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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 17:49:17 +0300
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I thought of Söderström in conjunction with the thread about clarity of diction.

My first encounter with Janacek’s “Katya Kabamova” was a beautiful 1977 San Francisco Günther Rennert production conducted by Kubelik with Söderström in the title role.

At that time SF Opera was still doing Janacek operas in English and this was before supertitles. I understood every word and, because she and the rest of the cast were such outstanding actors, I believed every word.

Beverly Wolf was the terrifying Kabanicha.

Max Paley

Sent from my iPhone

> On Jul 9, 2018, at 17:38, Rich Lowenthal <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> 
> I don't think anyone has yet mentioned one of Vishnevskaya's greatest and most historic recordings--the first complete set of the original version of "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk", also under the direction of Rostropovich. Both were friends of Shostakovich whose career never recovered from Stalin's dislike of Lady Macbeth; Shostakovich later reworked the opera into a more pallid version, Katerina Ismaloiva. His later works were far more conventional and conservative as he tried to tread a line between artistic integrity and official acceptance. Lady Macbeth is one of the great works of 20th century music and Vishnevskaya gives an extraordinary performance in the recording, plumbing the psychological depths of a truly remarkable operatic character. Rostropovich was an ideal partner, producing an inspired, passionate interpretation of a difficult score. (For those interested in a fictional rendering of Shostakovich's life, I recommend William Vollmann's "Europe Central"--a fictionalized history of 20th century Europe built around the lives of real people).
> 
> To echo the mention of Elisabeth Soderstrom--one of my favorite singers, she was a noted interpreter of Russian music, including songs of Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov (and her last Met performances were in the Queen of Spades). I wonder whether there was another singer who performed in so many different languages--and always with absolutely impeccable diction and attention to words.
> 
> 
> 
> ------ Original Message ------
> From: "G. Paul Padillo" <[log in to unmask]>
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Sent: 7/9/2018 12:08:51 AM
> Subject: Re: Vishnevskaya (was Re: Heather Harper)
> 
>> Yes, as she aged, the voice lost some of that lustre and beauty, and there were late career
>> moments when the voice sounds ready to implode upon itself, yet still, she would blow my
>> mind with the pure opposite: sounds full of rich, nuanced beauty.
>> 
>> Her 1976 recording of "Tosca" was controversial for many, but for me, it remains one of the
>> most exciting of this frequently recorded opera. There are moments when her very Russian
>> accent dominates the sound, yet few sopranos (Italian or otherwise) put across Tosca's
>> opening music with that necessary studied casualness combined with a juicy sensuality
>> Puccini gives this fascinating creature. Vishnevskaya's voice in 1976 could be a paradox:
>> it's big, it’s small - she can sound too "loud" then scale back the sound, sound incredibly
>> Russian, but then lighten high notes and phrase like an Italian born to the manor. A perfect
>> example occurs in Floria's first aria:
>> 
>> "Al tuo fianco sentire
>> per le silenziose
>> stellate ombre, salir
>> le voci delle cose!... "
>> 
>> I've heard even many great Toscas massacre that phrase, altering vowel sounds in order to
>> get that arpeggiated melody out by any means necessary. Vishnevskaya? She nails it - the
>> voice is fleet and liquid, capable of incorporating a lightness of sound - every note measured
>> and weighted precisely . . . perfectly.
>> 
>> As the duet between Tosca and Mario, progresses Vishnevskaya turns a little ragged at the
>> top - a bit of a wobble creeping in then she suprises by switching gears and pouring out this
>> gorgeous liquidy wet sound reminiscenther Swedish contemporary, Elisabeth Soderstrom.
>> Vishnevskaya finishes the scene as though using the arsenal of an accomplished actress
>> more so than your typical diva. Her employment of a wide range of dynamics and vocal
>> coloring is of the kind almost entirely unheard of in opera singing today. Additionally, she
>> tosses off pianos and pianissimi that are just meltingly beautiful – simply ravishing and
>> possibly the envy of more canary-like singers. I understand many opera fans want a more
>> consistently warm and balanced sound, but, for me such a sound is NOT for Tosca. Almost
>> more than any other diva vehicle, Puccini’s heroine allows for crazy, zany alterations and
>> gradations of text painting, particularly when working with a sympathetic conductor.
>> Fortunately for Vishnevskaya, she had that (and much more) in her husband, Mstislav
>> Rostropovich. The work they put into this pays off in spades and Galina – a diva from her
>> temples to her toenails, does Tosca proud.
>> 
>> Like Callas' 66 recording – this is one of the most theatrical sounding recordings of Puccini’s
>> potboiler – the audio range remarkably broad.
>> 
>> Rostropovich finds a mostly excellent band in the Orchestre National de France, coaxing
>> them in a reading that to my ears is one of the richest sounding on recordings – I once told
