View Poll Results: Who sang it better?

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  • Destinn

    16 55.17%
  • Caballe

    13 44.83%
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Thread: SOPRANO TOURNAMENT: (Quarterfinal 3): Destinn vs Caballe

  1. #1
    Senior Member Bonetan's Avatar
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    Default SOPRANO TOURNAMENT: (Quarterfinal 3): Destinn vs Caballe

    Emmy Destinn, Czech Republic, 1878-1930 (defeated Tetrazzini 13-7)



    Montserrat Caballe, Spain, 1933-2018 (defeated Price 15-5)



    Who's singing did you prefer and why?

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  3. #2
    Senior Member MAS's Avatar
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    I found Destinn too slow, though that helped her diction. Did she have a different score? There were a couple of notes missing from what I remember (were they grace notes or optional?).

    Caballe seemed in a different league, the voice being inherently expressive, warmer than Destinn's. Her breath control allows her to bind two phrases together, and execute a lovely diminuendo:" Signooooor, aaaaaaah aaaaaah!"

    It's Caballe for me.

  4. #3
    Senior Member Seattleoperafan's Avatar
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    Both excellent but Caballe really stands out here. It is sung with passion, but that peerless legato and the way when so beautifully diminishes the sound at the end of phrases plus the way she magnificently swells the sound at the high note then beautifully gradually shrinks the sound on the descending scale is breathtaking. Speaking of which, she hardly seems to breathe. I must also just mention she sheer beauty of Caballe's instrument, which is shown to great effect here. This is almost getting in Callas's league in my opinion.
    Last edited by Seattleoperafan; Mar-04-2021 at 21:43.

  5. #4
    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    I'm finding myself in a bit of a quandary here. Both performances have considerable virtues, but both have a couple of problems, for me anyway. Destinn's version is deeply felt and I like her cleaner execution of the opening measures, where Caballé here uses a surfeit of portamento. However Destinn ignores the little grace notes on con scinera and tabernacoli sali and the ones later on, which Caballé is careful to articulate. On the other hand, and unlike MAS, I don't like the way Caballé joins the two phrases at the climax. Puccini clearly indicates a comma after the word Signor on the climactic Bb, which indicates a breath before the ensuing Ab, and it better expresses Tosca's desperation when it is adhered to. What Caballé does is a vocal feat, no doubt, and displays her superb breath control and perfect focus of the voice, but it takes us away from the drama and brings the concentration back to the singer. That comma is an expressive device and most singers take advantage of it.

    Caballé has the more beautiful sound, but Destinn's is not unattractive despite the limitations of the ancient recording. I also feel that Destinn connects better with the emotions of the aria. Caballé is expressive as well, but I don't get the same involvement I get from Destinn. Caballé impresses by dint of her beautiful voice and impeccable control, Destinn is Tosca.

    Ultimately I'm giving it to Destinn for her greater emotional involvement, whilst admonishing her for ignoring the grace notes.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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  7. #5
    Senior Member Bulldog's Avatar
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    I love the vulnerability of Destinn's voice, but Cabale has the better "pipes".

  8. #6
    Senior Member Azol's Avatar
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    Destinn offers better role characterization, but sounds somewhat hysterical in places and it's hard to abstract from that impression.
    And Caballé's version just takes my breath away by sheer technical ability on display here. But not in a way Callas does - oh no.
    So while I cast my vote for Caballé, you know who's the real competition here.

  9. #7
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    Hooray. For once a no-brainer for me.
    I detest screechy top notes and Destinn's "Signor" had me running from the room -- it hurt my ears.
    Welcome to the most beautiful "Signor" passage by Caballe. It was gorgeous and right up there with some of the best.

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  11. #8
    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    I would just like to add to my comments above that I was finding it really hard to make up my mind and listened several times to both recordings. I thought I was going to come down in favour of Caballé, but eventually decided to go for the greater emotional commitment of Destinn. If Destinn's top Bb sounded screechy I put that down to the limitations of the recording.

    I'd also say that it is rare for composers to indicate exactly where a singer should breathe, but Puccini does so here with the comma after the top Bb. He obviously put it there for a reason.
    Last edited by Tsaraslondon; Mar-04-2021 at 17:20.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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  13. #9
    Senior Member vivalagentenuova's Avatar
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    Destinn's top note is note her best ever, true. Go back and listen to her top notes in D'amor sull'ali rosee and you can hear that she's perfectly capable. Everyone blows it once in a while, especially since she probably had to physically move away from the horn at that moment to avoid blowing it out (a common problem in those days). Her voice is such an enigma to me though. Every time she sings piano or balances towards the headvoice, her voice becomes extremely beautiful, even with the limitations of the recording. Much of this particular aria hangs out right in the middle, where her voice is very solid but just sounds slightly off in a way it's hard for me to describe.

    Caballe is certainly capable of shrillness herself. "Quante miserie conobbi..." was harsh, as her forte top notes often were. I agree with Tsaraslondon about the opening phrase. I really like portamento when used well, but I didn't feel that this was a good use of it, especially as she sang "con man furtiva", which repeats the same falling motion, straight. I can't say I loved her "signor" either.

