Classical Music Forum banner
1 - 20 of 90 Posts

· Registered
Joined
·
1,994 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
one singer who comes to mind immediately for me is Samuel Ramey who, the more I think about it, is a freak of nature as far as male voices are concerned, possessing a bizarre combination of
- the deep, resonant timbre and lower extension of a basso profundo
- high notes which puts most spinto tenors to shame
- agility which puts most coloraturas to shame
- the elegance of a bel canto soprano

it's hard enough finding basses who possess even one of these characteristics, but in combination (especially when combined with a charismatic stage presence).....wow. I have yet to find a bass who comes even close. there are basses I can objectively recognize as great singers (Ciepi, Hines, Ghiaurov, etc), but not of them really thrill me the way Ramey does. frankly, with a handful of exceptions, he's almost ruined the entire fach for me.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,849 Posts
Riccardo Stracciari (1875-1955), the Italian baritone who came nearest to having everything: brilliance, depth, power, range, agility, legato, style, emotion, vocal longevity. Rosa Ponselle said his voice was like "a shower of diamonds."

"Il balen":

"Eri tu":

"Largo al factotum":

Ponselle again: "Now that's a baritone!"
 

· Registered
Joined
·
357 Posts
Thanks for the tip on Stracciari! Me likey.

I'm very partial to Giorgio Zancanaro, who has "ruined" many a baritone for me. I cannot name names, only that they tend to be post-1980s and I occasionally leap up in the middle of their arias and exclaim "No. Just...no."

(By the way, on listening to the Il Balen you posted, I noticed that Stracciari seemed to aspirate vowels a bit and was wondering if that's an "Italianate" habit because Bastianini and Zancanaro did it too...)

I love Ramey as well, although he seems not to have ruined other basses for me.

I am still in search of my soprano ruin.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
2,726 Posts
(By the way, on listening to the Il Balen you posted, I noticed that Stracciari seemed to aspirate vowels a bit and was wondering if that's an "Italianate" habit because Bastianini and Zancanaro did it too...)
That's a decadent verismo habit that I've always found very annoying. I suppose it started with the Italians, and they seem to be the most egregious offenders. You don't hear older baritones like Kaschmann or Battistini doing it, as far as I know. The only records Stracciari ruins for me are his own! :devil: (OK, he made some good ones as well.)
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,849 Posts
That's a decadent verismo habit that I've always found very annoying. I suppose it started with the Italians, and they seem to be the most egregious offenders. You don't hear older baritones like Kaschmann or Battistini doing it, as far as I know. The only records Stracciari ruins for me are his own! :devil: (OK, he made some good ones as well.)
Aspiration of vowels, whether or not we approve of it, didn't begin with verismo, though I suspect the more vehement style of verismo increased its prevalence. We do in fact hear it in Battistini's singing:


Notice that it occurs mainly on quick notes; in slower-moving passages he always maintains a smooth legato connection. But if you'll listen again to Stracciari's "Il balen" (assuming you listened to it before, given that you think he "ruined" his own records) you will hear that the aspirates occur, like Battistini's, on quick notes, and that his legato cantilena is impeccable - superior to most baritones we've heard since, certainly. The aspirate, if not used too much or in inappropriate places, could be felt to be a device of expressive articulation; I'm sure singers of the level of accomplishment of Battistini and Stracciari were not unconscious of using it, and it certainly doesn't represent a technical flaw or an inability to make a legato connection.

