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Thread: Winterreise, Is Female Voice Appropriate

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    Default Winterreise, Is Female Voice Appropriate

    NOTE: In the Schubert Composer Guestbook a discussion arose about the appropriateness of a female voice singing Winterreise. The participants suggested moving that discussion into its own thread. The following posts have been moved to this thread, and people are encouraged to continue the discussion here (mmsbls).


    Quote Originally Posted by SixFootScowl View Post
    I got into Winterreise a couple years ago when I saw Joyce DiDonato sing it live. Just a few months ago I got into the symphonies. Wonderful music!
    I've never heard a woman sing Winterreise and can't imagine it. Or maybe I should say a (mezzo-) soprano so as not to be sexist.
    Last edited by mmsbls; Sep-17-2021 at 21:44.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Open Book View Post
    I've never heard a woman sing Winterreise and can't imagine it. Or maybe I should say a (mezzo-) soprano so as not to be sexist.
    You can get it with soprano too!
    “The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent look guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the mind of the masses.”
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    Lotte Lehmann recorded it 1940, it is well worth hearing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Open Book View Post
    I've never heard a woman sing Winterreise and can't imagine it. Or maybe I should say a (mezzo-) soprano so as not to be sexist.
    Can't imagine it? Here's how you do it: Imagine the voice an octave higher. Mind-bending, huh?

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdwardBast View Post
    Can't imagine it? Here's how you do it: Imagine the voice an octave higher. Mind-bending, huh?
    It's a story of a certain time, place, and circumstances. Clearly the main character, narrating his story, is male. A baritone or bass-baritone voice works best, not a tenor. Matches the dark quality of the wintry season that is the backdrop of the story.

    I'll try to hear a performance by a woman singer and see if it changes my mind. My speakers need replacing right now.
    Last edited by Open Book; Sep-17-2021 at 00:25.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Open Book View Post
    It's a story of a certain time, place, and circumstances. Clearly the main character, narrating his story, is male. A baritone or bass-baritone voice works best, not a tenor. Matches the dark quality of the wintry season that is the backdrop of the story.

    I'll try to hear a performance by a woman singer and see if it changes my mind. My speakers need replacing right now.
    It helps if one does not understand the language. But we could imagine a woman singing it about a man, and a few word changes ought to accommodate, not that I suggest messing with the text, but our imagination should be able to manage this.
    “The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent look guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the mind of the masses.”
    --Malcolm X

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    Surely if we can listen to a woman reading the poems of Wordsworth or Tennyson (including those written from a distinctively male point of view), we can also listen to a woman singing the songs of Schubert.

    And, for that matter, if we can accept a woman acting Octavian or Cherubino, we can also accept a woman acting the protagonist of Winterreise.

    Of course an awful lot depends on the quality of the actor. I personally find that someone like Brigitte Fassbaender makes me believe in this story more than 90% of male performers do.

    Afterthought: As regards pitch, I find that sopranos and some tenors make me see the protagonist as younger & more naive, scarcely past puberty, whereas contraltos and baritones evoke a more adult & more experienced sufferer. Each situation may have its own kind of poignancy.
    Last edited by gvn; Sep-17-2021 at 02:42.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gvn View Post
    I personally find that someone like Brigitte Fassbaender makes me believe in this story more than 90% of male performers do.
    Fassbaender is one of the best renditions and belongs in everyones' Winterreise collection.

    My collection includes

    SOPRANOS: Christine Schafer

    MEZZO-SOPRANO: Brigitte Fassbaender and Lois Marshall

    CONTRALTO: Natalie Stutzmann

    TENOR: Jonas Kaufmann

    BARITONE: Gerald Finley

    BASS: Matthew Rose
    Last edited by SixFootScowl; Sep-17-2021 at 05:48. Reason: Fixed mistake. Lois is mezzo not soprano
    “The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent look guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the mind of the masses.”
    --Malcolm X

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    Quote Originally Posted by SixFootScowl View Post
    Fassbaender is one of the best renditions and belongs in everyones' Winterreise collection.

    My collection includes

    SOPRANOS: Christine Schafer and Lois Marshall

    MEZZO-SOPRANO: Brigitte Fassbaender

    CONTRALTO: Natalie Stutzmann

    TENOR: Jonas Kaufmann

    BARITONE: Gerald Finley

    BASS: Matthew Rose
    Have you tried Ian Bostridge ? He recorded it several times.
    “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” ― Mark Twain

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    Quote Originally Posted by Open Book View Post
    It's a story of a certain time, place, and circumstances. Clearly the main character, narrating his story, is male. A baritone or bass-baritone voice works best, not a tenor. Matches the dark quality of the wintry season that is the backdrop of the story.