    Both diminuendo on the "ah" following the climax. I prefer Destinn's lovely lilt there.

    Hm. This made me realize what a difficult aria this is. I have to go with Destinn. I like her straightforwardness here. And honestly, I sometimes find Caballe's voice harsh, and that's the case here.
    Last edited by vivalagentenuova; Mar-04-2021 at 17:42.

  14. #10
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    I don't really like either. However, Caballe's voice is steadier and Destinn makes some odd sounds when the vowels get distorted. I also don't like Destinn's droopy portamenti in the first two phrases. Both seem emotionally connected to that which they are singing, yet Caballe's emotions are more interiorised and this is a moment where a soprano can really let herself go emotionally.

    What I find interesting here is that the things others don't like about these recordings don't really bother me, whereas the niggles I have are over other things entirely! (I don't mind Caballe not following the score on 'Signor' as it makes emotional sense the way she sings it, as she obviously believes in her choice, whereas the moment is totally wasted in Destinn's version with the high note coming to an end and the next phrase starts as if she is singing her shopping list.)

    I choose Caballe for the better overall technique.

    N.

  15. #11
    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    It's such a short aria that I listened to a few more recordings one after the other to make some comparisons, following along with the score. The ones I chose were Ponselle (1919), Tebaldi (the Molinari-Pradelli recording) Callas (1953 De Sabata), Netrebko (from her Verismo recital) and Gheorghiu (first from her new Eternamente recital - the only track available to listen to on Spotify at the moment, and then the performance from the film).

    I didn't get to the end of the Netrebko performance as I couldn't really get past all that falsely darkened, muddy tone. I also quickly discarded the most recent Gheorghiu performance. She is now 56 and frankly she sounds it. The voice isn't aging well and that's why I turned to the older film performance, which I'll discuss in a moment.

    Both Ponselle and Tebaldi sing gloriously, Tebaldi at a slightly more spacious tempo, and Callas is in best 1953 voice. All four of these singers articulate the grace notes, though Ponselle inexplicably misses one of them and Tebaldi tends to aspirate them, and all of them stick to the letter of the score at the climax. However both Ponselle and Tebaldi snatch a quick breath before the first syllable of Signor where both Callas and Gheorghiu sing perche Signor in one breath, as Puccini indicated. It's a very small point, but it does show how closely Callas adheres to the printed page. It's also quite interesting that Gheorghiu's performance, in terms of phrasing anyway, is almost exactly the same as Callas's, almost as if she were ghosting the older singer. I wasn't sure about Gheorghiu's performance at the very beginning (voice and intonation seemed a little insecure) but she won me over after the first couple of phrases.

    In any case I thought all four ladies would win in a contest with the present two. Predictably Callas was my out and out winner, not only for the emotional conviction and commitment she evinces but also for the way she achieves it whilst simply carrying out all Puccini's markings.
    Last edited by Tsaraslondon; Mar-04-2021 at 20:29.
    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

  16. #12
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    Destinn, for me.

    Destinn has a terrific, steady, doleful sound which I find quite moving. She is articulate, too. The absence of the grace notes, as described already by others, are a minus.

    With Caballe, her voice is very beautiful. The beginning and end of the aria are reveries of silky tone and what I take to be pretty remarkable breath support. Compared to Destinn, though, I personally find Caballe's characterization a bit understated.

    Destinn lives it all very vividly: full of exasperation and, indeed, desperation whereas Caballe's is an altogether more resigned meditation.

    Thanks again, Bonetan, for this interesting thread and for the posters so far for your comments - I've really enjoyed reading them!

  17. #13
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Although I'm not a fan of Destinn's timbre as represented on recordings (I'm always careful to make that qualification), I was immediately gripped by the plaintiveness of her opening phrases. She continues after that to convey the woundedness of Tosca in a direct way that way makes Caballe's admirable interpretation sound more like just that - an interpretation, something more made than felt. Others have already pointed out some musical and technical features of these performances, so I won't be redundant with them. I'll go with Destinn.

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  19. #14
    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Emmy Destinn is one of the "golden age" singers I'd most like to hear in modern recorded sound - I'm sure her seemingly somewhat whiny sound would gain fullness and resonance - and for that matter to see in performance. She evidently had quite a dramatic presence (you can hear it on her recordings) and Puccini no doubt made a great choice in pairing her with Caruso for the premiere of Fanciulla.

  20. #15
    Senior Member Tsaraslondon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    Emmy Destinn is one of the "golden age" singers I'd most like to hear in modern recorded sound - I'm sure her seemingly somewhat whiny sound would gain fullness and resonance - and for that matter to see in performance. She evidently had quite a dramatic presence (you can hear it on her recordings) and Puccini no doubt made a great choice in pairing her with Caruso for the premiere of Fanciulla.
    I've also read about her dramatic presence. She hardly looks glamorous here though.

    "It's not enough to have a beautiful voice." Maria Callas

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