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Thread: Maria Callas and Trills

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    Default Maria Callas and Trills

    There’s a long post from an Opera-L subscriber J. Waldman which I found absorbing and wanted to share on this forum. I reproduce it below:

    
    “ I have found many of Steve Charitan’s opera-l postings over the years very informative, particularly a recent one on why Verdi’s Veil Song should not be cut from Verdi’s Don Carlo, giving enlightening detail showing how it is crucial, and integral in so many other future scenes in this Verdi masterpiece. Therefore, I am surprised by two of his incorrect comments on his recent post about Trills. Since no one has addressed the error Steve Charitan stated in his posts about trills, after several days, I am responding with factual details to show why he is incorrect.

    He lists singers who sang Bel canto operas, who did not have a trill, and correctly lists singers such as June Anderson, Montserrat Caballe and Renata Scotto, but also lists Marilyn Horne. The reason why Idia has not heard all of the trills in the Lucia Mad Scene which she heard on a MET broadcast with Beverly Sills (way past her peak), is that for the past 35 years almost every soprano who has sung Lucia has not had a reliable trill. The Lucia Mad Scene has more trills than any other Mad Scene, with the exception of perhaps the Anna Bolena Mad Scene. Finally, there are 2 Lyric Coloratura Sopranos who sing Lucia, who have excellent dependable trills: Brenda Rae and Lisette Oropesa.

    Listing Marilyn Horne in the group who cannot trill though is incorrect. As Joyce DiDonato, one of the few current leading exponents of the Bel canto operatic literature, with an excellent trill, has explained after talking with Marilyn Horne, like Marilyn, she worked intensively to develop an excellent, dependable trill in every register of her voice. One can hear Marilyn Horne sing superb trills in many of her signature parts, in Rossini Opera Serias, such as Neocle in Siege of Corinth, Arsace in Semiramide and Malcolm in La Donna del Lago, (Here is her brilliant rendition of “Mura felice” from 1981 with excellent trills: https://youtu.be/H-ocg0zV-as) and trills together beautifully with Joan Sutherland in the duets in Semiramide (Sutherland’s favorite partner because she could sing all of the ornaments, including the trill). The only deficient skill in singing trills which Marilyn Horne shares with Joan Sutherland, is that all trills are paced and sung exactly the same. The other major flaw to Joan Sutherland’s command of trills is that she has great difficultly executing a trill of length, and has to restart the long trill. I have heard Sutherland do this several times in live performance and on studio recordings. Of course, a singer is not a machine, and cannot execute perfect trills every time they sing, so even the most respected masters of trills can have a performance when a trill might not be up to their usual high standard. I have heard this even with Joan Sutherland in Lucia, Traviata, and works of Gounod.

    The most major error in Mr. Charitan’s Trill post is stating that “Even Callas, despite her incomparable virtues, could not produce a consistently workable trill. Many times, when the music almost begged for it, she ducked the challenge.” As I will explain in detail with examples this is completely incorrect.

    1) Maria Callas was an exemplary, scrupulous musician, who served the composers she sang, and sang the embellishments written in the score, only adding embellishments when singing the second verse of cabalettas, feeling rightly, that otherwise adding trills and other embellishments to show off would be self-indulgent.

    2) Maria Callas had a superb trill in every register of her voice and never ducked trills in the score. She studied with Elvira de Hidalgo, a direct link to the Manuel Garcia Bel canto tradition. Manuel Garcia was the Father of Pauline Viardot and Maria Maliabran, two of the most pre–eminent Bel canto singers of the 19th Century, and one of the most admired Vocal Pedagogues in Bel canto ornamentation.

    3) As Walter Legge, EMI Producer, explained with De Hidalgo in interviews, Maria Callas could sing the most florid, difficult music written for soprano with ostentatious ease, which included the complete mastery of trills.

