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Subject: Re: Never say 'never' if you don't want a lot of holes poked in your assertions
From: "Max D. Winter" <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max D. Winter
Date:Thu, 6 Oct 2016 14:52:10 -0400

text/plain (47 lines)

OK, now, in fairness to Les, I think his basic point is valid although he may be wrong in 
some particulars - his basic point being, Italian singers in past times tended to stick largely 
to roles sung in the Italian language.  And although there certainly are exceptions - which 
have been duly noted - that basic point is true.  In the '50s and well into the '60s (to limit 
discussion to singers of the post-WWII era), most of the big-name Italian singers sang their 
roles in Italian - including the roles written originally in, and generally performed in, French, 
German or Russian.  (Carmen is a big exception for mezzos.)  To point this out is not to 
make a criticism of those singers; that was just the way it was done in times past.  Frankly, 
I would much rather hear an Italian singer sing a French role in good Italian than in bad 
French.  (It seems to be more common to hear native French-speaking singers sing in 
decent Italian than to hear native Italian singers sing in decent French.  Again, we are 
talking about singers of earlier generations.) 

Pavarotti has been cited as an exception to Les' point.  And technically, yes, he sang Tonio 
in French - but it was atrocious, Italianate French.  (Bonynge has written about the difficulty 
they had in getting Pavarotti to learn the French words, even at that early point in his 
career.)  But other than Tonio, he stuck to Italian roles sung in Italian.  Wisely, IMO.  He 
never sang Werther, although vocally it would have been a great role for him, I am sure 
because he was uncomfortable learning it in French.  

Re Fedora Barbieri singing Carmen in French, one of the things I was surprised at when I 
first heard her 1954 (?) Carmen Met broadcast, was how good her French was.  Certainly 
next to Del Monaco, she sounded like she had been born and raised in Lyons.  

Historically, I think American singers have been more versatile and accomplished, 
linguistically, than singers of any other nationality.

So I would agree with Les' point as a general rule, with notable exceptions.  One could say a 
great deal about the reasons for these linguistic straitjackets - it also applies to a lot of 
German singers, who sang Italian roles in German translation - but that is another 
(interesting) discussion.  Perhaps someone would like to take a crack at that topic rather 
than continue to nit-pick about Italian singers who sang the occasional (rare) role in French.


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