Great Sopranos I Have Heard

I don’t know why there isn’t an opera about Maria Calllas. (There is a pretty great movie with Fanny Ardant playing her in her last years in a film directed by Franco Zeffereli, who directed her onstage.). Her weight loss to look better and thereby injuring her voice is tragic. Her fixation on Onassis is tragic. I subscribe to the rap that her voice became shrill early on, but that she was a great actress. (She can be seen in the title role of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s sriking “Medea,” a non-singing role).

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I’m too young to have heard her live, but have heard some other divas who protected their voice, including Joan Sutherland, Margaret Price, and Christine Brewer.

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Sutherland was aptly called “La Stupenda.” She had a stupendous voice. Producing beautiful sound seemed enough for her, but she did do some acting, too.

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(getting CDs signed, 2010)

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I like big, beautiful sound, as produced by the more than ample Jessye Norman and by Christine Brewer (both American-born, in 1945 and 1955, respectively), both of whom I had the luck to hear multiple times (including Brewer’s “Alceste” in Santa Fe). Brewer was a student of the great Wagner soprano Brigit Nillson, whom I never got to hear live, alas.

I’ll always remember the great Catalan soprano Monserrat Caballeé enthroned in Rossisinig’s Semiramade in a gown that continued at least a yard below her feet and looked in proportion (not the one pictured below).  Caballé is a legendary for her girth as for the beauty of her voice, a voice that she carefully preserved for decades.

Margaret Price also produced a lot of beautiful sound. I’ll always remember her saying that Mozart felt good in her throat. I heard each of these three sing Strauss’s “Four Last Songs,” some of the most ravishing vocal writing ever done.

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I heard a pretty sensational version of one of Dame Joan’s signature roles by Olga Borodina, whom I thought of as a Verdi soprano, not a bel canto one (she more recently did QEI here in “Roberto Devereux,” an opera without any inspiration in my view).

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The very pure-voiced Dawn Upshaw (1960-) is best known for her best-selling rendition of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony, but has done a wide range of contemporary parts and earlier French one. I have not heard Jessica Rivera often enough (though I had an extended conversation with her at a reception after the première of John Adams’s “Flowering Tree.”)

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I think that I heard Leontyne Price sing in the park. I’d have put her no my list, except that I just listened to a live performance of Trovatore with Franco Corelli in which she sounds shrill to me. Her case is under advisement.

Though I approve of her taking on new music, I am not a fan of Renée Fleming. I only heard Elizabeth Soderstrom well after her peak, but admire her. I did not hear Mirella Freni , Lucia Popp, or Renata Tebaldi live, though am pretty sure from recordings that they were among the great ones.  . Kiri Te Kawane, good, but not great. Scotto, I’m not sure about, though she was a great recorded Mme. Butterfly and the Youtube video of the last scene of “Suor Angelica” is very impressive. “Bubbles”(Beverly Sills) was before my time, though I enjoyed her hosting Met telecasts after she topped singing.

I was impressed by Patrice Racette in Paul Moravec’s “The Letter” at Sanda fe. She definitely could act, as well as sing. I’d like to hear her non-operatic  “Diva on Detour.”Longer ago at Santa Fe, I heard Alessandra Marc sing a beauiful Ariadne, but I’ve been told that she quickly ruined her voice.

[The only great tenor I’ve heard live is Placido Domingo, though John Aler is a contender; the only bass Samuel Ramey, though Eric Owens and Simon Estes are contenders.]

©2019, Stephen O. Murray [photos I’m not in are from WIkipedia]

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