    4) Walter Legge was astonished that Maria Callas could sing long, limpid trills in every register of her voice, instantly change the pacing of the trill, and sing very long, limpid trills, with myriad shading and colors, but most astonishing and unique, Maria Callas could also sing any trill on any dynamic level. A) This complete mastery of Trills which Maria Callas executed, included exquisite soft trills, thrilling forte trills, and singing long held Trills with diminuendos, crescendos and most astonishing of all, a messa di voce (combining crescendo and diminuendo by increasing volume and then decreasing volume).

    5) Tullio Serafin, one of the most esteemed Conductors of Bel canto operas, stated that for the first time in decades, one was hearing every ornament in the score, especially trills, sung by a singer, which had been omitted for decades.

    6) Conductor, Nicola Rescigno, an esteemed Conductor of Bel canto operas, noted in a rehearsal for the 1957 Dallas Opera Opening Concert, and the 1958 EMI Mad Scenes recording, Callas stayed behind and assisted the orchestra musicians in explaining and demonstrating how to leave and approach a trill, pace the trill differently depending on the composer, and engaged in a detailed discussion of ornamentation. A) Nicola Rescigno was astonished that he was working with an extraordinary colleague, and an exemplary Musician/Singer.

    7) One can hear Maria Callas talk about trills in interviews, and in her Juilliard Master Classes, explaining that composers wrote trills in the opera scores to express the myriad emotions that the character is feeling. Maria Callas not only sang all of the trills in each score, which since a singer is a musician should sing, but in each trill expressed the emotion her character was feeling. Her trills expressed joy, happiness, elation, ecstasy, anger, sadness, power, and fear, amongst many other emotions she could express. This is why her singing voice has been described as a “mirror held up to emotion”.

    8) I have never heard any other singer, certainly in the Twentieth century, have this complete mastery of trills, which Maria Callas has, one who can vary the pacing and dynamic of a trill, executing a crescendo, diminuendo or a messa di voce on a trill.

    9) The five singers of the Bel canto revival who have excellent trills are Maria Callas, Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland, Shirley Verrett (her astonishing Arsace), and Marilyn Horne, but only Maria Callas can change the pacing and dynamic on any trill, and as with all ornaments, each ornament is a means of expression, not a way to show off.

    10) Maria Callas stated correctly that a singer is a musician and one would never expect a pianist or violinist to omit embellishments, such as trills. The composer put the trills there to express the character's emotions, whether it is love, joy, anger, sadness or resignation. Therefore, you should sing the ornaments expressing the emotion of the character.

    11) Unlike almost all singers, Maria Callas sings each ornament within the line of music, not interrupting with breaths or pauses. Her trills are integrated perfectly into the line of music she is singing.

    12) Almost nothing can create the frisson of a beautifully executed trill, and when you sing multiple trills written in scales, and Maria Callas does this many times, such as in “Al dolce guidami” and “Coppia Iniqua” in Anna Bolena, exquisite trills in downward scales in “Son geloso” and upward scales in “Ah non Giunge” in La Sonnambula and the cabaletta, “Salgo gia del trono” in Verdi’s Nabucco, and the end of the duet, “In mia man” in Norma.

    13) One can hear this in instrumental pieces such as Beethoven's Piano Concerto #5, Beethoven's Piano Sonata #32, O. 111, Brahms Piano Concerto #2, and it can be absolutely spellbinding, suspend time, and be truly eloquent. Two of the most sublime piano concertos, masterpieces of the piano literature, are the Beethoven Piano Concerto #5 and Brahms Piano Concerto #2, both which utilize upward scales of trills in the adagio movements, which when played superbly can be hypnotizing. The great Hungarian pianist, a sublime and profound musician, Annie Fischer, plays each trill softer, and the final trill of the upward scale of trills is the softest, in the Beethoven Piano Concerto #5, which is breathtaking.

