Classical Music Forum banner

Who do you prefer in this, Callas or Sutherland

  • Maria Callas

    Votes: 18 78.3%
  • Joan Sutherland

    Votes: 5 21.7%
61 - 76 of 76 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
641 Posts
In support of the de-coordination theory, when I complained about Callas' vowel modifications earlier, I had this recording specifically in mind:
Now it's a little extreme for her, but it does reflect in a heightened form a trend in her later singing. The middle becomes cloudy and "ah" and "oh" (chestier vowels, so to speak) are modified to "ooh", which as Parsifal98 was saying pulls in falsetto participation. Taking chest out of the middle (or never putting it in the first place) and singing with more falsetto is exactly what modern singers do that causes the old lady sound so many of them have. Callas never went that far, but her diction in this Ballo excerpt is pretty bad: "Ma dall' (the chest tones are clear) aridu stelu divulsu". She did not do that in her earlier complete recording, which is much better. Whether the reason for the changes is to compensate for other vocal problems, or as I suspect, because she is intentionally trying to slim down her town for the microphone so she can do all those subtle shadings, or both, I'm not sure. In any case, the contrast with proper coordination and diction is striking:
Rethberg doesn't start out in chest, but the low head voice is clear, and the vowels in the middle are very clear and "bloomed", to use Parsifal's terminology (which I like and agree with). Also, to be honest, I like Rethberg's interpretation much better. There's much more drama, feeling, and shape to the phrases. Imho.

Late Tebaldi is still Tebaldi, so it tends to be good and is sometimes pretty great. Think of her live Fanciulla from 1969 with Konya (with the legendary TRE ASSI E UN PAIO). She's still a formidable presence. But I agree that her best work is early.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
19,694 Posts
In support of the de-coordination theory, when I complained about Callas' vowel modifications earlier, I had this recording specifically in mind:
Now it's a little extreme for her, but it does reflect in a heightened form a trend in her later singing. The middle becomes cloudy and "ah" and "oh" (chestier vowels, so to speak) are modified to "ooh", which as Parsifal98 was saying pulls in falsetto participation. Taking chest out of the middle (or never putting it in the first place) and singing with more falsetto is exactly what modern singers do that causes the old lady sound so many of them have. Callas never went that far, but her diction in this Ballo excerpt is pretty bad: "Ma dall' (the chest tones are clear) aridu stelu divulsu". She did not do that in her earlier complete recording, which is much better. Whether the reason for the changes is to compensate for other vocal problems, or as I suspect, because she is intentionally trying to slim down her town for the microphone so she can do all those subtle shadings, or both, I'm not sure.
This aria from Un Ballo in Maschera is from Callas's very last published recital album, the third of her Verdi collections, when her upper register was a more or less complete wreck, although it could still sometimes function better than it does here. It makes me sad to hear this and to see it brought out as an example of anything, and ordinarily I would never listen to it except to admire the persistence of her sure musical instincts and stylistic mastery in defiance of the physical odds. Comparing it with Rethberg in her prime is a little cruel, don't you think?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
641 Posts
The date on the video says 1959, but the date might be wrong (1969?), in which case, yes, that would be unfair. Mostly, though, I was trying to use it to illustrate the types of sounds she began to make. They are worse here and not typical of her earlier work, as I said, but they are, in my view, the culmination of the direction she went in beginning in the mid-late 50s. The comparison with Rethberg's interpretation (not vowels) applies equally to Callas' earlier and much better version, though.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
19,694 Posts
The date on the video says 1959, but the date might be wrong (1969?), in which case, yes, that would be unfair. Mostly, though, I was trying to use it to illustrate the types of sounds she began to make. They are worse here and not typical of her earlier work, as I said, but they are, in my view, the culmination of the direction she went in beginning in the mid-late 50s. The comparison with Rethberg's interpretation (not vowels) applies equally to Callas' earlier and much better version, though.
That is definitely not her 1959 voice. I think the track dates from 1964 or 1965, the years of her final Toscas, her Carmen, her last Norma in Paris, and her departure from the stage. We can hear some vowel oddities in Carmen (where I could swear she sometimes varies the sounds intentionally for effect), but then in her Covent Garden Tosca from the same year the vowels are quite clear:


The vowel modification is certainly compensatory and seems to have varied depending on her vocal coordination at the time, but I think she was aware of it and occasionally altered the coloration intentionally. Aside from whether or not it's "correct" (obviously it isn't as basic technique), I don't always dislike the effect, and in Carmen I find it lends a certain sultriness that works dramatically. Jazz and popular singers alter vowels routinely for expressive effect, and we might ask why such effects might not have a place in opera as well.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
168 Posts
That is definitely not her 1959 voice. I think the track dates from 1964 or 1965, the years of her final Toscas, her Carmen, her last Norma in Paris, and her departure from the stage. We can hear some vowel oddities in Carmen (where I could swear she sometimes varies the sounds intentionally for effect), but then in her Covent Garden Tosca from the same year the vowels are quite clear:


The vowel modification is certainly compensatory and seems to have varied depending on her vocal coordination at the time, but I think she was aware of it and occasionally altered the coloration intentionally. Aside from whether or not it's "correct" (obviously it isn't as basic technique), I don't always dislike the effect, and in Carmen I find it lends a certain sultriness that works dramatically. Jazz and popular singers alter vowels routinely for expressive effect, and we might ask why such effects might not have a place in opera as well.
I do not know if constant alteration of the vowels, at least alteration that is not the result of the natural workings of the voice, is a good idea. Jazz and pop singers do it because they sing with a microphone and do not have to project their voices in a grand theatre. They can therefore sing with as much alterations as they want, and even with disconnected registers, airy vocal production, extremely tense voices, nasality... all such things which the modern vocal aesthetic as made permissible. But the old singing tradition, which put emphasis on health, efficiency and beauty, was the answer, taken from empiric experimentations and obervations, to a problem that predates the invention of the microphone: how can one sing as healthily, efficiently and beautifully as possible whilst being heard. Part of the answer is the importance of the vowels, which, at least in Romance languages and those influenced by Latin, are open-throated sound lending themselves well to natural pharyngeal resonance, the greatest tool for projection. Pure vowel sounds are part of the backbones of a sound vocal technique. Their proper alterations, due to the natural workings of the voice (as mentioned earlier) should only come about when one has learned the differences between pure vowels and impure ones. In the Free Voice by Cornelius Reid, the first exercices given to aspiring singers are to produce open-throated vowel sounds in the chest voice at different pitches, before singing them at an higher octave in falsetto with the ooooh sound (the bloom). The pure sound comes about before the altered one. Now, I know you only propose that vowel alterations could be used in opera for expressive effects, and I know you already know everything that I've written, as you've proven time and time again. The paragraph above is only there to support what I believe should be the rule concerning vowels in singing: singers should learn to sing pure vowels and their natural alterations before trying to change them for interpretative purposes (the old "master the rules before breaking them"). I am afraid that permitting such alterations without any boundaries will mean future singers will sing, just like the current crop, their "awwwwnnnn" and their "oowwwww" in collapsed headvoice on the Met stage with thundering applause. There is still time to change the status quo. Or maybe I am being too optimistic...

Concerning the Callas Carmen recording, I, like you, also appreciate the way Callas plays with the French language. Being a francophone myself, I find her inflections often brilliant. The way she sings

L'on m'avait avertie
Que tu n'étais pas loin,
Que tu devais venir,
L'on m'avait même dit
De craindre pour ma vie,
Mais je suis brave
Et n'ai pas voulu fuir.


in the beginning of the last act duet is, ever since I heard it, the standard to which I compare all other versions. But I do not consider her singing in this recording to be efficient and healthy, and while there are moments of beauty, it is also sometimes rather ugly. I believe the sole reason why I can appreciate the singing in the title role is because of Callas and the knowledge that I possess of her abilities as a singer, abilities which where in display much earlier in career and where by then failing her. A bit of projection as we would say. If any other singer had offered a vocal performance similar to her, I would have never listened to such a recording.

To finish, a word about the Rethberg/Callas comparison. While it is indeed slightly cruel if only used to criticize Callas, I find it an apt comparison for illustrating what we have been talking about during the last posts. It displays well the difference between good registration and bad registration, and the importance of the bloom, meaning falsetto action, in a good, healthy, efficient and beautiful voice.