Stracciari, for me, is similar to Caruso in that he bestrides two eras and styles; he has the faultless technique and stylistic flair that show his bel canto origins, allied with the visceral excitement and power which musical styles of the late 19th and 20th centuries required. The result is the kind of singer which we've come to call the "Verdi baritone," of which I have never heard a finer representative than Stracciari.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,802 Posts
one singer who comes to mind immediately for me is Samuel Ramey who, the more I think about it, is a freak of nature as far as male voices are concerned, possessing a bizarre combination of
- the deep, resonant timbre and lower extension of a basso profundo
- high notes which puts most spinto tenors to shame
- agility which puts most coloraturas to shame
- the elegance of a bel canto soprano

it's hard enough finding basses who possess even one of these characteristics, but in combination (especially when combined with a charismatic stage presence).....wow. I have yet to find a bass who comes even close. there are basses I can objectively recognize as great singers (Ciepi, Hines, Ghiaurov, etc), but not of them really thrill me the way Ramey does. frankly, with a handful of exceptions, he's almost ruined the entire fach for me.
I love Nicolai Ghiaurov but agree with you about Ramey, at least when it comes to Rossini.

For me it's more a case of certain singers "ruining" certain arias. For instance, I cannot imagine anyone singing "The Soldier Tired" by Thomas Arne better than, or even as good as, Joan Sutherland.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
16,666 Posts
Riccardo Stracciari (1875-1955), the Italian baritone who came nearest to having everything: brilliance, depth, power, range, agility, legato, style, emotion, vocal longevity. Rosa Ponselle said his voice was like "a shower of diamonds."

"Il balen":

"Eri tu":

"Largo al factotum":

Ponselle again: "Now that's a baritone!"
Sorry but when I hear clips like this I just wonder what all the fuss is about. It may be the ancient recording but this guy doesn't compare - let alone surpass - some of the modern singers. He may have been considered great in his day but when I hear him I just ask, "But why?"
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,802 Posts
Sorry but when I hear clips like this I just wonder what all the fuss is about. It may be the ancient recording but this guy doesn't compare - let alone surpass - some of the modern singers. He may have been considered great in his day but when I hear him I just ask, "But why?"
I'm in a library so I can't listen to the clips, but speaking generally this is what I think: while I do believe you have to allow for both limitations in recorded sound and "the style of the times," as well as the possibility that some of these singers weren't totally comfortable in front of a microphone, I have sometimes had the same experience as you, DavidA -- with, for example, Aureliano Pertile. No matter how many times I listen I cannot hear why he was/is considered so great. So while I do love certain singers from about the same time (Ponselle, De Luca), and I can easily hear their greatness on recordings, in general I just prefer more modern artists.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
1,994 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
I am still in search of my soprano ruin.
that will be the subject of my next post. to be honest, I'm kind of glad I'm not a soprano, because listening to certain sopranos is the equivalent for female singers of those teenage girls who awe over air brushed models/actresses who they can never realistically expect to look like.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
3,393 Posts
Samuel Ramey with his fabulous bass sound was just perfect and a great entertainer till Mother Nature intervened too early on and delivered an unwanted wobble to his otherwise wonderful sound.

Rolando Villazon -- an exciting, refreshing talent that misused his voice to the detriment of the opera world. A sad story.

Jose Carerras and Giuseppe diStefano both stepped over the line later on with dire consequences.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
2,000 Posts
I'm in a library so I can't listen to the clips, but speaking generally this is what I think: while I do believe you have to allow for both limitations in recorded sound and "the style of the times," as well as the possibility that some of these singers weren't totally comfortable in front of a microphone, I have sometimes had the same experience as you, DavidA -- with, for example, Aureliano Pertile. No matter how many times I listen I cannot hear why he was/is considered so great. So while I do love certain singers from about the same time (Ponselle, De Luca), and I can easily hear their greatness on recordings, in general I just prefer more modern artists.
I don't make any allowances Bellinilover. I just listen to what is on the record. I am an ignoramus on opera, and blown away by the knowledge of vocal technique displayed by Figleaf , Wooduck and others. I don't spend enough time on it to be an expert listener to opera, so I'm not sure if my opinion counts. Nevertheless, I have found that the early recordings, and more specifically acoustic recordings, have an immediacy, naturalism and poignancy that I don't get from the modern artists that dominate my collection.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,849 Posts
Sorry but when I hear clips like this I just wonder what all the fuss is about. It may be the ancient recording but this guy doesn't compare - let alone surpass - some of the modern singers. He may have been considered great in his day but when I hear him I just ask, "But why?"
In brief, there are specific things to listen for in evaluating a singer's vocal accomplishment. Whether one can hear those things is another matter. It's useful to have sung oneself, or to have worked with singers. Here are the things I look for:

1. Ease of vocal emission. Does the sound seem to spin out freely, or is there a sense of forcing or unnecessary effort?
2. Consistency of vocal emission. Does the sound seem to be produced with similar ease and quality at all times, or do changes in pitch, volume, and velocity cause distortions in these aspects?
3. Evenness of scale. Is there consistency in the timbre and production of the voice throughout its range, or are there distinct differences in quality or abrupt shifts in sound as the voice moves up and down its range?
4. Freedom and consistency of vibrato. Does the vibrato have a quick, even pulsation, fairly consistent despite changes in pitch and volume, or is it irregular, slow, quavery, or excessively wide (obscuring the pitch of the sung note)? Anomalies in the vibrato are due to muscular interference, wear, or fatigue.
5. Control of dynamics (volume). Can the voice move freely among dynamic levels, swelling and diminishing the tone at will without compromising evenness of production? This is a hallmark and test of a fine technique, and a requisite of expressive singing.
6. Flexibility or agility. Can the voice move quickly and freely from note to note? Voices vary naturally in this respect; a lack of agility may or may not indicate poor technique, but it is certainly a disadvantage.

These are the basic elements of vocal technique, all of them quite perceptible. They are objectively present in voices and are not, for the most part, matters of personal taste. The only partial exception is the vibrato; vibratos naturally vary considerably from singer to singer, and a vibrato which strikes a particular listener as unattractively wide or prominent may or may not indicate a technical deficiency. Wide vibratos have never been prized, however, for the reason that they tend to obscure pitch, if for no other.

Beyond technical considerations are musical and stylistic ones - but that's an immense subject.

Bringing this back to Stracciari in particular, he was a great singer in that he was virtually flawless by all the above technical criteria. I would submit that he was also a fine musician with excellent style in the repertoire he sang. If you would care to compare him directly with other baritones, I'll refer you to my post of 3/4/15 under the thread "Which singer best represents each fach?", where I compare nine other baritones of various generations from Battistini to Milnes, using the aria "Eri tu" from Un Ballo in Maschera as a test piece.

http://www.talkclassical.com/36837-singer-best-represents-each.html?highlight=stracciari

That was an exercise I found enjoyable and enlightening.

(As a postscript, I want to say that I do see the OP as asking for our personal tastes and not necessarily objective proofs of anything. Stracciari is a favorite of mine who I think is as fine a baritone as I've ever heard, but there have been others; among Italian baritones I also love Battistini, a great representative of the bel canto school of the 19th century, and Pasquale Amato, who unfortunately burned out too soon, apparently trying to compete with the powerhouse Titta Ruffo.)
 

· Registered
Joined
·
6,266 Posts
Samuel Ramey with his fabulous bass sound was just perfect and a great entertainer till Mother Nature intervened too early on and delivered an unwanted wobble to his otherwise wonderful sound.

Rolando Villazon -- an exciting, refreshing talent that misused his voice to the detriment of the opera world. A sad story.

Jose Carerras and Giuseppe diStefano both stepped over the line later on with dire consequences.
I don't think it was a case of 'stepping over the line' with Carreras; I think it was because he was ill.

Carreras' recorded speech to the European Union in 2009.

