Sunday, December 20, 2009

Opera News! is having a DVD sale--every DVD is $5! They have great stuff--historical singers, stuff not available commercially (although one assumes it is legal for them to sell it), European stuff you can't see so much in the US. Go! Buy! Help them stay in business!

Renee Fleming query

Have any of you read Renee's Fleming's book The Inner Voice? I don't know whether any who read me have had years and years of classical voice training, and I'm curious what you think of it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Georges Thill--the French Caruso

I present the wonderful George Thill, whom I discovered only this morning, singing the aria from Faust:

He was also quite a handsome feller, judging by the photos in the YouTube clip! Here is the too-brief Wikipedia bio-blurb.

Finally, an excerpt from Werther, the only complete opera Thill recorded:

Vina Bovy--a new discovery

Unknown today, but not in 1948, when this beautiful 2nd act duet from Les Contes d'Hoffman (The Tales of Hoffmann) was recorded. I present to you Vina Bovy and Raoul Jobin:

I must thank La Cieca for introucing me to Vina Bovy. Click the link to see La Cieca's post and a perfectly beautiful picture of La Bovy! There's also a link there to an .mp3 of her singing "Elle a fui", possibly from the same Hoffmann performance? A commenter to La Cieca's post shares the following information from a Naxos bio-blurb:

From a Naxos bio: A native of Ghent the lyric-soprano Vina Bovy (Johanna Pauline Bovi, 1900-1983) worked in a cigarette factory to finance her vocal studies. Her professional operatic début in Ghent in 1919 in Hansel und Gretel was followed by a three-year stint at the Brussels Monnaie. In 1925 she made her first appearance at the Opéra-Comique as Manon and until 1939 her rôles at that theatre included Rosina, Mimì in Bohème and Leila in Les pêcheurs de perles. She sang at the Paris Opéra during the 1935-1939 seasons and again in 1947, as Gilda in Rigoletto. She made her début at the Colón in Buenos Aires in 1927 and was first heard at the Met in La traviata in 1936.”

Here is a link to a clip from a 1943 movie (embedding disabled).

I'll post about Raoul Jobin separately.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Who are you calling a ho?

I'm not much of a Wagnerphile, but what could be more fun than a comparison of Hojotohos!

First is Kirsten Flagstad, patron saint of Brünhildes. I wish I could find actual video of her performing this.

Now Hildegard Behrens who recently departed this world for Valhalla:

This is a compilation of Birgit Nilsson, Regine Crespin, Martha Mödl, and Astrid Varnay:

And now Anja Silja, whom I didn't know before today. Hard to believe this woman made her debut at 16 singing Rosina, and went onto sing Zerbinetta and Königin der Nacht! This was the only actual video I could find of this aria. If the date given by the YouTube poster is correct, she was 27 at the time of this performance!

And lo! here is footage of her singing Königin as a very young woman, in the late 50s:

Monday, November 23, 2009

RIP Elisabeth Söderström--new post

The music world lost another beautiful singer last week--Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström. Here is the Wikipedia bio-blurb, but the NY Times obit has more information.

I was quite fortunate to hear this lovely singer in concert a few years ago. I was in St. Paul one summer while a Swedish-American festival was happening (I think it runs from July 1-June 30 every year), and Miss Söderström sang in an outdoor concert with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Here she is singing a role for which she was quite well known, Leonora in Fidelio:

She was also much loved as a singer of Lieder and art song:

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Virginia Zeani--new post!

Here is my first post about the beautiful Virginia Zeani. It is still one of the chief regrets of my life that I didn't study with this lady when given the opportunity.

This is a lovely clip from I Puritani, my new favorite opera:

This clip, much later in her career, is from Aida:

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Review: Really, Mrs. Amahl--what have you done with your son?

My beloved Mikey and I, along with our friend Erika, went to see Mr. Menotti's delightful Christmas opera Amahl and the Night Visitors yesterday afternoon. It was presented by the Chelsea Opera in dear old St. Peter's Chuch on 20th St. in--wait for it--Chelsea.

Mr. Menotti was commissioned by NBC in 1951 to compose Amahl for television, and I believe the first live broadcast was replayed annually during the Christmas season until the late 60s. The story is simple. The three kings of legend are on their way to see the Christ child, and stop at the home of the crippled boy Amahl and his penniless mother. They explain their mission (about an hour later!) and Amahl offers his crutch as a gift for them to take to the child, in case he needs it. In so doing Amahl suddenly finds he can walk, and he joins the kings on their journey to give the child his gift himself.

I confess, this opera always reduces me to a puddle of tears. I don't know why. The quartet "Do you know a child the color of wheat, the color of dawn", the mother's aria, when Amahl attacks the page ("Don't you dare, ugly man, hurt my mother!"), the moment when Amahl first walks--I'm getting misty as I write this! Some would call it sentimental drivel, but I find it very sweet. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that I have sung the role of Kaspar, the dotty old king, several times, and one of my dearest memories of the days when I was performing more is of hearing a child in the audience at a school performance say aloud, "He's funny!" after one of Kaspar's moments.

This production was set in the current time, in a one-room flat perhaps in Hell's Kitchen or the South Bronx, and I think it worked in many ways--in some ways better than the traditional setting. (Well, there's one thing that's never really worked for me in any setting: "Let's go over the story again, Mrs. Amahl--you say three men you didn't know appeared at your door, saying they were following a magic star in the sky to visit a miracle child king, and you gave them your own child to take along? Come on!") The update and the direction were the work of Lynne Hayden-Findlay, and I have to give her kudos. When the neighbors came with their refreshment offerings to the kings--a leftover cake, a bucket of KFC, some Chinese takeout and Dunkin Donuts--it was charming. Their dance, particularly when the women dragged the men into the dance, and the men acted like typical reluctant straight men trying to dance, was also charming. Even the Page, a role almost as thankless as a lady in waiting named Inez, was treated with respect by the director and made a more interesting character than usual. And at the end, after Amahl and the kings had left, the mother went out to what we presume is the fire escape where Amahl had been loitering at the beginning of the act, and she saw the star. It was magic. (This reminds me that Michael Megliola deserves applause for his lighting design as well!)

The two leads, Amahl and his mother, were both very well done. The show is double cast, and the mother I saw was Alexandra LoBianco, a very fine singer indeed. She has a beautiful and powerful sound throughout, but she was able to sing with subtlety and to blend in her duet passages with Amahl. Benjamin Perry, the boy who sang Amahl, has lots of experience in musical theater, and it shows. My only criticism is a slight lack of connection between his high voice and his belty middle voice, and perhaps a few too many stock reactions, but overall, it was a very fine performance. The three kings were all good, although they were often drowned out by ensembles and the orchestra. They were sung by David Kellett, Justin Ryan, and Michael Blake O'Hearn, and the Page was sung by Brian DuBois.

The conductor, Carmine Aufiero, did a respectable job with the pick-up orchestra, one or two moments of non-togetherness between singers and orchestra notwithstanding, and this performance was much more beautiful musically than one is accustomed to in typical church-basement productions of Amahl.

All in all, I call this a very successful production of Amahl and the Night Visitors, and I was very happy Erika suggested we go.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Elinor Ross--new post!

I had never heard of this lady before this week, but I am amazed! I wish I had heard her live! Elinor Ross sang at all the big houses, with lots of big stars. She was buds with Callas. She retired from the stage in 1979, but she's still alive and kicking!

Here is the Wikipedia bio-blurb, but frankly, the Opera News article linked above is more informative.

OK, here's another video from the same 1967 Norma:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Eileen Farrell--new post!

A good old gal from Woonsocket, RI, married to a NYC cop:

Here is the Wikipedia bio-blurb.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mady Mesplé--New post

This is the incomparable Mady Mesplé. I first encountered this lovely lady as a callow lad of 19 or so back in [**mumbles year**]. I picked up an LP recording of French coloratura arias sung by Mlle Mesplé, and my excitement knew no bounds! This was my first exposure to the Bell Song from Lakme, the Doll Song from Hoffmann, and quite a few other gems of the French coloratura repertoire.