    14) The following are several examples which illustrate what I have explained above describing Maria Callas and her complete mastery of the Art of Trills, with the mastery of changing the dynamic on any trill, which I have never heard surpassed.

    a) Verdi Ernani: Ernani involami Cabaletta, 1958: Trill on f on “ah vola’ with astonishing bounding staccatti.

    b) Verdi Il Trovatore: D’amor sull’alli roseé, 1953 La Scala: Long limpid trills, including the final long trill on E on pene, and the final E note, has a trill with an astonishing messa di voce. Luchino Visconti was sitting next to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, who was weeping, because she said she had just witnessed operatic perfection and a vocal miracle. See: https://youtu.be/pFggRqk16Zo

    c) Verdi Vespri: Merce dilette amiche, 1954: Stunning diminuendo twice on a long trill on E.


    d) Thomas Hamlet: Ophelia Mad Scene: Ah vos jeux: Beautiful, limpid piano trill on high A, followed by exquisite downward scale all in one breath. See: Live Italian 1956: https://youtu.be/XPGGmNy0aA4

    See Studio 1958 Mad Scenes in French: https://youtu.be/btb9deFQm_I

    e) Verdi Rigoletto: Caro Nome: Final rapturous, long mezza voce, limpid trill on E, (Gualtier Malde) after many trills superbly executed expressing Gilda’s joy. See 1955 EMI: https://youtu.be/H2XgPmotAbE

    f) Bellini La Sonnambula: Come per me sereno: Rapturous diminuendo on trill on E on non brillo, perfectly expressing Amina’s joy. See Cologne 1957: https://youtu.be/Yt7LsWBvOgE

    g) Boito Mefistofele: L’altre notte in fondo al mare: In both cadenzas of this short Mad Scene, on an E, the first trill sung with diminuendo to express inner torment and second trill with crescendo, to express her utter despair, fear and anguish, have a devastating cumulative impact.

    h) Donizetti Lucia, Lucia Mad Scene, 1953 EMI, right before end of first half of Mad Scene, one of the most exquisite, soft, long, limpid trills on high B flat before a superb high E Flat. See 1953 Studio: https://youtu.be/3eOnIRopojY Note exquisite, long High B flat pianissimo Trill between 12-13 minutes. See 1954 La Scala: https://youtu.be/2AYC43XI9O0

    i) Delibes Lakme: Exquisite long trills in Bell Song including long piano trill on high B before High E.

    j) Meyerbeer Dinorah Mad Scene, 1954 Live and Studio: Numerous long, limpid trills applied with chiaroscuro. Singing of astonishing command of all bel canto ornamentation and miraculous echo effects. See Live 1954: https://youtu.be/RxoPThTGYJo

    Another final superb example of the mastery of trills by Maria Callas is in one of her greatest roles, Violetta. A perfect example of the dodging of trills Charitan notes in the score, is by 99% of sopranos who sing Violetta, including 2 American sopranos with excellent trills, Rosa Ponselle and Renee Fleming, is in the extremely difficult cabaletta, “Sempre libera” in Verdi’s La Traviata. This is a cabaletta that is extremely difficult to sing faithful to Verdi’s score, due to the very rapid tempo, combined with every kind of ornamentation in the score.

    With Maria Callas, all of the rapid trills in “Sempre libera” are superbly executed, alongside dazzling scales, staccatos, and arpeggios, which is markedly different than the lifeless trills she sings in the last act portraying her fatal illness. Tito Gobbi stated that the most brilliant, dazzling renditions of “Sempre libera” he heard in his entire lifetime, were by Maria Callas, where every ornament was articulated with brilliance and ostentatious ease. Due to the extreme difficulty of “Sempre libera”, one can count on one hand the number of great singers renowned for Violetta since 1940, who sing all of the trills in “Sempre libera”, and over 35 singers who skipped all or most of the trills, and the one singer who claims to have sung Violetta the most, Virginia Zeani, skips all of the trills! Even in 1958, in one of her final performances as Violetta, a masterful Traviata at Covent Garden, paired with two other superb singers, Cesare Valletti and Mario Zanasi, under the insightful baton of Nicola Rescigno, when Callas is in problematic voice, with a thin high E flat and strained High C’s, each trill is perfectly executed, alongside an elegantly sung downward chromatic scale from a bell like High D Flat, to express Violetta’s abandon. Here is Callas in Mexico in 1952 in one of her most thrilling renditions of “Sempre libera” with every one of those impossibly fast trills in place: url: https://youtu.be/0bDKyZbhFNI

    These are just a dozen examples of the complete mastery of Trills which Maria Callas excelled in, which I have never heard surpassed. Maria Callas never indulged in self–indulgent over ornamentation, as did earlier sopranos before her, such as Luisa Tetrazzini and Selma Kurz, or after her, such as Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills, and all ornamentation was a means of expression wedded with sublime musicianship.

