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Subject: MET TRAVIATA BROADCAST/Worst Germont
From: Gerald Waldman <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Gerald Waldman <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 14 Mar 2017 20:08:05 -0400
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I do not agree whatsoever, that Thomas Hampson is the worst Germont 
ever at the Metropolitan Opera.  Yes, it was a judgment error for Thomas 
Hampson to take the role of Germont at this late time in his early sixties, and 
he certainly had significant problems singing the role (but pitch was not one).  
Thomas Hampson is an intelligent musician-singer, and at his peak, he had a 
beautiful lyric baritone voice deployed with superb wedding of word and 
musical line, and scrupulous attention to dynamics and nuance.  Also, Thomas 
Hampson, is one of the few singers of his generation during his 30+ year 
career, who has made it of paramount importance to preserve the art form of 
the lieder recital, and also preserving the legacy of the American songbook.  

     It is surprising that long time listeners to MET Broadcasts and regular 
Metropolitan Opera attendees seem to have forgotten the singer who easily 
holds the worst Germont performance dishonor, namely Cornell MacNeill, who 
sang in the 1981-1982 MET Season, Germont in La Traviata, opposite the 
soprano, Ileana Cotrubas.  With Cornell MacNeil, lets start with some of the 
worst intonation I have ever had the misfortune to hear from a "first class" 
singer.  In the matter of fact, I have never heard a singer of his stature who 
had such ear wincing intonation problems. In addition, there is the curdled 
sour quality to the voice, and the glaring ear wincing wobbles.  I lost count 
how many performances were ruined by Cornell MacNeil's atrocious intonation 
problems.  We saw in the MET telecast, Soprano, Ileana Cotrubas, singing 
Violetta, forced to run away from Cornell MacNeil, and covering her ears, 
trying to just maintain her pitch.  Cornell McNeil occasionally strayed to pitch!  
There is the lack of any understanding of phrasing, when it comes to shading, 
dynamics, and nuance is very obvious.  There is no artistry whatsoever.  It is 
just singing as loud as possible.  Unfortunately, there are many on this list are 
only interested in singers with huge voices with huge top notes, and nothing 
else matters, i.e, Cornell MacNeil who has no subtlety, elegance or artistry 
whatsoever.  Everything is sung in one color and at one dynamic, loud and 
unrelenting, which ultimately only becomes too overbearing, and in the end it 
becomes boring, which is the worst thing for an opera singer.  I am sorry, but 
that is not what great operatic singing, musicianship and artistry is all about.  

     I still don’t understand the hoopla over Soprano, Sonya Yoncheva, whose 
1st act was to be kind, best forgotten, including being overtaxed by the 
demands of the score with totally inadequate approximation of the coloratura 
writing of “Sempre libera”.  The NYT critic glowed about Yoncheva’s attention 
to nuance and dynamics.   I waited for this in vain, where almost all of her 
singing was sung at one dynamic, forte, and with no nuance whatsoever.  The 
only singer who sang with attention to dynamics and nuance was tenor, 
Michael Fabiano, who sang one of the memorable MET Alfredos in recent 
memory. The part of Violetta is one of the most difficult in the soprano 
repertoire for it requires a dramatic coloratura, who can sing the fiendishly 
difficult "Sempre Libera", a lyric for the great Garden scene and a dramatic 
for the last act.  The entire opera revolves around Violetta, in an intimate 
chamber like setting, which requires a singer not only of the highest caliber, 
steeped in the bel canto tradition, but also one who is soulfully expressive, 
and can bring the requisite shadings to the words, which ultimately convey the 
tragedy of her story, and should devastate the audience in its tragic 
conclusion.

     When one hears a great Violetta, such as Callas or Sills sing "piu non 
connobi" (lingering on connobi as if she doesn't believe it) and "del viver mio" 
(sung with heartfelt mezzo voce, as if coming from the very core of her being, 
is this the true love I have been waiting for?), you are hearing a singer 
completely inhabit the character of Violetta.  Where was the piano singing on 
"tumulti" or "occulti"?  Where was the romantic glow of this aria missing in 
Yoncheva's interpretation?  I thought that Yoncheva was at her worst during 
the finale of Act 1.  She was completely overtaxed by the technical demands 
(scales, trills, arpeggios, staccati) of "Sempre libera".  She was so overtaxed 
by the vocal demands of "Sempre libera" that she omitted every one of the 
more than dozen trills written in the score!  Where was the easiest trill before 
the high C on "ritrovi"? The scales were very smudged and many notes were 
glossed over and the arpeggios were very clumsily handled.  The many high 
C's and four D flats, especially on the final "Gioir" were very uncomfortable 
sounding.