Here, however, we have Zerbinetta's aria from Ariadne auf Naxos, quite a tour de force, which the lovely Mlle Mesplé sings as if it were as easy as breathing to her. Apparently this was in Aix-en-Provence in 1966. The video quality isn't terrific, but the singing more than makes up for it!

Although her Wikipedia bio-blurb states she did a lot of recording, it's not always easy to find those recordings.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pavarotti telling stories--new post

Normally I wouldn't post Pavarotti--my focus is on lesser-known 20th century singers. But this clip is simply so amusing I had to share it. Pavarotti being funny and charming during a masterclass Q&A session. No date is given, but it looks very much like the 1980s. (Thanks to Jeff for the link!)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cesare Valletti--First posted Oct. 12, 209

Yeah it's been a while. Bite me. I present for your edification and delight Cesare Valletti singing one of my favorite roles, Nemorino in L'Elisir d'Amore:

Here is his Wikipedia bio-blurb. Quite a list of singers he shared the stage with, not to mention stages upon which he trod!

Originally posted June 30, 2009--is there anything campier than this for Gay Pride weekend?

I present Aida starring Sophia Loren! Yes, you heard me right! It's the 1951 movie. Here is the famed duet between Aida (acted by Sophia Loren, sung by Renata Tebaldi) and Amneris (acted by Lois Maxwell of Money Penny fame, sung by Ebe Stignani) have their legendary cat fight. It doesn't get much better than this!

Grace Bumbry--First posted June 15, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Grace Bumbry as Aida and Grace Bumbry as Amneris. At the same time.

At first I thought this was some modern wizardry, splicing together two performances from the same production (more than once she sang two roles in the same production run--at least once on the same night!), but no! According to the poster on YouTube, this is from a BBC documentary from 1973! in which they highlighted Ms. Bumbry's versatility and the fact that she was singing both mezzo and soprano roles and doing wonderfully. Imagine how difficult that was in 1973!

OK, here is Wikipedia bio-blurb, and here (lip-synching to her own recording in a movie), here (another 1973 TV show), and here (2003 at age 66) are more examples of the wonderful artistry of this woman, who, remarkably is still performing concerts and teaching.

Martina Arroyo--First posted June 14, 2009

I give you the amazing Martina Arroyo, singing the Libera me from Mr Verdi's Requiem:

It is quite unfortunate that Ms. Arroyo is not higher on the list of mid-20th century singers, because, well, listen to this (unfortunately truncated before it's over). And this. And this. Oh, and this especially [n.b. this is no longer online]!

Here is her bio on Wikipedia. Here is her own web site. I'm happy to report she is alive and kicking, and has created an educational foundation for helping young singers prepare for a career.

Anita Cerquetti--First posted June 14, 2009

I give you Anita Cerquetti. There don't appear to be any performance videos available, but here is 1996 video of her hearing a 1956 pirated recording of her Norma in Jan Schmidt-Garre's film Opera Fanatic..

Anita Cerquetti (April 13, 1931) is an Italian dramatic soprano who enjoyed a short but brilliant career in the 1950s.

Cerquetti was born in Montecosaro, near Macerata, Italy. She was first a student of the violin, she trained eight years with Luigi Mori. After a mere one year of vocal study at the Conservatory of Perugia she made her operatic debut in Spoleto in 1951 as Aida. She sang all over Italy, notably in Florence as Noraime in Les Abencérages, under Carlo Maria Giulini in 1956, and as Elvira in Ernani, under Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1957. Her Teatro alla Scala debut was in 1958 as Abigail in Nabucco. She also sang on RAI in a wide variety of roles such as Elcia in Mosè in Egitto, Mathilde in Guglielmo Tell, Elena in I vespri siciliani, etc.

Cerquetti made headlines in January 1958, when she replaced "in extremis" the ailing Maria Callas in Norma, at the Rome Opera House. She was already singing the role at the San Carlo in Naples. She commuted between the two cities to honor both engagements for several weeks. This "tour de force" won her great acclaim but had serious effects on her health. Shortly after she started withdrawing little by little from the stage until her complete retirement in 1961, aged only 30. [n.b. I am inclined to think her decline was because of singing all this dramatic repertoire at such a young age!]

Cerquetti sang relatively little in America. Her debut there was at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1955, as Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, opposite Jussi Björling, with Tullio Serafin conducting.

Cerquetti made only two commercial recordings, both for Decca in 1957, a recital of Italian opera arias and a complete La Gioconda with Mario del Monaco, Ettore Bastianini, Giulietta Simionato, Cesare Siepi. Among her "pirated" recordings is a 1958 Aida, from Mexico City, with Flaviano Labò, Nell Rankin, Cornell MacNeil, Fernando Corena and Norman Treigle. The Rome Norma of 1958 with Franco Corelli is also available.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Here is a link to another Cerquetti jewel on YouTube, "O re del ciel" from Agnes von Hohenstaufen. I know you don't know it, but go listen. It's terrif!

Risë Stevens--First posted June 13, 2009, her birthday

I give you Risë Stevens, the Carmen of the 40s and 50s, who turns 96 today!

Risë Stevens (born June 11, 1913, New York City) is a retired American mezzo-soprano who captured a wide popular audience at the height of her career (1940 - 1960).

She studied at New York’s Juilliard School of Music for three years. She went to Vienna, where she was trained by Marie Gutheil-Schoder and Herbert Graf. She made her début as Mignon in Prague in 1936 and stayed there until 1938, also appearing in guest appearances at the Vienna State Opera. Her Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier was one of her finest and most accomplished roles. She was engaged at the Teatro Colón in 1938 (again as Octavian) and was invited to the Glyndebourne Festival in 1939 where she was heard as Dorabella and Cherubino. In 1938 she made her début at the Metropolitan Opera as Mignon. Three days later, she sang Octavian opposite Lotte Lehmann. The singer’s beautiful voice and attractive appearance led the film industry in Hollywood to produce several films with her, including "The Chocolate Soldier" (1941) with Nelson Eddy and "Going My Way" (1944) with Bing Crosby.

For over two decades (until 1961) Stevens was the Met’s leading mezzo-soprano and the only mezzo to command the top billing (and commensurate fees) normally awarded only to star sopranos and tenors. Her most successful roles there included Cherubino, Octavian, Dalila, Laura, Hänsel and Marina. She was especially celebrated for her Carmen, which she both performed and recorded several times. Stevens virtually owned the role during her tenure. Her combination of scrupulous artistry, rich vocal color and movie-star glamour earned her the adulation of a wide public beyond the Met's stage, and she frequently appeared on the nascent medium of television. She also appeared in Paris, London, at La Scala and at the Glyndebourne. She sang her last performance, as Carmen, at the Met in 1961. In 1962, she recorded the voice of Glinda for "Journey Back to Oz", but the film was not released until the early 1970s. After her retirement from the opera stage, Stevens served as General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera Touring Company until 1966 and later coached the new generation of singers at the Met.

In honor of Stevens' vast influence on American vocal music, on October 22, 1977 she was awarded the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Glee Club Award of Merit[1]. Beginning in 1964, this award "established to bring a declaration of appreciation to an individual each year that has made a significant contribution to the world of music and helped to create a climate in which our talents may find valid expression."

She is the mother of the actor Nicolas Surovy.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Walter Berry--First posted May 25, 2009

Leporello's catalogue aria, auf Deutsch!, at the opening of the Deutsche Oper Berlin. I've featured other clips from this 1961 performance below.

And Don Pizarro's aria from Fidelio:

Walter Berry was a remarkably versatile bass-baritone (yes, I'm featuring a bass!) with a very long career. I'll spare you the cut-and-paste Wikipedia bio-blurb, but this link has a blurb (that surely began life in some other language) and some interesting pictures.

