von Karajan anyone?
This is one of those myths that deserves a better look. Just who are the singers who were ruined by Karajan? Names and evidence, please. Many singers, including Callas, thought he was a singer's conductor, much more so than Solti, for instance.
Let's look at some of the candidates.
. When she took on Elisabetta and Aida, she had already sung Amelia in Simon Boccanegra
at La Scala under Abbado. She was no doubt mindful that she couldn't sing ingénue roles for the rest of her life and wanted to expand her repertoire. In any case, though her voice did change, it remained pretty healthy throughout a very long career. She was also pretty astute about her own limitations. Though offered it over and over again, she never sang Butterfly on stage, as she thought it was too heavy for her voice. Verdi's more transparent orchestration made roles like Elisabetta and Aida a safer bet for her.
. No doubt he shouldn't have gone on to sing heavier roles, like Don Carlo and Radames, but there are countless examples of lyric tenors doing the same thing without any help from Karajan (Di Stefano and Alagna anyone?) Carreras continued singing quite a few heavy roles after that too, none of them with Karajan conducting.
No doubt it was a very strange casting choice getting her to sing Turandot, but she never attempted it on stage. Nor for that matter did Sutherland, and, when Callas recorded it, it would have been beyond her in the theatre. (Nonetheless I am grateful that the studio recording affords us a glimpse of what she would have been like in the role in her early years.) Not so long ago I listened to the Karajan Turandot
for the first time in several years. Ricciarelli, though obviously stretched, is not half as bad as I'd misremembered. You might think she could never have sung it in the theatre, but, then, so did she.
Maybe there are grounds here, but I'm not sure they even hold water. Having heard in the theatre, both in her soprano and mezzo days, I can attest to the fact that it was a pretty large voice. I also have a live recording of her singing the Dyer's Wife under Solti at Covent Garden. She has no trouble riding the orchestral storm Solti whips up, but the top is evidently under stress. Soon after this she withdrew from opera and re-trained as a mezzo, thus extending her career for quite a few years. No doubt some people will argue her unsuitability for the roles of Isolde and Brünnhilde (though her first Brünnhildes were actually for Scottish Opera, not for Karajan), but I honestly think her Leonore under Karajan one of the best on record.
When Jessye Norman first sang the Liebestod
in concert with Karajan, an interviewer asked her if she would now sing the role on stage. Her answer was that, with Karajan in the pit, she would consider it, but not with anyone else.
I don't know where this myth of Karajan being a voice wrecker came from, but it makes no sense to me. In any case, aren't singers responsible for their own careers? He apparently wanted Schwarzkopf to sing Leonore, and she said she did very briefly consider it (she recorded Abscheulicher!
with him) but quickly realised it wasn't for her and that was an end of the matter. They continued a long and fruitful career, making quite a few great opera recordings together.