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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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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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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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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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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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Discussion Starter · #25 ·
I think that's wise, I've heard a number of versions of this aria over the years and very few can even begin to do it justice. That's one reason why Sutherland's recording is so remarkable. I haven't heard Verrett, who I think would be superb and Bumbry is good, but I haven't heard hers in a while so it will be interesting to compare with Joan.

N.
Virtual hug! Need to put in more words LOL
 

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Discussion Starter · #28 · (Edited)
Can you speak or sing French? I can do both, quite accurately, and I can't catch half of what she's saying. I have to wonder how much I'd be able to distinguish if I'd never heard the aria before. All the vowels tend toward a "schwa," tinged with something like the French "eu," and consonants are variable. The very first phrase of the aria, "Pleurez, pleurez mes yeux," might as well be "meuweu, meuweu, meuse yeu." Her phrasing may not be "droopy," but in the quiet passages it is somewhat limp and lacks intensity and drive, partly due to her mannerism of swelling and backing off of notes rather than steering them strongly into each other in a sharply etched legato line. Where the music is more declamatory and doesn't permit this sort of swooniness she's better, so that she leaves a more positive impression than her beginning led me to expect.

If she excels herself, it's only the self of 1962 which had declined after the Lucias of the 1950s.
Never again will I post Sutherland in any contests. Sorry folks. I have some she'd be great in such as Turandot but I hate seeing my love raked over the coals so and it is inevitable in this crowd. I must have abysmal taste. Oh, well.
 

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Discussion Starter · #30 ·
Awwww. May I recommend a scented bubble bath and a glass - or maybe a whole bottle - of Harvey's Bristol Cream?
She's been a constant in my life for 50 years and more than other stars there is very strong emotional connection, much more than just being a fan. You are likely too mature to have such adolescent attachments to singers but I am an early teen in an old body.
 

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Discussion Starter · #32 ·
Ah, I see now (maybe I'm slow about some things). If she's that special to you, you would indeed be wise to set her aside, else you could go through an awful lot of bubble bath and Bristol Cream. I think most of us are responsible critics, but we do call 'em as we hear 'em.
It is like trying to sell American pies to the Brits who find them too sweet. Not going to work LOL
 

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Discussion Starter · #37 · (Edited)
And yet you have Birgit as your avatar?
This is actually a strange case. I LOVE Nilsson as a personality and her acting in her late Elektra, but I don't really listen to her much anymore but WORSHIPPED her as a teen. I find her very funny which is why I love my avatar. Her sound is fascinating but it is not my favorite. I'd rather watch her sing than just listen to her sing, except for Sibelius and Grieg. I did do a two part video series on her based on my Toastmaster speeches which my club loved. I mostly would have loved to have heard her live, so it is a case of nostalgia. I admire so much about her and the savvy way she managed her career and left a $40 mil foundation!!
 

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Discussion Starter · #44 · (Edited)
Dearest John:
Do you know how many people think that Magda Olivero's voice is just plain awful and that she has this annoying tremolo and gulping glottal attacks galore? But to me she has an exciting dramatic quality to her voice that rises above her mediocre sound and brings forth enchantment in her performances for me. So what the hell do I care what others say about her? I adore her and she excites me like so many bread and butter singers who have "a voice like the angels" simply do not.

Maria Callas wouldn't be around today with her mediocre wobbly highs if it were not for the fact that something else "magic" was taking place within her unique sound that was immediately ear-catching. Top that with a natural musicality and a profundity of emotion with drama.

Joan Sutherland can claim to the skies the best damned high notes on this planet that produce hair-raising results to all who know even the least bit about a voice. So what if she's got that mushy middle, thanks to her spouse (it was not in evidence early on) -- just listen to her Art of the Prima Donna which is totally exquisite in every regard. There was only one La Stupenda, and for a good reason.
So please try not to be so very sensitive about "your favorite" because others see or hear something else in "their favorite" that is more appealing than in yours.
They all made it to the top one way or another and lucky are we for all three.
I'm sending you virtual flowers this time. I may do an Youtube video/ Toastmaster speech on Olivero and her late career and if I do you will get the link. What you say is put well. I was like this about Jessye Norman for years but with her I outgrew it. I still love her but not so "defensively" and I more clearly see the faults LOL. With Dame Joan I will always be a lonely teenage boy in Mississippi who had an idol to detract him from his mundane life LOL and I feel so proud of how fabulous I find her that I don't really get why other opera fans don't... and many don't . Thanks again.
 

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Discussion Starter · #52 ·
In the end, I cast my vote for Sutherland.