Montserrat Caballe--First posted Mar. 26, 2009

In compiling this modest blogette, I often have trouble choosing just one (or sometimes two) YouTube clip(s) to feature, but it's rare I have to make a very difficult choice between two clips of the same aria, and even more rare, two clips of the same aria from the same year! But choose I did, and I give you Montserrat Caballe, whom I can't even begin to describe with my humble words, singing "Casta diva" from Sr. Bellini's tour de force Norma in 1974 at the Theatre Antique d'Orange in Aix En Provence. The wind cooperated quite beautifully with the performance, and it picks up quite noticeably in the cabaletta that follows.

The other 1974 Norma was at the Bolshoi in Moscow--also vocally amazing, and the ovation lasts forever before she raises her hand to stop the audience so that the show can go on. Chills. I hope you'll look up that clip as well.

The story? Your typical Hatfields and McCoys star-crossed lovers. Capulets and Montagues, Egyptians and Ethiopian slaves, American Naval officers and Japanese geisha girls, Druids and Romans--it's all the same. That's why it works so well. Oh, did I mention he betrays her by cavorting with her gal pal?

Here is the touching "Qual cor tradisti" from the same performance. Oh, and by the way, John Vickers is in this clip.

One more--the final scene from the same performance. I can't resist. It's simply amazing.

I'm tempted to post all the Caballe clips! The Orange performance is considered by afficionados and by Sra. Caballe herself to be her finest--some say the finest example of opera on video anywhere. One of those instances where everything worked together to make magic. It's available on DVD. If any of you love me, you might consider buying it for me.

I normally would cut and paste the Wikipedia bio-blurb, but frankly, I can't be bovvered. I want to go back to listening to YouTube clips!

March 23, 2009

You must read this speech.

Virginia Zeani--First posted Mar. 16, 2009*

So today I give you Virginia Zeani:

I'm sorry this one isn't actually a video, but rather a pastiche of images and text, but please do listen and read the narrative. This is an amazing recording!

For video, I'm afraid the only thing on YouTube is the following, in which Signora Zeani is singing Aida against with Elena Cernei as Amneris.

[Edit: Spoke too soon. Out of sync but still great!]

[Further edit: More videos have appeared on YouTube since I first posted this.]

Virginia Zeani (born October 21, 1925) is a Romanian soprano, particularly associated with the Italian repertory, especially the role of Violetta in La traviata.
Zeani was born Virginia Zahan, in Solovăstru, Transylvania, Romania. She studied first in Bucarest, with famed coloratura soprano Lydia Lipkovskaia, and in Milan, with the great tenor Aureliano Pertile. She made her professional debut in Bologna, as Violetta in La traviata, a role she would sing an estimated 648 times around the world during her career.

Her career was first primarily focused in Italy, where she sang at most opera houses, but soon her reputation led to invitations at major opera houses of Europe as well. Violetta was her debut role in London, Vienna, and Paris. She made her debut at La Scala in Milan in 1956, as Cleopatra in Handel 's Giulio Cesare, opposite Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, whom she married shorthly after.

Zeani also appeared in Leningrad, Moscow, Philadelphia, and the New York's Metropolitan Opera, as Violetta, in 1966. She won considerable success in bel canto roles, such as Lucia di Lammermoor, Gilda in Rigoletto, Elvira in I Puritani, Linda di Chamounix, before turning to more dramatic roles, such as Manon Lescaut, Tosca, Fedora, Adriana Lecouvreur. She also tackled a few Verdi and Wagner roles, such as Lina in Stiffelio, Elsa in Lohengrin. She created the role of Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites in 1957, at La Scala.

She sang with tenors such as Beniamino Gigli, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Carlo Bergonzi, Alfredo Kraus, Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, etc. A warm-voiced singer with an affecting stage presence, she made few commercial recordings, but a number of her live performances exist as bootleg recordings.

Following her retirement from the opera stage in 1983, Zeani remained active as a voice instructor at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where she and her husband, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, were both distinguished teachers. Zeani has since retired from Indiana University after her husband's death in 1991, and currently resides in West Palm Beach, Florida, where she continues to teach.

Above bio from Wikipedia. On a personal note, your intrepid reporter auditioned for Miss Zeani's studio when he was a student at Indiana University, and was invited to study with her, but foolishly listened to someone who advised him to study with a famous tenor also teaching there. Said tenor turned out to be a dolt.

Leyla Gencer--First posted Mar. 9, 2009

Ladies and gentlemen, today I give you Leyla Gencer, seen here in a 1963 production of Aida at Verona's outdoor theater, from Italian TV:

And another from 1966:

Leyla Gencer, or Ayşe Leyla Çeyrekgil (b. October 10, 1928 in Istanbul, Turkey – d. May 10, 2008 in Milan, Italy) was a world-renowned Turkish soprano opera singer.

Known as "La Diva Turca" (The Turkish Diva) and "La Regina" (The Queen) in the opera world, Gencer was a notable bel canto soprano who spent most of her career in Italy, from the early 1950s through the mid-1980s, and had a repertoire encompassing more than seventy roles. She made very few commercial recordings; however, numerous bootleg recordings of her performances exist. In particular, Gencer was associated with the heroines of Donizetti.

Leyla Gencer was born in Istanbul as the daughter of a Turkish father and Polish mother. Gencer lost her father at a very young age. She grew up in the Çubuklu district of Istanbul, on the Anatolian side of the Bosporus, and began to study singing at the Istanbul Conservatory; but dropped out to study privately in Ankara with her teacher, the Italian soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi. She sang in the chorus of the Turkish State Theater until she made her operatic debut in Ankara in 1950 as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana. During the next few years, she became well-known in Turkey and sang frequently at functions for the Turkish government.

In 1953, Gencer made her Italian debut at the San Carlo in Naples as Santuzza. She returned to Naples the following year for performances of Madama Butterfly and Eugene Onegin. In 1957, she made her debut at La Scala in Milan as Mme. Lidoine in the world premiere of Poulenc's Dialogues des Carmélites. She went on to appear regularly at La Scala, performing nineteen roles between 1957 and 1983, including Leonora in La Forza del Destino, Elisabetta in Don Carlos, Aïda, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Norma, Ottavia in L'incoronazione di Poppea, and Alceste. At La Scala, she also appeared as the First Woman of Canterbury in the world premiere of Pizzetti's L'assassinio nella cattedrale in 1958.

In 1962, Gencer made her debut at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden as Elisabetta di Valois and as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. She made her U.S. debut at the San Francisco Opera in 1956 as Francesca in Francesca da Rimini. She sang at other American opera houses as well, but never sang at the Metropolitan Opera, though there had been discussions for her to sing Tosca there in 1956.

Throughout her career, Gencer was known primarily as a Donizetti interpreter. Among her best-known Donizetti performances are Belisario, Poliuto, Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia, Maria Stuarda, and Caterina Cornaro. Her most acclaimed and best-known performance, though, was Roberto Devereux, which she sang in Naples in 1964.

In addition to the bel canto roles for which she is best known, Gencer's repertory also included works by such composers as Prokofiev, Mozart, and Puccini. She appeared in many rarely performed operas, including Smareglia's La Falena, Rossini's Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra, Spontini's Agnese di Hohenstaufen, Pacini's Saffo, and Gluck's Alceste.

Gencer achieved an international career in a short time and performed with renowned Italian maestros such as; Gui, Serafin, Gavazzeni and Muti. She contributed to the improvement of the 'Donizetti Renaissance' with her great performances of Donizetti's forgotten operas. Gencer's repertoire consists of 72 roles including works from composers such as; Monteverdi, Gluck, Mozart to neo-classical period; from Cherubini, Spontini, Johann Simon Mayr and the romantic period to Puccini, Prokofiev, Britten, Poulenc, Menotti and Rocca; from a lyric soprano varying to dramatic coloratura.

In 1982, Gencer dedicated herself for education of young opera artists. She worked as a didactic art director of As.Li.Co. of Milan between 1983-88 and was appointed by Maestro Riccardo Muti to run La Scala's School for Young Artists between 1997-1998. Gencer was the artistic director of the academy for opera artists formed in Teatro alla Scala where she taught opera interpretation.

