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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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I am of the same mind here vis à vis Conte's surprising positive comments on La Stupenda. Could he be switching to the Stimme camp and forgo Maria? Horrors! :devil:
No, not at all.

Firstly, I voted for Callas.
Secondly, it's exactly Sutherland's art that I was impressed with here. She was often a Stimme singer and as this is an intensely emotional aria that sits in between what we think of as soprano and mezzo territory today, I expected Sutherland to leave much to be desired. That isn't the case to my ear, she gives one of her committed performances. Bumbry is the Stimme artist in this contest.

N.
 

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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.
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.
 

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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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It's impossible to argue with perceptions, but it's amazing how differently we hear things. Listening to Callas give what seems to me an absolutely characteristic performance - concentrated and with an inward intensity, never letting the mental and physical energy flag, shaping phrases thoughtfully, tautly and with impeccable legato, responsive to every word of the text without ever resorting to an unmusical, superficial or unstylistic effect to express them - I can't imagine what "mannerisms" you're detecting, or how her finely detailed realization of the aria's moods could suggest a lullaby. I hear her making music with the same sure intuition, musicality and integrity that characterizes all her work, early or late. It's true that in her late recordings her voice sometimes undercuts her intentions - which are nonetheless pursued with not-always-comfortable zeal - but here that's a problem only in the high-lying climaxes. The darker timbre which her voice took on at this stage seems made for tragedy (or, as in Carmen and Dalila, an earthy sensuality).

I agree that Tirard (new to me too) sings and interprets the piece beautifully, though the voice as recorded (important qualification) has less depth of tone than I'd like. Marian Anderson's deep voice is surprisingly wonderful in this music. I just wish she'd taken a less hurried tempo.
I find later Callas mannered in the sense that I think she tones down her sound for the microphone and has a tendency to croon. The decline in her voice would have incentivized this approach, as the microphone would reveal more faults if she sang at higher intensity more consistently. I think others tend to hear this as detailed "shading" and "coloring" rather than "crooning", or as I put it in my first post "mannerism" and "over inflection", but that's how I experience it. I found her performance here to be too held back in a way that sounds like an affectation for the microphone, and that put me off.
 

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Also, I don't think it's just later and earlier Callas, I think it's studio and live Callas too, just that she was more prone to "special" singing in the studio later on as opposed to her earlier studio recordings. To try and give an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about, I think it helps to compare her later studio and live recordings. Here's her 1956 (I consider all post 1953 Callas "later") Si mi chiamano Mimi:

It's musical I guess, but it's boring and kind of limp. I get no sense of the depth of Mimi's character and feeling. Instead I get what I hear as Callas undersinging in order to sound sensitive. There's "lightness" and "shading", but it sounds fake to me.

Here's a live recording made a few years later:

Suddenly you can hear a real voice start intone the music -- she has to use her real voice to be heard. The lower notes are stronger and there's what to me is real feeling instead of affectation. There are vocal issues (including some distorted vowels of her own, which, even when they are quite serious as in her late recording of Ma dall'arido, never receive the same criticism as Sutherland's), but the interpretation is very strong. The former has more shading and what not (and also seems like a lullaby to me), but the latter, to me anyway, has more voice and thus more possibility for art as well.

This analysis doesn't apply 100% to the Massenet of the competition (e.g., her low notes are very strong and dramatic in the studio recording, and her tone is less pulled back and pallid in part because of the context of the piece and in part because I think she identifies more strongly with this music), but I felt some similar frustration while listening to her rendition.
 

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Not only her voice ever so slightly, uncannily 'artificial', but also her appearance; it uncannily reminds me of the "Uncanny Valley":
This post is downright cruel.
Actually, I don't recall ever reading such a nasty post on this forum. You should be ashamed of yourself. This post should be deleted if you have any class at all.
 

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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.
 

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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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Sorry I wasn't able to use your marvelous soprano suggestions for round three.
Hello, no problem! I'm pleasantly surprised they've generated even a little discussion given the age of the recordings and several of the singers aren't well known. Thanks for the different rounds, I'm enjoying hearing the singers/reading the discussion. David
 

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Also, I don't think it's just later and earlier Callas, I think it's studio and live Callas too, just that she was more prone to "special" singing in the studio later on as opposed to her earlier studio recordings. To try and give an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about, I think it helps to compare her later studio and live recordings. Here's her 1956 (I consider all post 1953 Callas "later") Si mi chiamano Mimi:

It's musical I guess, but it's boring and kind of limp. I get no sense of the depth of Mimi's character and feeling. Instead I get what I hear as Callas undersinging in order to sound sensitive. There's "lightness" and "shading", but it sounds fake to me.

Here's a live recording made a few years later:

Suddenly you can hear a real voice start intone the music -- she has to use her real voice to be heard. The lower notes are stronger and there's what to me is real feeling instead of affectation. There are vocal issues (including some distorted vowels of her own, which, even when they are quite serious as in her late recording of Ma dall'arido, never receive the same criticism as Sutherland's), but the interpretation is very strong. The former has more shading and what not (and also seems like a lullaby to me), but the latter, to me anyway, has more voice and thus more possibility for art as well.

This analysis doesn't apply 100% to the Massenet of the competition (e.g., her low notes are very strong and dramatic in the studio recording, and her tone is less pulled back and pallid in part because of the context of the piece and in part because I think she identifies more strongly with this music), but I felt some similar frustration while listening to her rendition.
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...
 

