orford, Elisabetta, Butterfly and Jenufa; Dmitri Hvorotsovsky as Onegin, ; Kate Aldrich as Aldagisa, Amneris, Charlotte and Carmen; Waltraud Meier's signature roles of Kundry and Isolde; Gerald Finley as Golaud, Owen Wingrave, Oppenheimer and Papageno; Richard Croft in Debussy, Mozart, Handel and his amazing turn as Gandhi in Satyagraha; Joseph Calleja in every single thing I've heard him in; Roberto Alagna's intense, heartbreaking turns as Werther, Cyrano and Don Carlos; Placido Domingo as Parsifal and Siegmund; Joyce DiDonato as Cenerentola, Dejanira, Rosina, and Sister Jean (in "Dead Man Walking"); Deborah Polaski - incredible both as Elektra and Isolde; Ben Heppner shedding a new kind of light on Parsifal, Otello and Enee; Rod Gilfry's recent go at Saint Francois in one of the most remarkable performances I've witnessed (and that only on DVD); Soile Isokoski's incandescently lovely performances as Marguerite, Rachel and the Countess; Falk Struckmann as Amfortas, Wozzeck and Kurwenal; Rene Pape's Gurnemanz;  Jonas Kaufmann as Don Jose and Florestan; Simon Keenlyside as Pelleas, Orfeo, Hamlet, Posa, Billy Budd - Dolore Zajik in anything she wants . . . 

As to those who say there are no notable Mozart singers today, in addition to several of the above already mentioned I can think of Susan Graham, Angelika Kirchschlager, Miah Persson, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Diana Damrau, Mary Dunleavy, Magdalena Kozena, Rosemary Joshua, Christine Schafer, John Mark Ainseley, Matthew Polenzani, Toby Spence . . .  

Then there are as good or better (in most instances, better) quality Rossinian singers such as Sonia Prina, Juan Diego Florez, Ruxandra Dunose, Elina Garanca, Francois Lis, Jose Manuel Zapata.  We haven't even touched the number of singers who excel in Handel and other masters of the baroque era.  

While there may have been a plethora of great sopranos back in Tebaldi's day - there was only ONE Tebaldi - she was uniquely special even in her own heyday and we are lucky sons of guns that she existed at all, so let's not kid ourselves that she was the "standard" - she was anything but "standard."  

One can look back and bemoan the loss of all those greats, or one can celebrate their accomplishments and gifts while STILL celebrating all the riches and glories the world of opera has to offer.  I know, I know, it's more fun to piss and moan . . . 

Send your poison letters to:  


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