    John Copley stated in an interview in a MET Preview in 11/2001, that what he remembers most from his special friendship with Maria Callas, was her astute understanding of the Bel Canto Style, and how each cadenza and ornament written in the score was part of a complete dramatic expression of what the character is feeling. Copley stated that this made Maria Callas truly unique, and indefinably great; no matter what ornamentation Callas sang in all of her dramatic coloratura roles, she was singing each ornament to express the innermost feelings of the character. In summation, the mastery of the Art of the Trill by Maria Callas was all the more hypnotizing, in that each trill was a means of expression, not just to dazzle, which she does with her exemplary musicianship, and miraculous command of dynamics and shading of each trill. No wonder one of the Conducting Giants of the 20th Century, Victor DeSabata, said Maria Callas’s musicianship was so extraordinary that she sang like a whole orchestra!

    Warm Regards to Opera Lovers,

    Jerry Waldman”
    Last edited by MAS; Sep-08-2020 at 21:16.

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    I also read it and told him how much I enjoyed his post. It was a learning experience for me as I have been following their thread on trills -- born with it or acquired from learning?
    Some said one could not be born with a trill to which I vehemently disagree because I was born with one -- and a decent one at that, which made the post even that much more interesting to me.
    Whether or not I could have sustained it in an opera milieu is another story. I am sure I would have had to get some training on strength of my vocal cords, etc.
    But a trill can be taught. It is not easy and that is the reason there are so few good ones today.
    Marilyn Horne is a perfect example of a person who really struggled to acquire one -- different from Joan Sutherland who was born with hers.
    Others of recent past who have had a decent trill were Sills, Fleming, Callas, Ponselle, Swenson, Oropesa -- I even heard a good one from Furlanetto last week in a Met Don Carlo. There are others. It is not an easy thing to do and is a very interesting topic, so I too thank Jerry for his very informative post.
    (Never too old to learn)
    Last edited by nina foresti; Sep-08-2020 at 22:18.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nina foresti View Post
    I also read it and told him how much I enjoyed his post. It was a learning experience for me as I have been following their thread on trills -- born with it or acquired from learning?
    Some said one could not be born with a trill to which I vehemently disagree because I was born with one -- and a decent one at that, which made the post even that much more interesting to me.
    Whether or not I could have sustained it in an opera milieu is another story. I am sure I would have had to get some training on strength of my vocal cords, etc.
    But a trill can be taught. It is not easy and that is the reason there are so few good ones today.
    Marilyn Horne is a perfect example of a person who really struggled to acquire one -- different from Joan Sutherland who was born with hers.
    Others of recent past who have had a decent trill were Sills, Fleming, Callas, Ponselle, Swenson, Oropesa -- I even heard a good one from Furlanetto last week in a Met Don Carlo. There are others. It is not an easy thing to do and is a very interesting topic, so I too thank Jerry for his very informative post.
    (Never too old to learn)
    You and I had a short discussion about this on another thread, I believe, and it’s one of the reasons Mr. Waldman’s post was so interesting to me.

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    Thanks for posting this, Mas. I sometimes get tired of people saying Callas had a faulty technique. Maybe only a musician, or someone who at least is able to read music, can understand just how good her technique was. Technique is not just about firm, pretty top notes. It's also about being able to correctly execute all the composer's notes and markings, just as instrumentalists do.
    Last edited by Tsaraslondon; Sep-09-2020 at 13:46.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tsaraslondon View Post
    Thanks for posting this, Mas. I sometimes get tired of people saying Callas had a faulty technique. Maybe only a musician, or someone who at least is able to read music, can understand just how good her technique was. Technique is not just about firm, pretty top notes. It's also about being able to correctly execute all the composer's notes and markings, just as instrumentalists do.
    My pleasure - I thought it was important.

