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Thread: The Soprano Assoluta and its place in the world of Opera today

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    Default The Soprano Assoluta and its place in the world of Opera today

    Hello everyone. it's your neighborhood Baritone, BaritoneAssoluto here and I've got a great deal to talk about. Today's topic might be something a few of us may know and a lot of us may not understand just in-depth what truly is the cause of said topic. Today's topic I will be examining will be the Soprano Assoluta voice also known as the Soprano Sfogato and its place in the world of Opera today. I'm going to start this conversation off with a video from a youtuber by the name of Primohomme. He released three videos on the "in-between" Soprano voices: Assoluta, Falcon, and the Dugazon (which is just a Mezzo-Soprano Soubrette). I started the video within 00:22 seconds of the video so we can skip the filler.



    Historically, this term was given to the past "divas" of Opera's yesteryear such as Giuditta Pasta, Maria Malibran, Giulia Grisi, Adelina Patti, and Henriette Sontag. More commonly, the term has been used to describe the Greek-American Soprano of the 20th century, Maria Callas. Here's a brief history behind the usage of the name and how it was applied
    inoperasofit's day:

    "The
    assoluta's heyday was the first four of five decades of the nineteenth century, the period which coincides with the flourishing of Romanticism all over Europe, and she represented the artistic emancipation from the neo-Aristotelian proprieties of character: consistency, suitability to station, trueness to type, appropriateness of behavior, and so forth, along with the Romantic interest in human heroism, the defiance of the gods, the extremes of human character, of situtation and behavior, and a total unpredictability." (Source: The Assoluta Voice in opera: 1797-1847, by Geoffrey S. Riggs)

    Here's a few characteristics of the assoluta/Soprano Sfogato voice:

    It possesses a dark timbre with a rich and strong low register, as well as the high notes of a soprano and occasionally a coloratura soprano. Those voices are typically strong, dramatic and agile, supported by an excellent bel canto technique and an ability to sing in the soprano tessitura as well as in the contralto tessitura with great ease.
    The common requirements for the roles associated with this voice type are:

    • widely varied tessitura throughout the role, extended segments lying well into the low mezzo or contralto tessitura and segments lying in high soprano tessitura
    • a range extending down to at least low B and at least up to high B with at least one whole tone required at either end
    • fioratura (coloratura) singing in the most intricate bel canto style
    • florid singing combined with heroic weight
    • a heavy or dense sound in the lower range
    • vocal power over energetic orchestral accompaniment.


    With that being said, the Assoluta voice is more than rare in the Opera world today. We have been forced to accept the notion that only canaries can sing Lucia di Lammermoor, Roberto Deveraux and that only dramatic/
    spintos can sing Aid, Leonora from Destino and Trovatore, Medea, and Norma. In the days of the Assoluta, you were REQUIRED to sing Norma, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Medea, Tosca, Kundry, Aida, Norma, Gioconda, Countess, Armida, Armina, Elisabetta, Leonora (destino and Trovatore), Mimi. We must eliminate that notion once again and bring back the good old singing... where those singers gave it their all and didn't regret it.

    The Assoluta of today is nowhere to be found (and please don't say
    Devia or Gruberova because those two queens are horrible.) Angela Meade is the only one who is close to an actual dramatic coloratura soprano but she doesn't have that extra "it" to be an Assoluta (unless she retrains her entire instrument like they did back in the 19th and 18th centuries.)

    Please discuss guys, I'm always ready! Once again this is your neighborhood Baritone, BaritoneAssoluta speaking and saying "Out"!
    Last edited by BaritoneAssoluto; Jun-16-2016 at 05:44.

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    Here we go again, wonder how long it will last before this thread escalate .

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    Has that sort of activity happened on this topic? I wished you would you would've told me that before. But honestly, I know the people are mature here.

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    Actually, it would be proper to use the term 'soprano assoluto', as soprano is masculine in Italian: 'il soprano'.