I enjoy Callas' performance but I find there is a vulnerability and resignation to Sutherland's performance which I find more moving. Just occasionally, Callas' forceful, proactive artistry grates on me. The bitterness and scorn and doleful sound are epic, but I've found it a bit of a relief this past week when turning to Tebaldi in Traviata, Souliotis in Norma, Sutherland in this Le Cid.
Sorry I wasn't able to use your marvelous soprano suggestions for round three.
 

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Discussion Starter · #56 ·
I share your opinion, which is eloquently expressed in this post. I would even add that I believe her vocal difficulties were hastened by her crooning in the studio. Cornelius Reid mentioned in his book The Free Voice that constriction, which inevitably happens when you lighten the voice, can "de-coordinate" the registers. And in the end, I believe this is what brought Callas's downfall: the registers became separated from one another, hence why people sometimes talk about her "three voices". Nonetheless, she maintained her great artistry, which makes her vocal decline even more saddening and frustrating. Such feelings also inhabit me when I think of the evolution of Tebaldi's voice...
I have a question for you. I know so few Tebaldi fans.... she is almost as poor here as Sutherland. I know Tebaldi was of course best best best in the early 50's. I may more forgiving than most but I thought her reworked voice in the late Giocondas was quite effective and I greatly enjoyed her in the role in Met Broadcasts when she took the role up late. Do you think her reworking of the voice made a difference for you?
 

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Discussion Starter · #60 ·
Now, I am no Tebaldi specialist, and have not listened to all she had to offer. I mostly limit myself to her early, live recordings, and some of the early studio recordings in which the voice sounds fuller and less harsh. But sampling Tebaldi throughout her career, the first thing that I hear is the loss of what one could call the "bloom" (cannot find a better word) that she had in the beginning. What I mean by bloom is the "ooooooh" sound (like an owl) that you hear when she sings, even when there is a lot of squillo, like in this performance:


In this performance, the voice is not harsh nor does it has this edge that would soon creep in. The bloom is like a cushion on which every notes sit. The feeling I get is that it enveloppes the voice. I think you hear it more easily with lower voices, like in this performance of Ave Maria by Christa Ludwig. Listen to how the "ooooooh" sound is always there, whether on the low or on the high notes. Listen to how she sings the vowel and how she slightly changes them, enough to maintain the falsetto action, but not so much that we cannot make up what she sings. Ludwig wrote about that in her autobiography and how changing the vowels without it being obvious was an art in itself:


Returning to the Tebaldi video, The "bloom", which is the opposite of harshness and edge, was present throughout her range and is only possible with a proper coordination of the registers, and more specifically proper falsetto action. To maintain proper registration and falsetto action, one has to sing dark and with proper resonance in the pharyngeal space. As a singer climbs up or down the tone scale, he should maintain such resonance by shifting the registers and slightly changing the vowels. As you go up, there should be more "ooooooh" in the sound, in order to maintain the throat open. But there should still be chest voice, in order to maintain clarity and squillo (a singer cannot really control these things, but he or she should try to obtain the right sound whilst maintaining the voice free of any undesired tension).

Just like Callas, I believe a "de-coordination" of the registers brought about Tebaldi's vocal decline. She lost that dept in her sound, which comes about when proper falsetto action is failing. She therefore developped an edge in her sound, and her high notes became shrill and flat, like screaming (not all the time though). You can also see in some videos that she sometimes sang with her mouth barely open, and that she would sometimes spread her mouth to reach the high notes, which naturally tenses the throath and make you lose the necessary depth to hit the note on pitch and with said bloom. The matronly tone also started to appear. Now her late recordings, like La Gioconda, are not complete disasters, and she could still spin some beautiful lines. But the changes can still be heard easily. To conclude, I think this video does a good job of explaining what became wrong with her singing, and finishes with a great display of what she actually did so well when she had freshly arrived on the operatic stage:


But to answer your question more explicitly, her reworking of the voice made no real difference for me. It did not really bring back what was so good about her singing. It may not have been her fault, for the knowledge necessary to solve her problems was getting rarer. It seems to be mostly forgotten today...
Best answer to a question I ever posted.
 

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Discussion Starter · #71 ·
I went looking for the English on Google but only just discovered it above...thank you tsaraslondon! My not knowing the words probably helped Sutherland but I found this an out and out toss up with the virtues being exactly what you'd expect. Callas was, as always, the more deeply committed, phrase by phrase and without artifice. Sutherland delivered the climax the emotion was begging for. If wobble had been Callas' only problem she might have won me over, but I also felt that her voice receded for the big ending, just when it needed to come forth. Obviously no such problem fir Joannie. If I knew the piece better I could see myself possibly voting for Calas but as it is my vote goes to Joannie!
You are receiving a virtual brotherly hug, sir! Welcome to the forum!
 
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