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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
thought I'd expand on SeattleOpera's thread and ask what type of voice is right for a few controversial roles.

what type of voice is right for:
1) Carmen
2) Norma
3) Don Giovanni
4) Adelgisa
5) Queen of the Night
6) Klytemnestra
7) Kundry
8) Verdi Requiem (soprano lead)

feel free to include a singer whose voice you feel fits the role perfectly (whether they have actually sung the role or not)

my answers (ideal singer in parentheses):
1) (Christel Lindstat) a deep, dark mezzo, possibly even a contralto. definitely NOT a role any soprano should be touching unless you are Callas
2) (Maria Callas) only a true assoluta will do. La Divina, Marisa Galvany and perhaps Leyla Gencer are the only acceptable Norma's which come to mind. most dramatic sopranos plow their way through the delicate portions while lyric singers fall short in terms of drama, gravitas and sheer vindictive rage
3) (Nicolai Herlea) an especially dark lyric baritone with a bass/baritone timbre. it doesn't necessarily go very high (only an F if I recall correctly), but is also stays away from the lower part of the voice in general.
4) (Joyce Didonato) either a lyric soprano or a high, bright mezzo.
5) (Edda Moser) a dramatic coloratura with a cold, piercing and witchy vocal timbre. you are supposed to listen to her and think "that is an evil bitch!" not sympathize with her.
6) (late-career Astrid Varnay) a menacing, witchy contralto with a chest register as powerful as a baritone. the only old sopranos who sing this role and actually pull it off weren't really sopranos to begin with
7) (Jessye Norman) a sumptuous, seductive mezzo, because sopranos have a more difficult time sounding sultry
8) (Martina Arroyo) a spinto soprano with a perfect balance of lyric and dramatic. as with Norma, singers with only the dramatic capability plow through the delicate parts while lyric singers tend to lack gravitas and authority.
 

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thought I'd expand on SeattleOpera's thread and ask what type of voice is right for a few controversial roles.

what type of voice is right for:
1) Carmen
2) Norma
3) Don Giovanni
4) Adelgisa
5) Queen of the Night
6) Klytemnestra
7) Kundry
8) Verdi Requiem (soprano lead)

feel free to include a singer whose voice you feel fits the role perfectly (whether they have actually sung the role or not)