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    I’m reviving this thread which has many lurkers but very few comments. Apparently trills are not important to many opera lovers. Indeed even some singers who sing or sang in bel canto óperas forgo the trills altogether.

    In discussions on another thread about Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer, there was a discussion about her voice and schooling. A comparison was initiated about Gencer and Sondra Radvanovsky and videos posted of both singers singing the cabaletta from Anna Bolena’s last Act aria Coppia Iníqua. It has a series of rising trills, sung with urgency, and both singers are defeated by it, Radvanovsky most audibly, having to cope with some frenetic movements by the stage director, but Gencer disguises her eschewed trills more cunningly (it’s audio-only).

    The question and challenge is this: do you notice trills, and do you have an example of a singer who dodges the trills in any opera aria you know?

    For instance, I noticed on a recording of La Traviata soprano Virginia Zeani leaves off all the trills in Sempre Libera.

    There should have been one on the word deggio and the following folleggiare, and the following phrase viver and mio, etc.

    Let it be said that I’m not demonizing these singers, some of whom don’t have a trill in their vocal
    arsenal or leave them off for some reason.
    Last edited by MAS; Oct-17-2020 at 22:42.

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    Callas, Sutherland, Tetrazinni, Ponselle were the queens of trills for me. Caballe never had a good one.Callas was so perfect, even later on. She was impeccable with her coloratura to the degree she could reveal emotions in the midst of all that technical mastery.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Seattleoperafan View Post
    Callas, Sutherland, Tetrazinni, Ponselle were the queens of trills for me. Caballe never had a good one.Callas was so perfect, even later on. She was impeccable with her coloratura to the degree she could reveal emotions in the midst of all that technical mastery.
    Beverly Sills, though not a favorite of mine, had command of all you could want to sing, trills included. But unfortunately her voice wasn’t weighty enough to do what she wanted but she went ahead anyway. The tone was shallow and you feared she would break. She had a “flutter” to her voice that wasn’t unpleasant, but it became very pronounced later in her career, especially after the Donizetti Queens, when she pushed her voice beyond its limits (and beyond). But she could trill !



    Trills at around 4:54

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    Quote Originally Posted by MAS View Post
    Beverly Sills, though not a favorite of mine, had command of all you could want to sing, trills included. But unfortunately her voice wasn’t weighty enough to do what she wanted but she went ahead anyway. The tone was shallow and you feared she would break. She had a “flutter” to her voice that wasn’t unpleasant, but it became very pronounced later in her career, especially after the Donizetti Queens, when she pushed her voice beyond its limits (and beyond). But she could trill !



    Trills at around 4:54
    Sometimes I LOVED her trills and sometimes I didn't. She wasn't consistent. I enjoy some of her singing a whole lot but on the whole I prefer Sutherland and Callas. I loved her personality. I saw her up close and spoke with her and she was a very striking woman in person.

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    I'm with Callas, who once said, "A trill is a necessity this is the equipment that goes with our instrument. In these operas that we preform abbellimenti must be dealt with physically and technically. One must have these to serve the music and be an honest musician."

    We wouldn't forgive an instrumentalist for not being able to play the notes the composer wrote so why do we forgive singers? There are even trills in later Verdi, which we rarely hear because most singers don't have the technique. Take Un Ballo in Maschera. In the quintet at the end of Act V scene i, Oscar leads with a tune that includes many trills. Amelia follows with a variant of the same tune. The trills are still there, but how often do we actually hear them? However if you listen to either of Callas's recordings, it is actually the soubrette Eugenia Ratti who has ill defined trills and it is left to the larger voice of Callas to demonstrate how they should be done.