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Also, I don't think it's just later and earlier Callas, I think it's studio and live Callas too, just that she was more prone to "special" singing in the studio later on as opposed to her earlier studio recordings. To try and give an example of the kind of thing I'm talking about, I think it helps to compare her later studio and live recordings. Here's her 1956 (I consider all post 1953 Callas "later") Si mi chiamano Mimi:

It's musical I guess, but it's boring and kind of limp. I get no sense of the depth of Mimi's character and feeling. Instead I get what I hear as Callas undersinging in order to sound sensitive. There's "lightness" and "shading", but it sounds fake to me.
What sounds fake to one may sound like creative art to another. The Callas voice is not a natural medium for Mimi - or Gilda, or perhaps even Butterfly. One of the things that astonishes and delights some of us is that she is a vocal chameleon, with a unique ability to create a virtual new voice for role after role. Medea, Norma, Amina, Lady Macbeth, Lucia, Carmen - it's the same singer, it couldn't be anyone else for even two notes in succession, and yet each role is based on a different range of vocal color. Yes, it's artifice - and I say long live artifice, when it's allied to a musical and dramatic intelligence as original, penetrating and endlessly fertile as hers. (Whether this artifice damaged her voice is another question, which Parsifal98 discusses above. It seems reasonable to me.)

Contrary to your impression, I get more depth of character and feeling from her Mimi than from any other. Far from being bored, I'm constantly struck by her ability to find character in a word or phrase I hadn't suspected was there. Her characterization culminates in a death scene so delicately expressed, in a wan voice so drained and yet so full of feeling, that I feel like a witness to an actual death. I find it uncanny.

Here's a live recording made a few years later:

.........................................................

Suddenly you can hear a real voice start intone the music -- she has to use her real voice to be heard. The lower notes are stronger and there's what to me is real feeling instead of affectation.
Really, there's very little difference, and the sound of the live recording is so muffled it would make certain subtleties inaudible, or more imagined than heard. I prefer the studio recording, where her every intention is clear.

There are vocal issues (including some distorted vowels of her own, which, even when they are quite serious as in her late recording of Ma dall'arido, never receive the same criticism as Sutherland's),
Not hard to see why. With Callas you can hear the late-stage deterioration in the voice that leads to a distorted vowel here and there. You can simply ignore the distortion, which doesn't get in the music's way (in her Carmen, she actually makes creative use of this vowel alteration in places - who else would even think of such a thing?). With Sutherland you hear something - hard to say what - that seems endemic to the whole vocal production, something that makes vowels indistinguishable and consonants muted, such that it can be literally impossible, for certain stretches, to know what language she's singing in. The effect of the music itself is compromised by sheer inarticulateness, and we have to be content with a sort of sonic bubble bath. One thing Callas is not is musically inarticulate.

This analysis doesn't apply 100% to the Massenet of the competition (e.g., her low notes are very strong and dramatic in the studio recording, and her tone is less pulled back and pallid in part because of the context of the piece and in part because I think she identifies more strongly with this music), but I felt some similar frustration while listening to her rendition.
On the whole, I think I hear what you hear and understand your objections. My subjective reaction is, obviously, different.
 

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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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It's odd that we are so in accord on, say, Carl Martin Oehmann's rendition of the Flower Song. I feel like we hear the same thing and have the same response, not only to the quality of the voice but to the expressive effects for which it is used. Yet with Callas... Freni has less perfect legato at times, but she's no slouch either, and I like some her musical choices better actually (for example Freni's "I fior ch'io faccio ahime non hanno odore" is exquisite). The performance as a whole, while obviously also for the microphone and not an audience on stage, feels both deeply refined and spontaneous to me:

To me, Mimi's character is all about an enormously passionate soul hidden under layers of timidity, bodily frailty, and the oppressiveness of day to day life. Despite some overuse of pianissimo effects, I get that 100% from Freni, not from Callas.

Anyway, as always it's very interesting agreeing or disagreeing with you.
 

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It's odd that we are so in accord on, say, Carl Martin Oehmann's rendition of the Flower Song. I feel like we hear the same thing and have the same response, not only to the quality of the voice but to the expressive effects for which it is used. Yet with Callas... Freni has less perfect legato at times, but she's no slouch either, and I like some her musical choices better actually (for example Freni's "I fior ch'io faccio ahime non hanno odore" is exquisite). The performance as a whole, while obviously also for the microphone and not an audience on stage, feels both deeply refined and spontaneous to me:

To me, Mimi's character is all about an enormously passionate soul hidden under layers of timidity, bodily frailty, and the oppressiveness of day to day life. Despite some overuse of pianissimo effects, I get that 100% from Freni, not from Callas.

Anyway, as always it's very interesting agreeing or disagreeing with you.
Thanks for the Freni clip. She has a voice made for Mimi. The right voice can take a singer at least halfway to a characterization, and so there is no need for extraordinary art to triumph over nature. My reaction to this performance is that it sounds lovely, idiomatic and "right," but not very interesting (by which I don't mean dull). This might say more about my feelings toward the opera than about Freni or Puccini. Boheme needs something "extra" in the performance to attract me or hold my interest. Bjorling and Tebaldi managed that nicely!

The Callas voice is not made for Mimi, or for a number of other roles she sang (or at least recorded). It's an odd voice, to state the obvious, and it offered her an unusual set of limitations, challenges and possibilities. I get immense pleasure, and often amazement and awe, from her artistic resourcefulness in getting from her voice the most unexpected and unimaginable (by anyone not her) things, even - or especially - when it wouldn't be the voice I'd choose first for a role. I would never have imagined her as Butterfly, for example, and in the more passionate parts of the love music I find the astringent sound rather unpleasant - I really want a full, luxuriant sound like Tebaldi's - yet I find her whole portrayal achieving an almost unbelievable act of self-transformation and metamorphosis which in the end is almost too intense to bear. I haven't listened to that recording in many years. It actually scares me.
 

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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?
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 vowels 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...
 

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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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