Gencer performed leading roles in many famous operas and she is known as the 'last diva of the 20th century'. She achieved her strong presence in the opera world, not only by the variety of her repertoire, but also with the dramatic nuances that she attributed to the roles she performed. Being a good researcher and a teacher, she reintroduced many forgotten works of the romantic period to the opera stages. In 1996 she had a spectacular appearance in Jan Schmidt-Garre's film Opera Fanatic.
Gencer died on May 10, 2008 in Milan, Italy. Following the funeral service in San Babila Church and subsequently cremation in Milan, her ashes were brought to Istanbul and consigned to the waters of the Bosphorus on May 16, 2008 according to her wish.

(Above bio from Wikipedia.)

From the NY Times obituary (5/13/08):

Pre-empted by better-known contemporaries like Callas and Renata Tebaldi, Ms. Gencer did not have a contract with a major commercial record label. But her voice traveled the globe many times over in bootleg recordings, earning her the nickname the Pirate Queen.

If she “never made a lira” from these recordings, as Ms. Gencer told Opera News in 2003, they had other compensations.

“All the young people know me,” she said at the time. “They write me long letters. They tell me: ‘It’s as if we were in the theater. We see you. We hear you through your discs as if we were there.’ This is a great miracle!”

Gösta Winbergh--First posted Feb. 15, 2009

I give you Swedish tenor Gösta Winbergh. True, he's a little later in the 20th century than the mid-century singers I usually feature, but he was a very fine singer. And he's dead. He's a tenor I admired very much in my student days, and although my voice is a different sort than his (he later moved into heavier repertoire I, in middle age, remain a light lyric tenor), I admire his Mozart singing. These are two arias I studied and used as audition arias.

(Yes, I know the quality on this second video clip isn't good, but the singing is!)

Gösta Winbergh (December 13, 1943 – March 18, 2002) was a Swedish tenor.

Winbergh was born in Stockholm. He is often mentioned as among Sweden's and the worlds finest tenors, included with Jussi Björling and Nicolai Gedda. Winbergh did not come from a music family: he was a building engineer when he watched his first opera performance in 1967 and then, upon this experience, decided that he wanted to be an opera singer. He applied for the opera class at Sweden's prestigious Royal Academy of Music, and was admitted on his first attempt. He trained at the school between 1969-71. He began singing at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, and gradually began to receive international attention in the 1980s when he guest performed on stages abroad. He later worked several times at the opera house in Zürich and at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, USA. His leading performances in Mozart's Don Giovanni, Wagner's Lohengrin, Verdi's Rigoletto and Puccini's Turandot were particularly well received and celebrated.

Winbergh suffered a heart-attack and passed away in Vienna, Austria in 2002, where he was performing at the time. To honour his memory and opera work The Gösta Winbergh Award (GWA) was instituted in Sweden after his death: the award is each year handed out to young aspiring tenors through an arranged singing contest that takes place at the opera stage Confidencen, at the Ulriksdal Royal Estate (a few miles outside Stockholm). The first prize consists of 14.000 euro and the second prize of 6.000 euro.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Ask me some time how it came about that I saw him in his underwear.

Pilar Lorengar--First posted Jan. 4, 2009

Here is Pilar Lorengar, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, apparently the same 1961 Berlin production that featured Elisabeth Grümmer (see below), sung auf Deutsch:

Lorenza Pilar García Seta (January 16, 1929, Zaragoza, Spain – June 2, 1996, Berlin, Germany) was a Spanish (Aragonese) soprano who used the professional name Pilar Lorengar. She was best known for her interpretations of opera and the Spanish genre Zarzuela, and as a soprano she was known for her full register as well as a distinctive vibrato.

Pilar was born in the El Gancho district of Zaragoza. At a very young age she participated in a radio program called Ondas Infantiles, organized by Radio Zaragoza; she began formal music lessons at the age of fourteen under Margarita Martínez. She moved to Barcelona to study at the Barcelona Music Conservatory and began performing incognito under the name Loren Arce in various halls in order to pay for her lessons. She studied in Madrid under a famous Spanish lyric singer named Ángeles Otein, and she also studied in West Berlin under Carl Ebert and Hertha Klust.

Pilar became a member of the chorus of the Teatro de la Zarzuela around 1949. She made her professional debut in 1950 in Oran, Algeria, playing the role of Maruxa. In 1951 she made her Spanish debut in the principal role in the Zarzuela El canastillo de fresas (The Strawberry Basket). In 1952, she performed as a soloist in Barcelona in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and also in Brahms' Requiem.

Her international opera career started in 1955 at the Festival international d'Art Lyrique in Aix-en-Provence where she played Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro. She went on to play in London, Glyndebourne and Buenos Aires. In 1958 she signed a contract with the Deutsche Oper Berlin, a relationship that would last for thirty years. In 1963 she was distinguished with the title of Kammersänger from the Senate of Berlin.

In 1961, she first performed at the Salzburg Festival as Ilia in Idomeneo. She went on to play Desdemona in Otello at the San Francisco Opera, Violetta in La traviata at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni at the Metropolitan Opera. Through her career she performed in Madrid, Brussels, La Scala at Milan, Liceu at Barcelona, frequently with the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera, Paris and even as far away as Tokyo.

Her 1985 Zarzuela duet album recorded with Plácido Domingo at the Salzburg Music Festival brought her again to the forefront of Spanish Zarzuela. Her final triumph in Berlin was as Valentine in Les Huguenots.

In 1991, the Príncipe de Asturias Foundation awarded the "Generation of Spanish lyric singers" (los Ángeles, Berganza, Caballé, Carreras, Domingo, Kraus and Lorengar) the Arts award. Pilar announced her retirement and performed her last concert at the Campoamor Theatre in Oviedo, Asturias, Spain. In 1994, she was awarded the "Order of Merit" of the State of Berlin.

Pilar died in Berlin, Germany, her new chosen homeland.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Die Fledermaus for New Years 2009

Several clips of historic singers in Die Fledermaus

First Gundula Janowitz in a 1972 movie sings the Csardas:

Hermann Prey, Benjamin Luxon, Kiri te Kanawa in the Act II party scene (what I call the Du-Du Chorus), 1977 at Covent Garden:

Joan Sutherland is sooooooo sad to see her husband (unnamed) leave!

Finally, comedy duo Hinge & Brackett performing in the party scene gala (OK, it's not part of the operetta per se, but it's part of the fun!)

Elisabeth Grümmer--First posted Dec. 13, 2008

Today I give you Elisabeth Grümmer, here singing Donna Anna auf Deutsch at the opening of the Deutsche Oper Berlin in 1961:

Here she is singing the same aria in Salzburg in 1954:

Elisabeth Schilz Grümmer (March 31, 1911 – November 6, 1986) was a German operatic soprano.

She was born at Niederjeutz, near Diedenhofen, Alsace-Lorraine (later Yutz-Basse; now Thionville, France) to German parents. In 1918, her family were expelled from Lorraine, and they settled in Meiningen, where she studied theater and made her stage debut as Klärchen in Goethe's Egmont.

She married the concertmaster of the theater orchestra, Detlev Grümmer, and became a mother. The family moved to Aachen, where they met Herbert von Karajan. Elisabeth started to take singing lessons, von Karajan cast her as the first flower maiden in a performance of Wagner's Parsifal. She went on to perform in Duisburg and Prague.

Her husband was killed in a bombing in the war. After the war, she settled in Berlin, singing at the Städische Oper Berlin. She performed in all the major opera houses in Europe and the United States, restricting herself to a small number of roles, primarily sung in German. She was also active in song recitals and concert performances, particularly of Brahms' German Requiem.

The Kammersängerin became a professor at the Berlin Musikhochschule.