    Another Verdi role which is often imprecisely sung is that of the Trovatore Leonora, Callas's singing of which back in the early 1950s was a revelation, critics opining that it was as if an old master had been lovingly restored and brought back to life. There is an awful lot more florid music in the role than we usually hear. The miracle of Callas was not just that she correctly executed the trills and fioriture, but that she made musical sense of them. They are not just trills but means of expression. Indeed Grace Bumbry once said that if you wrote down what Callas sang, you would exactly reproduce what the composer wrote, not just the notes but the expression marks and phrasing too.

    It sometimes annoys me then that people will say Radvanovsky, for instance, is as great a Norma as Callas. From what I've seen and heard (on youtube), I would agree that she is an appreciable Norma and probably the best we have today. But I would also have to say her coloratura is nowhere near so accurate as that of Ponselle, Callas or Sutherland, let alone Caballé.

    I know I'm in a minority and most people don't even notice. As long as the singer makes a nice sound and sings beautiful top notes then it doesn't matter to them if they simplify the score to suit their lack of technical skill.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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    Quote Originally Posted by MAS View Post
    Beverly Sills, though not a favorite of mine, had command of all you could want to sing, trills included. But unfortunately her voice wasn’t weighty enough to do what she wanted but she went ahead anyway. The tone was shallow and you feared she would break. She had a “flutter” to her voice that wasn’t unpleasant, but it became very pronounced later in her career, especially after the Donizetti Queens, when she pushed her voice beyond its limits (and beyond). But she could trill
    The great bel canto singers like Maria have technical command of vocal ornaments and use them with great artistic effect and make them seem natural and effortless, as you say many famous singers cannot even come close to this level and omit them or struggle through them, and often singers who can do them are in the "canary" category with light silvery tones

    There are even more fundamental reasons why we love La Callas in these roles like Anna Bolena, because of her extended vocal range with dark lower voice she can put venom (official opera term) in those words like a tigress unleashed and fully express her fury and "vendetta" towards the wicked couple.....Sills sounds like an upset little girl by comparison and looses all the impact needed

    Also unique to Callas is her vocal power and amplitude all the way up the scale to her high note, almost all singers like Sills the voice narrows and becomes smaller and sharper to reach the high note, Maria is like a volcano and just devastating full force high notes, imagine being at La Scala and hearing that force unleashed live
    Last edited by DarkAngel; Oct-18-2020 at 16:11.

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    I recently was gobsmacked by Ruth Ann Swenson's spectacular trills as Gilda in a Met online Rigoletto. She really pulled out all the stops.

    This Jerry Waldman should write a book on the differences in voices -- good and bad. He's very talented and knowledgeable.
    He recently excoriated me (in a fair way) when I mentioned that I had enjoyed a performance of Netrebko's Lucia. He tore it and me apart. Actually, in reading his criticisms I found myself nodding in agreement with some of his disapprovals of her lack of proper bel canto technique.

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    Quote Originally Posted by nina foresti View Post
    I recently was gobsmacked by Ruth Ann Swenson's spectacular trills as Gilda in a Met online Rigoletto. She really pulled out all the stops.

    This Jerry Waldman should write a book on the differences in voices -- good and bad. He's very talented and knowledgeable.
    He recently excoriated me (in a fair way) when I mentioned that I had enjoyed a performance of Netrebko's Lucia. He tore it and me apart. Actually, in reading his criticisms I found myself nodding in agreement with some of his disapprovals of her lack of proper bel canto technique.
    Ruth Ann is underrated. She has a lot of warmth and richness for a lyric coloratura.

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    The original post is well written, and I enjoyed the use of specific examples to make the case (though I can't agree with all of the judgments). I am not a Callas devotee, but I can often appreciate a lot about her singing. I particularly enjoyed the Merce dilette amiche, which was wonderfully sung. The trills were excellent, as advertised.

    What I didn't like about the post and subsequent discussion was a tendency towards Callas Supremacy. This is the idea that I have a problem with, not an admiration for Callas' many gifts. The assumptions that go into this view are, as far as I can tell: that the ability to produce a proper tone is not as important a part of technique as florid ability and ornamentation, and that proper tone and and expression are different things.

