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Subject: Re: Tosca vs Ernani. 2018 vs 1965
From: Max Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Max Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 1 Jan 2018 11:28:52 -0800
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Despite the big orchestra, I don’t think Tosca is necessarily a “heavy” role and there is a tradition of lyric sopranos singing it successfully going back to Geraldine Farrar. But the lyric sopranos have to find a way to conceive the part vocally in a way that fits in with their voices and this is what Yoncheva didn’t do. She has a lyric voice but sings it like a heavy role.

Gheorghiu was very successful in the role in London and San Francisco, but she approached the role in a way that worked for her, emphasizing clarity and letting the resonance of her upper register do its job, much in the way Dorothy Kirsten sang it and, in her early performances, Leontyne Price.

Maybe because of restricted preparation time, Yoncheva doesn’t seem to have done that. It’s a danger; once a singer performs a role, particularly in a house like the Met, the approach very quickly gets “programmed” and the vocal programming isn’t easily updated.

Actually, hearing Kirsten and, much later, Gheorghiu sing it live made me wonder if this wasn’t more the way it should be done: winsome, feminine, youthful. We’ve had our perceptions changed by the invasion of the Wagnerian banshees on the role: Rysanek, Nilsson, Shuard, Jones.

I find that the more vulnerable and youthful her portrayal is, the more I can empathize with and believe her actions and behavior. The more mature and sophisticated she seems, and the vocal weight comes into play with that, the more she seems, frankly, rather stupid.

Max Paley

Sent from my iPad

> On Jan 1, 2018, at 11:05, Donald Levine <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 
> I decided to post about last night Tosca broadcast.  I haven't read
> anything yet but yesterday afternoon I heard the Sirius broadcast of Ernani
> from 1954 with Price, Corelli, Sereni and Siepi under Thomas Schippers.
> Then I heard the New Years Eve performance of the new production of Tosca
> with Yoncheva, Grigolo and Lucic under Emmanuel Villaume.  Listing to both
> on the same day got me to thinking on the state of singing and where we
> have gone in the past fifty years.
> 
> First of all, let me say I am not one of those who says there is no good
> singing or even great singing going on today.  All you have to do is catch
> performances by Sondra Radvanovsky, Jamie Barton, Anja Harteros, Rene Pape
> or even though he is not my favorite, Jonas Kaufmann to realize there are
> great singers before the publicv today.
> 
> The biggest difference between the Ernani and the Tosca was the immediate
> realization that back in 1965 Ernani was presented with a cast that was
> totally up to the task, big Verdian voices in all of their glory.  No
> member of that cast was in anyway shape or form, short of what is
> required.  The one thing I felt at the end of the Tosca was a Tosca who
> perhaps, and this is hard to judge  having heard her on a broadcast, and
> not live, not reallly vocally equipped for this heavy role and it is a
> heavy role.  Lyric sopranos who do it very often are pushed into overdrive
> and that is where I felt Yoncheva was last night.  The voice has many
> beautiful moments but full out on top, the notes are almost flapping in the
> wind.  I heard an unsteady sound that I had never heard in her before.
> When I first heard her I was  thrilled at this gorgeous new lyric soprano.
> My gut feeling is that Tosca is a but of a stretch, and not a good stretch
> for her.  As for Sig Grigolo, I've liked him in lyric roles.  I had
> problems with his Cavaradossi.  The sound of the voice is wrong.  The core
> of the voice in the middle is too vague without the focus and intensity
> needed to support the top.  Again, he might have been fine in the house, it
> is certainly not a small voice, but for me, the quality of the sound was
> not there.  Let's not even go there with Lucic.  There was nothing vocally
> or in interpretation that impressed me.  I have generally liked him over
> the recent years as the best of a rather undistinguished bunch of baritones
> but I think time has taken its toll.  It is a decent voice but no more than
> that.  I remember when I was a kid, Mario Sereni, the Don Carlo in Ernani,
> was generally thought to be second rung.  The guy who was called in when
> Merrill, Bastianini, Cappuccilli, MacNeil or Milnes were not available.
> Well, if he were active today, he would be the dominant Verdi/Puccini
> baritone, certainly without Hvorostovsky around and his voice was bigger
> then Hvorostovsky's and at least in the big houses, more suited to the rep,
> if without his gorgeous quality and sheer vocal ability.  Price before 1970
> was one of the giants.  Not just in Verdi, she was a superb Butterfly and
> Tosca also.  I have not mentioned Corelli because he was sui generis,
> nobody since has come close.  There is no reason to discuss Siepi because
> the only bass role of consequence in Tosca is the Sacristan and Siepi was
> the last of the great Italian bassos and I would say, along with his near
> contemporary Ghiaurov, the last of the great basso contantes period.
> Although, I think Rene Pape would have held his own in any era.
> 
> I won't say any more because I hate to judge something I have not heard in
> the theatre.  Like Angela Gheorghiu, Yoncheva may be an acceptable Tosca in
> a smaller European sized theatre but at the Met, at least, I was
> underwhelmed from what I heard over the broadcast.  From everyone.  The
> orchestra as always sounded beautiful and it was a well conducted
> performance.  Under the circumstances, with all the cancellations, I guess
> I shouldn't be too critical. The whole premise of this posting was my
> thoughts after having heard earlier in the day the Ernani from fifty years
> ago and then hearing Tosca today with a cast of two younger singers in
> their primes and one veteran who was perhaps past his and how I feel Tosca
> was under cast in a way Ernani was not a half century ago.
> 
> Happy New Year to all!
> 
> Donald
> 
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