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Sunday, October 4, 2015


BASTIN was born in Waterloo in 1933. He was a Belgian operatic bass who made his debut in 1960 at La Monnaie, singing Charon in L'Orfeo. He appeared at major opera houses throughout Europe, including the Royal Opera House, La Scala, and the Palais Garnier; he also sang at opera houses in North and South America. He was known for playing roles from a variety of operatic traditions, from Monteverdi to Berg, but he was perhaps most famous for singing the comic role of Ochs in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier.

Bastin began his career as a teacher of German, French and history before turning to professional singing. After becoming successful in opera, he continued to teach music at the Royal Music Conservatory in Brussels.

Surely one of the very best bass singers of his day, he was renowned for his extraordinarily beautiful French.

Here is his famous “Air de Frère Laurent: "Pauvres enfants" (Roméo et Juliette), H. Berlioz:

Air du Père : " Les pauvres gens" (Louise), G. Charpentier:

O Holy Night (French version):


Bastin died in Brussels on 2 December 1996.






Sunday, September 27, 2015

Richard Tucker
A Rare Live Recording of the Hineni Prayer for Rosh Hashana.

This audio file, kindly sent by Steve at Shicoff1, is not on any studio recording

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Eula Beal, Contralto


Eula Beal, the well-known American contralto, was born in Riverside California in 1919.  She got her start singing at the Redlands Bowl in local competitions, and attained her reputation in classical music in the 1940’s, largely as a concert contralto. She was, in addition to concert singing, recognized for her work in movies. Here is one of her most beloved concert pieces, Tchaikovsky’s “None but the Lonely Heart”:

That is simply superb singing! Her upper range, for example, is most impressive, yet does not distract from the characteristic contralto sound for which she was so widely recognized. All in all, magnificent vocal artistry! And here is an equally impressive vocal rendition, this from the St. Matthew Passion, performed together with Yehudi Menuhin. Listen to the astounding line of this singing; it is near perfection, as is the violin playing of Menuhin. Such playing and singing are a rare combination, both then—and especially—now:

Finally, it needs to be pointed out that it was not only classical music at which Beal excelled. Here, to give an excellent example, is perhaps one of the most popular religious songs in the repertoire; and one which Eula Beal sings especially well, The Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria”:

This was a contralto and a contralto indeed!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Great Neapolitan Tenor Francesco Albanese

                 Francesco Albanese was born in Torre del Greco, Naples, and was a popular lyric tenor, known not only for his work in opera, but as one of the greatest singers of Neapolitan song.  His life and career were almost entirely in Italy, although he did sing in London, Portugal and South America.  As a result, his work was largely within the Italian repertoire,  but that of course is a very large part of opera!   He did not, to the best of my knowledge, ever sing in the United States.  We have an unfortunate tendency in the US to think that Italian singers who never sang here were  unsuccessful or unimpressive.  That is a silly kind of chauvinism, of course; nothing could be further from the truth.  He in fact had a very good career, and is greatly respected today.

His first studies were in Rome, with Francesco Salfi, and it was there that he made his debut, at the Teatro dell'Opera, in Gluck's Alceste  His early repertoire was to become his characteristic repertoire, which is leggiero, or light lyric roles, such as Almaviva, Fenton, Rinuccio, Ottavio, Ramiro, Ernesto (Don Pasquale), Armida, Alfredo and Nemorino.

He recorded both Ifigenia in Tauride, (1957) and La Traviata (early 50's )  opposite Maria Callas.

It was not only in opera that Albanese had a good career.  For lovers of Neapolitan music, Albanese is commonly considered one of the greatest of all singers of Neapolitan songs, which have a remarkable history all their own.  As I always hasten to point out, whenever I speak of Neapolitan songs, there is a great misconception about what they are.  It seems, for example, that nearly every operatic tenor and baritone on earth feels obliged to sing these songs, whether or not they know anything about Naples, its language, literature, or musical history.  As a result of this, many of the songs are done poorly.  In fact, the Neapolitan song has a style all its own,  because these songs have a long history and in their earliest iterations, they were art songs, much more restrained and dignified in tone than they now often appear in the hands of many singers. Further, they were, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a principle means of instructing a large and unlettered populace in Neapolitan cultural and literary history--they served as a kind of instruction in napolitanità ; which is to say in what it meant to be Neapolitan.  Therefore, a great familiarity with Naples, its music, its political history,  its language and its literature is required to do them well.  Several names come immediately to mind, including Fernando de Lucia—still the all-time favorite tenor of many Neapolitans—modern singers Roberto Murolo and Aurelio Fierro, and of course Francesco Albanese.