    I can't agree. I think the comparison to an instrumentalist is apt: yes, the instrumentalist should be able to do all the runs and ornamentations, but the instrumentalist also needs to make the correct sound. Would we forgive a violinist who made screechy sounds above a C and who could often produced an overly wide vibrato at certain pitches, sometimes to the point of sounding off pitch? Well, we might if they had certain compensating gifts, like a high level of musicality, etc.. What I don't like is the idea that florid ability is a necessary part of technique being used as an argument for why Callas is uniquely great, but Callas' problems with tonal production and vibrato being hand waved away, or even, as sometimes happens, used as an argument in her favor, since they gave her a "unique and expressive sound." Either we think technique is important, or we don't.

    I personally happen to think that tonal quality is expressive, just like some people are moved by the sound of, say, a cello played well regardless of the music. I don't think that should be discounted. But beyond that, I think that being faithful to a composer's score does not mean reproducing the notes such that you could recreate the score exactly from writing down what was sung. I think it means creating, as an artist in one's own right, the effects that the composer created in the score (which may or not be equal to the composer's specific conscious intentions). That might mean disobeying the marking to obey the spirit of the score. It doesn't mean being sloppy or incapable of accuracy, but it does mean that you have to interpret music and not just reproduce it strictly. To be clear, I actually don't think Callas does that in the recordings of hers that I like. I just don't think it should be used as a point in a singer's defense.

    I think that's important because it means that singing all the notes and dynamic markings with an awful tone does not constitute musicianship, especially not in opera, which is different from instrumental music in that music is being used to express specific dramatic and psychological content, not only tonal relationships. The actual tonal quality matters, because whether the tonal quality is soft and clear or big and dark, or some other quality on the spectrum is the basic means of expression in opera singing, and it's what great composers wrote for. The voice is indeed an instrument, and like other instruments, it is actually meant to have a certain kind of sound which the composer took into account when writing the music, and which is essential for accurately "playing" the music and opening up its expressive possibilities. That means that when Callas produces a wrong top note with a wide vibrato and shrill edge, she is actually not singing what the composer wrote just as much as if she had left out a trill, ornamentation, or even sung the wrong note entirely.

    So it's not taking a cheap shot at Callas to point out her vibrato issues, just as it isn't a cheap shot at Tebaldi to point out her florid ability was sub-par. Both are flaws. Which one one thinks is more important will be a matter of individual taste. I just think we shouldn't excuse Callas' technical faults while not excusing other singers' faults.

    Finally, just as a matter of historical accuracy, I can't agree with the contention that Callas' ability to do dynamics on a trill is unique.
    Kurz crescendos during trills multiple times in this recording:


    Dalmores diminuendos out of this trill in Ah si ben mio:


    Sigrid Onegin does an absolutely insane crescendo on a long, long trill at the end of this aria:


    Crescendo on a trill from Leon Escalais:


    And trills in every register:


    These singers not only had perfect trills that they could use with dynamics, but also had perfect, even tone and proper, steady vibrato in every register and were quite expressive. They combined beautiful tonal production with expression, or rather used their perfect tonal production to be expressive, which is the bel canto ideal. In her best recordings, like that Merce dilette amiche, Callas belongs in their company.

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    Didn't Callas's technical difciences arise from a lack of breath support caused by her important weight loss in 1954 instead of, as you seem to imply in your post, an improper technique? I believe that she did not lose her technique, but lost her voice, and that the vibrato issues were often out of her control. She tried to resolve them so many times by asking Schwarzkopf and De Hidalgo but could not because she had lost so much strength in her breathing muscles (one loses a great deal of muscles when losing weight as suddenly as she did). If you listen to recordings of Callas before 1954, her vibrato is under control and all the voice is properly supported. She was then singing everything that the composer wrote. I mean, listen to her Armida, to her 1952 Tosca in Mexico, to her Il Trovatore and Medea in 1953 at la Scala. She then possessed an instrument which could do anything and I think it is the reason why she is often presented as being supreme. She was the last soprano able to compete with the singers you have presented above, and is closer to us than them.

    Last edited by Parsifal98; Oct-18-2020 at 19:30.

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