>> a friend "he out Karajans Karajan!. This broadness of dynamics makes for particularly big
>> fun in moments like Scarpia’s entrance, the cannons and chaos of the choirboy rehearsal
>> and, ultimately, the Te Deum. Rostropovich explores the score mining it for nuances glossed
>> over by more famous conductors of this work, and while some of his choices sound
>> surprising to us today – unsettling even, he offers some of the most viscerally thrilling
>> soundscapes one is likely to hear in this opera, and in some of the most surprising places.
>> An example, take that little bundle of notes before Tosca utters “Dove son?” and then
>> continues “Potessi coglierli, i traditori!” . . . it has NEVER been more etched in mystery, the
>> winds adding eerily familiar yet utterly strangeness to the mix – an almost late 20th century
>> minimalism quality affixed to it – but never letting go of its Puccini-ness, and Slava lets it
>> build until Tosca’s shouted “Tu non l'avrai stasera. Giuro!” The Tosca/Scarpia exchange
>> ends and what happens next is one of the greatest homages to Puccini’s masterpiece as I
>> have ever heard. After the Tosca/Scarpia exchange ends explosively, Slava shapes the
>> score as though he himself is composing it himself on the spot; each of the numerous
>> motifs pours out, one bleeding directly into the next: love theme, Scarpia, the Sacristan
>> chaos – it’s all in there. I don’t know of another conductor (not even Serafin, de Sabata and
>> certainly NOT HvK) who creates so seamless a transition through these eight or so minute
>> sequence - morphing directly into the Te Deum – it’s a positively dizzying swirl of sound,
>> Scarpia, chorus, children, cannons, organ, bells . . . all winding down a single path to the
>> gloriously explosive finale.
>> 
>> Matteo Manuguerra’s slightly fruity, edgy, twisted baritone pours liquid sinew all over the
>> place, but his “Va, Tosca!” is something special. No, it’s not the greatest of baritone voices,
>> but the way he shades, his flawless understanding of the line makes him an unusually
>> subtle (and thus, creepier than usual) Scarpia. His exchange with Mario in Act II is one of
>> the more exciting on record. Like everything else, Mario’s exit music to the dungeon for this
>> scene is milked for maximum drama. Like the Callas 66 set, there are special sound effects
>> – as though this had been intended as a soundtrack. Also, like the Callas set,
>> Vishnevskaya’s Act II high notes can strip the paint off a car, but you know what? You won’t
>> care (or at least you shouldn’t!) Any subtleties Galina provided in Act I are here, thrown out
>> the window as she lets loose spraying blood all over the place. It may not always be pretty,
>> but it’ll sure as hell let you know what she’s all about.
>> 
>> While Franco Bonisolli never won a prize for subtlety but in 1976 he offered a visceral,
>> impassioned and wildly over the top young painter and well matched to his Tosca. He lets
>> his sound “break” during the fever pitched scene singing from the dungeon and ne’er has
>> there been a more horrific male scream (though, blessedly muffled in the sound mix) before
>> Tosca blurts out Angelotti’s hiding place.
>> 
>> From here on in we’re in for one long wild rollercoaster ride of nearly unrelieved depravity,
>> treachery and high dudgeon from all three stars. While this kind of hell-for-leather take will
>> definitely put some off, others (like me) will find it gloriously old-fashioned and exactly what
>> is missing from too many Tosca’s today. As close to the brink of disaster as he lets it get,
>> Slava knows when to reign it all back in and it’s a thrill a minute.
>> 
>> Vishnevskaya takes an almost naturalistic, prayerful approach to Vissi d’arte, Slava
>> introducing a far brisker pace than most will be used to, but oh its works! This is all, or
>> course, mere prelude to one of the most terrifying go’s at the murder ever, and an “E morto
>> orgli perdono..." that could give Callas herself the shivers (and one of the just plain weirdest
>> deliveries of “e evanti a lui . . . “ you’ll ever hear). The attention to detail Rostropovich pays
>> here, the music almost disappearing into the floorboards of the stage, then rising, vapor like
>> as if in a blood mist. It makes me wish all the more I could have experienced his Tosca in
>> the theatre.
>> 
>> Bonisolli does nicely enough through “E lucevan la stelle” with a sort of old-fashioned
>> declamation in the first half, then finishes it exactly as you might imagine: milking every
>> last yelp and sob – the equivalent of silent movie eyes, and yes, it, too feels germane to
>> these proceedings. Of course Slava (again!) rolls the postlude into a thrilling springboard for
>> Tosca’s penultimate entrance in this show of shows. The lilting (almost Austrian sounding)
>> upward sweeping glissandi during the scaffold scene as Tosca awaits her lover’s execution
>> underscores the grand horror about to unfurl . . . and we wait with her – and then “e con
>> Artista!” is screamed out with zeal, love, pride and abandon.
>> 
>> Yes, her soprano can be wild, uneven, almost crude at times – but there is no doubt that
>> Vishnevskaya thought deeply about Tosca and fleshed out her character out so meticulously
>> , I find myself coming back to it as often as I do the more famous versions by those Greek
>> and Roman women.
>> 
>> p.
> 
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