I think it's possible to get a good idea of just what a fine singer Albanese was by listening to him sing one of the most popular of all Neapolitan songs, Dicitencello Vuje.  When I posted this on Youtube, I included the lyrics, and translated them from Neapolitan into English.  It makes it possible to follow the song carefully.

Isn't that just absolutely wonderful!  That is what a Neapolitan song is supposed to sound like.  The first thing you will notice is that it is completely devoid of shouting, moaning, groaning, glycerin tears or schlock.  It is in fact as well constructed, singable and  dignified as many a Schubert Lied, making allowance for the theme of romance expressed in a Latin way and in a Latin language.  Of course, these tonal differences will be expressed in ways particular to both cultures, but that says nothing about the quality of the artistry, just the intrinsic nature of the different cultures, languages, and peoples.  You can hear the same differences in political or scientific discussions or speeches.  On the same Youtube page where this song appears, you can find, in the right hand sidebar, the same song "sung" by the Three Tenors.  I don't recommend it:-)

As for opera, here is "Parigi, o Cara....," from La Traviata, with Maria Callas:

Notice the restraint and the elegance of his singing.  This is classy singing, there is no doubt about it, and very much against stereotype.  I would contend that this is exactly the quality I find in the Neapolitan songs he sings, and one of the major reasons he sings them so authentically and beautifully.  A first class tenor, and a credit to Italian music!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Andrés Huc Santana


Fr. Cornelius Mattei

Andrés Huc Santana

                There have been at least two substantial 20th century Franco-Argentinian singers; one who was the master, indeed the shaper of the tango, Carlos Gardel, probably born of a single mother who emigrated from Toulouse to the river Platte estuary, whether in Montevideo, Uruguay or Buenos Aires, it is not known.  But the great  “morocho del tango” is not the subject of our piece today, but rather Andrés Huc Santana, he who became a star basso in France and Brussels in the 1940’s and 50’s.  

To start, let us hear Santana in Song.  Here is the old but always popular  “Le Cor”:

Very beautifully and masterfully done!

Having  begun his operatic career with a small role in “Louise,” Santana and his young wife left Paris for Marseille where, patronized by countess Lily Pastré, he was hired by Paul Bastide for the Théatre Municipal, making his debut in 1941 as Phanuel in Massenet’s “Hèrodiade.”

In 1943 he returned to the capital, where he auditioned for Jacques Rouché, singing “Le Cor” as we have heard it here, making his debut as Sparafucile and also singing Ramphis and the Commendatore.  His next important step was becoming a star bass at Monte Carlo, where Gunbourg entrusted Boris, Don Giovanni, the four Hoffman villains, Gounod and Boito demons to him, thus setting him on his true way. 

At approximately  6’ 7” he certainly had the imposing physique!

Here is his Faust:

In addition to some of the previous roles…he sang Bazile in “Le Barbier” at the Comique…he also performed the Berlioz “Mephisto” and built a following as a bass protagonist at the Opéra, where he was to remain until the mid-1960’s in a variety of roles, memorably as both Philippe and the Grand Inquisitor in the Margherita Wallman production of “Don Carlos.”

In Brussels for seven consecutive seasons, he wrote his own ticket, appearing in so-called Chaliapin roles, even essaying both Galitzkiy and Khan Konchak in the same performances of “Prince Igor.”  At Aix-en-Provence he appeared memorably in Rameau’s  ”Platée.”  In Argentina, as may be imagined, he sang at the Teatro Colón.  He was heard to advantage in the French theaters outside Paris, memorably at Toulon and other venues in the south, so avid for opera in those days, as well as in Italy, Tunis and Algeria.

American students attending the AIMS program in Graz, Austria, have fond memories of him there in the 1970’s.  He was also prominent on the juries of the international vocal competitions.  Still teaching in retirement, he passed away on January 21, 1982 in Paris.

A final offering:  Le Pas d’armes du roi Jean”


                                     Father Cornelius Mattei



Friday, August 7, 2015

John Charles Thomas, The Great American Baritone

John Charles Thomas was born in 1891 in Meyersdale, Pa., the son of a Methodist minister.  After study for a medical a career, he won a scholarship to the Peabody Institute in Baltimore in 1910.  In 1912 Thomas left the Peabody and toured with a musical troupe, and starred in many musicals, including “Her Soldier Boy”, Maytime, “Naughty Marietta,” and “Apple Blossoms.”  His opera career began in 1925 as Amonasro in Verdi’s Aida.  He went on to sing in San Francisco, Chicago, and Philadelphia.  He would remain at the Met until 1933 , singing opposite great sopranos of the day, such as Rosa Ponselle.  Thomas sang a very wide variety of songs:

Here is Thomas in opera, "O du mein holder Abenderstarn:

Here is “The Last Time I saw Paris”

And here is the”Green Eyed Dragon”

And let's not forget Gilbert and Sullivan!


