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Thread: The Verdi voice

          
   
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  1. #1
    Schigolch
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    The Verdi voice

    In this thread we can review together Verdi's treatment of the human voice, since his beginnings in the late 1830s to Otello and Falstaff near the end of the 19th century. Let's do it by fach, and revise all the different characters within each fach.

    If we are happy with our job here, we can later include other great composers's treatment of the human voice, like Wagner, Puccini or Strauss.

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  3. #2
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    Rather low (basing on his physiognomy), sometimes hoarse (it is noted that he had throat issues) and also loud and strong (it is also noted that he used to blare a lot when something in rehearsal didn't please him).

  4. #3
    treemaker
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    Studying opera, I've heard about the Verdi Baritone. Is Dmitri Hvorostovsky a good example? I thought I read an article on him.

  5. #4
    Schigolch
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    We will review, in this order, soprano, mezzo, tenor, baritone and bass, so let's wait a little bit before handling baritones.

  6. #5
    treemaker
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    Lead on, then, Muse.

  7. #6
    Schigolch
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    Soprano (I)

    When Verdi was still very young, the last great alto-coloratura singers were retiring: Adelaide Malanotte in 1821, Geltrude Righetti in 1822, Rosmunda Pisaroni in 1833,... They were the singers that premiered many Rossinian roles, like Tancredi, Rosina, Malcolm, ... as well as some similar roles of other composers of the first decades of the 19th century. All of them had an incredibly wide range (from the low F to over the high C), with the low and middle register of an almost masculine colour, but combined with floating top notes.

    He also was witness to the heyday of sfogato sopranos, such as Giuditta Pasta (retired in 1837) or Maria Malibran (dead in 1836).

    Little wonder that her first soprano roles were designed bearing in mind those wonderful singers, what will became known in later times as soprano drammatico d'agilità.

    The first great example of this type of soprano voice in Verdi's operas is of course the fiery Abigaille of Nabucco (1842). In the score, she is required to sing di sbalzo, with jumps between adjacent notes up to two octaves!, as well as frequent top notes (C5) and low notes (B2) . Verdi's future wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, was the first Abigaille.

    In the recitative and aria "Ben'io t'invenni...Anchio dischiuso il giorno...Salgo già del trono aurato" we can easily understand the terrible vocal display that the singer must face when performing the role of Abigaille. Perhaps the best rendition we have of this piece is from Maria Callas, but even she needed to change the text from 'fatal sdegno' to 'sdegno fatale' and then use the 'o' as a support to anchor the voice:




    Other great Abigailles on record are Elena Souliotis and Ghena Dimitrova. The young Lucrezia García is a promising Abigaille in our days, and Dimitra Theodossiou can sing the role with her usual good standard in early Verdi.


    The main problem for the soprano in this, and other similar roles, is that she needs to manage, and manage well, her chest and head voice (and her mixed voice, as well). She is demanded by the score to sing airy coloratura, but also very dramatic passages. And, to round off, the combination of both: coloratura di forza.

    Neither Giselda (I Lombardi), Lucrezia (I due Foscari), Giovanna d'Arco or Alzira are such a challenge as Abigaille. However, there are two other roles before Lady Macbeth that are really interesting.

    First, the Elvira of Ernani (1844). We are again trodding in drammatico d'agilità territory. The range is not as terrific as Abigaille's, but Elvira must sing with even more lyrical abandon. Her entrance aria, "Ernani, involami" is one of the most difficult in the repertoire. Again, frequent vocal jumps, a couple of descending scales covering two octaves, a very difficult raddoppiato trill before the cabaletta, many top notes, ... The German soprano Sophie Loewe was the creator of the role.

    Let's hear one of the best Elviras ever, Italian soprano Anita Cerquetti:



    Leontyne Price is another fine Elvira on record. Dimitra Theodossiou is again a good option today, the young American soprano Angela Meade is promising.