     
     Most importantly this is Verdi's most intimate opera, almost like a 
chamber work, and one of his last operas in the bel canto tradition. Her 
singing in the Garden Scene improved, although again one waits for the heart-
stabbing floated mezza voce b flat (which Callas sings unerringly) descending 
into "Dite alla giovane" which didn't happen. "Amami Alfredo" was sung well, 
but lacking legato. Yoncheva lacked the requisite floating Verdian line in 
"Alfredo, Alfredo di questo core" which makes this quintet one of Verdi's most 
exquisite.  She was good at the beginning of the last act, bringing pallor into 
her voice, but then resorted back to verista and sounded too healthy for rest 
of the act and left me unmoved.  What happened again to the piano singing in 
"Addio del passato" and where was the fil de voice on the final A of "fini" at 
the end of the aria?  This is also where she developed more intonation 
problems. Where was the devastating crescendo at the entrance of "Gran Dio, 
Morir si giovine"?  One should be devastated by the sublime "Se una pudica 
vergine" and Yoncheva did not achieve the heart breaking eloquence that the 
score demands in this final scene. 

      In conclusion, for a truly great Violetta, one needs a great bel canto 
singer and a great tragedienne, which describes Maria Callas to the letter. As 
John Ardoin stated so astutely, if there was ever a singer and part fated to 
meet, it was Callas and Violetta, a part tailor made for her prodigious
multifaceted artistry and sublime musicianship.  In Act 1 every note is paid 
scrupulous attention with astute understanding not only to dynamics, and 
nuance, but also rests.  Unlike for most Violettas, “Sempre libera” is sung with 
ostentatious ease, with every trill in place and superb handling of scales, 
including the bell like high D flat in the last set of scales, capped by an 
ecstatic high E flat.  In Act 2, Callas singing a heart-stabbing floated mezza 
voce b flat (which Callas sings unerringly, seeming to suspend the note in mid 
air and fill it with conflicting emotions which moved the audience and listeners 
to tears) descending into "Dite alla giovane" is sung both with a voice of tears, 
and with masterly mezzo voce, and the "Amami Alfredo" a lesson in anguished 
passionate singing.  The "Gran Dio, Morir si giovine" is entered with a 
crescendo on a note of white intensity and the "Se una pudica vergine" with 
exquisite legato of heart breaking eloquence.  George Stuart and Vivian Liff 
have said that if they had to say what the most perfect opera performance 
they ever experienced during their 50 plus years of opera going, it would be 
the legendary 1955 La Scala Traviata , under the inspired leadership of Carlo 
Maria Giulini and Luchino Visconti, with Callas, DiStefano and Bastianini. Even 
though Callas is not at her best vocally in the 1958 Covent Garden Traviata, 
the extraordinary give and take and sublime artistry of Maria Callas, Cesare 
Valletti and Mario Zanasi, under the insightful leadership of Nicola Rescigno, is 
a wonder to behold.  Cesare Valletti, an ideal Alfredo to the sublimely moving 
Violetta of Maria Callas, might me the most eloquently moving Alfredo on 
record.  One should almost feel Violetta's gentle soul like a sigh parting from 
her fragile body.  Also, one should be moved to weeping, especially in the 
Garden scene and final scene of the opera by Violetta's sacrifice and needless 
death, and this was completely missing from this recent MET performance.  
Therefore, I was disappointed with this Traviata broadcast, and I am still 
waiting for a great Violetta of our time to compare to the truly great ones of 
the past, such as Rosa Ponselle, Maria Callas, Patricia Brooks and Beverly 
Sills, who were sublime in this magnificent role and most intimate of operatic 
masterpieces.

Warmest regards to Opera Lovers,

Jerry Waldman

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