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Subject: Re: Behrens sang Norma? Who sez?
From: Rich Lowenthal <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Rich Lowenthal <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 13 Jun 2017 12:35:30 -0400

text/plain (76 lines)

Behrens had similar issues (in terms of the difference between what is sung, and what is spoken-sung) in Wozzeck. Much of what she did could be beautiful, but not quite what Berg intended.

She could be enormously inconsistent from one performance to the next, especially later in her career as she concentrated on "heavier" roles. I remember she followed a set of really disappointing Brunnhildes at the Met with an outstanding Elektra with the Boston Symphony. 

Only one era ever had a Frida Leider. 

-----Original Message-----
From: Discussion of opera and related issues [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of albert innaurato
Sent: Tuesday, June 13, 2017 11:59 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Behrens sang Norma? Who sez?

I am reliably informed that Behrens did not sing Vitellia at the Met (has Tritteritis set in?). Sorry to be wrong.

There are many levels of Tosca performers. Most are just workaday, of course, and opinions will vary. But anyone who does the role needs as mastery of "parlando", the Verismo equivalent of sung dialog. The words need to be clear, and the rhythms need to be precisely pointed but with a sense of "speaking" as opposed to singing. Puccini typically goes from parlando utterances into more expansive phrases or allows expansive phrases to end in parlando. Forgetting Behrens' ugly, choaked middle, unreliably tuned, she cannot manage this parlando style at all. She sounds self-conscious and ineffective. The role also needs a responsive tone so the sound emerges as the singer wants it to promptly. Her voice is entirely unresponsive, phrases are clumsily attacked and it always takes a while for the color she intends to show up (sort of). In Wagner roles, conducted in NY by Levine, that is, slowly, she has time to set up her phrases, and then to settle into them. In Tosca, that must happen instantly, frequently in fast music.

In my opinion, she was a very bad performer of this role (also Santuzza).
I'm not in a hurry to agree with those who thought her "Frida Leider like"
(John Rockwell of the NY Times wrote a piece saying she was that era's Frida Leider and Eva Marton was Kirsten Flagstad. He then asked me who Frida Leider was! He'd gotten the idea from one of that time's idiot poseurs. Joe Horowitz. This was the sort of hype she got from the profoundly ignorant.)

In retrospect, she made her case for some of the Wagner roles. For those who appreciated it, good. I found her most unbearable as Isolde. On that first night, she and Spas Wenkoff (who I had seen at Bayreuth and who wasn't all that bad there) were booed ferociously by the Met audience. She recorded the role for Bernstein who I ran into after the series of live concerts that had been recorded. "Well, I tried," he said. And although I don't have her performance annals I don't think it's a role she did often.

Her teacher evidently told her "you have a beautiful voice but no talent".
Behrens started auditioning immediately (have to grant she had grit!). Then she met Jerome Lo Monaco who taught her the Stanley method. As was typical in that technique she forced her larynx down, opened her mouth wide and applied massive breath pressure to her singing. Her voice, as she attested, grew to a remarkable degree and that made an international career possible.
(Jonas Kaufmann used this method). But anyone who watched her sing, closely, noticed the tight jaw and the raised shoulders. This, IMO, caused fairly early problems, difficulty tuning, and that curdled middle. Maybe had she worked with a Stanely trained teacher (Kaufmann found the last person alive in Germany who had worked with "the master") she'd have been better?


On Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 11:10 PM, albert innaurato < [log in to unmask]> wrote:

> That is the craziest thing I've ever read. I'm inclined to say she 
> didn't ever. Is there documentation? Her 'prentice period was short, 
> she began late and somebody liked her because although hired as an 
> "apprentice" she sang the Countess in Figaro right away and was stuck 
> in small roles only for a season or so. She sang Fiordaligi in her 
> early days, she did Rusalka in Munich (I saw one, very notable for the 
> amazing performance of Kurt Moll). her Met debut was as Giorgetta in 
> Tabarro. She was clueless and ugly sounding but she snapped her 
> fingers on the word "basta" and the virulent scum cried, "that acting"!
> Salome with Von Karajan established her but her entry role in many 
> theaters was Fidelio. She became a favorite at the Met and added 
> Mozart's Elletra, Vitellia, Donna Anna (four times), Tosca (fifteen 
> times. the first season was Sinopoli's only Met engagement, the 
> remaining six were conducted by Badea, more her style). she did eight 
> Santuzzas. She did five Sieglindes in NY and also did some at Munich, she hated the role she said.
> She did most of the heavy Wagner roles but only did Isolde six times 
> at the Met (Jane Eaglen did twelve).
> It strikes me that the originator of this thread had Jane in mind, SHE 
> did Norma (unspeakable), 4 Brunnhildes AND Turandot (unlistenable). 
> Jane, in fact, sang Norma a lot and recorded it.
> The best Behrens live in my experience and opinion was Marie in 
> Wozzeck, and I think her best document is the Empress in a pirate DVD 
> of Frau with G. Jones and W. Berry very impressive as The Dyer and his 
> wife. I don't think she did that role very often but she only recorded the Dyer's wife.
> I can think of a small army of people whose lives would be shortened 
> by the very idea that Behrens did Norma!
> AI

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