She died in Warendorf, Westphalia.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Rita Streich--First posted Nov. 16, 2008

Today I give you the lovely Rita Streich. The best videos I can find are from televised concerts in the early 60s like this one. There are some clips on YouTube that have sound recordings with one or several pictures of her--those are quite good, too. (This is a representative sample.) Some are as early as the 1940s, when she was quite young.

Rita Streich (December 18, 1920, Barnaul - March 20, 1987, Vienna) was one of the most significant coloratura sopranos of the post-war period.

Rita Streich moved to Germany with her parents during her childhood, where she grew up bilingual, something that was extremely helpful during her later career. Among her teachers were Willi Domgraf-Fassbaender, Erna Berger, and Maria Ivogün.

Her debut as an opera singer was during the Second World War at the Stadttheater (city theatre) of Ústí nad Labem in Bohemia, in the role of Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss' opera Ariadne auf Naxos. Three years later she secured her first engagement at the Staatsoper Unter den Linden (State Opera) in Berlin, where she stayed until 1952. In that year she moved to Bayreuth, in 1953 to Vienna, and in 1954 to Salzburg. Appearances at La Scala in Milan and at Covent Garden followed.

From 1974 she taught at the Folkwang Academy in Essen and the Music Academy in Vienna. She gave master classes during the Salzburg Festival from 1983.

Her repertoire included roles in Idomeneo, Così fan tutte, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Die Zauberflöte, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and others. Since she had grown up bilingual, she could also sing the works of Rimsky-Korsakov in their original Russian without a trace of an accent. Apart from this Rita Streich was a great operetta-singer. She made recordings of many classical Viennese operettas, for instance Die Fledermaus, Eine Nacht in Venedig, Der Zigeunerbaron, Boccaccio, Der Bettelstudent, and Der Zarewitsch.

Rita Streich was brought to modern audiences in 2007 in the film "Mr. Bean's Holiday" when Rowan Atkinson lip sings her famous recording of Puccini's "O mio babbino caro" with the Deutsche Oper Berlin Orchestra directed by Reinhard Peters.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Tito Schipa--First posted Nov. 8, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the incomparable Tito Schipa (pron. skee-pah), singing the first verse of "Una furtiva lagrima":

Tito Schipa (27 December 1888 – 16 December 1965) was an Italian tenor. He is considered one of the finest tenore di grazia in operatic history. He was endowed with a natural, sensuous voice which he deployed with great intelligence and taste.

Schipa was born Raffaele Attilio Amedeo Schipa in Lecce, his birthday was recorded as January 2, 1889 for conscription purposes. He studied in Milan and made his operatic debut at age 21 in 1910 at Vercelli. He subsequently appeared throughout Italy and in Buenos Aires. In 1917, he created the role of Ruggiero in Puccini's La rondine.

In 1919, Schipa traveled to the United States, joining the Chicago Opera Company, singing with it until 1932, whereupon he appeared with the Metropolitan Opera from 1932 to 1935 and again in 1941. From 1929 to 1949, he continued to perform regularly in Italy, and returned to Buenos Aires in 1954. In 1957, he toured the USSR.

Schipa's repertoire eventually encompassed about twenty Italian and French opera roles, such as Massenet's Werther, Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore and Cilea's L'Arlesiana, where he achieved his best results. In concert, Schipa performed opera arias as well as Neapolitan and Spanish popular songs.

Schipa made numerous recordings during his career, including a famous recording of Donizetti's Don Pasquale in 1932, which was one of the first complete opera recordings, and is still in circulation.

Although some considered Schipa's voice to be ordinary in size and timbre, he caused riots in the streets on some occasions not only by his superior musicianship but a solid, masterful technique.

Schipa retired from the stage in 1958 to teach voice in Budapest and he died from diabetes in 1965 at the age of 77 in New York, NY while teaching there.

Bio from Wikipedia.

Grace Moore--First posted Nov. 1, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Grace Moore singing Funiculì Funiculà in the movie "Love Me Forever".

(I had a clip of her singing Casta diva in "A Lady's Morals", but that video was taken down from YouTube.)

Here is a link (embedding disabled) to a clip of her singing "Depuis le jour" from Louise, the leading role of which was among her greatest triumphs.

Grace Moore (December 5, 1898 - January 26, 1947) was an American operatic soprano and Academy Award-nominated actress in musical theatre and film, nicknamed the "Tennessee Nightingale." Her films helped to popularize opera by bringing it to a larger audience.

Moore was born Mary Willie Grace Moore on December 5, 1898 (but some sources give her birth year as 1901) to Richard Lawson Moore and Jane (née Stokely) Moore in the community of Slabtown (now considered part of Del Rio) in Cocke County, Tennessee. The family relocated to Jellico, Tennessee when she was a child. After high school in Jellico, she studied briefly at Ward-Belmont College in Nashville[1] before moving to Washington, D.C. and New York City to continue her musical training and begin her career. She appeared in several Broadway shows in the early 1920s.

After [further] training in France, Moore made her operatic debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on February 7, 1928, singing the role of Mimì in Giacomo Puccini's La bohème. She debuted at the Opera-Comique in Paris on September 29, 1928 in the same role, which she also performed in a royal command performance at Covent Garden in London on June 6, 1935. During her sixteen seasons with the Metropolitan Opera, she sang in several Italian and French operas as well as the title roles in Tosca, Manon, and Louise. Louise was her favorite opera and is widely considered to have been her greatest role. In the 1930s and 1940s she gave concert performances throughout the United States and Europe, performing a repertoire of operatic selections and other songs in German, French, Italian, Spanish, and English. During World War II she was active in the USO, entertaining American troops abroad.

Attracted to Hollywood in the early years of "talking pictures," Moore's first screen role was as Jenny Lind in the 1930 film A Lady's Morals, produced for MGM by Irving Thalberg and directed by Sidney Franklin (see YouTube clip above). Later that same year she starred with the Metropolitan Opera singer Lawrence Tibbett in the first screen version of Sigmund Romberg's operetta The New Moon, also produced by MGM. In the 1934 film One Night of Love, her first film for Columbia, she portrayed a small-town girl who aspires to sing opera. For that role she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1935. The last film that Moore made was Louise (1938), an abridged version of Gustave Charpentier's opera of the same name, with spoken dialog in place of some of the original opera's music. The composer participated in the production, authorizing the cuts and changes to the libretto, coaching Moore, and advising director Abel Gance. This production also featured two renowned French singers: dramatic tenor Georges Thill and basse cantante André Pernet. (See link above to clip from this movie.)

In 1935 Moore received the gold medal award of the Society of Arts and Sciences for "conspicuous achievement in raising the standard of cinema entertainment." In 1936 the king of Denmark awarded her his country's medal of 'Ingenito et Arti.' In 1937, she was commissioned as a colonel (an honorary position) on the staff of the governor of Tennessee, and was also made a life member of the Tennessee State Society of Washington, D.C. She was decorated as a chevalier of the French Légion d'honneur in 1939.

Moore died in a plane crash near the Copenhagen, Denmark airport on January 26, 1947, at the age of 48. Among the other plane crash victims was Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden, who was at the time second in line to the Swedish throne and who was the father of the present King of Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf. She is buried in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Moore married Valentín Parera, a Spanish movie actor, in Cannes, France, on July 15, 1931. They had no children. During the 1930s they maintained homes in Hollywood, Cannes, and Connecticut. Moore published an autobiography, You're Only Human Once, in 1944. Her life story was made into a movie, So This is Love, in 1953, starring North Carolina-born singer Kathryn Grayson. A collection of her papers is housed at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Kathleen Ferrier--First posted Oct. 18, 2008

Kathleen Ferrier CBE (22 April 1912 – 8 October 1953) was an English contralto, born in Higher Walton, Lancashire. She came to prominence as a singer during and immediately after the Second World War, and was especially remembered for her courageous performances during her final illness. Offstage, she had a vivacious personality, and gave herself the nickname "Klever Kaff".