my answers (ideal singer in parentheses):
1) (Christel Lindstat) a deep, dark mezzo, possibly even a contralto. definitely NOT a role any soprano should be touching unless you are Callas
2) (Maria Callas) only a true assoluta will do. La Divina, Marisa Galvany and perhaps Leyla Gencer are the only acceptable Norma's which come to mind. most dramatic sopranos plow their way through the delicate portions while lyric singers fall short in terms of drama, gravitas and sheer vindictive rage
3) (Nicolai Herlea) an especially dark lyric baritone with a bass/baritone timbre. it doesn't necessarily go very high (only an F if I recall correctly), but is also stays away from the lower part of the voice in general.
4) (Joyce Didonato) either a lyric soprano or a high, bright mezzo.
5) (Edda Moser) a dramatic coloratura with a cold, piercing and witchy vocal timbre. you are supposed to listen to her and think "that is an evil bitch!" not sympathize with her.
6) (late-career Astrid Varnay) a menacing, witchy contralto with a chest register as powerful as a baritone. the only old sopranos who sing this role and actually pull it off weren't really sopranos to begin with
7) (Jessye Norman) a sumptuous, seductive mezzo, because sopranos have a more difficult time sounding sultry
8) (Martina Arroyo) a spinto soprano with a perfect balance of lyric and dramatic. as with Norma, singers with only the dramatic capability plow through the delicate parts while lyric singers tend to lack gravitas and authority.
1.The supreme of all time interpreter of Carmen was Rise Stevens. I think she sang it more at the Met than any other. I love listening to Marilyn Horne sing Carmen. Leontyne Price did a marvelous studio recording of it but she said it really took a toll on her voice. Supervia was of course delightful. Stephanie Blythe sang it in Seattle most wonderfully, but almost everyone had a problem with her playing seductive. Didn't le los Angeles sing it. I believe she got rave reviews. Anna Sofie von Otter was supposed to be a marvelous Carmen. She has a gorgeous voice but sounds like a soprano to me and lacks a distinctive timbre.
2. Callas was a supernova in this role but I would have equally wanted to hear Ponselle, who had an even more beautiful voice, though lacking the D. All reports say she was an accomplished actress. Shirley Verrett was flawless as Norma. Heard her on the radio. Great strength in the low passages, killer coloratura plus a solid D for the triol!!! Sutherland could sing the role spectacularly with some weakness down low, but the best high notes EVER.She is the only soprano to do Casta Diva in the original C, which is fiendishly difficult and can be heard on the Art of the Prima Donna. I don't know if she sang it that way live. Not the drama of Maria, tho. Jane Eaglen made her US debut in Seattle as Norma and I am here to tell you it was spine tingling. Not much of an actress like Joan, but she was a real dramatic soprano singing all that fancy stuff really wonderfully. She even had a D. Now here is a singer I would love to have heard sing Norma: Gwenneth Jones did it, got really good reviews, and you can hear her do Miro o Norma on Youtube and you won't believe it. Actually, when she started out she had one of the greatest Verdi voices of all time and never lost her trill. Lastly, but actually should be among the very, very best is Caballe, especially the l'Orange performance which is supernatural. 6. Varnay and Ewa Powdles were the best but also great were Regina Resnik, Jean Madeira, and late L. Rysanek. 7. Jessye was great as Kundry, but her top notes disappointed. Gwenneth Jones had it all. I saw her live. I saw Linda Watson in the role in Seattle and she was fantastic, but her voice didn't hold up well over the years.8. Alessandra Marc was a goddess in the Requiem. Her lyric singing sublime and gorgeous ENORMOUS high A's over the orchestra drowned everyone out. Spine chilling. Price was good but her voice shrank at the top. Milanov would have been ideal. Pity there is no recording of Rosa Ponselle in the role.I haven't heard Tebaldi but she should be ideal as her big voice never has to go above an A and it is both huge and lyric at the same time. Nilsson would be fun to hear in the Requem. Today my best bet would be Angela Meade.
 

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1. Carmen - Price is superb, Baltsa also (in a different way). Callas has numerous insights but her voice was not in good condition by the time the recording was made. Been nice to hear her in it when the voice was at its prime.

3. Don Giovanni - Waetcher is the best I have heard.

5. Queen of the Night - Popp's performance for Klemperer.

7. Kundry - try Ludwig in Karajan's live set. Only the second act (he used two Kundrys) but simply unsurpassed imo.

8. Verdi Requiem - a big, dark voice. Probably Price at her peak. Did Tebaldi ever record it?
 

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1. Carmen is solidly a mezzo role, and she must be capable of both sultriness and lightness. With too dark a timbre the second quality will probably be sacrificed. I wouldn't rule out sopranos with good chest tones and the ability to color the voice. Plenty of singers have had good equipment for the part. Of course Callas had more brains than most, and created one of her unique vocal characterizations. Supervia, very different, was delightful, with her unique timbre and vibrato, coloratura fleetness, and joie de vivre.


2. Norma belongs to Callas even fifty years on, as she alone in recent times has had the full quotient of dramatic and vocal skills needed. A Norma needs to be able to do everything, expressively and technically. I'd love to have heard Ponselle in her day.

3. Don Giovanni is a role that can be played a number of ways, and I don't feel that a peculiar type of voice is necessary. Bright or dark, more bass or more baritone, it needs only sufficient charisma, including a seductive mezza voce.

4. Adalgisa, as is often pointed out, tends to be cast with a mezzo who may sound older than her soprano Norma. Not a serious issue, to me, but something to keep in mind.

5. The Queen of the Night isn't very intimidating sung by some of the piping coloraturas we often get - cast, I suspect, more for their high F than anything else. I'll happily second BalalaikaBoy's pick, Edda Moser.

6. Klytemnestra doesn't seem very controversial. If you're a strong mezzo or contralto and can hit all the notes and sound neurotic and degenerate (not too pretty, of course), you're in.

