Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Two current sopranos: "Built" for Strauss/Simpering, whimpering

I found a link today to a sample of Nina Stemme's new recording of the Vier letzte Lieder.

I listened to the "Im Abendrot"; it was okay. I found it interesting that the NPR commentator had to say about her: "Stemme has a voice built for this music — strong, brushed silver tempered with a touch of cream." I'm not sure I would agree that the voice is "built" for Strauss. I find it interesting that they use this particularly turn of phrase in describing her voice. It certainly "built"in that it does not sound terribly natural or free to me. As for the touch of cream, I think you need more than a touch of cream to sing these songs well. She is okay, but not a singer I would turn to again and again for this music. Flagstad sang the premiere of these songs, of course, but very few other hochdramatisch soprani have attempted these. I'm not saying that Stemme is such a singer: to my ear she does not seem to be. I do not know any of her other work and I will reserve judgment until I hear the rest of the cycle and perhaps a bit of the Tristan with Domingo if I can take it.

BTW, Rothenberger recorded it in the seventies with André Previn, I believe it was. I would be interested to hear that performance; also Augér's, two singers I usually like very much. And Elly Ameling (!) sang this at the Concertgebouw at the very end (!) of her career. I don't know how she would have managed to even hit the high B in "Frühling" or float the the high-lying ethereal phrases in "Beim Schlafengehen". Not necessarily well-advised, but I'm sure she did it with supreme taste. And besides, at that point, she could do whatever she wanted. Kind of like Sayao singing Margerita in Mefistofele at the end of her career. As to Stemme and her recording, give me Jurinac, give me della Casa, give me Janowitz, give me Isokoski. BTW, I just found a very interesting link that lists most if not all performances of these songs that are (or were ever) available on recordings.

Also to return briefly to the crossover topic with which I have been concerning myself in my last few entries:

I listened to about two-thirds of You Know Who's Haunted Heart CD on Rhapsody last night. It was like bathing in slightly rancid honey. She certainly has the style down and her voice sounds beautiful as it nearly always does, but she is as overindulgent in this music as she is in anything else. And while her distinctive vocal "style" (i.e. all that "simpering, whimpering" stuff, to quote "Bewitched", which receives a particularly masturbatory performance here) may lend itself more naturally to jazz, the self-indulgence is just as offensive in this music as it is in anything else she sings. At least one cannot say that she has poisoned the ears of an entire generation of jazz lovers as to how that music should be sung. I wish the same could be said of opera lovers.

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