Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Compare and Contrast 18, Italian Soprano Division

I forgot to mention in my comments on Tosca that while Adrianne Pieczonka has fine technique and a warm voice of ample size - certainly more than enough for the role - she doesn't sound at all Italian. Certainly this is partly owing to the fact that her Italian is on the loose side, lacking in bite - and so is her voice. It doesn't have the same kind of vibrancy or edge as an Italian spinto or dramatic soprano. I commented similarly on Heidi Melton and Stephanie Blythe in the Verdi Requiem. Excellent singers all, idiomatic in Italian, no.

Let's take a look at a few YouTube performances of the greatest of all Verdi arias, "Tu che le vanita," from Don Carlo, starting with Sena Jurinac. She sang many Italian roles in her long career, bringing to them deep understanding, a magnificent line, and pinpoint accuracy. But the weight of her voice isn't quite right, she doesn't have a strong chest voice, and the cool tone is more Strauss than Verdi. Still, it's an admirable performance, sorrowing and dignified.

Next, let's listen to a pair of legendary mid-century Italian sopranos, Renata Tebaldi and Anita Cerquetti. The cut of their voice couldn't be more Italian; both voices are big, rich, and vibrant, deep as a river.

Tebaldi is usually considered past her best by 1964, when this was recorded, but what I would give to hear the aria performed this way.

And here's the meteoric Cerquetti, in her very brief prime:

Missing from this collection, because she never recorded it: Rosa Ponselle, who sang Elisabetta in the 1920 Metropolitan Opera premiere. Now that must have been something, as young as she was. (And she was in good company, with Adamo Didur as Philip, Giovanni Martinelli as Don Carlo, Giuseppe de Luca as Rodrigo, and Margarete Matzenauer as Eboli.)


winpal said...

I completely agree with your comments on Pieczonka's recent Tosca and an idiomatic Italian style which is often lacking in leading singers today. I think one of the few exponents of that style today, in the tradition of Tebaldi, Cerquetti, and others is the vastly underestimated Daniela Dessi who rarely performs in the US. Check out this Vissi d'arte which I think is a lesson on how it should be sung!


Lisa Hirsch said...

Oh, I look forward to hearing that! Dessi was in Don Giovanni in SF back in 1995 and I think has not appeared since. I liked her at the time.

Must say that I was not impressed with Barbara Frittoli last year in Boccanegra. Bland voice and approach, more lyric than spinto.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Dessi: yes to the singing style and the voice type. She's past her best, with some pitch problems and wear on her voice. Still!

winpal said...

Such is the price to be paid with these voices where the absolute prime can be short-lived. But I will take a bit of wear and tear on the downhill side any day over the bland alternative.

A Dessi DVD I highly recommend is a 2003 Aida from the Barcelona Liceu. Stylistic singing plus incredibly beautiful and historic paper trompe-l'oeil sets originally painted in the 1930s by Josep Mestres Cabanes, the last representative of an old Catalan school of scenography, and restored for this production. You can find it on Amazon.

Lisa Hirsch said...

That production sounds fantastic, thank you.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Melton and Blythe's Italian did not sound idiomatic in the requiem due to the fact that it's in Latin.

Lisa Hirsch said...

So true. Think of that line as saying "not idiomatic in the Italian _style_," which Secco and Silvestrelli certainly were.