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Who do you prefer in this, Callas or Sutherland

  • Maria Callas

    Votes: 18 78.3%
  • Joan Sutherland

    Votes: 5 21.7%
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Rogerx and The Conte gave me the gumption to put Sutherland up against Callas. Here we have two of the greatest coloraturas of the 20th century tackling a pure tragic lyric piece: one of my favorite arias.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Callas’s singing is musical, full of nuance and sung with great emotion and beauty in the first 3/4ths of the aria. Unfortunately the last part occurs and by this point in her career her high notes are all marred by a wobble a 16 wheeler could drive though, so the climax of the aria is ruined for me in this performance. High notes are very important for me. I wish she could have recorded this glorious aria in the early 50’s when she had solid high notes instead of as late as she did. Some Callas fans are not bothered by the wobble.
With Sutherland I can’t speak to her French as I never listened to it with a libretto, but I can safely say she gave an incredibly committed emotional performance, one of the very best of her career, but unlike Callas sang the whole aria with incredible beauty. I would say she probably came closest in this aria to her idol Flagstad in the unity of sound from beautiful low notes to her dramatic high notes, and like Flagstad combined in her high notes jaw dropping power with a sound of great perfection and a combination of both steel and warmth
 

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Predictably, Callas has a bit more emotional nuance and Sutherland's voice has more beauty (the power in those big high notes is something else). Both performances are great, but the presence of a slight wobble in Callas's performance forces me to choose Sutherland in this competition.

Two very worthy contestants though!
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Predictably, Callas has a bit more emotional nuance and Sutherland's voice has more beauty (the power in those big high notes is something else). Both performances are great, but the presence of a slight wobble in Callas's performance forces me to choose Sutherland in this competition.

Two very worthy contestants though!
I think this aria even more than In Questa Reggia shows the immense size of Sutherland's voice. I loved your comments.
 

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I have known and loved Callas's grand assumption of this aria since its release on LP, and I continue to feel that Charlotte would have been one of the most appropriate roles for her in the terminal phase of her career. Even the painful high notes are absorbed in her brilliant articulation of the character's own pain, as they could not be in some of the other arias she chose to include in her two French opera collections. I'm grateful that we have as much French music from her as we do, much of it lying predominantly in the mezzo range where the dark timbre of her mature voice made its best effect. And, though my French is rudimentary (don't ask me to converse with you), it's clear to me that she has mastered the sounds of the language as few foreigners do, and she is able to give a beautiful demonstration of the way in which the articulation of words fulfills an essential requirement of fully meaningful singing. This is a performance of immense gravity and authority that pierces the heart.

I didn't know that Sutherland had attempted this, and I wouldn't have expected it (which indicates nothing but my ignorance of her work, I'm sure). I can admire in it a genuine effort to rise to its challenges, and I suppose it gets at least halfway there. The fey, wilted phrasing which typifies - and sometimes compromises - so much of her work in bel canto opera is not wholly absent here, and there's no compensatory strength in her verbal articulation, which plays hide and seek behind a veil of "schwa" tinged with the French "eu," so that we can identify the language but not make contact with it. As everyone will point out, the high notes are strong and fine; however, the gain at that end of her range is lost at the other, where the lower middle voice has its typical plugged-up quality and the chest voice has little resonance or bite. Hers is not a voice made for tragedy, but only for the gentler pathos of the roles in which, wisely, she specialized.

I'm afraid I find no competition here.
 

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Kunst diva or Stimme diva ? I hope I have that right. It could be roughly translated as art vs. voice diva.

The Sutherland voice is magnificent, of course. As are the high notes. She gets a few more in as she transposes the last phrases upwards. The singing of the aria is smooth, hardly any sharp edges, nothing to disturb the flow of that voice. The conducting itself is hardly tragic, unlike the other video where it's all tragic. This is interpretative Prozac. But a valid choice.

" From that terrible struggle, I exit with a broken soul" begins the recitative. The French words don't sound so prosaic as the English ones.