P.S. Retherg's voice is stunning.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
168 Posts
In support of the de-coordination theory, when I complained about Callas' vowel modifications earlier, I had this recording specifically in mind:
Now it's a little extreme for her, but it does reflect in a heightened form a trend in her later singing. The middle becomes cloudy and "ah" and "oh" (chestier vowels, so to speak) are modified to "ooh", which as Parsifal98 was saying pulls in falsetto participation. Taking chest out of the middle (or never putting it in the first place) and singing with more falsetto is exactly what modern singers do that causes the old lady sound so many of them have. Callas never went that far, but her diction in this Ballo excerpt is pretty bad: "Ma dall' (the chest tones are clear) aridu stelu divulsu". She did not do that in her earlier complete recording, which is much better. Whether the reason for the changes is to compensate for other vocal problems, or as I suspect, because she is intentionally trying to slim down her town for the microphone so she can do all those subtle shadings, or both, I'm not sure. In any case, the contrast with proper coordination and diction is striking:
Rethberg doesn't start out in chest, but the low head voice is clear, and the vowels in the middle are very clear and "bloomed", to use Parsifal's terminology (which I like and agree with). Also, to be honest, I like Rethberg's interpretation much better. There's much more drama, feeling, and shape to the phrases. Imho.

Late Tebaldi is still Tebaldi, so it tends to be good and is sometimes pretty great. Think of her live Fanciulla from 1969 with Konya (with the legendary TRE ASSI E UN PAIO). She's still a formidable presence. But I agree that her best work is early.
I am glad that you mention the clear vowels in the middle voice. In my post, I wrote about the alterations of the vowels and forgot to indicate that such alterations happen mostly at both ends of a singer's tessitura. We can hear alterations of the vowels when Tebaldi sings in her booming low voice just as we can hear it when she sings high notes. If the falsetto action doesn't increase while singing in the lower register, then the voice becomes raw and unpleasant. Pure chest is far from being a beautiul and healthy sound. Tebaldi was acclaimed for her great diction, and the following performance, which has been posted by Woodduck before, is a great testament to it:


The vowels in the middle voice are pure and clear, and the voice is blooming. The way she sings

Mi piaccion quelle cose
Che han sì dolce malìa
Che parlano d'amor, di primavere
Di sogni e di chimere


gives me shivers. The clarity and purity of the vowels in a middle voice that still blooms means that while the qualities of the chest voice dominate in this tessitura, or are at least more present than in the high register, the falsetto action is still there, but does not have enough impact as to alter the vowels. It has just enough impact to give depth and beauty to the voice. Then again, it seems as if the voice sits on a beautiful velvet cushion. A wonderful performance indeed.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
638 Posts
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!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,613 Posts
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!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
116 Posts
I am glad that you mention the clear vowels in the middle voice. In my post, I wrote about the alterations of the vowels and forgot to indicate that such alterations happen mostly at both ends of a singer's tessitura. We can hear alterations of the vowels when Tebaldi sings in her booming low voice just as we can hear it when she sings high notes. If the falsetto action doesn't increase while singing in the lower register, then the voice becomes raw and unpleasant. Pure chest is far from being a beautiul and healthy sound. Tebaldi was acclaimed for her great diction, and the following performance, which has been posted by Woodduck before, is a great testament to it:


The vowels in the middle voice are pure and clear, and the voice is blooming. The way she sings

Mi piaccion quelle cose
Che han sì dolce malìa
Che parlano d'amor, di primavere
Di sogni e di chimere


gives me shivers. The clarity and purity of the vowels in a middle voice that still blooms means that while the qualities of the chest voice dominate in this tessitura, or are at least more present than in the high register, the falsetto action is still there, but does not have enough impact as to alter the vowels. It has just enough impact to give depth and beauty to the voice. Then again, it seems as if the voice sits on a beautiful velvet cushion. A wonderful performance indeed.
I like the phrase you mentioned too. It feels ecstatic. Who says Tebaldi couldn't act with her voice?

Well, just the first "Si" is enough to tell the listeners that this is going to be a voice with presence.

Yet, she didn't sound quite like this in the studio recording (Serafin) despite it being made 2 years later (1958). I am not sure because it has something to do with the balance of the studio recording, or she was asked to "tone down".
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
9,156 Posts
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.

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.

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.

On the whole, I think I hear what you hear and understand your objections. My subjective reaction is, obviously, different.
I've been away and evidently missed quite a lot whilst not checking TC, but I would just like to thank Woodduck for this wonderful post which puts into words far better than I ever could just what it is that so thrills and excites me about Callas. Early Callas, middle period Callas and late Callas, I'll take it all. The only recordings I have difficulty with and in fact never listen to are the ones from her final tour with Di Stefano, but there is much that is still magnificent even in the late recording sessions from 1969.

