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I just came across a clip saying, that Marian Anderson had a very broad tessitura and could, in fact, have been a soprano. The decision for her to be a contraalto was made to avoid a situation, that she would be a love interest of white men on stage. Is this possible ? How does or doesn't the timing of her career overlap with other black singers, who were sopranos ?
 

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I just came across a clip saying, that Marian Anderson had a very broad tessitura and could, in fact, have been a soprano. The decision for her to be a contraalto was made to avoid a situation, that she would be a love interest of white men on stage. Is this possible ? How does or doesn't the timing of her career overlap with other black singers, who were sopranos ?
This is her interview. Her speaking voice sounds like a deeper Martina Arroyo in terms of darkness, with a hint of Denyce Grace, timbre-wise. Maybe just a low soprano/dramatic soprano or high mezzo?


 

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She was sort of like Jessye Norman and Ponselle in that she had a voice that defied categories. She was the first famous female black singer. The reasoning was very sound as some people had issues with Price in the 60's being a romantic lead, especially in The South and Anderson was a generation before. Anderson avoided much of that by singing mainly recitals and she was the most successful recitalist in the world then and she was competing against Traubel. You can hear her sing Casta Diva and she was vocally wonderful. Her instrument was both dark and bright at the same time. If you listened to the spiritual They Crucified My Lord she was giving you volume and richness down to the D below middle C that to my knowledge only Norman, Ponselle, Podles and Clara Butt could do. I don't know if the tessitura of soprano roles would have proved to be an issue but I don't doubt for a second that she could do it. I knew a much older guy who had heard Anderson live and he said his seats vibrated on her low notes.
She was like Sutherland and Norman and had a face that was built for singing with a very strong jaw, a really big mouth and an unusually wide mask to her face. She was very tall like both of them.
 

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Rosa Ponsele also had a very deep speaking voice, as well as some other sopranos.
Ponselle could have been a contralto if you hear her Russian Gypsy Song but she got much more fame and money being a soprano. Many say she may have been the greatest Verdi soprano of all time but would we remember her as a contralto?? You hear her in the low passages in the Tomb Scene in Aida and even the great Callas didn't sing with such power and that is saying a lot. Callas had strength down low but had trouble with the tessitura of Delilah.
 

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Ponselle could have been a contralto if you hear her Russian Gypsy Song but she got much more fame and money being a soprano. Many say she may have been the greatest Verdi soprano of all time but would we remember her as a contralto?? You hear her in the low passages in the Tomb Scene in Aida and even the great Callas didn't sing with such power and that is saying a lot. Callas had strength down low but had trouble with the tessitura of Delilah.
I always think Callas is much higher tessitura soprano. That's why her high C to my ears doesn't sound that high for her. And all the high Eb are just as easy (before 1954 of course). She's doesn't have the same lower instrument like Ponselle, Flagstad or Nilsson. Much higher than Milanov and Tebaldi also. But her (Callas) voice is so well developed that she could sing a variety of repertoire, i think.
 

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I always think Callas is much higher tessitura soprano. That's why her high C to my ears doesn't sound that high for her. And all the high Eb are just as easy (before 1954 of course). She's doesn't have the same lower instrument like Ponselle, Flagstad or Nilsson. Much higher than Milanov and Tebaldi also. But her (Callas) voice is so well developed that she could sing a variety of repertoire, i think.
In her D'amore big aria from Armida you are absolutely right about her C sounding like it was a G for most people. But that did not last after 30. In her early days her voice was really superlative!!!!! She was always the strongest at singing the low parts in Norma and her low notes in Suicidio are amazing. She sounds like a contralto. She sang Carmen incredibly in the studio. BUT she did have trouble with the low tessitura of Delilah. Like all things Callas the answers are complicated and not a lot of black and white clarity.
 

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She was sort of like Jessye Norman and Ponselle in that she had a voice that defied categories. She was the first famous female black singer. The reasoning was very sound as some people had issues with Price in the 60's being a romantic lead, especially in The South and Anderson was a generation before. Anderson avoided much of that by singing mainly recitals and she was the most successful recitalist in the world then and she was competing against Traubel. You can hear her sing Casta Diva and she was vocally wonderful. Her instrument was both dark and bright at the same time. If you listened to the spiritual They Crucified My Lord she was giving you volume and richness down to the D below middle C that to my knowledge only Norman, Ponselle, Podles and Clara Butt could do. I don't know if the tessitura of soprano roles would have proved to be an issue but I don't doubt for a second that she could do it. I knew a much older guy who had heard Anderson live and he said his seats vibrated on her low notes.
She was like Sutherland and Norman and had a face that was built for singing with a very strong jaw, a really big mouth and an unusually wide mask to her face. She was very tall like both of them.
Too bad they couldn't decide on a tempo. The way she tries to put the brakes on her hypercaffeinated band leader is almost comical.
 

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You can hear her sing Casta Diva and she was vocally wonderful. Her instrument was both dark and bright at the same time.
All of the best singers had this quality, known as "chiaroscuro" (light/dark). Originally a term of an Italian painting technique, it was later used by the great bel canto teachers such as Manuel Garcia to describe a powerful, open voice with just the right balance of chest voice depth and power with head voice clarity, spin and bright overtones.
 