The Callas voice is in a shocking state - the top raw and raucous, but what she does with the rest of the aria and its recitative is a master class of interpretation, color and grandeur. The voice itself is mostly in decent shape, the middle voice suiting the music beautifully. Some will decry the high notes, or the flap on sustained tones and tremulous sostenuti on even mid-high ones.

But I know which recording would come down from my shelf most often.
 

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I have known and loved Callas's grand assumption of this aria since its release on LP, and I continue to feel that Charlotte would have been one of the most appropriate roles for her in the terminal phase of her career. Even the painful high notes are absorbed in her brilliant articulation of the character's own pain, as they could not be in some of the other arias she chose to include in her two French opera collections. I'm grateful that we have as much French music from her as we do, much of it lying predominantly in the mezzo range where the dark timbre of her mature voice made its best effect. And, though my French is rudimentary (don't ask me to converse with you), it's clear to me that she has mastered the sounds of the language as few foreigners do, and she is able to give a beautiful demonstration of the way in which the articulation of words fulfills an essential requirement of fully meaningful singing. This is a performance of immense gravity and authority that pierces the heart.

I didn't know that Sutherland had attempted this, and I wouldn't have expected it (which indicates nothing but my ignorance of her work, I'm sure). I can admire in it a genuine effort to rise to its challenges, and I suppose it gets at least halfway there. The fey, wilted phrasing which typifies - and sometimes compromises - so much of her work in bel canto opera is not wholly absent here, and there's no compensatory strength in her verbal articulation, which plays hide and seek behind a veil of "schwa" tinged with the French "eu," so that we can identify the language but not make contact with it. As everyone will point out, the high notes are strong and fine; however, the gain at that end of her range is lost at the other, where the lower middle voice has its typical plugged-up quality and the chest voice has little resonance or bite. Hers is not a voice made for tragedy, but only for the gentler pathos of the roles in which, wisely, she specialized.

I'm afraid I find no competition here.
Gorgeously said!
 

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Woodduck got there first and has most eloquently expressed my opinion.

The most I can say for Sutherland's version is she has wonderful top notes, but I'm afraid that is not enough for me. Her diction is a bit clearer than it often was, but she makes virtually nothing of the words and I don't like the upward ending, which robs the end of its tragic grandeur. The aria's emotional and tragic core is missing and what I hear is mere note spinning.

Callas's top register is raw and she flaps at the climax, but oh what she finds in this piece, with so many phrases standing out in relief. Hamlet should have listened to Callas singing Mais qui donc a voulu l'éternité des pleurs (But who has wished this eternity of tears?). It would have saved him an awful lot of trouble.

Here are the English words to the aria.

From this dreadful combat I emerge brokenhearted!
But at last I am free and I shall at least be able
to sigh without constraint and to suffer without
witnesses.
Weep, weep my eyes! Fall, sad dew
that a ray of sunshine should never dry!
If one hope remains to me, it is to die soon!
Weep, my eyes, all your tears!
Weep, my eyes!
But who has wished this eternity of tears?
O dear ones in your graves, do you find such
delight
in bequeathing to the living implacable griefs?
Alas! I remember he said to me:
"With your sweet smile
you can only ever lead on
to glorious roads or blessed paths!"
Ah, my father! Alas!
Weep, weep my eyes! etc.


With Callas you don't have to understand French to get the general idea.

I might add that Chimène is one of those Falcon roles, which requires a solid middle and lower register and therefore not a natural for Sutherland. Like Woodduck, I wish Callas had given us more of these roles towards the end of her career. Charlotte, to be sure, but what a magnificent Cassandre or Didon she would have made.

To borrow from MAS, in the conflict between art and voice, it's always art that wins for me.
 

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With so much valuable comments already in place, I can only add that there is no competition here, in my opinion. Dame Joan is very fine but in my mind she does not connect with her heroine at all. There's mourning feel to it and that's that. Also (and that's very important in this aria) - there's no noticeable buildup towards the (supposedly) shattering end. The words are obscured and so their emotional meaning is obscured as well, it's a psychological trap.
Callas' version knocks me down. This is an Art of singing masterclass. It's sad to see her voice in such disarray by the final passages, but if forced to choose just one of the two versions for eternity, that would be my choice.
 