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    Quote Originally Posted by schigolch View Post
    Actually, it would be proper to use the term 'soprano assoluto', as soprano is masculine in Italian: 'il soprano'.
    This always confuses people. Perhaps they get 'assoluta' from the expression 'prima donna assoluta' and forget to change the ending when they want to talk about a soprano rather than a prima donna. (I don't know any Italian, so please don't hesitate to tell me if 'prima donna assoluta' is grammatically incorrect as well! )

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    You still owe us a POS explanation about Sam Ramey on the other thread, sir!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Figleaf View Post
    This always confuses people. Perhaps they get 'assoluta' from the expression 'prima donna assoluta' and forget to change the ending when they want to talk about a soprano rather than a prima donna. (I don't know any Italian, so please don't hesitate to tell me if 'prima donna assoluta' is grammatically incorrect as well! )
    No, prima donna is feminine.

    It's a very interesting subject, anyway. Personally, I'm fully convinced that the voices, and the singing, of Giuditta Pasta and Maria Callas, were very close, and that the Greek diva was indeed the heir of the Italian singer, even if more than 100 years separated them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by schigolch View Post
    No, prima donna is feminine.

    It's a very interesting subject, anyway. Personally, I'm fully convinced that the voices, and the singing, of Giuditta Pasta and Maria Callas, were very close, and that the Greek diva was indeed the heir of the Italian singer, even if more than 100 years separated them.
    So if Pasta and Callas were each the prima donna assoluta of her own day, does the use of this phrase describe a particular Fach as the OP seems to use the phrase soprano assoluto, or is it more like a kind of compliment bestowed on the most famous and accomplished diva of any given time?
    Last edited by Figleaf; Jun-16-2016 at 16:56.

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    No, it does refer to the same type of voice. Capable at the same time of having a very strong low register, and also the higher notes in the soprano repertory, along with coloratura. Of course, there is a price to pay (unless some day we can get an exceptional gift from Nature), as lack of homogeinity in the singing, that going to the extreme it can sounds like two voices, in just one body.

    Reading about Pasta, and listening to Callas, we can see that there were a lot of similarities between the two.

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    As the historians have noted, it is a particular fach that is described for a rare type of Soprano. There's only been one pure Assoluta in the 20th century but there's been some others who have "proto-assoluta" like qualities, but they lack some of the mean ideal characteristics that would classifiy them wholly as an Assoluta.

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    I can name someone who is a "wholly assoluta"

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    Quote Originally Posted by BaritoneAssoluto View Post
    Here's a few characteristics of the assoluta/Soprano Sfogato voice:

    It possesses a dark timbre with a rich and strong low register, as well as the high notes of a soprano and occasionally a coloratura soprano. Those voices are typically strong, dramatic and agile, supported by an excellent bel canto technique and an ability to sing in the soprano tessitura as well as in the contralto tessitura with great ease.

    The common requirements for the roles associated with this voice type are:

    widely varied tessitura throughout the role, extended segments lying well into the low mezzo or contralto tessitura and segments lying in high soprano tessitura;

    a range extending down to at least low B and at least up to high B with at least one whole tone required at either end;

    fioratura (coloratura) singing in the most intricate bel canto style;

    florid singing combined with heroic weight;

    a heavy or dense sound in the lower range;

    vocal power over energetic orchestral accompaniment.


    With that being said, the Assoluta voice is more than rare in the Opera world today. We have been forced to accept the notion that only canaries can sing Lucia di Lammermoor, Roberto Deveraux and that only dramatic/spintos can sing Aid, Leonora from Destino and Trovatore, Medea, and Norma. In the days of the Assoluta, you were REQUIRED to sing Norma, Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Medea, Tosca, Kundry, Aida, Norma, Gioconda, Countess, Armida, Amina, Elisabetta, Leonora (Destino and Trovatore), Mimi. We must eliminate that notion once again and bring back the good old singing... where those singers gave it their all and didn't regret it.
    By your description, I can't see any reason for withholding the "assoluta" title from Rosa Ponselle. She had the amplitude, the timbral richness, and the flexibility to sing virtually anything. Even Callas called her "the greatest singer of us all."