Ferrier left school at 14 and worked as a telephone operator in Blackburn. On a bet, she took part in a music competition and won in two categories - singing and piano. It was this which brought her talents to public attention, and was a significant factor in her deciding to pursue a career in singing. During the early days of the war she gave concerts for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) and then, on the advice of Malcolm Sargent, moved to London in 1942, where her main career began.

Ferrier excelled in the music of Mahler, in Bach and in Handel. Her recitals often included songs by Schubert, Schumann and Brahms and towards the end of her career she sang Chausson's "Poeme de l'amour et de la mer" - her only major work from the French repertory. Ferrier is perhaps best-remembered for her interpretations of British folk songs, including "Blow the wind southerly." She was in demand throughout the UK, and also sang regularly in the Netherlands, where she was extremely popular, and in France, Germany, Italy and in Scandinavia. She paid three visits to North America (1948, 1949 and 1950) and sang at each of the first six Edinburgh International Festivals .

Benjamin Britten wrote several works specifically for her, including Lucretia in The Rape of Lucretia, Abraham and Isaac (also written for Peter Pears), and part of the Spring Symphony (1949). Among other composers who wrote specifically for her were Lennox Berkeley, Arthur Bliss and Edmund Rubbra. She worked with many famous conductors, including Bruno Walter, John Barbirolli, Malcolm Sargent, Clemens Krauss, Otto Klemperer, Herbert von Karajan, Eduard van Beinum and also with Benjamin Britten. She also worked with other famous singers such as Isobel Baillie, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Julius Patzak and Peter Pears.

Her final role was in Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice at Covent Garden in February 1953. Already seriously ill with breast cancer, which had spread to her bones, she got through the opening night of Orfeo successfully, but at the second performance a bone in her leg broke while she was on stage. She managed to finish this performance, and left the theatre on a stretcher. It was her final performance: not long afterwards, she died on 8 October 1953, aged 41. (Joyce DiDonato wasn't the first!)

This recording was made in October of 1952, when she was undergoing treatments for her final illness. This aria from Messiah is always moving, but listening with the knowledge that it was made during her final recording sessions brings tears to my eyes.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Leopold Simoneau--First posted Oct. 18, 2008

Today's singer is Leopold Simoneau, a French Canadian tenor with a beautifully sweet voice. Here is a recording of "Una furtiva lagima", that boring tenor warhorse, made less boring by Simoneau's singing:

Yes, it's just a picture over an audio recording, but there aren't many good videos. Here links to two videos (embedding disabled) from a 1962 all-Mozart program--in both he is singing with his wife, fellow French Canadian singer Pierrette Alarie:

Belmonte-Constanze duet from Die Enführung aus dem Serail
Ferrando-Fiordiligi duet from Così fan tutte

(These are two of my favorite Mozart operas, but in both cases the tenor-soprano duets are far from the most interesting moments for the tenor or the soprano.)

Léopold Simoneau (May 3, 1916 - August 24, 2006) was a French-Canadian lyric tenor, one of the outstanding Mozarteans of his time.

Simoneau was born in St. Flavien, Québec, and started his vocal studies in Québec City at Levis College and Université Laval. While studying in Montreal with Salvator Issaurel, he made his professional debut with Les Variétés Lyriques in Montréal in 1941. He then left for New York City for complementary studies with Paul Althouse. In 1946 he appeared at the New York City Center as Lionel in Martha. That same year he married French-Canadian soprano Pierrette Alarie.

Together they left for France where Simoneau's career really took off. He made his debut in 1949 at the Opéra-Comique of Paris as Vincent in Gounod's opera Mireille and at the Paris Opera as Tamino in Zauberflote. He made his debut at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 1950 singing Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte. The following year, 1951, he made his debut at the Glyndebourne Festival as Idamante in Idomeneo. His performances at these two festivals quickly established him as the outstanding Mozartian tenor of his time. He was invited to sing at the Salzburg Festival and the Edinburgh Festival, at the Vienna State Opera and at La Scala in Milan, while pursuying his career in France, in roles such as Nadir in Les Pecheurs de Perles, Gérald in Lakmé. He took part in the revival of opera such as Rameau's Les Indes galantes and Orphée in the French version for tenor of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. In France he was frequently singing opposite his wife, who was a light lyric coloratura soprano excelling in the same repertoire as her husband.

In the 1950s he made several famous recordings, including one of the Mozart Requiem with Bruno Walter conducting. He also participated in two celebrated recordings with Philips Records, George Bizet's Les Pecheurs de Perles conducted by Jean Fournet, and Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orphée et Euridyce conducted by Hans Rosbaud, in which he gave what some critics feel are the definitive performances of the roles of Nadir and Orphée. Simoneau also sang the role of Belmonte in Sir Thomas Beecham's recording of Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio, and the role of Ferrando in Mozart's Cosi fan tutte opposite Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nan Merriman, Rolando Panerai, Lisa Otto, Sesto Bruscantini, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan, both considered classics.

Simoneau made his debut at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1954, he sang there until 1961, notably in La Traviata opposite Maria Callas. His only Metropolitan Opera appearances were five performances of Don Ottavio during the 1963-64 season.

He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1971, he was promoted to Companion in 1995. Simoneau was also made a Knight of the National Order of Quebec in 1997.

After retiring, Simoneau and his wife became active as teachers, notably at the Banff Centre. They also founded the Canada Piccola Opera in Victoria, BC in 1982. He and his wife had two daughters, Isabelle and Chantal.

Léopold Simoneau died at his home on August 24, 2006, in Victoria, BC at the age of 90.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Pedro Lavirgen--First posted October 4, 2008

I bring you Spanish tenor Pedro Lavirgen, in a 1980 performance of Macbeth.

I also highly recommend this recording of "Nessun dorma". Notice how the audience boos when the conductor tries to go on, and he is forced to sing an encore, which sounds even better than the original!

Pedro Lavirgen was born in Bujalance (Cordoba) on July 31, 1930. He made his debut in zarzuela in 1959, and his operatic debut in 1964. He had triumphs in Carmen, Paggliacci, and Turandot, as well as numerous other roles, in theaters such as the Teatro Liceo in Barcelona, the Wiener Stadtsoper, La Scala, and the Met. According to, a Spanish-language web portal, Lavirgen has been Chair of the Voice Department at the Royal Academy of Music in Madrid since 1993.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau--First posted Sept. 27, 2008

I can't resist posting this clip of Dietrich Fischer-Diskau from a 1992 recital of Die schöne Müllerin. He was 66, folks. You can hear it in voice sometimes, but his interpretation and characterizations were amazing!

Just for comparison, here is a clip of DFD in his prime, singing Der Erlkönig in 1959:

There are also numerous clips of DFD in opera, but these song recital clips are effin' amazing!

Here is the Wikipedia bio. I can't be bothered to copy and paste it.

Reri Grist--First posted Sept. 27, 2008

Today I give you the amazing Reri Grist. These two videos are two halves of the very long tour de force aria for Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos.

Reri Grist (b. February 29, 1932) is an African-American coloratura soprano, one of the pioneer black singers to enjoy a major international career in opera.

Grist was born in New York City, and grew up in an East River housing project in what we now call Spanish Harlem. She obtained a solid voice training with Claire Gelda, and started singing in Broadway musicals as a teenager. Her first quasi-operatic engagement came in 1956, when she sang the role of Cindy Lou in Oscar Hammerstein's Carmen Jones. She created the role of Consuela in the original production of Leonard Bernstein's classic musical, West Side Story, in 1957, introducing the haunting song "Somewhere" to the public. Her first breakthrough in classical music, came shortly after, when Bernstein invited her to sing the soprano part in Gustav Mahler's fourth symphony.

Her official operatic debut took place at the Santa Fe Opera in 1959, as Adele in Johann Strauss's Die Fledermaus, followed by Blondchen in Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio. Shortly after she was invited to the opera of Cologne to sing the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute, which marked her European debut in 1960. She became a regular performer at the opera of Zurich, where she sang in many light coloratura roles, such as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. After her success in Zurich, she found herself much in demand, making her debut at the Royal Opera House and the Glyndebourne Festival, in 1962, followed by the Vienna State Opera and the San Francisco Opera, in 1963, the Salzburg Festival, in 1965, where she sang frequently the Mozart soubrette roles, such as Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, and Despina in Cosi fan tutte.