 

· Registered
Joined
·
16,666 Posts
In brief, there are specific things to listen for in evaluating a singer's vocal accomplishment. Whether one can hear those things is another matter. It's useful to have sung oneself, or to have worked with singers. Here are the things I look for:

1. Ease of vocal emission. Does the sound seem to spin out freely, or is there a sense of forcing or unnecessary effort?
2. Consistency of vocal emission. Does the sound seem to be produced with similar ease and quality at all times, or do changes in pitch, volume, and velocity cause distortions in these aspects?
3. Evenness of scale. Is there consistency in the timbre and production of the voice throughout its range, or are there distinct differences in quality or abrupt shifts in sound as the voice moves up and down its range?
4. Freedom and consistency of vibrato. Does the vibrato have a quick, even pulsation, fairly consistent despite changes in pitch and volume, or is it irregular, slow, quavery, or excessively wide (obscuring the pitch of the sung note)? Anomalies in the vibrato are due to muscular interference, wear, or fatigue.
5. Control of dynamics (volume). Can the voice move freely among dynamic levels, swelling and diminishing the tone at will without compromising evenness of production? This is a hallmark and test of a fine technique, and a requisite of expressive singing.
6. Flexibility or agility. Can the voice move quickly and freely from note to note? Voices vary naturally in this respect; a lack of agility may or may not indicate poor technique, but it is certainly a disadvantage.

These are the basic elements of vocal technique, all of them quite perceptible. They are objectively present in voices and are not, for the most part, matters of personal taste. The only partial exception is the vibrato; vibratos naturally vary considerably from singer to singer, and a vibrato which strikes a particular listener as unattractively wide or prominent may or may not indicate a technical deficiency. Wide vibratos have never been prized, however, for the reason that they tend to obscure pitch, if for no other.

Beyond technical considerations are musical and stylistic ones - but that's an immense subject.

Bringing this back to Stracciari in particular, he was a great singer in that he was virtually flawless by all the above technical criteria. I would submit that he was also a fine musician with excellent style in the repertoire he sang. If you would care to compare him directly with other baritones, I'll refer you to my post of 3/4/15 under the thread "Which singer best represents each fach?", where I compare nine other baritones of various generations from Battistini to Milnes, using the aria "Eri tu" from Un Ballo in Maschera as a test piece.

http://www.talkclassical.com/36837-singer-best-represents-each.html?highlight=stracciari

That was an exercise I found enjoyable and enlightening.

(As a postscript, I want to say that I do see the OP as asking for our personal tastes and not necessarily objective proofs of anything. Stracciari is a favorite of mine who I think is as fine a baritone as I've ever heard, but there have been others; among Italian baritones I also love Battistini, a great representative of the bel canto school of the 19th century, and Pasquale Amato, who unfortunately burned out too soon, apparently trying to compete with the powerhouse Titta Ruffo.)
the only thing is that as a paying customer for opera I don't ask these sort of technical questions. The main question I ask is do I like his voice? Would I want to sit and listen to it all evening? Now it may be the aged technology but would I want to hear Stracciari's Figaro more than (say) Bruscantini's and the answer is 'No'. As I say it's difficult to judge with ancient recordings but I've always found myself very puzzled when people come up with the view these people were incomparable. I've no doubt they were great in their day in the same way (say) Emil Zatopek was a great runner in his day. But Zatopek's times have been surpassed.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
21,849 Posts
the only thing is that as a paying customer for opera I don't ask these sort of technical questions. The main question I ask is do I like his voice? Would I want to sit and listen to it all evening? Now it may be the aged technology but would I want to hear Stracciari's Figaro more than (say) Bruscantini's and the answer is 'No'. As I say it's difficult to judge with ancient recordings but I've always found myself very puzzled when people come up with the view these people were incomparable. I've no doubt they were great in their day in the same way (say) Emil Zatopek was a great runner in his day. But Zatopek's times have been surpassed.
I don't think it gets us anywhere to throw generalizations about. I haven't talked about "these people." I've talked about a particular singer I think is superb, and I've said why, in some detail now.

I don't generally "ask technical questions" either when I hear singers. I merely hear their technical skill, of which I consider myself a pretty good judge. You asked, listening to Stracciari, "but why?" I did my darnedest to tell you why. If you don't hear the things I hear, you might keep listening - or, if you don't want to hear or learn, not listen. That's your prerogative. Enjoy whatever you want to enjoy. I don't care. But I'm not interested in arguments which are not arguments for or about anything except your inability to see what I'm talking about.