7. Kundry's multiple personalities and wide vocal range present challenges which few singers meet fully, but a little vocal stress here and there might even enhance a singer's portrayal of this strange character. Wagner calls her a soprano, but as with his other dramatic soprano roles a strong lower register is needed. I like a mezzo, and of those I've heard Christa Ludwig seemed to encompass the part's demands most completely. But I'll also put in a commendation for the underrecognized Irene Dalis, whose dramatic, sultry Kundrys at Bayreuth in the '60s were superb, vocally superior to those of her predecessor in the role, Martha Modl.

 

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1. Carmen is solidly a mezzo role, and she must be capable of both sultriness and lightness. With too dark a timbre the second quality will probably be sacrificed. I wouldn't rule out sopranos with good chest tones and the ability to color the voice. Plenty of singers have had good equipment for the part. Of course Callas had more brains than most, and created one of her unique vocal characterizations. Supervia, very different, was delightful, with her unique timbre and vibrato, coloratura fleetness, and joie de vivre.


2. Norma belongs to Callas even fifty years on, as she alone in recent times has had the full quotient of dramatic and vocal skills needed. A Norma needs to be able to do everything, expressively and technically. I'd love to have heard Ponselle in her day.

3. Don Giovanni is a role that can be played a number of ways, and I don't feel that a peculiar type of voice is necessary. Bright or dark, more bass or more baritone, it needs only sufficient charisma, including a seductive mezza voce.

4. Adalgisa, as is often pointed out, tends to be cast with a mezzo who may sound older than her soprano Norma. Not a serious issue, to me, but something to keep in mind.

5. The Queen of the Night isn't very intimidating sung by some of the piping coloraturas we often get - cast, I suspect, more for their high F than anything else. I'll happily second BalalaikaBoy's pick, Edda Moser.

6. Klytemnestra doesn't seem very controversial. If you're a strong mezzo or contralto and can hit all the notes and sound neurotic and degenerate (not too pretty, of course), you're in.

7. Kundry's multiple personalities and wide vocal range present challenges which few singers meet fully, but a little vocal stress here and there might even enhance a singer's portrayal of this strange character. Wagner calls her a soprano, but as with his other dramatic soprano roles a strong lower register is needed. I like a mezzo, and of those I've heard Christa Ludwig seemed to encompass the part's demands most completely. But I'll also put in a commendation for the underrecognized Irene Dalis, whose dramatic, sultry Kundrys at Bayreuth in the '60s were superb, vocally superior to those of her predecessor in the role, Martha Modl.

I often forget how fabulous Christa Ludwig was. She would be PERFECT for Kundry. Voice and acting combined to perfection.
I forgot to comment on Adalgisa. Ludwig recorded it and was awesome.Ewa Podles was all wrong for the part but you didn't care. Hearing her was epic. TRoyanos was a marvelous Adalgisa. Horne vocally was PERFECT with Sutherland, especially when young and her voice sounded so young. I know many of you only see Maria in the role of Norma but people would line up around the block to hear Joan in her prime sing Norma if it were today. If you watch her later videos, Joan learned how to really get into the part. Not a natural actress but she was not content to rely on that miraculous voice alone. Most of you won't buy my point of view though.
 

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I often forget how fabulous Christa Ludwig was. She would be PERFECT for Kundry. Voice and acting combined to perfection.
I forgot to comment on Adalgisa. Ludwig recorded it and was awesome.Ewa Podles was all wrong for the part but you didn't care. Hearing her was epic. TRoyanos was a marvelous Adalgisa. Horne vocally was PERFECT with Sutherland, especially when young and her voice sounded so young. I know many of you only see Maria in the role of Norma but people would line up around the block to hear Joan in her prime sing Norma if it were today. If you watch her later videos, Joan learned how to really get into the part. Not a natural actress but she was not content to rely on that miraculous voice alone. Most of you won't buy my point of view though.
Ludwig was great at everything. She might be the singer I most consistently admire. Her partial Kundry (she only did the role at the second half of act 2) can be heard on a live Karajan, and a full performance on the studio Solti. I'm not a fan of Solti's take on my favorite opera, or most of the other performances on this recording, but it's worth listening to just for Ludwig's glorious take on the role.
 

