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Subject: Re: Vishnevskaya (was Re: Heather Harper)
From: Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 9 Jul 2018 06:34:11 +0300

text/plain (99 lines)

The 1963 recording of Mussorgsky’s “Songs and Dances of Death” Vishnevskaya made for Philips, with Rostropovich at the piano, remains, for me, the greatest recording of that cycle.

I really liked the RCA LP of songs she made with Dedyukhin and for a long time couldn’t find it on CD. It’s in a large “RCA Living Stereo” box set (along with RCA recital discs by Milanov, Nilsson, Peters, Valletti and Forrester) but also available as a high res download from

That LP opened with a Tchaikovsky song that she used to frequently use as a first number in her recitals that I always found to be a powerful scena. It’s translated as “Was I not like a blade of grass?”

The only time I saw her in opera, she was unfortunately in poor form. This was a 1976 San Francisco “Pique Dame” and apparently she was ill. After one performance, Rostropovich told some of the orchestra backstage “Tonight Vishnevskaya was the pits!” Her studio recording is better.

I found her a riveting interpreter, musically and dramatically. Her voice wasn’t always beautiful but she used it as an effective expressive vehicle.

Max Paley

Sent from my iPad

> On Jul 9, 2018, at 2:49 AM, G. Paul Padillo <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> I'm once again switching the subject title (I don't CARE if anyone minds) because these 
> threads, as they morph are no longer about the original topic, and for anyone who accesses 
> Opera-L through the Archives (I can't imagine anyone wanting to get all these messages in 
> email) and those of us who make use of the Archives to fact check, or just stroll down 
> Memory Lane, it makes things far easier.  I can't count the number of searches I've done 
> where I've typed in a singer/composer/opera and had to wade through dozens of posts that 
> had NOTHING to do with the Subject line.  Now, that THAT's off my chest . . . 
> I've been glad reading posts again on this great Russian lady and that others (thank you 
> Vesna, and Donald) who find "Galina . . . " to be among the finest autobios from any 
> musician.
> I recall a debate from a year or so ago when someone declared Netrebko "the most 
> important soprano since Callas or Sutherland."  I countered by stating Netrebko wasn't even 
> the most important Russian soprano since Callas or Sutherland, citing Vishnevskaya as 
> having covered a wider repertoire and with more vastly different styles, and had done so 
> even by the time she was Anna's present age.  
> I still return to many of Vishnevskaya's recordings and I don't think I've ever read ANY book 
> as many times as I've read hers.  Her two films - the legendary "Katerina Ismailova" and 
> the profoundly moving (non-operatic) "Alexandra" by Alexander Sokurov (one of my 
> favorite Russian filmmakers of any era). are great cinema by any standard. 
> I recall a while back finally getting my hands on a copy of the 1961 Verdi Requiem with 
> Markevitch leading the Russian State Academy Choir and the Moscow State Philharmonic 
> Academy Orchestra and telling anyone within ear shot it was most hair raising performance 
> I’ve ever encountered of the Verdi.   
> Markevitch unleashed the Soviet forces in a performance that is staggering in its dynamics 
> being pushed to the extremes in both directions:  pianissimi are more hushed (and 
> reverent) then one is often used to hearing and the moments of fiery fury are as wildly 
> dramatic as one is likely to encounter.  The brass and string playing are immaculate to the 
> point of my wondering how such sonic violence was achieved without ever losing 
> musicianship . . . or control!  There are too many genuine stand out moments, to count 
> here, but a few, such as the threatening sound of the swirling strings and winds in the 
> "Liber Scriptus" – the text ("all that is hidden will be revealed … nothing will be left 
> unpunished") turned out in almost horror movie fashion.
> The "Dies Irae" is ripped through as if one had been given a one way ticket on the express 
> train to hell.   It is absolutely hair raising.  The soloists, Nina Isakova, Vladimir Ivanovsky 
> and Ivan Petrov all do fine work – even if the Latin diction has that tell-tale Slavic-edge to 
> it.  But . . . but Vishnevskaya offers one of the most uniquely dramatic "Libera me’s" one is 
> likely to experience and at moments ("tremens factos sum ergo") she can be terrifying – 
> then switch to truly exquisite piano singing . . . music simply floated out in a way that is 
> achingly lovely.   
> I concluded my review of that recording writing:  
> ". . . Vishnevskaya may surprise with her ability to sweeten the sound in those moments it 
> is ever filled with emotion and unexpected grace.  Then, of course, there are the dramatic 
> moments where, predictably, she leaves blood all over the place.  Her final "libera me 
> Domine de morte . . . " is as though a final gasp from one already dead; hers is the sound 
> of the soul making its final, heart-rending supplication for mercy . . . before the final shovel 
> of dirt is thrown onto it."
> My opinion has not changed.  
> p.
> **********************************************
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