I could take you, bar by bar, through a Stracciari performance of "Largo al factotum" (he made several recordings) such as this one:
and show you the points of vocal superiority to this one by Bruscantini:
It would still be perfectly legitimate for you to prefer Bruscantini (a fine singer, certainly) on grounds of timbre preference or interpretation. Obviously the recorded sound is superior, if that is an issue for you.

As for your comparison of singers with athletes breaking the records of their predecessors, music is not athletics. It should be obvious that not everything improves with time. You might as well say that Mozart was a great composer in his time, but that Mozart's times have been surpassed. I'll remind you of that next time you put down Wagner.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
16,666 Posts
I don't think it gets us anywhere to throw generalizations about. I haven't talked about "these people." I've talked about a particular singer I think is superb, and I've said why, in some detail now.

I don't generally "ask technical questions" either when I hear singers. I merely hear their technical skill, of which I consider myself a pretty good judge. You asked, listening to Stracciari, "but why?" I did my darnedest to tell you why. If you don't hear the things I hear, you might keep listening - or, if you don't want to hear or learn, not listen. That's your prerogative. Enjoy whatever you want to enjoy. I don't care. But I'm not interested in arguments which are not arguments for or about anything except your inability to see what I'm talking about.

I could take you, bar by bar, through a Stracciari performance of "Largo al factotum" (he made several recordings) such as this one:
and show you the points of vocal superiority to this one by Bruscantini:
It would still be perfectly legitimate for you to prefer Bruscantini (a fine singer, certainly) on grounds of timbre preference or interpretation. Obviously the recorded sound is superior, if that is an issue for you.

As for your comparison of singers with athletes breaking the records of their predecessors, music is not athletics. It should be obvious that not everything improves with time. You might as well say that Mozart was a great composer in his time, but that Mozart's times have been surpassed. I'll remind you of that next time you put down Wagner.
The comparison with Zatopek was, of course, not dealing with a creative artist. Singers are not creative artists. I would certainly not used the comparison in dealing with composers as it does not apply. In any case it is an incomplete analogy not to be pushed to its limit.
It's not that I don't know what you are talking about, as I thought I'd made clear that is not the issue. I've had musical training and I understand (most of) the technical stuff. I also have a wife who has taught singing! But what I am talking about is preferences of the listener. Our problems seem the same, friend. You don't appear to get what I am talking about! Our priorities are different! But let's agree to differ on that! :) Happy listening!
 

· Registered
Joined
·
5,811 Posts
I have found the opposite effect. Nobody has set the bar so high that the others have been ruined.....actually the bar seems to get set so high by other opera fans for Callas, Tebaldi, and the other greats (and great they truly are) that I expect to get blown away but that doesn't always happen.

On the flip side, I almost never hear people rave about Beverly Sills. I borrowed a CD of hers from the library on a whim....and I was thrilled by her singing. Her beautiful diction, wonderful coloratura. She is a delight to listen to and I cannot wait to hear her on Barber of Seville. This doesn't mean I like her better than other opera singers I enjoy, I actually don't know who I enjoy the most. I have only just started exploring individual singers, as my previous discoveries were more focused on opera reportoire and specific composers. I really look forward to journeying along more really getting a feel for the different unique facets of the singers. And while I fully intend to indulge in the big names, I look forward to going off the beaten path from time to time due to pleasant surprises like this.
 

· Registered
Joined
·
357 Posts
I have found it very interesting (or at least amusing/endearing) how some singers who fulfill so many qualities of basic good singing (and I think Woodduck has made a nice rundown of points) can have this or that single glaring bad habit that -- while not affecting your overall enjoyment -- makes you want to take them out to the woodshed on occasion.
 
1 - 20 of 90 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.
Top