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I agree with 99% of what has been said so far. I know the Callas recording well and I've heard the Sutherland one once (I've given all her studio recitals a listen through). I like both, is that allowed?

Grace Bumbry plays Chimene in the complete recording of the opera I have (one of the few Massenet's that I like) and this has always struck me as being more a mezzo aria than a soprano one. Whilst Sutherland sang Massenet on stage (but not this role) and Callas didn't, this is very much Callas territory and she programmed the aria in a few of her concerts in the 60s. I am going to vote for Callas due to the suitability of her voice for the aria and her unsurpassed delivery of the opening lines from the point of view of the emotions of the character. Sutherland is at her most expressive here (and the high quality of her performance in rep that wasn't her natural area is extraordinary), but doesn't quite reach the very high bar that is Callas' emotional identification with the role she happened to be singing.

A great contest in any case. In truth the winners are both Callas and Sutherland and all of us who are blessed to have two such wonderful versions of this aria to listen to.

N.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
I agree with 99% of what has been said so far. I know the Callas recording well and I've heard the Sutherland one once (I've given all her studio recitals a listen through). I like both, is that allowed?

Grace Bumbry plays Chimene in the complete recording of the opera I have (one of the few Massenet's that I like) and this has always struck me as being more a mezzo aria than a soprano one. Whilst Sutherland sang Massenet on stage (but not this role) and Callas didn't, this is very much Callas territory and she programmed the aria in a few of her concerts in the 60s. I am going to vote for Callas due to the suitability of her voice for the aria and her unsurpassed delivery of the opening lines from the point of view of the emotions of the character. Sutherland is at her most expressive here (and the high quality of her performance in rep that wasn't her natural area is extraordinary), but doesn't quite reach the very high bar that is Callas' emotional identification with the role she happened to be singing.

A great contest in any case. In truth the winners are both Callas and Sutherland and all of us who are blessed to have two such wonderful versions of this aria to listen to.

N.
Bumbry is up next.
 

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Stymied once again. These things get tougher and tougher but through the storm comes a wee little hint that throws my choice in one direction. The chest tones are missing from #2 and are extremely appealing to me as they induce a lost feeling of despair.
Callas by a thread.
 

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Woodduck got there first and has most eloquently expressed my opinion.

The most I can say for Sutherland's version is she has wonderful top notes, but I'm afraid that is not enough for me. Her diction is a bit clearer than it often was, but she makes virtually nothing of the words and I don't like the upward ending, which robs the end of its tragic grandeur. The aria's emotional and tragic core is missing and what I hear is mere note spinning.

Callas's top register is raw and she flaps at the climax, but oh what she finds in this piece, with so many phrases standing out in relief. Hamlet should have listened to Callas singing Mais qui donc a voulu l'éternité des pleurs (But who has wished this eternity of tears?). It would have saved him an awful lot of trouble.

Here are the English words to the aria.

From this dreadful combat I emerge brokenhearted!
But at last I am free and I shall at least be able
to sigh without constraint and to suffer without
witnesses.
Weep, weep my eyes! Fall, sad dew
that a ray of sunshine should never dry!
If one hope remains to me, it is to die soon!
Weep, my eyes, all your tears!
Weep, my eyes!
But who has wished this eternity of tears?
O dear ones in your graves, do you find such
delight
in bequeathing to the living implacable griefs?
Alas! I remember he said to me:
"With your sweet smile
you can only ever lead on
to glorious roads or blessed paths!"
Ah, my father! Alas!
Weep, weep my eyes! etc.


With Callas you don't have to understand French to get the general idea.

I might add that Chimène is one of those Falcon roles, which requires a solid middle and lower register and therefore not a natural for Sutherland. Like Woodduck, I wish Callas had given us more of these roles towards the end of her career. Charlotte, to be sure, but what a magnificent Cassandre or Didon she would have made.

To borrow from MAS, in the conflict between art and voice, it's always art that wins for me.
Exquisitely expressed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Speaking for myself and the millions of Sutherland fans who have largely not discovered this forum, the beauty of Sutherland's voice is about a lot more than her high notes. I like the middle and the low notes too. Many Callas fans are tone deaf to these details in her voice. I am a Callas fan, but not late Callas. Alas!
 

