I enjoyed the posts re: Bjoerling. There appear to be several chunks
of repertoire he approached, not always with unanimous audience
approval: Italian opera (mixed reviews), French opera (mostly raves),
and songs (mostly raves). For almost his entire career (the
exception being that troubled period that produced the Leinsdorf
TURANDOT) his high notes sounded effortless, tending, if anything, to
Is it possible that he made it sound too easy? I put that question
in context with the post from Dave Bowman <[log in to unmask]>
concerning Why Sutherland Is Confusing. I think one can plug
Bjoerling's name into Dave's sentence without doing violence to the
The emotion Sutherland expresses as well as any singer
in recorded history is the joy of singing. As Fred
Astaire expresses the love of dance, so does Sutherland
express the joy of song.
With the exception of that troubled Calaf, Bjoerling's legacy sounds
as easy and unforced as Dame Joan's. There are other singers in this
category: did we ever think Corelli wouldn't make the high notes in
HIS Calaf? Pavarotti in his earlier years was just such an artist, as
was Nicolai Gedda.
I like this phrase, which again could refer to some other artists:
her skill is so great that the difficulty of her
accomplishment is easy to miss. And so we move on
to someone else whose difficulties are more obvious,
whose art does not conceal art, and whose struggle is
more emotionally engaging.
There are several artists whom one could cite who place that struggle
front and centre: the first two that came to mind for me are Callas
and Vickers, artists who did not make it sound easy at all. Their
performances were a drama of wondering just what the high note would
sound like, rather than a certainty that the note would be perfection.
Clearly this is a different aesthetic, and perhaps is fitter for some
roles than others. Excuse me if the examples are obvious:
Sutherland's style matches Olympia, for example, perfectly. Strong
voices sound wonderful in, for example, Horne's ballsy Carmen, or
Zajick's Amneris; but a fragile and breaking voice works very well in
Violetta (later acts, anyway) or Mimi.
There is another superb point Dave touches upon which requires a whole
other subject heading, but I've already gone on too long. He
mentions the style of acting expected in bel canto since the Callas
revolution: verismo. I keep waiting for someone to look into this, to
turn back the clock before this entertaining revolution: because it
is, in its way, as inauthentic as using large orchestras in Mozart
and Haendel. And perhaps, then Dame Joan is closer to being
dramatically authentic for the bel canto than usually acknowledged.
Yes, it's a radical thought: but the form has always struck me as one
that works primarily through the music, and calling for a formal
presentation on the stage. By this I mean more of what we're used to
seeing in older productions: for example, the use of static poses or
histrionics rather than a complete enactment, and presentation via
type rather than representation. It never seemed fair to judge
Sutherland by criteria that are a recent fashion, and are irrelevant
to bel canto. I'm not sure how well she would be rated by an older
set of criteria, but at least it would be a set relevant to her
objectives. Does she mention anything in her memoirs about what
she's trying to do dramatically?
Leslie Barcza in Toronto [log in to unmask]