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Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi, Wagner, Brahms, Schumann
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Acting, singing, everything combined...............
 
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If we are talking stamina, then Wagner and probably Tristan & Isolde although it depends on lot on the staging. Being part of a Wieland Wagner production would be worlds different from Otto Schenk or some of the more bizarre current stagings. If you add in a significant acting component, then perhaps Salome or Lulu. Comic opera adds in another component so a good case could be made for Mozart's Figaro or Hoffman. Then there are a few operas which even require some dancing ability - Carmen. So you pays your money and you takes your choice :)
 

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Brunnhilde from the Ring Cycle. Here's why.

1. You have to sing in three different operas, actually. If the cycle is performed as Wagner originally intended it, then you will have to sing for three consecutive nights.

2. Brunnhilde has more lines to sing than any single character in the cycle. In Gotterdammerung, the longest opera, she has a significant role in all three acts. In Siegfried, she must wait until the last 20 minutes of the third act after she has been lying down for the better part of an hour.

3. The role of Brunnhilde requires a special voice type known as a Wagnerian soprano. No true Wagnerian sopranos currently exist. They are some of the rarest voice types and must have many years, sometimes decades, of experience before they are properly prepared for the task. There are usually only one or two of these sopranos active at the same time, and consequently, they are the first to get offered the role when a Ring cycle is produced.

4. And it ain't over 'till the fat lady sings. You'd better hold that cake until after the opera, because you have to save that third lung for the "Immolation Scene" - no, it's not a piece of cake.

Brunnhilde: the Mount Everest of opera roles?
 

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Brunnhilde from the Ring Cycle. Here's why.

1. You have to sing in three different operas, actually. If the cycle is performed as Wagner originally intended it, then you will have to sing for three consecutive nights.

2. Brunnhilde has more lines to sing than any single character in the cycle. In Gotterdammerung, the longest opera, she has a significant role in all three acts. In Siegfried, she must wait until the last 20 minutes of the third act after she has been lying down for the better part of an hour.

3. The role of Brunnhilde requires a special voice type known as a Wagnerian soprano. No true Wagnerian sopranos currently exist. They are some of the rarest voice types and must have many years, sometimes decades, of experience before they are properly prepared for the task. There are usually only one or two of these sopranos active at the same time, and consequently, they are the first to get offered the role when a Ring cycle is produced.

4. And it ain't over 'till the fat lady sings. You'd better hold that cake until after the opera, because you have to save that third lung for the "Immolation Scene" - no, it's not a piece of cake.

Brunnhilde: the Mount Everest of opera roles?
Yeah, but for just one opera?
 
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It may be difficult for anyone not a singer to answer this definitively, but I would say it would depend on the singer as much as the role. Lilli Lehmann famously said she would rather sing all three Brunnhildes than one Norma, but I suspect Joan Sutherland would have felt differently. Either part might be a candidate for most difficult female role, with Isolde very much in the running. For tenors, Tannhauser, the Siegfried Siegfried, and Tristan are all notorious killers, but I imagine Otello is a close challenger. Staying with Wagner, the Walkure Wotan requires just about everything, vocally and dramatically, a bass-baritone can give.
 

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It may be difficult for anyone not a singer to answer this definitively, but I would say it would depend on the singer as much as the role. Lilli Lehmann famously said she would rather sing all three Brunnhildes than one Norma, but I suspect Joan Sutherland would have felt differently. Either part might be a candidate for most difficult female role, with Isolde very much in the running. For tenors, Tannhauser, the Siegfried Siegfried, and Tristan are all notorious killers, but I imagine Otello is a close challenger. Staying with Wagner, the Walkure Wotan requires just about everything, vocally and dramatically, a bass-baritone can give.
this is definitely true to some degree, but I think some roles are pretty universally difficult. I mentioned Norma because the singer needs to be practically switch voices depending on which part of the roles they are singing. for example
Miro o Norma: lyric soprano
Act I Trio: dramatic coloratura soprano
Casta Diva: lyric soprano/lyric coloratura soprano (depending on the key)
Ah Belo A Me Ritorna: dramatic coloratura soprano
In Mia Man: some bizarre brand of dramatic mezzo, but with Rossini-esque coloratura and a solid high C
Deh! Non Volerli Vittime: spinto soprano

while I am aware you (quite understandably) don't share my fondness for elaborate fach distincts, it's not difficult to agree that a bright, high-lying soprano voice and a dark, aggressive, witchy dramatic mezzo voice are drastically different, and that any singer able to convincingly sing the vast array of colors, weights and tessituras of Norma is nothing short of a miracle.
 

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On the question of Norma and Brunnhilde, not only did Lilli Lehmann once say she would rather sing all three Brunnhildes in one night, but Callas also stated that both Isolde and Brunnhilde were a piece of cake in comparison. Admittedly she only ever sang the Walkure Brunnhilde. No doubt also she forgot that when she was singing those roles her voice had reserves of power that she could only intermittently summon up after the weight loss. Her reasons for saying so were that high notes were few and far between, that neither Isolde nor Brunnhilde asked much for the kind of vocal dexterity and flexibility of Norma, that nowhere was the voice exposed as it is in Norma and that neither of Isolde nor Brunnhilde dominated the opera in quite the same way Norma does, who is hardly off the stage once she has made her entrance.

Nowadays, unfortunately too many ill-equipped sopranos try out the role, skating over its difficulties and ignoring its demands. I'd venture to suggest, though, that there have been far more great Isoldes and Brunnhildes than Normas since the operas were written.

When the opera was new there were Pasta and Malibran. Later Lilli Lehmann and Ponselle, and, in the modern age (ie complete performances preserved in sound) only Callas would seem to have truly embraced and conquered all aspects of this monumental role. Sutherland and Caballe were both appreciable Normas, and far and away better than anyone we will hear today, but I am not sure even they matched Callas's achievement in all aspects, that is both acting and singing.