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Ludwig was great at everything. She might be the singer I most consistently admire. Her partial Kundry (she only did the role at the second half of act 2) can be heard on a live Karajan, and a full performance on the studio Solti. I'm not a fan of Solti's take on my favorite opera, or most of the other performances on this recording, but it's worth listening to just for Ludwig's glorious take on the role.
I couldn't agree more about Christa Ludwig. One of the greatest vocal artists of my lifetime, and probably the most versatile. I would have been happy to hear her do absolutely anything, and her recorded legacy is tremendous. A wonderful person as well, I think. She's 87 now. Good health to her, wherever she is and whatever she's doing.
 

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First, we don't need to take the fach system as a kind of absolute. The real question, in my view, is not what is the right type of voice for a role, but the right singer for a role.

Having said that, of course is fine to use 'soprano', 'mezzo', 'tenor'.,. and their different sub-types, when discussing about a role, in general terms.

I tend to consider two things, mainly: the composer original intentions, usually by looking at the first performer(s) of the role, and then the tradition.

About the roles mentioned here:



1) Carmen


The first Carmen was the French mezzo Célestine Galli-Marié. A real character, she was every bit as impetuous and determined woman as the Gypsy herself. She was 34 years old at the time of the premiere, and was a very good match for Carmen both singing and acting, with her voice that was described as that of a high mezzo.

I have always loved the recording made by Rosa Ponselle (the Cleveland one, with Papi conducting). Near to her forties, she had already lost her former ability to sing the soprano top notes, not only her feared C5 but even a B-flat 4 was troublesome for her. Understandably, she was more at ease singing Carmen, a role lying comfortably between her beautiful center, and her still immaculate low notes. She was still on possesion of "the most beautiful sound ever produced by a woman between F3 and B4". Her Carmen was criticized as poor acting by the New York press, but from a vocal point of view is a splendid performance, and an operatic myth. Her partners and the orchestra are adequate, but please note that the sound, logically, is not the best.



Among the Carmen that I have watched live on stage, my favorite is Marina Domashenko.
 

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8. Verdi Requiem - a big, dark voice. Probably Price at her peak. Did Tebaldi ever record it?
Quite unaccountably, Decca never recorded the Verdi Requiem with Tebaldi, though they now have a live performance available. Not sure what the sound is like. I've heard excerpts from at least one Toscanini conducted performance. Not very good sound, but Tebaldi is superb.

I also love Jessye Norman in the soprano part. You can hear her sing it on youtube in a live performance conducted by Muti. The other soloists are Baltsa, Carreras and Nesterenko.


Norman is not usually a favourite of mine, but here she is electrifying.
 

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Quite unaccountably, Decca never recorded the Verdi Requiem with Tebaldi, though they now have a liver performance available. Not sure what the sound is like. I've heard excerpts from at least one Toscanini conducted performance. Not very good sound, but Tebaldi is superb.

I also love Jessye Norman in the soprano part. You can hear her sing it on youtube in a live performance conducted by Muti. The other soloists are Baltsa, Carreras and Nesterenko.


Norman is not usually a favourite of mine, but here she is electrifying.
I listened to a bit of the Libere me. Gawd, she's awesome. Her voice was at it's peak then. Young and the size of a battleship!!! She sang the mezzo part well with Margaret Price ( great in the part). It should suit her well as the climaxes are on A, which is where her voice climaxed in volume.
 

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2 - Norma

This is a role written for Giuditta Pasta, exploiting the best qualities of her voice. Pasta was a 'soprano sfogato', able to manage the low notes like a mezzo, or even like a contralto, but retaining the high notes and the agility of a bona-fide soprano.

Well, this is a very rare vocality, today as in the 19th century. If you add also the dramatic talent to portray Norma the right way, we are indeed in front of a very difficult role to cast. In my view, the only singer recorded that we can dream is somehow similar to what we know of Pasta, is of course Maria Callas. I think that Bellini, if by some magic would be able to listen to Callas singing Norma in the early 50s, would famously said "from now on, anything that Callas would wish, Bellini will do".