    Second, a less well known role, but very beautiful and difficult is Odabella, from Attila (1846). We can easily find in the score the telltales marks of the drammatico d'agilità: wide range, very demanding top notes, canto di sbalzo,... In the cavatina, she goes down all her range (C5 - B2) in one single sentence of the recitative, while the cabaletta "Da te questo or m'e concesso" is a great example of coloratura di forza. However, in a later scene, the singer must recall her father and her fiancée, Foresto, in a very beautiful cantabile that must be sung with a great lyricism, an elegiac singing.

    This is a splendid perfomance from Joan Sutherland:



    Other Odabellas on record are Julia Varady and Christina Deutekom. Lucrezia García is now incorporating this role into her repertory.

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  9. #7
    Opera Lively Site Owner / Administrator / Chief Editor Top Contributor Member Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by treemaker View Post
    Studying opera, I've heard about the Verdi Baritone. Is Dmitri Hvorostovsky a good example? I thought I read an article on him.
    According to Schigolch in a previous discussion, no, Dmitri is not a good example, he's not good at singing Verdi. Schigolch had promised to elaborate more at some future point on the reasons why, so we'll be looking forward to learning this from him.
    "J'ai dit qu'il ne suffisait pas d'entendre la musique, mais qu'il fallait encore la voir" (Stravinsky)

  10. #8
    Schigolch
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    Soprano (II)

    Lady Macbeth is another impressive role for soprano. Written in 1847, and revised later in 1854, Macbeth required a fully dramatic singer, but also requested to touch low notes quite uncomfortable for a soprano, and perform convincing coloratura di forza. That means, a voice made of iron, but a ductile iron. An agile voice.

    Not to forget that is requires also some important acting abilities.

    Even Eugenia Tadolini, one of the leading sopranos since the 1830s, the creator of roles like Maria di Rohan or Linda di Chamounix (or Verdi's own Alzira), was hired to sing the Lady at Naples, but was considered by Verdi himself as too good (meaning, too refined) a singer for the role, and he advised to hire Marianna Barbieri-Nini, instead.

    Clearly, Barbiere-Nini's voice was better suited to the role, and her physical appearance was also more congenial in Verdi's mind to the role. (Tadolini was a very beautiful woman).


    Eugenia Tadolini

    Marianna Barbieri-Ninni

    There are three terrible fragments for the soprano in the score: "Vieni t'afretta", "La luce langue" and the sleepwalking scene, with a D-flat5 in pianissimo. Such a dramatic female role for soprano was never again written by Verdi.

    Great historical performers are Maria Callas, Leyla Gencer and Margherita Grandi.







    Today perhaps our best option is Violeta Urmana, and the promising Lucrecia García, that will debut the role at La Scala.

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  12. #9
    Senior Member Veteran Member Aksel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    Lady Macbeth is another impressive role for soprano. Written in 1847, and revised later in 1854, Macbeth required a fully dramatic singer, but also requested to touch low notes quite uncomfortable for a soprano, and perform convincing coloratura di forza. That means, a voice made of iron, but a ductile iron. An agile voice.

    Not to forget that is requires also some important acting abilities.

    Even Eugenia Tadolini, one of the leading sopranos since the 1830s, the creator of roles like Maria di Rohan or Linda di Chamounix (or Verdi's own Alzira), was hired to sing the Lady at Naples, but was considered by Verdi himself as too good (meaning, too refined) a singer for the role, and he advised to hire Marianna Barbieri-Nini, instead.

    Clearly, Barbiere-Nini's voice was better suited to the role, and her physical appearance was also more congenial in Verdi's mind to the role. (Tadolini was a very beautiful woman).
    There are three terrible fragments for the soprano in the score: "Vieni t'afretta", "La luce langue" and the sleepwalking scene, with a D-flat5 in pianissimo. Such a dramatic female role for soprano was never again written by Verdi.