Thursday, July 16, 2015

                                       WELSH OPERATIC TENOR DAN BEDDOE

The Welsh operatic tenor, Dan Beddoe, was born in Aberdare, Wales, UK on March 16th 1863. He died in December 1937 at the age of 74.

A Cincinnati Enquirer review of a May 1931 performance stated that he "stole the show with voice clear and ringing" with "countless" calls for encores and "with the entire audience of many thousands rising en masse to pay him special tribute."

A December 1931 New York Evening Post article, recalling his singing in the Messiah and the Elijah for the Oratorio Society of New York, noted that he had "been singing for a generation" since his first appearance there in 1903 and described  how he was "in marvelous voice and received a standing ovation after each aria he sang.

A New York Times review of the same performance noted that "For Dan Beddoe it was the fortieth year of public appearance. He has become almost indispensable to the Society's performances of the Messiah. The 64-year-old tenor sang as always in keeping with the spirit of the work and with fine musicianship. Age does not stale the many resources of his art."

Here is the great Welsh tenor singing "O Danny Boy:"

And here is "A Moonlight Song:"

Friday, July 3, 2015

Jozef Sterkens: Golden Voice of the Royal Flemish Opera

Introductory Note

[Before I can even begin to tell the story of Jozef Sterkens, I need, first and foremost, to publicly thank Pierre at for his absolutely indispensable  assistance.  Pierre 's site is one of the oldest and most respected on Youtube, and he is certainly the foremost authority on Jozef Sterkens, after whom he has named his site. I owe to him the videos and the biography which I have used in the preparation of this article.  Secondly, it is important to point out that Jozef Sterkens' life consists of two distinct parts: artistry and politics, and the two influenced each other.  He was a leading figure of the Flemish artistic renaissance in Flanders, during the very stressful  period of WWII.  I can only deal here with the artistic life.  Edmund St.Austell]

Jozef Sterkens (pseudonym of Jozef Steuren) was born in Antwerp in 1893.  His parents had a laundry in Antwerp, and hoped that young Jozef could study to become a teacher. He was a good scholar, and so they arranged—although their funds were limited—to send him to  the Normal School in Ghent, in 1908. Bright boy though he was, he failed to develop much interest in his studies, generally speaking, but he did have the chance to take music lessons from the Flemish composer Emiel Hullebroeck, who soon discovered that young Jozef had a beautiful tenor voice. Hullebroeck strongly recommended singing lessons, but family finances made it impossible for Jozef to do anything but become an art teacher after graduation. Within a few years, WWI broke out, and Jozef joined the armed forces, where he spent the next four years working as a nurse in a military hospital.  While in the army, he had the opportunity, along with other artists, to sing for soldiers at the front.  His patriotic diligence and hard work led to his being decorated on four different occasions.

After the Armistice, Sterkens returned to Antwerp and resumed his teaching career, while also studying at the Royal Flemish Conservatory. In 1923, he sang for the music critic of a local newspaper, who in turn introduced him to Edmond Borgers, the leading heldentenor of the Royal Flemish Opera.  After hearing Sterkens sing "In Fernem Land,"  he offered to give him singing lessons.  In that same year, Sterken's career began, in a modernistic vein that would characterize much of his later work.  His first concerts consisted of works by Flemish composers Peter Benoit, Jan Blockx,  Jef Van Hoof, and Renaat Veremans, and were presented to largely Flemish-speaking audiences.

One of the main reasons many opera lovers, especially in this country, do not know much about Sterkens'  career now is that from the very beginning he became strongly associated with presenting Flemish music, and music in Flemish.  There were two opera houses in Antwerp:  The Royal French Opera and the Royal Flemish Opera.  The French Opera dedicated itself largely to French and Italian works, and the Flemish house to German works, and works in Flemish translation.  Because of Sterken's association with the Flemish house, he did not have much opportunity  to sing the French and Italian repertoire that held so many great roles for tenors. There were strong political pressures for him to adhere to Flemish.  At this time, Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, was completely dominated by French speakers and French culture, and the need was greatly felt, by the Flemish, to establish Flemish art and culture in Flanders.  Sterkens was, in fact, to become an important figure in that Flemish struggle for cultural liberation.