So, yes, I still say Norma.
 

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No the question of Norma and Brunnhilde, not only did Lilli Lehmann once say she would rather sing all three Brunnhildes in one night, but Callas also stated that both Isolde and Brunnhilde were a piece of cake in comparison. Admittedly she only ever sang the Walkure Brunnhilde. No doubt also she forgot that when she was singing those roles her voice had reserves of power that she could only intermittently summon up after the weight loss. Her reasons for saying so were that high notes were few and far between, that neither Isolde nor Brunnhilde asked much for the kind of vocal dexterity and flexibility of Norma, that nowhere was the voice exposed as it is in Norma and that neither of Isolde nor Brunnhilde dominated the opera in quite the same way Norma does, who is hardly off the stage once she has made her entrance.
considering that, with the exception of Marisa Galvany, Callas is the only singer who comes to mind with the vocal apparatus to sing all of Norma respectably, her comment here holds even more weight.

Nowadays, unfortunately too many ill-equipped sopranos try out the role, skating over its difficulties and ignoring its demands. I'd venture to suggest, though, that there have been far more great Isoldes and Brunnhildes than Normas since the operas were written.
most of today's "Normas" make me want to shoot myself. singers choosing the wrong rep is always a pet peeve of mine, but in this case, it's nothing short of arrogant.

When the opera was new there were Pasta and Malibran. Later Lilli Lehmann and Ponselle, and, in the modern age (ie complete performances preserved in sound) only Callas would seem to have truly embraced and conquered all aspects of this monumental role. Sutherland and Caballe were both appreciable Normas, and far and away better than anyone we will hear today, but I am not sure even they matched Callas's achievement in all aspects, that is both acting and singing.
^this. I prefer Sutherland in certain sections (she is second to none in the Act 1 trio, Casta Diva and Ah Bello), but overall, Callas wins hands down. Sutherland lacked the ability sing like a dramatic mezzo and project the aggression and mania necessary to fully capture Norma. generally, interpretation is not a huge concern of mine, but Norma is the exception. she is a scorned lover who murdered her children and wants to murder her ex-lover. to put it bluntly, Norma is a psychotic bitch, and the characterization of Sutherland, which perpetually sounded as if she were playing the Statue of Liberty, does not cut it.
 

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I'd be inclined to rule out the Wagner roles. Whilst plenty of power/stamina is required, the score reveals that not much range is required by the singers. It doesn't test them nearly as much as the Wagnerians would have us believe ;)

Most difficult? Perhaps, Lulu?
imo, the reason Wagner is difficult to sing is not the actual score, it's the way in which conductors pump up the orchestra louder than a friggin Queen concert.
 

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On the question of Norma and Brunnhilde, not only did Lilli Lehmann once say she would rather sing all three Brunnhildes in one night, but Callas also stated that both Isolde and Brunnhilde were a piece of cake in comparison. Admittedly she only ever sang the Walkure Brunnhilde. No doubt also she forgot that when she was singing those roles her voice had reserves of power that she could only intermittently summon up after the weight loss. Her reasons for saying so were that high notes were few and far between, that neither Isolde nor Brunnhilde asked much for the kind of vocal dexterity and flexibility of Norma, that nowhere was the voice exposed as it is in Norma and that neither of Isolde nor Brunnhilde dominated the opera in quite the same way Norma does, who is hardly off the stage once she has made her entrance.

Nowadays, unfortunately too many ill-equipped sopranos try out the role, skating over its difficulties and ignoring its demands. I'd venture to suggest, though, that there have been far more great Isoldes and Brunnhildes than Normas since the operas were written.

When the opera was new there were Pasta and Malibran. Later Lilli Lehmann and Ponselle, and, in the modern age (ie complete performances preserved in sound) only Callas would seem to have truly embraced and conquered all aspects of this monumental role. Sutherland and Caballe were both appreciable Normas, and far and away better than anyone we will hear today, but I am not sure even they matched Callas's achievement in all aspects, that is both acting and singing.

So, yes, I still say Norma.
Lord Harewood knows a thing or two about singing.

Yet, when he was interviewing Callas, he mentioned that bel canto was "harder in some ways" than Wagner. Callas without pausing added, "in EVERY way."

I love a Wagnerian Hochdramatischer Sopran in her prime like Kirsten Flagstad, but I just don't see it in the cards that she'd have the agility to sing Norma the way Callas did in her prime.

Callas could sing Isolde compellingly but the reverse is not true with Flagstad being able to sing Norma.

 

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I think demanding can have various meanings. Not just stamina or volume or even virtuoso tricks. Why some of Mozart's female roles are very demanding as they involve bags of character and agility. For example, a great Donna Elvira is truly something special as indeed dear old Liz S was!
'Character?'

'Agility?'

Ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic emotional and psychological states that demand the highest and most penetrating psychological intelligence, dramatic inflection, coloring, shading, and technical facility?

Look no father than Norma or Lucia. . .

(Liz is fan-TAS-tic though. ;D)

 

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'Character?'

'Agility?'

Ever-shifting, kaleidoscopic emotional and psychological states that demand the highest and most penetrating psychological intelligence, dramatic inflection, coloring, shading, and technical facility?

Look no father than Norma or Lucia. . .

(Liz is fan-TAS-tic though. ;D)
Sorry, these operas leave me cold. Can't stand them in fact! Not a patch on the great Wolfie.
 

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Sorry, these operas leave me cold. Can't stand them in fact! Not a patch on the great Wolfie.
I certainly have a qualified acceptance of that thesis ;D : I love some Mozart operas more than Lucia and Norma, but none of them more than Callas doing Lucia and Norma.

 
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