Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Random Thoughts While Listening to Lirico Spinto on France Musique

I wish I understood French. I don't even understand most of the singers' names in French. Even the French singers. 

Most of the time, I really dislike Maria Callas' voice (Sorry, everyone. I know that's a special kind of operatic heresy.) She made some truly dreadful sounds. (Gluck  see below)

Sometimes, I really like Maria Callas' voice. She made some absolutely lovely sounds (now and then)! (Bellini  see below)

Speaking of Bellini, almost everything he wrote sounds the same to me – even the bits that I already know. 

Almost everything Gluck wrote also sounds the same to me – even the bits from Orfeo/Orphee; although I definitely like Gluck better than Bellini.

Anna Moffo had a pretty spectacular voice (I know, that's not really news.) At least Bellini is really pretty when she sings it.

Véronique Gens also has a spectacular voice, especially when she’s singing in French.

James King sounded pretty darned good back in the early 60s  even singing Gluck in German.

Vesselina Kasarova has at least three voices, and she uses them all to great effect, especially in this Orphee excerpt in the Gluck program. (It's credited to an RCA CD, but I think it's the same performance as on this DVD.)

Richard Croft's voice is still god-like. (Also not news, but...oh my!)

Google Chrome continues to aggravate by automatically translating (or trying to translate) any page that's not in English. OTOH, it does provide a hearty giggle now and then. For example, this aria from I Capuleti e i Montecchi  entitled "O, fifty flip" (O, quante volte).  

The Bellini Program

 The Gluck Program


  1. I like Bellini a lot but I know what you're saying. I call it "the Bellini sad aria". Gluck-wise, VK (they misspelled her name ;-)) and Croft are my favourite Orphees, really great the both of them.

    1. Not only misspelled, but pronounced very strangely. I don't really DISlike Bellini. In fact I was listening to bits of that Stuttgart "Sonnambula" (with Ana Durlovsky) last night and thinking it was rather lovely. But Bellini's rarely my first choice when i think "hey, let's listen to opera! :-)

    2. Hi, re the Kasarova Orphée - I'm assuming you're talking about "Amour viens rendre" (which isn't Gluck, but Berlioz' addition, so shouldn't logically sound like all other Gluck) since it's the only bit I know from it that's on CD at all. I have the CD and the DVD and it's actually not identical - probably recorded live on different nights, though from the same production.
      And I wholeheartedly agree in the Callas heresy. If some random soprano (or even mezzo) aria comes up on Spotify that makes me think "God that sounds awful!" I always guess it's Callas and I'm usually right. (If it's not Callas chances are it's either de Niese - though she has her own special flavour of awfulness that's more fake and conceited, besides an unpleasant timbre - or just some random dramatic soprano with a huge vibrato.)

    3. Thanks for the VK recording clarification.

      That's the aria! Berlioz didn't write it, but apparently he DID have a hand in creating a cadenza for it (I think Kocena sings that one in her DVD with John Eliot Gardiner). Apparently the aria first showed up in the opera in the 1774 Paris version (before Berlioz was born); and many scholars think it was written by Ferdinando Bertoni.

      Whoever wrote it, the aria certainly seems out of place; and it's a prime example of the very "opera seria" tradition that Gluck was trying to get away from. (I commented somewhere else, before I knew for sure it wasn't original, that it sounded like it wandered in from another opera.) OTOH, when sung well (by VK, RC, to name twi) it IS thrilling, and it makes for an exciting Act 1 finale.

      I guess there's no one "definitive" version of the opera, and I really need to get that Cambridge Opera Handbook, as it seems to have a lot of scholarly info.

      RE: Callas. I admire her artistry, and I feel like if I'd seen her live, I'd appreciate her singing more. It seems like the earlier the recording, the better the singing. And, in that Bellini excerpt from '55, I think she sounds pretty good (about 31 minutes into the broadcast linked above).(But I still like Ana Durlovski better in her Stuttgart performance -- now available on DVD, plus a bunch of excerpts are posted on YouTube.)

  2. Tove, good to "meet" another de Niese disdainer ;-) she sounds like she's singing from a tin can.

    Back to Orphee, it's not just Amour, viens rendre... that's out of place, the overture is also way chipper and apparently lifted from another opera. But it's good to see poor Orphee get a light hearted moment for a change.

    1. Maybe the overture represents their happy times together before E. dies. (doubt it.) Or maybe Gluck borrowed it from another opera. (possible) Or maybe Gluck figured back in the day that no one would be listening -- they'd all be chatting and getting settled -- and he needed something bright and bouncy to get the audience's attention. (also possible) Or...

    2. I like the idea of the overture = their happy times together. It's quite obvious they were the happy couple everybody envies. I'm also very fond of the overture so I'm definitely not complaining. Even in the context of Gluck's reforms I don't mind the couple of out of place moments - you can't ever be completely original or out of step with the taste of the time if you want to sell your opera.

    3. I think (I'd have to look again) in the Covent Garden production, where Jochen Kowalski is Orfeo as rock musician, the two of them are together at the beginning of the overture. Then she wanders off and gets hit by a car.

      I'd hate to get all purist about the various performing versions of Orfeo/Orphee. If we go full-on Vienna, or full-on Paris, we're bound to miss some wonderful music!

    4. oh dear, that is such a horrible production! It's like all the '80s stereotypes under one roof. Too bad, as Kowalski is a good Orphee. But the worst (for me) is the one with Alagna (although I like the beginning with the wedding and whatnot); it's just relentlessly dour and he can't sing this kind of stuff - so he doesn't even try Amour viens rendre... whether it was or not written for this opera or even by Gluck, the Orphee who doesn't sing it is no Orphee for me ;-)

      Although I am very fond of this aria (and most coloratura-happy arias in the world), I actually like Orphee's Act I-long monologue, the descent into hell and all the rest almost as much. In fact it is one of my favourite operas and I'm not sure why I have not said anything on my blog about it so far... I used to watch the VK DVD all the time.

    5. I sense an Orfeo/Orphee blog post coming on from you :)

      I've been comparing the (too) many recordings I have of Orfeo/Orphee and noting that several do not include this aria. Although one, which is MOSTLY the Vienna version (Solti, Horne, etc.) does include the aria. Generally, however, the older recordings skip it.

      I sense another Orfeo/Orphee blog post coming on from me :)


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