He joined the Royal Flemish Opera in 1925, and his first big success was Tamino, in 1927.  He quickly became the leading lyric tenor in the company.  The following year he sang the St. Matthew Passion in Paris, under the baton of the famous Flemish conductor Lodewijk de Vocht, and made his first recordings for the French Gramophone Company. He was also becoming a fixture on Belgian radio.  In 1929 he sang Florestan opposite the Leonore of Lotte Lehmann, who was a frequent performer at the Royal Flemish Opera.   During this period, he took part in presenting the Dutch versions of Sadko (1925), Paganini (1927), Jenufa (1927), Sly (1929), Die tote Stadt (1932), and Daphne (1939)

Sterkens' story from this point until his death in 1952 is primarily a story of administrative work, both at the Royal Flemish and elsewhere.  Unfortunately, it is a sad one, full of the political intrigues and politics of the time.  He was even jailed at one point, after the liberation of Antwerp in 1944, for a period of about 8 months.  After that, he fell into obscurity for a long time, but slowly began to regain his reputation.  Just at the moment when he was to be given a significant post as chairman of the Musical Copyright Society, he died of a heart attack.  The year was 1952. It's a rather depressing story, really. Those interested in reading of these matters in more detail can consult 401 Divas,   I am indebted to this site for my biographical information.

I think it is important to first hear Sterkens in one of the most lyrical and beautiful renditions I know of  the aria "Glück das mir verlieb," from Korngold's Die tote Stadt:

Now isn't that just absolutely beautiful!  I certainly think it is!  What kind of voice is it, essentially?  I think of Sterken's voice as being in the Gigli/ Tagliavini/ Schipa fach, which is to say high lyric tenor, but with a decidedly German/Dutch color.  If you associate colors with vocal sounds, this might be called "brown,"  as compared to the darker, "black" quality of the typical Italian voice—or at least that of Gigli, perhaps not so much that of Tagliavini.  Of one thing there can be no question:  this is a very beautiful voice, absolutely without strain or harsh edge, a superb lyric tenor.

Next, we can hear in Sterken's voice the introduction of drama, of a dark and mysterious kind, in Respighi's Campana Sommersa,  a mythical opera concerning a sunken bell between two worlds, the world of humans and that of fairies.  Choices have to be made, and tragic consequences may hang on the quality of the choice.  It is basically a verismo fairy-tale with dark forebodings:

The voice, while lyric, has here acquired some edginess; it is also more dramatic, with greater dynamic variations.  Clearly, the potential for development into a slightly darker voice is there,  but it was never pushed.  It was always the lyric and the beautiful that dominated Sterken's singing.

Finally, to illustrate that point even more, here is a real rarity, the only known film footage of Sterkens.  It is from a silly, light-hearted comedy of the kind that proliferated during the 1930's.  Here is the Dutch song "Elisa," from the movie "De Witte:

Notice the voix mixte high C sharp at the end?  A famous voice teacher once told me that opera voices would be better and longer-lived if singers and conductors ever figured out that most people far prefer what is pretty to what is simply loud!.  Case in point!  I cannot help but wonder what Sterkens' fate would have been if he had been born in Italy or France, in years of relative peace, and had had the opportunity to sing extensively in the standard Latin repertoire of those countries.  I believe I would be telling an entirely different story

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mabel Garrison, Brilliant Coloratura Soprano




 Mabel Garrison was born in Baltimore in1886. She finished her undergraduate work in 1903 and went on to study singing at Peabody Conservatory. She studied with George Siemonn and then studied further with Oscar Saenger and Herbert Witherspoon in New York. She made her debut in 1912 with the Aborn Opera Company as Philine in Mignon. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut on February 15, 1914 in concert, singing arias from operas by Verdi and Mozart. Her first role at the Met was Frasquita in Bizet's Carmen. Other roles included Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore, Bertha in Euryanthe, Biancofiore in Francesca da Rimini, Crobyle in Thaïs, the Dew Fairy in Hansel and Gretel, Gilda in Rigoletto, Lady Harriet in Martha, Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera,the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute,Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, and Urbain in Les Huguenots.. Her last performance at the Met was as the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor  1921.  First, here is the Garrison voice in its prime, in the Doll Song from Hoffman:

In 1921 Garrison made guest appearances at the Berlin State Opera and made a world concert tour that same year She was a member of the Chicago Opera Company during the 1925-26 season. Garrison had a great and well -trained coloratura voice, as she demonstrated in both opera and concert and in several recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company.

 Like others of her era, she made “popular recordings” that were always good for a few extra dollars; many, very often.  Here is a superb recording of “Dixie:”

This is a very good place to thank Mr.Douglas Curran for posting these Garrison videos on his Youtube channel (Curzon Road) one of the very best classical music channels on Youtube; in fact, one of the finest channels of any kind.  I believe that every Mabel Garrison video on the web is from Mr. Curran,  a friend and brilliant record collector.  Thank you, my friend!