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Speaking for myself and the millions of Sutherland fans who have largely not discovered this forum, the beauty of Sutherland's voice is about a lot more than her high notes. I like the middle and the low notes too. Many Callas fans are tone deaf to these details in her voice. I am a Callas fan, but not late Callas. Alas!
To be perfectly honest, Sutherland's voice isn't free from being tonally-neutral and choosing between late Callas and late Sutherland is a no-brainer for me. This part is more suited to lower voices. Massenet is not about the size (we're not talking about Esclarmonde), but with those deeper chest tones missing, some of the dramatic power is lost.
Again, with all due respect - Sutherland is a very surprising choice for this aria. But I'm sure the next round will come up with another worthy contestant!
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
To be perfectly honest, Sutherland's voice isn't free from being tonally-neutral and choosing between late Callas and late Sutherland is a no-brainer for me. This part is more suited to lower voices. Massenet is not about the size (we're not talking about Esclarmonde), but with those deeper chest tones missing, some of the dramatic power is lost.
Again, with all due respect - Sutherland is a very surprising choice for this aria. But I'm sure the next round will come up with another worthy contestant!
With all respect, at around 2:46 on Sutherland and 3:06 on Callas you have the lowest passage and I don't see what the fuss is about as they both have about the same amplitude. I know Callas can have booming low notes, but here she and Sutherland sing this passage at the same volume. Perhaps you don't like her lower notes, but she and Callas are on equal footing here. This is not Suicidio.
 

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To be perfectly honest, Sutherland's voice isn't free from being tonally-neutral and choosing between late Callas and late Sutherland is a no-brainer for me. This part is more suited to lower voices. Massenet is not about the size (we're not talking about Esclarmonde), but with those deeper chest tones missing, some of the dramatic power is lost.
Again, with all due respect - Sutherland is a very surprising choice for this aria. But I'm sure the next round will come up with another worthy contestant!
With all respect, at around 2:46 on Sutherland and 3:06 on Callas you have the lowest passage and I don't see what the fuss is about as they both have about the same amplitude. I know Callas can have booming low notes, but here she and Sutherland sing this passage at the same volume. Perhaps you don't like her lower notes, but she and Callas are on equal footing here. This is not Suicidio.
It isn't a question of volume. Not to rag on dear Joan, but I find her lower notes inherently rather dry, gray and inexpressive. Even some of the greatest singers are limited in their expressive abilities by their natural timbre, or have areas of their voices that lack character. A singer may have good intentions, but these might fail to come across, given the voice that she has. In Callas's case the upper range, which always had a bit of hardness to it, deteriorated to the point that it could express little but desperation, but the rest of the voice was always full of fascinating overtones which she could vary and exploit at will to express a wide range of character and feeling. Sutherland's voice, quite apart from it's technical abilities or its "beauty" (a subjective matter, of course), had a more limited range of expression simply by virtue of its timbral qualities.
 

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Looking through the versions of this aria on youtube threw up some interesting candidates. Bumbry and Verrett would seem a perfect fit, but I wouldn't have thought it would suit the likes of Cotrubas and Gheorghiu. I know Gheorghiu recorded a sympathetic Charlotte, but the role sounds a bit low for her and I would have thought Chimène would be too. Scotto recorded it late in her career and I came across versions by Resnik, Caballé, Yoncheva, Françoise Pollet, Kasarova, Te Kanawa and Félia Litvine, not to mention a host of versions by singers I've never heard of. It seems to be a popular recital piece.

I doubt I'll be listening to most of them (there's only so much time in a day), but one or two piqued my interest.
 

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Just as a supplement, some early records have made their way onto Youtube such as Nellie Melba from 1910 and Suzanne Brohly, 1920. I rather enjoyed the version by Maria Jeritza from 1926.

If we stick with electric records, there are some interesting versions including Cernay and Tirard and also Anderson in a live broadcast.

Germaine Cernay, 1928

Charlotte Tirard, 1929

Marian Anderson, 1943
 
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