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Subject: Re: Behrens sang Norma? Who sez?
From: Max Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 13 Jun 2017 10:05:39 -1000
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Letting the thread drift from Norma, I saw/heard a remarkably good Isolde from Behrens in summer of 1980 in Munich. It was unusually lyrical and fluid but steady and lovely and I've never heard those Act 2 high Cs sound so luminously beautiful. Horrible production, Wenkoff (filling in for originally announced Kollo) not in good voice and Yvonne Minton sounding beautiful but often flat (made a total mess of "Einsam wachend in der Nacht"). But Behrens was "strahlend" throughout.  I think it was only her second run in the role, following a set of Zurich performances.

About 6 months later I got to attend the concert performance of Act 1 in the Herkulessaal that served, I think, as the first act of the Bernstein recording. The concerts presenting the three acts were spaced out over several months. Something had happened to Behrens between the two performances. She really "dug in" expressively, more than she had in the staged performance, but it was a much rougher and more constricted sound except for still gleaming top notes. Peter Hoffmann looked better than he sounded, but the balance on the recording makes him sound better than what I remember from the live performance.

After that, I never heard again the "old" Behrens (the one who sounded like she did in the Karajan "Salome" and Böhm Met "Fidelio"). She remained a compelling artist in many ways but that beautiful, clear, steady sound in her middle range was gone. Such a sudden decline made me wonder if it was a health or private life issue.

Max Paley

Sent from my iPad

> On Jun 13, 2017, at 05:58, albert innaurato <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 
> 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?
> 
> AI
> 
> 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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