Mabel Garrison died in New York City on August 20, 1963









Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Great Marcella Sembrich



Marcella Sembrich  (1858 – 1935) was the stage name of the Polish coloratura soprano, Prakseda Marcelina Kochańska. She was born  in Wisniewczyk, then part of Austria, and now part of Ukraine. She first studied violin and piano with her father, and later she entered the Lemberg Conservatory and studied piano with her future husband Wilhelm Stengel . She was able to enter the Vienna Conservatory in 1875. It was soon discovered that her voice was exceptional, and she dedicated herself exclusively to voice from then on.  She made her operatic debut at the relatively tender age of 19 in Athens, as Elvira in I Puritani, in 1877.  She was engaged shortly thereafter by the Vienna Opera, but due to pregnancy she broke the contract. Later, after the birth of her first son, she had to wait for another opportunity and was finally hired as a guest artist at the Dresden Royal Opera House in September, 1878, as Lucia. Her success was immediate and she was dubbed the "Polish Patti." She remained in Dresden for two years, but decided to act boldly—in order to make up for lost time—and broke her Dresden contract and began concertizing on her own, in order to raise money.  She managed to get to London, and after a successful audition was accepted at Covent Garden, where she was quick to sign a contract with them. She created quite a sensation in her 1880 debut there in Lucia.  

 Emboldened by her success, she broke her London contract two years early and came to the United States in 1883 to make her Met debut, also as Lucia.  From there it was on to St. Petersburg, and eventually back to the Met in 1898, where she finally settled.  She remained there until 1909, having given over 400 performances.  She concertized for years, finally retiring after WWI.  From then on, she dedicated herself to teaching, in important conservatories.  She was very successful as a teacher, and had significant influence. Among her students were the great Alma Gluck, Hulda Lashanska,  a successful concert singer, coloratura soprano (and novelist!) Queena Mario, and dramatic soprano Dusolina Giannini, who had a very successful international career.  Also among her students was radio vocalist and concertizer Conrad Thibault, who studied with her at Curtis, and who told the distinguished musical biographer James A. Drake,  in an interview in 1976, that “she was always very attentive and generous to her students, and talked to them personally about the [singing teachers Francesco and Giovanni Lamperti ] and their methods.”  Drake goes on to say, interestingly, that  “He (Thibault) added that at least in his experience with her, she never demonstrated vocalises or otherwise sang even so much as a single tone.”  *    She was also a fundraiser for Polish causes, following WWI. 

Since Lucia played so large a part in her earlier career, serving as a frequent debut opera, it seems appropriate to begin there.  I apologize for the scratchiness of the recording.  I cannot find a better recording than the one I posted some years ago, and I was not able to clean up the scratching on the transfer without taking some quality from the voice.  Here is the 1906 recording of “Ardon gl’incensi”: 

What most impresses me about this singing is the clarity, purity, precise intonation, and general absence of affectation, either stylistic or vocal. It is, as a result, what can honestly be classified as elegant singing, not always the case with divas of the era.  She was often compared to Patti, especially in her youth, and one can see why:  We note the same  clarity and purity of the voice, including the  floating, haunting tones. Like Patti, Sembrich  sings perfectly on the breath, which is how she is able to  portamento up and down so smoothly and seamlessly, and also trill easily. There is considerable vocal fluidity to be noted in the singing of both these great divas from the distant past.
Another favorite opera for Sembrich was I Puritani.  Here is the lovely “Qui la Voce sua Soave” from 1907:

Lovely!  This is really very accomplished singing for the period.  At the beginning of the aria, the same “straight,” restrained and haunting melodic line is apparent.  One can notice a slight development of weight in the lower register, compared to the Lucia recording of the previous year, but it is slight and still well integrated with the rather remarkable top register.  Later in the aria, the great flexibility so characteristic of her voice is on display:  the rapid and well executed cadenzas, with a brilliant, in-line C sharp inserted, stand out for their precision.  It was common during this time for sopranos to attempt cadenzas they could not really articulate at speed, with the result that they were in effect glissandi, often musically inappropriate.  Not the case here, as it was not the case with Patti.   Sembrich’s intonation and articulation are both precise, and this is most admirable.