Her Metropolitan Opera debut took place on February 25, 1966, as Rosina in Il barbiere di Siviglia. Her other roles at the Met included, Adina in L'elisir d'amore, Norina in Don Pasquale, Gilda in Rigoletto, Olympia in Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Oscar in Un ballo in maschera, as well as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos.

Grist ended her stage career in Amsterdam in 1991, in Neither, a one-woman opera by Morton Feldman, to a text by Samuel Beckett.

Grist was also active teaching at the Munich Hochschule, and giving numerous masterclasses in centers such as Zurich, Ravinia, Bloomington, San Francisco. She currently lives in Hamburg with her husband, noted musicologist, Ulf Thomson.

Reri Grist possessed a sweet and agile voice, and a most enchanting presence on stage. She made relatively few recordings, but can be heard as Aminta in Il re pastore, opposite Lucia Popp, as Blondchen in Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, as Gilda in Rigoletto, and as Oscar in two recordings of Un ballo in maschera, the first in 1966, opposite Leontyne Price, and the second in 1975, opposite Martina Arroyo, two African-American sopranos like Grist.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Anna Moffo--First posted Sept. 21, 2008

This week I give you the lovely Anna Moffo. I really hadn't listened much to her before researching this entry, but now I'm in love! Here she is on a TV show from 1963 (and yes, that is the last note of a Birgit Nilsson performance at the very beginning of the video!):

Anna Moffo (June 27, 1932 - March 9, 2006) was an Italian-American opera singer, one of the leading dramatic-coloratura sopranos of her era, she possessed a warm and radiant voice of considerable range and agility, and was an affecting singing-actress of great personal beauty.

She was born in Wayne, Pennsylvania to Italian parents, Nicola Moffo (a shoemaker) and his wife Regina Cinti. After graduating from Radnor High School, she turned down an offer to go to Hollywood and went instead to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where she studied with Eufemia Giannini-Gregory, sister of soprano Dusolina Giannini. In 1954, on a Fulbright Program scholarship, she left for Italy to complete her studies at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome where she studied with Mercedes Llopart and Luigi Ricci. Moffo made her official operatic debut in 1955 in Spoleto as Norina in Don Pasquale.

Shortly after, still virtually unknown and little experienced, took on the challenging role of Cio-Cio-San in an Italian television (RAI) production of Madama Butterfly - the telecast aired on January 24, 1956 and made Moffo an overnight sensation throughout Italy. Offers quickly followed and she appeared in two other television productions that same year, as Nanetta in Falstaff and as Amina in La Sonnambula. Still in 1956, she made her debut as Zerlina in Don Giovanni at the Aix-en-Provence Festival and also made her recording debut for EMI as Nanetta in Falstaff under Herbert Von Karajan and as Musetta in La Bohème with Maria Callas, Giuseppe di Stefano and Rolando Panerai. The following year (1957) saw her debut at the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg Festival and at La Scala in Milan.

Moffo returned to America for her debut there as Mimi in La Bohème next to Jussi Bjorling's Rodolfo at the Lyric Opera of Chicago on October 16, 1957. Her Metropolitan Opera of New York took place on November 14, 1959 as Violetta in La Traviata, a part that would quickly become her signature role. She performed at The Metropolitan Opera for seventeen seasons in roles such as Lucia, Gilda, Adina, Mimi, Liu, Nedda, Pamina, Marguerite, Juliette, Manon, Mélisande, Périchole, the four heroines of Les contes d'Hoffmann, etc.

Moffo was also invited at the San Francisco Opera where she made her debut as Amina on October 1, 1960. During that period she also made several appearances on American television, while enjoying a successful international career singing at all the major opera houses around the world, making her debut at the Royal Opera House in London, as Gilda in a Franco Zeffirelli production in 1964, also appearing in Paris, Hamburg, Stockholm, Berlin, Buenos Aires, etc.

In the late 1950s, she recorded Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro, opposite Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Giuseppe Taddei, conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, and recital of Mozart Arias and Coloratura Arias with EMI, and then became an exclusive artist with RCA Victor with whom she recorded most of her best operatic roles. [n.b. WANT!]

Moffo remained particularly popular in Italy and performed there regularly. She hosted a weekly program on Italian television "The Anna Moffo Show" from 1960 until 1973 and was voted one of the ten most beautiful women in Italy. She appeared in film versions of La traviata (1968) and Lucia di Lammermoor (1971) [n.b. Mad scene here and here] , both directed by her husband Mario Lanfranchi, as well as a few non-operatic films. In the early 1970s, she began appearing on German television and in operetta films such as Die Csárdásfürstin and Die schöne Galathee. She also recorded with Eurodisc the title role in Carmen and Iphigenie in Aulis, as well as the role of Hansel in Hansel und Gretel.

Such a heavy workload however led to physical exhaustion and a serious vocal-breakdown in 1974, from which she never fully recovered. Although she was able to resume her career in 1976, she appeared only sporadically. Her last appearance at the Met was during the 1983 Centennial celebrations, where she sang the Sigmund Romberg duet "Sweetheart" with Robert Merrill. After retiring from singing Moffo remained active in the opera community as a Board Member of the Metropolitan Opera Guild and by hosting several tributes and giving occasional masterclasses.

Moffo was married twice, first to stage director and producer Mario Lanfranchi, on December 8, 1957. The couple divorced in 1972. Her second marriage was to RCA executive, Robert Sarnoff, on November 14, 1974. Sarnoff died on February 22, 1997.
Anna Moffo spent the last years of her life in New York City, where she died at the age of 73, of a stroke following a decade-long battle with breast cancer.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Victoria de los Ángeles--First posted Sept. 13, 2008

I can't remember who requested Victoria de los Angeles, but I'm glad he did. I've been quite enjoying researching this one. Here she performs "Una voce poco fa" from Barbiere on a BBC television show in 1962. She's a high-spirited teenage girl (willing suspension of disbelief, remember--this is opera, after all!) singing about how sweet and obedient she is--but don't get on her bad side!

And I must include this as well, although once again it's a sound recording with images rather than a video clip. Here she sings "The Last Rose of Summer", an excerpt from Flotow's Martha. She sings with such beauty and charm!

Victoria de los Ángeles (in Catalan, Victòria dels Àngels) (November 1, 1923 – January 15, 2005) was a Spanish operatic soprano and recitalist from Catalonia whose career began in the early 1940s and reached its height in the mid 1960s. Her voice could best be described as that of a flexible full lyric soprano with enough weight and volume to sing both lyric and dramatic roles. While she later made fewer appearances in opera, she continued to give recitals, focusing on mostly French and Spanish art songs, into the 1990s. She sang at the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992.

Born Victoria López García into a humble Catalan family in Barcelona, she studied at the Barcelona Conservatory, graduating in just three years in 1941 at age 18. That year, she made her operatic debut as Mimì at the Liceu, but then resumed her musical studies.

In 1945, she returned to the Liceu to make her professional debut as the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. After winning first prize in the Geneva International Competition in 1947, she sang Salud in Falla's La vida breve with the BBC in London in 1948. In 1949 she made her first appearance in the Paris Opéra as Marguerite. The following year, she debuted in Salzburg and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden as Mimi, and the United States with a recital at Carnegie Hall. In March, 1951, she made her Metropolitan Opera debut in New York as Marguerite, and sang with the company for ten years. She made noted recordings of La vida breve, La bohème, Pagliacci, and Madama Butterfly. The last three paired her with renowned tenor Jussi Björling. She also sang at La Scala in Milan from 1950 to 1956. In 1957 she sang at the Vienna State Opera.