My favorite Norma watched on stage is Dimitra Theodossiou.
 

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4 - Adalgisa

Adalgisa, soprano or mezzo?. In this case, my preferred approach is philological.

Between the dissapearance of the 'castrato' from the Italian operatic stage towards the end of the 18th century, and the undisputed emergence of the tenor as the main male role around the 1830s, in many operas the male protagonist was a trouser role, usually trusted to a female contralto.

The composer differentiated in the score the trouser rol and the female protagonist, by playing with the range and the tessitura, as we can easily understand listening for instance to Tancredi and Amenaide.

However, when we are talking about the 'seconda donna' in an opera with soprano and tenor, like in Norma, the differences in range are minimal (usually the 'prima donna' descends to a semitone or a full tone lower, while the top notes are the same pitch, or just a semitone higher). The true characterization was in the singing style; more coloratura and 'fioriture' for the 'prima donna', that got the higher notes in the ensembles while her tessitura lies somewhat higher, too.

With the decision to use mezzos (and even dramatic mezzos) to portrait this 'seconda donna', we are very far indeed from the original intention, and while in the 19th century Giuditta Pasta sang Tancredi and Norma, in the 20th, it was Marilyn Horne singing Tancredi and Adalgisa.

I prefer a lyric soprano singing Adalgisa (though Horne, and other mezzos, were great Adalgisas, of course).

In fact, the ideal Adalgisa in record would be, in my view, Montserrat Caballé. Unfortunately, she recorded the role already late in her career, and she was not in the best vocal form, but even so her voice and singing style were just about perfect.

My favorite Adalgisa watched live on stage, is Carmela Remigio.
 

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4 - Adalgisa

Adalgisa, soprano or mezzo?. In this case, my preferred approach is philological.

Between the dissapearance of the 'castrato' from the Italian operatic stage towards the end of the 18th century, and the undisputed emergence of the tenor as the main male role around the 1830s, in many operas the male protagonist was a trouser role, usually trusted to a female contralto.

The composer differentiated in the score the trouser rol and the female protagonist, by playing with the range and the tessitura, as we can easily understand listening for instance to Tancredi and Amenaide.

However, when we are talking about the 'seconda donna' in an opera with soprano and tenor, like in Norma, the differences in range are minimal (usually the 'prima donna' descends to a semitone or a full tone lower, while the top notes are the same pitch, or just a semitone higher). The true characterization was in the singing style; more coloratura and 'fioriture' for the 'prima donna', that got the higher notes in the ensembles while her tessitura lies somewhat higher, too.

With the decision to use mezzos (and even dramatic mezzos) to portrait this 'seconda donna', we are very far indeed from the original intention, and while in the 19th century Giuditta Pasta sang Tancredi and Norma, in the 20th, it was Marilyn Horne singing Tancredi and Adalgisa.

I prefer a lyric soprano singing Adalgisa (though Horne, and other mezzos, were great Adalgisas, of course).

In fact, the ideal Adalgisa in record would be, in my view, Montserrat Caballé. Unfortunately, she recorded the role already late in her career, and she was not in the best vocal form, but even so her voice and singing style were just about perfect.

My favorite Adalgisa watched live on stage, is Carmela Remigio.
Fascinating! I agree about Caballe as Adalgisa.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
1. Carmen - Price is superb, Baltsa also (in a different way). Callas has numerous insights but her voice was not in good condition by the time the recording was made. Been nice to hear her in it when the voice was at its prime.
agreed

5. Queen of the Night - Popp's performance for Klemperer.
too princess-y

7. Kundry - try Ludwig in Karajan's live set. Only the second act (he used two Kundrys) but simply unsurpassed imo.
will have to take a look
8. Verdi Requiem - a big, dark voice. Probably Price at her peak.
eh, that's only have the picture in my opinion. big, dark voices seldom sound convincing during more tender moments (hence, I agree with Price for differing reasons, because she had both with the same voice)

Did Tebaldi ever record it?
yes, she has some wonderful clips of it online
 
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