Finally, a 1912 recording of a song from Leo Fall’s 1907 Musical Comedy Die Dollarprinzessin (“The Dollar Princess”): 

Sembrich was 54 years when this was recorded.  What we finally have here is a wonderful recording, first of all because the recording itself, as an artifact, has been cleaned up to such a degree that it gives us a very real look at her singing!  The digital transfer was done by my friend Doug at Curzon Road, one of the best classical music sites on the web.  He is extremely skilled at creating audio files from old recordings, and this is so important.  I feel I can very nearly hear the voice of this singer from long ago with a clarity resembling what one might hear in the opera house.  Several things become apparent; first, the purity of intonation and articulation of which we have spoken is not an aural illusion from faded 107-year-old records!  It is very real, and absolutely characteristic of the voice and training.  Second, the vocal registers remain superbly well integrated; there are no “register scoops” and there is no inappropriate “huskiness” in the lower register at all.  The purity of the high soprano voice remains spotless even at age 54.  This is a diva who deserves her reputation!  A fine, elegant, articulate, vocally and stylistically immaculate first lady of the lyric stage!

*My thanks to Jim Drake for sharing this information with me.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

                                                          The Great French Tenor Alain Vanzo                


   Alain Vanzo (1928- 2002) was a French opera singer who attained international standing in the postwar era.  Along with such singers as Henri Legay and the Canadian Léopold Simoneau, he represented a traditional French lyric style during a period when larger Italian and German vocal styles had become popular. Vanzo was born in Monte Carlo, the son of a Mexican father and a French mother. He started singing at a young age in the church choir. At 18, he was singing popular songs with a small band, and began performing at the Théâtre du Châtelet, during the 1951-52 season, as a double for Luis Mariano in the operetta Le Chanteur de Mexico.  Later, in 1954, he won an important singing contest in Cannes.

Virtually from the beginning, Vanzo was blessed with a high lyric voice of uncommon beauty and range.  One can very easily get the idea of the young man’s singing voice from the following exceptional rendition of the famous tenor aria from I Puritani, a death trap for even great tenors.  Here is “A te o Cara”:

Vanzo was then immediately invited to sing at the Opéra-Comique and at the Palais Garnier, quickly establishing himself in the standard French lyric repertory, such as Nadir in Les pêcheurs de perles, Gérald in Lakmé, Faust, Roméo in Roméo et Juliette, Vincent in Mireille, des Grieux in Manon, etc. He also sang the Italian repertory, such as the Duke in Rigoletto, Alfredo in La Traviata, Rodolfo in La Bohème. He won great acclaim at the Palais Garnier in 1960, as Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor, opposite Joan Sutherland who was making her debut there. This was the beginning of an international career with appearances at many of the major opera houses in Europe, including the Royal Opera House in London, La Monnaie in Brussels, the Liceo in Barcelona, the Vienna State Opera. Vanzo also appeared in North America, on tour with the Paris Opera, singing Faust, and in South America at the Teatro Colón in Les contes d'Hoffmann. He sang at Carnegie Hall in New York, as Gennaro, in the famous 1965 concert version of Lucrezia Borgia, opposite Montserrat Caballé.   Here is a wonderful performance of the famous Pearl Fishers duet, with the remarkable baritone Gerard Bacquier:

It is generally only occasionally that one hears this great duet sung by truly great French singers. This can actually make a difference. In comparison to other accomplished singers, native speakers of the language of the opera can have an advantage in eloquence and precision of diction and presentation and the entire musical rendering can be changed as a result. It is hard to imagine two singers better suited for this music than Vanzo and Bacquier.

As the years went by, Vanzo extended his repertory to more dramatic roles, such as Arrigo in the original French version of I Vespri Siciliani, Adorno in Simon Boccanegra, Cavaradossi in Tosca, Robert in Robert le Diable, Raoul in Les Huguenots, Mylio in Le roi d'Ys, and became internationally renowned as one of best exponents of the role of Benvenuto Cellini and Werther. 

Vanzo never officially retired, singing well into his 60s, mostly in recital, and appearing frequently on French television. He left relatively few commercial recordings, the most famous being Lakmé, opposite Joan Sutherland, and conducted by Richard Bonynge. 

Vanzo also composed, writing songs and two major works, the operetta Pêcheur d'Etoile which premiered at Lille, in 1972, and the lyrical drama Les Chouans, which premiered at Avignon, in 1982.

Alain Vanzo died in Paris on January 27, 2002 of complications following a stroke. He was 73.    

Finally, I think it makes sense  to take a last look at Vanzo singing one of his signature roles,  and that is Werther:   “Why awaken me, oh sigh of Springtime.”  Although the quality of the video image is poor, the audio is acceptable:





Sunday, May 10, 2015

Beverly Sills: A Great American Soprano

Beverly Sills, (Belle Miriam Silverman) was born in 1929 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents were Ukrainian immigrants, and as a child Sills was exposed to many languages at home, including French, Yiddish, and Russian, along with her native English. This exposure gave her a very natural facility with foreign languages, which was helpful in her later career.

