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Subject: Caballe (my evil thoughts), was 1973 Norma
From: albert innaurato <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:albert innaurato <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Tue, 25 Jul 2017 15:24:32 -0500

text/plain (138 lines)

I disagree a bit about her gifts. She was quite wonderful all told in
the 60s. She was a well trained and very facile musician with a
certain breadth of reference, she could be quite effective in French
melodie, German Lieder and Spanish song (serious -- Nin, Turina, Falla
-- and Zarzuela).

Her voice was continuously overestimated for volume and range. I have
read preposterous assertions about her, as usual, they usually come
from people who never heard her live, and from the "crazy fan", people
who seem to me of no value. She was a solid lyric soprano, with a
beautiful timbre. She was in no way a spinto, she had no chest, she
did not have an extensive top, and her voice did not sound good under
pressure so declamation was apt to become throaty with many glottal

But that doesn't mean there was no magic in her singing live. As I
have averred often she really was at her best in concerts, with piano,
and with orchestra, in the 60s, and live documents of that era (and
sometimes later) are usually very rewarding. I saw her often in that
context, and she could float long, spinning lines effortlessly to
wonderful effect. In that decade she did not need to croon or fake,
either those lines or the high pianissimi which became a trademark.

I saw her sing French, German, Spanish and Italian clearly and with
considerable flair, although she wasn't idiomatic sounding in the
first two.

In opera, she had some difficulties, psychological, for example. I
know she was self-conscious about her size. Unlike many big ladies who
have a flair for opera, she did not have the "damn my bulk" abandon,
and she hadn't found a way to move around a stage and execute business
that was comfortable for her. This led her to be either inert or
silly. Unlike Bergonzi, a small, chubby man, with little physical
allure, she was usually inhibited if required to do more than stand
there and make the occasional gesture.

When he sang a swashbuckling hero, such as Cavaradossi -- he was
nobody's idea of what the person would look like. And yet he had
worked out movements, poses, gestures, and business and practiced them
until they looked natural for him. He was not mesmerizing to see, but
he was never at a loss, and in some roles -- Nemorino for example or
Riccardo/Gustavo in Ballo he was able to project a real charm and
warmth. People like Tebaldi, De los Angeles, Nilsson, Gorr, Tucker,
were similar.

But Caballe never got to that point. Still, she did have good evenings
in opera, Her Adriana Lecouvreur for example -- or at least that one
rather wonderful performance during a blizzard in New York. About 800
people had struggled in. She had walked through those earlier in the
run, crooning, and saving. But in that one, she sang with improbable
beauty and really inhabited the character -- with great sincerity as
best as she was able. She spun out magical long lines and as contrived
as poor Adriana's fate seems she was very moving in the last act. I
saw three of her Luisa Millers and I thought she did the last act very
well with a touching simplicity and also sang it beautifully. I saw
her Met debut in Faust. She got a big pro forma ovation but many were
disappointed and she came a cropper in the Jewel Song. And yet, again
in the last scene, she sang with feeling and great sweetness of sound.
However, she forgot all the words (as opposed to refusing to sing
them) and the great John Alexander (Faust) was left at something of a
loss. The people I knew ended up loving Milnes that night, he was also
making a debut.

I thought she sang a wonderful and heartfelt Violetta after getting
into trouble in act one (two times). In Andrea Chenier in Philly with
Corelli she tried hard but Loretta Corelli had sneaked into her
dressing room and cut up all her costumes and she didn't really
recover from the hysterical scene that ensued when she arrived (I used
to hang out backstage and saw Loretta sneak in with scissors and sneak
out. She saw me and putting her fingers to her lips sneered at me to
be silent!).

Of course, the Butterfly in Philadelphia was such chaos that it would
take the Marx Brothers and S. J. Perelman to do it justice -- but she
was sincere, she just didn't choose to rehearse and got very confused
as did orchestra and everybody else.

And I think that was the problem. When she became a world wide
superstar she coasted. She began to croon and fake. Her vaunted
ability to learn a leading role in a week or so deserted her (she had
done that at her Glyndebourne debut where she arrived not knowing a
note of the part -- the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. Pritchard
fired her but she begged him to give her a week to learn act one by
memory. He did, and she did. Then the producer and costume people
demanded she be replaced, they could not find a costume to fit her.
Pritchard stuck with her and she created a sensation despite her
looks. She has told the first part of this story often, but the second
part is also true and hurt her a great deal.)

The Ariadne at the Met was an unbelievably horrible showing by
anybody, let alone a star. She didn't know it at all. I was there when
Mo. Bernstein fired her publicly for showing up to record the Missa
Solemnis without knowing any of it, certain she could just read the
pages needed and get as many takes as required. The great Edda Moser
arrived the same day, lined up in advance by Harry Kraut (where there
was Lenny there was Harry).

She undermined her technique by shrieking high notes in roles that
didn't suit her (Tosca) and that she hadn't worked into her voice
(Aida) and barking her way through lower passages that she didn't have
a technique for. She began to croon and leave music out. She abandoned
words, sometimes because she forgot them or hadn't learned them,
sometimes to ease emission of her tone.

Once in a while even after 1971, the old magic would come back for a
few minutes. In a concert at the Met with Carreras, they sang the
Poliuto duet. He barked but she floated so beautifully that the
audience gasped several times. But I think that was the style of
writing she had been trained for.

As for Norma, I saw many. Most were awful for Casta diva and the end
of act one (or act two in the old days). I'd say all were quite
touching from "in mia man" on. Her singing of that duet was not
perfect but she understood it. She could have magic at "son io" and
"deh non volerli vittime" was invariably beautifully sung and moving.
With Verrett she did "Dormono entrambi" and the ensuing duet well and
with intention. Those were a loss with Cossotto.

I think she had a huge talent, musical as well as vocal but to fit
into the "diva slot" of that time required many compromises and then
she discovered that crazy fans would let her get away with anything
and managers kept hiring her. Meanwhile the increasing sophistication
of recording techniques allowed for a LOT of "enhancing".


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