After making her debut at the Bayreuth Festival as Elisabeth in 1961, she devoted herself principally to a concert career. However, for the next twenty years, she continued to make occasional appearances in one of her favourite operatic roles, Carmen. She was among the first Spanish-born operatic singers to record the complete opera in 1958, a recording conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham using the recitatives added by Ernest Guiraud after Bizet's death. Though Carmen lay comfortably in her range, she nevertheless sang major soprano roles, best known of which were Donna Anna, Manon, Nedda, Desdemona, Cio-Cio-San, Mimi, Violetta and Mélisande. Like Montserrat Caballé, she was a true exponent of bel canto singing. De los Ángeles performed regularly in song recitals with pianists Gerald Moore and Geoffrey Parsons, occasionally appearing with other eminent singers, such as Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

On January 15 2005, Victoria de los Ángeles died of heart failure in Barcelona at age 81. She had been hospitalized for a bronchial infection since December 31. Those close to her said her voice was still beautiful to the end.

De los Ángeles married Enrique Magriñá in 1948 and had two sons, one of whom survived her.

(Above bio from Wikipedia.)

I can't resist sharing this excerpt from her New York Sun obituary, as quoted in the above "Last Rose of Summer" YouTube link:

"Again and again, de los Angeles's is the voice people celebrate as pure, healing, imbued with integrity, wisdom, even grace. An AIDS worker in the 1980s recalled many of his clients requesting he bring to the hospital CDs or tapes of the singer: hers was often the last voice they wanted to hear. ("I can't listen to Callas on my deathbed, for God's sake," one of them said.)"

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni--First posted Sept. 13, 2008

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, in a 1967 Tokyo performance of Don Carlo.

Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, (November 6, 1920 – March 12, 1991), was a basso opera singer of mixed Italian-Russian parentage.
Rossi-Lemeni was born in Istanbul, Turkey, the son of an Italian colonel and a Russian mother. In his prime he was one of the most respected bassos in Italy. The composer Ildebrando Pizzetti wrote the opera Assassinio nella cattedrale (Murder in the Cathedral0 (1958) specifically for Rossi-Lemeni. He was also a prize-winning poet and a painter.

The basso made his debut as Varlaam in Boris Godounov, at Venice, in 1946. He sang at the Teatro alla Scala from 1947 to 1960, the Teatro Colón (1949) and Covent Garden (1952). He appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, opening the 1953-54 season, in Faust (with Jussi Björling, Victoria de los Ángeles and Robert Merrill, conducted by Pierre Monteux and directed by Peter Brook in his Met debut), followed by the title roles of Don Giovanni and Boris Godounov.

Rossi-Lemeni was married to Romanian soprano Virginia Zeani. Among his recordings are Don Carlos (with Mirto Picchi, 1951), Il barbiere di Siviglia (with de los Ángeles, 1952), and—opposite Maria Callas—I puritani (1953), Norma (1954), and Il turco in Italia (1954). He was also featured in two recordings of La serva padrona, the first (1955) conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini, the second (1959) alongside Zeani.

(Bio from Wikipedia.)

Luigi Alva--First published Sept. 1, 2008

I give you Luigi Alva, in a 1960 video:

Luigi Alva (10 April 1927) was the foremost tenore leggiero of the third quarter of the 20th century. He was admired for his purity of tone, the elegance of his phrasing and the clarity of his diction. A Mozart and Rossini specialist, Alva still sets the standard for such roles as Don Ottavio (in Don Giovanni), Count Almaviva (in Il Barbiere di Siviglia) and Fenton (in Verdi's Falstaff).

Born in Peru (home of other noted lyric tenors such as Ernesto Palacio and Juan Diego Florez), where he studied with Rosa Mercedes Ayarza de Morales, he made his debut in Federico Moreno Torroba's zarzuela Luisa Fernanda. He went to Milan in 1953 and studied with Emilio Ghirardini. Later he was called from Giulio Comfallonieri to became a "cadet" at the La Scuola di Canto (Voice Academy) at La Scala. In Italy he make his European debut at the Teatro Nuovo in Milan as Alfredo in Verdi's La traviata, following that with his in la Piccola Scala in Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto. His debut in Teatro alla Scala was in 1956 as Count Almaviva in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. He was soon invited to sing at the most important European festivals and opera houses. At Glyndebourne, he made his debut as Nemorino in Donizetti's L'elisir d'amore. His Metropolitan Opera debut was in 1964 as Fenton in Verdi's Falstaff. Subsequently he sang with most of the leading companies in US and Europe.

In 1960s and 1970s there were few singers, let alone tenors, who could compare in sheer vocal elegance with Luigi Alva. Unlike so many, he never tried to venture out of his natural repertoire. Instead, he delivered Mozart, Rossini, and Donizetti with great elegance and style for four decades. He cooperated with conductors like Otto Klemperer, Claudio Abbado, Nino Sanzogno, Herbert von Karajan and Carlo Maria Giulini. His duets with Teresa Berganza in Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia and La Cenerentola are the hallmarks of the epoch.

In 1982, he returned to Lima to teach and left the stage in 1989. He sponsors the Luigi Alva Competition for young singers and gives master classes. Alva now teaches singing at the La Scuola di Canto (Voice Academy) at La Scala in Milan.

(Bio adapted from Wikipedia.)

Bidu Sayão--First posted Sept. 8, 2008

Today I give you the lovely Bidu Sayão:

Bidu Sayão (Rio de Janeiro, May 11, 1902 - March 12, 1999) was Brazil's most famous opera singer and one of the great stars of the Metropolitan Opera for fifteen years (1937-1952). She was born Balduína de Oliveira Sayão to a cultured family in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro. Her father died when she was five years old and her mother struggled to support her daughter's costly pursuit of a singing career. At the age of only eighteen, the gifted Bidu Sayão made her major opera debut in Rio de Janeiro. Her acclaimed performance led to an opportunity to study with the famous Elena Teodorini, first in Brazil and then in Romania; and then to study with the renowned Polish tenor and tutor, Jean de Reszke, in Nice. During the mid 1920s and early 1930s, she performed in Rome, Buenos Aires, Paris, as well as in her native Brazil. While at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, she met impresario Walter Mocchi (1870-1955). After his wife, soprano Emma Carelli, died in 1928, the two became romantically involved and were married. However, it did not last and in 1935 Sayão married the Italian baritone, Giuseppe Danise (1883-1963).

In 1930, she debuted at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, and in the next year she sang a successful Juliette in Gounod's Roméo et Juliette, at the Paris Opera. In the same year, she gained a great success with her debut at the Opéra Comique as Lakmé. She soon became one of the leading lyric coloratura sopranos in Europe, especially in Italy and France. Her repertoire included Lucia di Lammermoor, Amina in La Sonnambula, Elvira in I Puritani, and Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos.

In 1936 Bidu Sayão made her debut in the United States with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall singing La Demoiselle élue by Debussy. Her performance was under the baton of Arturo Toscanini who would become her greatest supporter and lifelong friend. She sang her first performance at the Metropolitan Opera as Manon on February 13, 1937, replacing the Spanish soprano Lucrezia Bori. The critics, including Olin Downes of the New York Times[1], raved about her performance and within a few weeks she was given the lead in La Traviata, followed soon thereafter by Mimí in La Bohème. She also contributed to the Mozart revival at the Metropolitan Opera, becoming the preëminent Zerlina (Don Giovanni) and Susanna (Le Nozze di Figaro) of her generation.

As the favorite singer of Brazilian composer Heitor Villa Lobos, she had an artistic partnership with him that lasted many years and made a number of recordings of his compositions, including a famous recording of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5.

Here is a recording of part of that lovely work:

Following the death of her husband in 1963, Bidu Sayão lived a quiet life at her home in Maine. She returned to visit Brazil a last time in 1995, for a tribute to her during the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, and died a few years later at the Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Maine. Her ashes were scattered across the Bay in front of her home.

Bidu Sayão's portrait hangs in the lobby at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.

(Bio adapted from Wikipedia.)