Sills was precocious in the extreme as a child. Starting by winning a child beauty contest at the age of 3, she began performing on the radio at the age of 4 as "Bubbles" Silverman. She started taking lessons with Estelle Liebling, and by 1937, when she was 8 years old, she had appeared in a film, released the following year, which fortunately is preserved and viewable on Youtube. Because it tells us so very much about her, I think that here is a good place to see it. The film is called "Uncle Sol Solves It," and it is far more than a vaudeville shtick because of the difficulty of the piece, and the serious way Sills sings. Notice the extraordinary presence and charm of this little girl!  Also, watch the video to the very end and notice Uncle Sol's final advice to her:

Now how adorable is that!? The amazing thing is that she handles the fioratura quite well! Also, she has been taught, or naturally understands, what the great bel canto tenor Fernando de Lucía once told his student Georges Thill: "...per cantare bene, bisogna aprire la bocca!!" Which little Bubbles did! It's not hard to see why they called her "Bubbles," is it:-) Also, one other thing needs to be noticed. Did you notice Uncle Sol's advice at the end? Stay right here and study in this country., no matter how hanxious your hancestors are to do otherwise:-) .....we have great teachers here. That was one of the first things I noticed. It is important, because this was the grateful and patriotic attitude of so many at that time. The culture these Jewish immigrants, largely from Russia and Eastern Europe, brought to this country was enormous, beyond measure. You can see it in Sill's life-long attitude and work, and also in the attitudes of Jan Peerce, Roberta Peters, and many others. What they went on to contribute—and still do—is a story in itself, one of which every American can be proud, and for which all should be grateful.

Liebling encouraged little Beverly to appear on radio talent shows, which she did, and won a series of them, bringing increasing attention to herself. By age 16, she had joined a Gilbert and Sullivan touring company and began accumulating practical stage experience. Two years later, at 18, she made her operatic stage debut as the Spanish gypsy Frasquita in Bizet's Carmen with the Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company. By 1953, when she was 24, she appeared with the San Francisco opera as Helen of Troy in Boito's Mefistofele, and also sang Elivra in Don Giovanni with them the same year. From this moment on, her career virtually exploded. She went on, over the course of her career, to sing very many roles, in virtually all the major houses. Although she sang a repertoire from Handel, Mozart and Puccini, to Massenet and Verdi, she was known for her performances in coloratura soprano roles. Favorite operas were Lucia, La Fille du Régiment, Manon, Les Contes d'Hoffmann, The Barber of Seville, Roberto Devereux, La Traviata, and I Puritani.

Sills' life was music, from beginning to end: it never stops. The honors and accolades were extraordinary, as was her public relations work on behalf of music and charity, her administrative work at New York City Opera, and The Metropolitan. It is a vast biography, much too long to discuss here, but very easily consulted. Also, she has written an autobiography She was, without question, one of the most famous and respected figures in mid-twentieth century American cultural life.

Let us turn to Sills the artist. Here she is in her preferred repertoire, singing "Come per me sereno" from Bellini's La Sonnambula. It is a real coloratura tour-de-force. The trills, fioratura, and (very) high notes are simply stunning. It is a video of a certain length (nine minutes). If you have not the time to listen to it all now, skip the recitative. You don't want to miss any fireworks:

There simply can be no doubt about that technique. It is extraordinary, by any standard. The principles of bel canto singing have been thoroughly internalized, to the point where they simply come to define the singing. Few other sopranos of the twentieth century could match those trills. Sutherland could, but after that one starts to run down the list. Just amazing. And the speed of the coloratura is dazzling. This is a woman who was almost born singing, and was well taught from childhood. I would be so bold as to say that her technique was second to none.

Finally, from an American opera, the "Willow Song" from The Ballad of Baby Doe, by Douglas Moore. Sills distinguished herself in this opera, and was Moore's personal favorite in the title role (watch her, around 2:50, pick a D natural above high C out of the air!)

To a very great soprano, from a grateful American public—Thank you, Bubbles!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Renee Doria: Iron Woman

Renée  Doria:  Iron Woman

By Father Cornelius Mattei

     She sang over 2500 performances during an onstage career of more than forty years; 76 rôles on stage, 125 rôles on radio broadcasts:   she recorded over a period spanning one half century. Let  us honor in this blog the living the term in not abused...still among us at  age 94, Mme. Renée Doria.

