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Thread: Karajan Turandot/Italian opera conducting

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    Senior Member HumphreyAppleby's Avatar
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    Default Karajan Turandot/Italian opera conducting

    I recently listened to the Karajan/Ricciarelli/Domingo recording of Turandot for the first time. I was blown away. You could actually hear all the harmonies, all the details, all the exotic instruments, in addition to the voices. It was quite an amazing experience. It was like discovering an entirely new Puccini opera, because it was so different, so much darker, with much less of a kitschy sound than most recordings have. I think the biggest factor, however, was that Karajan treated the score with as much respect and finesse as he would a Wagner score. It paid off big time. It makes me realize how poor the conducting of Italian opera is. Thoughts on this recording vs. others or by itself, or Italian opera recording conductors?

    Here's an example of the amazing sonority of this recording:

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    I agree that Karajan is extraordinary Puccini conductor, but not with other of your points. Are you suggesting that Italian conductors are capable only of waving their hands to oom-pah-pah and can't bring any clarity and balance to more complicated orchestral score than early Verdi cabaletta? It's ridiculous claim, though it could have been true (to certain extent) long ago, even before recording era, when there were not many conductors in Italy that could handle the then-new music of Wagner and other operatic symphonists. But it wasn't only Italian problem.
    Last edited by Aramis; Nov-04-2013 at 21:47.

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    Senior Member Pip's Avatar
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    Karajan was an extraordinary conductor and one of his greatest strengths was Italian Opera, especially Puccini.
    So I am not surprised that you are blown away by his interpretation of Turandot.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Karajan was extraordinary - his recordings of Boheme, Butterfly and Tosca for Decca testify to it. One of the problems with Turandot is that Riciarelli is over parted in the principle role. She was. Natural Liu but her voice was not big enough for Turandot. But HvK brought another dimension to the score. Of course, this did not suit traditionalists. But then he was not trying to be traditional, but to bring out other things in the score.

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    Senior Member HumphreyAppleby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aramis View Post
    I agree that Karajan is extraordinary Puccini conductor, but not with other of your points. Are you suggesting that Italian conductors are capable only of waving their hands to oom-pah-pah and can't bring any clarity and balance to more complicated orchestral score than early Verdi cabaletta?
    That's not quite what I meant, but the fault lies solely with me for not expressing myself properly. I meant that the conducting of Italian opera, not necessarily by Italians, sometimes lacks finesse in recording. An altogether thrilling (but lacking in interpretation) recording of Turandot was done by Mehta, who is not Italian. (If only Karajan had that cast!) An example of conducting as brilliant as Karajan's here by an Italian would Francesco Mollinari-Pradelli's recording of La rondine, which outdoes Maazel's time and again with rich orchestral details, and wonderful pacing. The sonority on that recording is just as fine as on Karajan's Turandot. In essence, my point is that Italian opera is often done a disservice by conducting that assumes it's nothing more than a pretty melody and an oom-pah-pah underneath.

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    Senior Member HumphreyAppleby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    Karajan was extraordinary - his recordings of Boheme, Butterfly and Tosca for Decca testify to it. One of the problems with Turandot is that Riciarelli is over parted in the principle role. She was. Natural Liu but her voice was not big enough for Turandot. But HvK brought another dimension to the score. Of course, this did not suit traditionalists. But then he was not trying to be traditional, but to bring out other things in the score.
    While Ricciarelli struggles with the tessitura and the orchestra, I don't find her performance especially lacking (as long as I haven't listened to Sutherland for a while). She has an extremely cold quality in her voice, as opposed to Sutherland's warmth, and she gives a very musical performance.

    If only people respected Puccini as Karajan did by this performance...

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    Yes, it's a pity HvK did not have Mehta's cast, although the latter's recording is very good. I cannot see how Megta's performance can be 'altogether thrilling but lacking in interpretation' though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HumphreyAppleby View Post
    In essence, my point is that Italian opera is often done a disservice by conducting that assumes it's nothing more than a pretty melody and an oom-pah-pah underneath.
    Then we're in agreement. Even in Rossini (at least in his more elaborated works), there is much to do for conductor. Though I'm not sure if serious, professional one could ever think that way when doing Puccini, every educated musician knows very well that his orchestral scores are anything but simplistic.

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    Senior Member HumphreyAppleby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DavidA View Post
    Yes, it's a pity HvK did not have Mehta's cast, although the latter's recording is very good. I cannot see how Megta's performance can be 'altogether thrilling but lacking in interpretation' though.
    It's great to listen to casually: his cast create some spectacular moments, and the whole thing is quite a ride. He takes faster tempi than Karajan which creates an atmosphere of superficial action. But he fails to make it into a true fantasy rather than a long sing-fest. It's thrilling to the ear, not the soul.

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    Senior Member HumphreyAppleby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aramis View Post
    Though I'm not sure if serious, professional one could ever think that way when doing Puccini, every educated musician knows very well that his orchestral scores are anything but simplistic.
    One would hope. Then again, the number of bilious and ignorant things said against Puccini never ceases to amaze me. There has been a reappraisal of his works in critical circles in the past 20 or so years, but we have a long way to go. If I have to read another review of Tosca in which Kerman is quoted... Then again, musicians have always had mor respect for him than the critics (Webern, Schoenberg etc.).
    Last edited by HumphreyAppleby; Nov-04-2013 at 23:51.

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    Senior Member Itullian's Avatar
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    Karajan did the same for Pagliacci too.
    Check it out
    When all else fails, listen to Thick as a Brick.

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    Senior Member StlukesguildOhio's Avatar
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    If only people respected Puccini as Karajan did by this performance...

    In spite of all the Karajan haters... this, I believe, is what made him one of the great conductors. He approached every work with a sense of respect and passion. I remember reading his comments upon the music of Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern in which he insisted that their music must be performed with the same degree of passion and perfection as one would apply to Beethoven or Brahms... otherwise why waste our time?

    I agree that Karajan brought this same passion and work ethic to Puccini... and certainly when combined with the equally brilliant efforts of Maria Callas (Madama Butterfly) is something far more than mere fluff.

    Then again... I have never thought that Puccini... or any of the other bel canto composers were mere fluff. I thought Karajan and Callas had laid that particular bias to rest decades ago.
    Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.

    Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with
    those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.

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    Senior Member DavidA's Avatar
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    In writing this I'm resurrecting an old thread. I've just bought a second hand copy of Karajan's Turandot and am amazed by the sheer power he brings to the score. The parts with Ping, Pang and Pong have real venom and are not boring as on so many other recordings. Alright, Ricciarelli's voice is a size too small but she is a very knowing interpreter. The rest of the cast are excellent and Karajan's masterly handling of the score demands to be heard.

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    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    I need to hear it again I suppose. I just remember thinking that the casting of Ricciarelli as Turandot was a noose around its neck.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Senior Member Marschallin Blair's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GregMitchell View Post
    I need to hear it again I suppose. I just remember thinking that the casting of Ricciarelli as Turandot was a noose around its neck.
    Oh, boy is it. . .

    I just like that fact that someone posted my favorite fairytale opera; with a tolerably-good cast.
    Last edited by Marschallin Blair; Sep-03-2014 at 16:50.

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