    I would caution against the assumption that nineteenth century singers were normally equally competent in the entire repertoire they sang. Certainly, there were lighter and heavier voices, just as now, and the major difference was that in those pre-Wagner, pre-verismo days, thorough bel canto schooling was expected of all front-rank singers; specialization hadn't yet divided singers into the "fachs" some of us are so fond of distinguishing.

    Wagner himself asked that his music be sung "in the Italian style" (when that actually meant something), and personally praised baritone Mattia Battistini for his superb singing. But I have no doubt that he would have been overjoyed to hear his Tristan and Isolde sung by Melchior and Flagstad, who sensibly did not sing Rossini and Bellini (though Flagstad may have in her early years in Norway). Flagstad was offered Norma and studied the part carefully, but knew she didn't have the coloratura flexibility for it. Her Wagnerian predecessors Lilli Lehmann and Frida Leider did sing Norma, the former to considerable acclaim, but her Wagnerian successors Birgit Nilsson and Astrid Varnay couldn't have come within a mile of its demands. The diminishing technical facility of these leading dramatic sopranos tells the story of the gradual decline of the bel canto tradition, and the emergence of the vocal typology we're used to today.

    I agree with you about the absence of the "assoluta" soprano at present. Meade doesn't strike me as a candidate; Radvanovsky may be a mite closer. Neither of them is a Lehmann, a Ponselle, or a Callas.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Jun-17-2016 at 05:33.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    I would caution against the assumption that nineteenth century singers were normally equally competent in the entire repertoire they sang. Certainly, there were lighter and heavier voices, just as now, and the major difference was that in those pre-Wagner, pre-verismo days, thorough bel canto schooling was expected of all front-rank singers; specialization hadn't yet divided singers into the "fachs" some of us are so fond of distinguishing.
    you're probably expecting some major disagreement from me, but you are criticizing technical trends which arouse out of the fach system, not the fach system itself. with that in mind, your criticism is valid. several examples I think of are:
    1) failure to teach heavier voices to sing some degree of coloratura. among healthily-produced big voices, everyone from Kirsten Flagstad to Dolora Zajick to Tito Gobbi believes that vocal flexibility is important in keeping the voice fresh.
    2) teaching lighter voices that they don't need to support the bottom 2/3 of their range (except for tenors, in which case it's all types of tenors and the bottom 4/5 of the range lmao).
    3) (especially in Wagner), the notion that big voices do not need to sing with legato (hell, we basically expect lyric singers to sing legato anymore. after dramatic voices, some of the biggest offenders are those girly lil coloraturas, and it seems like we've given up on the concept of male voices singing legato altogether apart from Hvorostovsky).
    Last edited by BalalaikaBoy; Jun-17-2016 at 07:16.

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    some counter-examples:
    1) Brigitte Fassbaender: a large dramatic mezzo with ample agilty (chest register is a tad bang-y, but a wonderful performance overall)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkzBR-S5eiE

    2) Kirsten Flagstad: a huge Wagnerian voice capable of singing with elegant legato (ia slower, more tragedian legato for sure, but still a solid legato)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsFw8Pp-85o

    3) Elvira de Hidalgo: a lyric coloratura with strong support down through to the chest register
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pqaEf395bY

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    I don't know whether this is another thread exulting great singers of the past, but I want to say that I was around 50 or so reading the reviews of some of Callas' Bel Canto recordings in the Gramophone and they were not universally favourable. Perhaps a perceptive comment at the time was made by (I think) Andrew Porter who said something like: "A Callas, a Sutherland, a Caballe comes along, and all we can do is to talk about their failings......" There appears to be this myth about great singers of the past but frankly hearing some of them (albeit in totally inadequate recordings) I do find it difficult to enthuse.

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