       Born at Perpignan on February 13, 1921 to a musical family, she studied both piano and voice, making her professional début as a singer, age 18, in concert. A protegée of composer and conductor Reynaldo Hahn, she stepped onto the operatic stage for the first time as Rosina in the Barber of Seville at Marseille in 1942. Not long ago there surfaced an air-check of a performance from Radio Provence late that year: she sings Constanza’s ¨aria di salita,¨ under Hahn’s baton, following their performances of ¨Abduction¨ at the Cannes Casino. Let’s hear it:

       A lyric ¨soprano d’agilità,¨ Doria was soon singing in theaters in wartime France under the stressful conditions then prevalent on both sides of the line of demarcation, eventually making her Paris début as Lakmé at the Gaieté Lyrique in 1943, the same rôle serving for her début on October 20 1946 at the Opéra Comique. From a contemporary radio broadcast, here she is in that calling-cardrôle, with André Pernet as Nilakantha:

Other rôles followed: Rosina, Olympia, Philine, Manon, Leïla, Violetta. On January 4, 1947, she made her début at the Opéra as the queen of the night in The Magic Flute, a rôle which she dropped permanently after two performances only, thereafter preferring Pamina, another of the eleven Mozart roles which figured in her répertoire, often in both the original language, and sometimes in multiple French translations! Mme.Doria performed at both Paris theaters until the dawn of the 1960s, amid an intensive and extensive career in the then still very active theaters throughout France as well as Belgium, in Switzerland, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and Britain. Listen to this unusual rarity from a RadioNetherlands broadcast, circa 1947:

Renée Doria was the last ¨historic¨ Ophélie in Thomas’ ¨Hamlet,¨appearing with that American prodigal son, Endrèze during his farewell to the rôle. She also sang, if memory serves, two performances of Don Pasquale with Tito Schipa, that artist’s only staged opera performances in Paris.

       Married to the recording producer, vocal connoisseur and collector Guy Dumazert, Mme. Doria recorded extensively, almost always those things she sang on stage or in concert. One of the things which needs be mentioned here is that through her recording of Thaïs...another of her successes onstage... she had an impact on many, if not most, sopranos who listened to the following scene and have thereafter attempted the high pianissimo...twice as long as the note in the printed score:

       As with LauriVolpi’s extended high B at the end of ¨Nessun dorma,¨ or Vickers’ emendations in ¨Peter Grimes,¨ the tailoring of the score to the talents, preferences and style of a distinguished interpreter has an inevitable impact when it creates a memorable effect, as here.

       The other subject which needs, in my opinion, to be mentioned, is the subject of vocal timbre. Although recorded ab extenso. Mme Doria’s voice was, as with many crystalline soprano voices, from Melba and dal Monte to Luciana Serra, not very faithfully captured by recording technology: the simple, clear sound has never been favored by either horn or microphone. The rich aureola of harmonics which surround such a the theater… a sound whose very top tones are set upon a solid integration of chest resonance throughout the entire vocal range, thus ensuring stability, longevity and retention of the top tones through a long career. What sounds like a hard, shrill quality, to those who know such voices in person, results from distortion excited and exacerbated by the microphones’ favoring of dark or ¨rich’ sounds, the cultivation of which has demonstrably shortened the careers of a number of prominent soprani,abridging their high tones and introducing a ¨wobble¨ as a result of cutting the ¨head¨ resonancefree from anchoring in the ¨chest.¨  Here is Renée Doria, in a rôle which she did not perform onstage, but recorded to critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic-- Fanny in Massénet’s ¨Sapho¨:


       That was in 1978, and was her last complete opera recording. Continuing to sing in concert after her farewell to the operatic stage in 1981, as late as 1993, she was still recording. Let’s sample one of those last sessions:

Why ¨Iron Woman?¨ Well, Renée Doria, over the course of her career, performed feats of endurance which bear testament to her skill, determination and ironclad technique: three Manons and three Mireilles during the course of single weekends at the Opéra Comique (Friday and Saturday evenings, Sunday matinée)... her scheduled performances and covering for indisposed colleagues. Two other memorable occasions of heavy lifting also deserve mention: once, following a Thursday night Rosina at the Comique, she sang Violetta at the Opéra on Saturday night, hopped on a night train to Strasbourg and sang ¨Thaïs¨ en matinée the following afternoon. On another occasion, she began her week singing two ¨Manon¨ in Geneva, passed, once more through Strasbourg, singing all three heroines in ¨Hoffman,¨ and rounding off the calendar week in two ¨Lucia di Lammermoor¨ appearances at Rouen. Children, don’t try that at home!  Lets bid farewell, but not goodbye to her, as Louise :

Subtle, discreet. A deeply felt performance free of eccentricity and self indulgence.


                                                         Father Cornelius Mattei