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All of the best singers had this quality, known as "chiaroscuro" (light/dark). Originally a term of an Italian painting technique, it was later used by the great bel canto teachers such as Manuel Garcia to describe a powerful, open voice with just the right balance of chest voice depth and power with head voice clarity, spin and bright overtones.
Yes all the great singers I like have that quality. Most here ONLY like very early Sutherland. She had this to some extent but it was aimed more as a bright type of projection up till The Art of the Prima Donna. They don't like her voice after the early 60's when she started getting more of a mix in her voice which is my favorite period in her voice. I like the darker overtones she took on in her voice later on that gave the voice more of that chiaroscuro. Nilsson's voice has it in live recordings but you miss a lot of her dark overtones in studio recordings. Anderson had a voice I either loved or hated. Sometimes I loved her vibrato and other times her voice could sound choppy to me.
 

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I just came across a clip saying, that Marian Anderson had a very broad tessitura and could, in fact, have been a soprano. The decision for her to be a contralto was made to avoid a situation, that she would be a love interest of white men on stage. Is this possible ? How does or doesn't the timing of her career overlap with other black singers, who were sopranos ?
It wasn't a matter of being "a love interest of white men on stage" or not--it would have been a matter of getting onto an operatic stage at all, the color-bar being absolute in opera at the time she was training as a vocalist. Oratorio, symphonic concert, or recital work was more feasible; the Black tenor Roland Hayes was a noted recitalist and orchestral soloist from 1916 into the 1970's, making recordings in the acoustic era (both at his own instigation, to sell after his recitals, and as a regular artist on the Vocalion label); in the LP era he had several LP issues. --It might interest you to know that in 1944 he was one of the soloists in the world premiere of the Missa Oecumenica by the Russian emigré Grechaninov, with the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitsky (a recording exists):
As a true contralto Anderson had a leg-up from the rarity of this voice type, and from the popularity of such [white] contraltos before her as Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Clara Butt. In fact it shows the entrenchment of the color-bar at the Met that neither Gatti-Casazza nor Edward Johnson after him came crawling on their knees begging her to take on Erda in the Ring after Schumann-Heink's retirement in 1932 and Maria Olszewska's departure in 1935. Erda would have been a perfect part for her, and the closest thing they had to a true contralto in the Wagnerian wing was the mezzo Karin Branzell.

In the event I'm not sure how much an operatic career would have appealed to her--I have a hard time imagining what she would have done for instance with the hairpin-turn mood swings of Norma, about which you ask.

BTW, did you know that Stanislavski, impressed with her when she did a concert tour that took her to Russia, tried to get her to study up a Carmen with him at the Opera-Dramatic Studio? The lady turned him down, with regret.

As to Black professional sopranos in the first half of the 20th century--there had been some before Roland Hayes, but I don't believe there were any of his prominence. Aside from all-Black productions like Porgy and Bess and Four Saints in Three Acts the earliest prominent Black soprano I can think of was Dorothy Maynor, who again was a recitalist, concert soloist and recording artist--I hope that in the upcoming Rusalka playoffs we get to hear her lovely English-language 78 of the "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka (again with the Boston Symphony under Koussevitsky, ca 1940) which was a best-seller and for the US audience of the time their first introduction to what was then a previously-unknown aria.

Like Anderson and Maynor, the mezzo Carol Brice and the soprano Camilla Williams were frequent singers on the radio in the 1940's, and recording artists. Williams and the bass-baritone Todd Duncan were resident artists with the New York City Opera from the mid-1940's on, followed by many other Black artists.
 

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It wasn't a matter of being "a love interest of white men on stage" or not--it would have been a matter of getting onto an operatic stage at all, the color-bar being absolute in opera at the time she was training as a vocalist. Oratorio, symphonic concert, or recital work was more feasible; the Black tenor Roland Hayes was a noted recitalist and orchestral soloist from 1916 into the 1970's, making recordings in the acoustic era (both at his own instigation, to sell after his recitals, and as a regular artist on the Vocalion label); in the LP era he had several LP issues. --It might interest you to know that in 1944 he was one of the soloists in the world premiere of the Missa Oecumenica by the Russian emigré Grechaninov, with the Boston Symphony under Serge Koussevitsky (a recording exists):
As a true contralto Anderson had a leg-up from the rarity of this voice type, and from the popularity of such [white] contraltos before her as Ernestine Schumann-Heink and Clara Butt. In fact it shows the entrenchment of the color-bar at the Met that neither Gatti-Casazza nor Edward Johnson after him came crawling on their knees begging her to take on Erda in the Ring after Schumann-Heink's retirement in 1932 and Maria Olszewska's departure in 1935. Erda would have been a perfect part for her, and the closest thing they had to a true contralto in the Wagnerian wing was the mezzo Karin Branzell.

In the event I'm not sure how much an operatic career would have appealed to her--I have a hard time imagining what she would have done for instance with the hairpin-turn mood swings of Norma, about which you ask.

BTW, did you know that Stanislavski, impressed with her when she did a concert tour that took her to Russia, tried to get her to study up a Carmen with him at the Opera-Dramatic Studio? The lady turned him down, with regret.

As to Black professional sopranos in the first half of the 20th century--there had been some before Roland Hayes, but I don't believe there were any of his prominence. Aside from all-Black productions like Porgy and Bess and Four Saints in Three Acts the earliest prominent Black soprano I can think of was Dorothy Maynor, who again was a recitalist, concert soloist and recording artist--I hope that in the upcoming Rusalka playoffs we get to hear her lovely English-language 78 of the "Song to the Moon" from Rusalka (again with the Boston Symphony under Koussevitsky, ca 1940) which was a best-seller and for the US audience of the time their first introduction to what was then a previously-unknown aria.

Like Anderson and Maynor, the mezzo Carol Brice and the soprano Camilla Williams were frequent singers on the radio in the 1940's, and recording artists. Williams and the bass-baritone Todd Duncan were resident artists with the New York City Opera from the mid-1940's on, followed by many other Black artists.
The THINGS you KNOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
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