    I'll try to hear a performance by a woman singer and see if it changes my mind. My speakers need replacing right now.
    How about viewing it as actually being sung by the woman in the story while reflecting on her former lover's thoughts? See the write-up on the back of the new Joyce DiDonato recording. According to the listing on Prestomusic,

    DiDonato, however, casts a different light on this beloved cycle of 24 songs in telling their story from the perspective of the woman, the lost love. Nancy Plum, Town Topics writes: “The question of what happened to the woman who sent the narrator on a tortuous journey was not answered in the Wilhelm Müller poetry from which Schubert drew the text, but DiDonato created a scenario onstage of being that woman, reading from the narrator’s journal and responding to the inherent despair.”
    Last edited by SixFootScowl; Sep-17-2021 at 04:40.
    “The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent look guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the mind of the masses.”
    --Malcolm X

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rogerx View Post
    Have you tried Ian Bostridge ? He recorded it several times.
    I have not. Generally prefer the mezzo version and am strongly eyeing the DiDonato recording this very moment. However, I should check out Ian's recording sometime. I have heard of it and recall it is a very good one.

    EDIT: Winterreise was unknown to me until I saw it in December 2018 with Joyce and it was because I wanted to see Joyce that I went. Had I known, I could have seen Ian Bostridge live as he preformed it in February of the same year at the same theater where I saw Joyce. Joyce performed with Yannic, just as on the CD I posted above.

    EDIT2: I mistakenly put Lois Marshall as a soprano, but she is mezzo. I fixed it in my post.

    EDIT3: Ian is very good on the sound clips. But since my favorite is the mezzo voice and I already have a tenor, I will stick with Kaufmann.
    Last edited by SixFootScowl; Sep-17-2021 at 05:53.
    “The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent look guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the mind of the masses.”
    --Malcolm X

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    There is a thread about the voice for Winterreise in another subforum. Tenor works best for musical reasons, I think, but there is of course a huge tradition for baritone and there have been impressive interpretations by higher voices.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SixFootScowl View Post
    It helps if one does not understand the language. But we could imagine a woman singing it about a man, and a few word changes ought to accommodate, not that I suggest messing with the text, but our imagination should be able to manage this.
    The way I see it myself, it’s about the gap between reality and illusion, what is experienced and what is hoped for, striven for. And that gap creates a feeling of deep and endless loneliness. I don’t think it’s gender specific in the text except at the most prosaic level. And even at that level, there’s no difficulty about the voice of the poem being different from the voice of the narrator, the singer.

    I think someone in a post above said that they thought that the mood of the poetry, the desolation, was best suited to a male voice - I can’t find the post now. I disagree.

    Here, found it!

    Quote Originally Posted by Open Book View Post
    It's a story of a certain time, place, and circumstances. Clearly the main character, narrating his story, is male. A baritone or bass-baritone voice works best, not a tenor. Matches the dark quality of the wintry season that is the backdrop of the story.
    .
    Last edited by Mandryka; Sep-17-2021 at 10:04.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SixFootScowl View Post
    How about viewing it as actually being sung by the woman in the story while reflecting on her former lover's thoughts? See the write-up on the back of the new Joyce DiDonato recording. According to the listing on Prestomusic,



    The narrator of the story is a drifter who arrived in a town where he knew no one, fell in love with a woman, almost married into her welcoming family (according to him; can we totally believe him or is he delusional?), lost that woman, and now feels like a stranger again. He goes on a pilgrimage to places that had significance for himself and his former love, in the middle of winter, an aimless wandering. Perhaps he is suicidal, one gets the feeling he would like to just curl up and fall sleep in the freezing outdoors.

    How many women are drifters, especially in those days? How many go heedlessly wandering alone on crazy pilgrimages? How many take a romantic loss that severely, feeling that their whole social fabric has been ripped apart?

    In these circumstances a woman would more likely share her sorrow with her friends and pick up the pieces, not isolate herself.
    Last edited by Open Book; Sep-17-2021 at 16:49.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Open Book View Post
    The narrator of the story is a drifter who arrived in a town where he knew no one, fell in love with a woman, almost married into her welcoming family (according to him; can we totally believe him or is he delusional?), lost that woman, and now feels like a stranger again. He goes on a pilgrimage to places that had significance for himself and his former love, in the middle of winter, an aimless wandering. Perhaps he is suicidal, one gets the feeling he would like to just curl up and fall sleep in the freezing outdoors.

    How many women are drifters, especially in those days? How many go heedlessly wandering alone on crazy pilgrimages? How many take a romantic loss that severely, feeling that their whole social fabric has been ripped apart?

    In these circumstances a woman would more likely share her sorrow with her friends and pick up the pieces, not isolate herself
    .
    Agree, which is why Joyce Didonato's approach works so well. Here is a more detailed description of Joyce's approach from the concert where I saw her perform Winterreise. I don't think she intends that the woman go out and wander too, but to do so mentally as she reads over the poems. Here she she says it maybe was her performing Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther that led her to formulate this approach to Winterreise:
    https://ums.org/tag/winterreise/
    Last edited by SixFootScowl; Sep-17-2021 at 17:03.
    “The media’s the most powerful entity on Earth. They have the power to make the innocent look guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the mind of the masses.”
    --Malcolm X

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