As for studio Callas and live Callas, I don't always hear that much of a difference. Sometimes, as in the Karajan live Lucias, as opposed to the 1953 studio one, she is more subtle live than she was in the studio, so evidently the conductor also played a big part. I don't hear that much of a difference in the two recordings of Mimi's aria, but prefer the studio one because of the better sound and the greater detail.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
9,156 Posts
The date on the video says 1959, but the date might be wrong (1969?), in which case, yes, that would be unfair. Mostly, though, I was trying to use it to illustrate the types of sounds she began to make. They are worse here and not typical of her earlier work, as I said, but they are, in my view, the culmination of the direction she went in beginning in the mid-late 50s. The comparison with Rethberg's interpretation (not vowels) applies equally to Callas' earlier and much better version, though.
It was 1964 and was one of the few arias Callas agreed to EMI releasing in 1972, six years after she had last appeared on stage. The other arias on the disc were Imogene's first scene from Il Pirata, which was recorded in London in 1961 under Antonio Tonini, and Verdi arias from Attila, I Lombardi, I Vespri Siciliani and Aida's Ritorna vincitor, all recorded in Paris in 1964 under Rescigno. The best aria on the disc is undoubtedly the Aida, which has fewer high notes and in which she recovers much of her former dramatic fire.

The sessions were fraught with problems, Callas being for the most part very nervous and insecure, and most of the arias were composites of various takes. Not so the Aida aria, though. Apparently they were all taking a break as things had got particularly tense and Michel Glotz, the recording producer, played a recording of Régine Crespin singing Ritorna vincitor, which had been recorded in the studio the previous day. Callas was insensed on hearing a performance that was so antithetical to her artistic sensibilities. "This isn't Verdi or Aida" she exclaimed, "When I sang this with Maestro Serafin, it had such urgency I could hardly get the words out. Are the parts still here?" she asked. On finding that they were, she turned to Rescigno and said, "Come on, Nicola, let's do it." And they did. In one take. It ended up being by far the best recording on the LP that was finally released in 1972. It seems she briefly forgot her nerves and just went out and sang.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,851 Posts
It was 1964 and was one of the few arias Callas agreed to EMI releasing in 1972, six years after she had last appeared on stage. The other arias on the disc were Imogene's first scene from Il Pirata, which was recorded in London in 1961 under Antonio Tonini, and Verdi arias from Attila, I Lombardi, I Vespri Siciliani and Aida's Ritorna vincitor, all recorded in Paris in 1964 under Rescigno. The best aria on the disc is undoubtedly the Aida, which has fewer high notes and in which she recovers much of her former dramatic fire.

The sessions were fraught with problems, Callas being for the most part very nervous and insecure, and most of the arias were composites of various takes. Not so the Aida aria, though. Apparently they were all taking a break as things had got particularly tense and Michel Glotz, the recording producer, played a recording of Régine Crespin singing Ritorna vincitor, which had been recorded in the studio the previous day. Callas was insensed on hearing a performance that was so antithetical to her artistic sensibilities. "This isn't Verdi or Aida" she exclaimed, "When I sang this with Maestro Serafin, it had such urgency I could hardly get the words out. Are the parts still here?" she asked. On finding that they were, she turned to Rescigno and said, "Come on, Nicola, let's do it." And they did. In one take. It ended up being by far the best recording on the LP that was finally released in 1972. It seems she briefly forgot her nerves and just went out and sang.
Callas - By Request was one of my favorite LPs and I played it to death.

Font Art Formal wear Electric blue Pattern
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
9,156 Posts
Callas - By Request was one of my favorite LPs and I played it to death.

View attachment 163187
It was my second Callas recital. My first was the Puccini disc, mostly because it was the only one that hadn't been deleted at the time.

I remember I asked to listen to some of it at my local record store (oh those wonderful days of the listening booth) but I was somewhat taken aback by the harsh sounds that I heard (I think it was the opening of O madre dal cielo) and I left without buying it. However those harsh sounds somehow kept on echoing in my mind's ear and I returned a few days later and bought the LP. After that it was hardly off my turntable.
 
61 - 76 of 76 Posts
Top