Friday, November 19, 2010

Most Beautiful and All o' That

Not that I really expect A. C. Douglas to be paying much attention to individual singers, especially those singing primarily non-German music, but if you can say with a straight face that Renee Fleming "for pure beauty of sound has got to have the most beautiful voice ever to have graced the opera stage," you need to get out a little more.  Pretty the Fleming voice is, but also anonymous and without much spin or projection. I once heard her and Ruth Ann Swenson on the same gala program, and there was no question who had the more beautiful voice: Swenson by a mile, and she also had a substantially bigger voice with way more life and shine to it.

I think it is a little silly to talk about "most beautiful voice," because people have different ears. But here are a few candidates for pure beauty of sound; I'll put the sopranos first.
  • Leontyne Price. For my money, the great LP had the most beautiful soprano voice evah, though there's plenty of competition.
  • Rosa Ponselle
  • Edith Mason. If you've never heard of her, it's probably because her career was mostly conducted in Chicago, where she was greatly loved and where her six marriages, two of them to the same husband, must have been an extremely entertaining scandal. You can find her recordings on an out-of-print Romophone CD.
  • Montserrat Caballe
  • Zinka Milanov
  • Ebe Stignani
  • Margarete Arndt-Ober
  • Jussi Bjoerling
  • Beniamino Gigli. Ignore the sobbing and other stylistic nasties, and avoid that recording of "Il mio tesoro."
  • Giuseppe DiStefano, before he decided that a great Alfredo and Edgardo should be singing roles like Calaf and Manrico
  • Fritz Wunderlich
  • Robert Merrill
  • Joseph Schwartz. You've probably never heard of him either. German, among the great Verdi baritones of the 20th c., died young of alcoholism.
  • Ezio Pinza
  • Alexander Kipnis
Your candidates? Yeah, Swenson, probably the most beautiful voice I've ever heard live. I probably ought to add Frida Leider and Christine Brewer to the list above.


john_burke100 said...

Elly Ameling.

William said...

Notes from the commerce department: just placed an order for the Edith Mason disc on your recommendation. Will second your Price and Caballe nominations. Brewer live is phenomenal, although I've only heard her in recital and with the Atlanta Symphony. Christine Goerke as Chrysothemis in the WNO Electra displayed the most all-enveloping, house-filling gorgeous sound I've heard live, although some quarters have criticized the same performance. I feel lucky to have been present on a good night.

Sibyl said...

For sheer, sheer beauty I would add to your list: Schipa (most purely beautiful voice of all time to my ear), Chaliapin, Troyanos!!!, Van Dam, Villazon before the voice issues (have you heard his recording of Federico's Lament? >shivers<), Paul Groves, live. Brewer, live. Zajick, live.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I like Goerke a lot, have heard her live only once - Fledermaus, of all things. Wonderful singer, should have a bigger career in the big houses than she does.

Schipa, really? Love him but he is in my personal bucket of "great singer despite the voice." Can't sing high, can't sing low, fakes the coloratura, slightly reedy, very distinctive tone.

I heard Villazon as Alfredo Germont before he blew out his voice. Sigh....

Jeff said...

I'm a sucker for much of Kathleen Battle: No one has bettered her Mimi in Boheme Act II for sheer beauty.

Jeff Dunn