    Great historical performers are Maria Callas, Leyla Gencer and Margherita Grandi.

    Today perhaps our best option is Violeta Urmana, and the promising Lucrecia García, that will debut the role at La Scala.
    There is also the Lady M from the recent ROH Macbeth, Liudmyla Monastryrska, who did rather well, if my memory serves me right. Although she did do some very strange things with staccato runs. But she is at least one to watch.

    Also deserving a mention is the Italian mezzo Fiorenza Cossotto, my (and I think Annie's) personal favourite. She's the most threatening and menacing Lady M I've ever come across, at least.



    And for those in the mood for something completely batshit insane, I give you Agnes Baltsa (who I only just now found out has sung this). She never recorded the full role, unfortunately.


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  14. #10
    Schigolch
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    Lady Macbeth can be sung from a voice in between the mezzo and soprano ranges, like Verrett, Bumbry,... or a mezzo with easy top notes, like Cossotto. And they can do a very good job of it. But it's not the philological approach, that personally I prefer.

    About Baltsa, she simply didn't have the voice to sing this role, and I don't think she ever did on stage.

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  16. #11
    Senior Member Veteran Member Aksel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Schigolch View Post
    About Baltsa, she simply didn't have the voice to sing this role, and I don't think she ever did on stage.
    She didn't. Although she hardly had the voice for Princess Eboli, either. Although I'd think that incident was more Karajan's than her fault.

  17. #12
    Schigolch
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    Luisa Miller is perhaps, from a dramatic point of view, one of the most colourless Verdi's female roles. However, her lyrical, limpid soprano (though there are some moments when a spinto will find also at ease) is very attractive, if the singer can offer the right reading of a complicated score, especially in the last act. Verdi wanted Luisa to evolve from an ingénue, with a very lyrical voice in the first act, to a tragic heroine in the third, but this last aspect was not as fully reflected in the vocal score, as it will be with Violetta, a few years later.


    Marietta Gazzaniga was the creator of the role:



    Not that Verdi was very happy with her performance at the time... In her later years, she will try the mezzosoprano repertoire.



    From the second act if this wonderful cabaletta, "A brani, a brani o perfido", coming after a beautiful cantabile, "Tu puniscimi o signore". We can hear one of the best Luisas today, Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova:



    But this scene is the most harrowing in the score. We listen to Montserrat Caballé:

    "Padre, ricevi l'estremo addio"



    The best historical Luisas are Caballé herself, Scotto, Gilda Cruz-Romo, Anna Moffo,... Today, apart from Stoyanova, a very good Luisa is Italian soprano Fiorenza Cedolins. This youtube is from a magical series of performances in Madrid, some years ago:


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  19. #13
    Schigolch
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    Gilda is such a controversial role...

    Reading the score, it's written for a lyrical, or light-lyrical soprano with good coloratura. Sometimes, there is a tendency to use very light voices, but Gilda is not a 'soubrette'.

    There are two traps to avoid when singing Gilda, I will call them the 'mechanical bird' trap, and the 'sweet virgin' trap. The first one is to sing the coloratura, giving all the notes, all the abbellimenti, including non-written but traditional notes, like the E-flat 5 in the 'codetta' at the end of "Caro nome",.... but failing to transmit what Verdi's music is all for: a very young, naive, but very determined and fearless girl. This is one example, Hilde Güden:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoRb8CfDGqc

    The second trap, of course, is to emphasize so much the virginal charm, the purity of Gilda, that we get an archetype, instead of a woman. Montserrat Caballe, while a peerless vocalist, was sometimes too eager for this kind of performance herself:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5-HkouQU_0

    On the other hand, while Maria Callas somehow rescued the role from too light sopranos that were almost always being cast in the 1950s, the stinging metal of her voice while singing the scales (exactly the way Verdi wrote them, by the way) of "Caro nome" is not Gilda either.

    Perhaps the best compromise was offered by Renata Scotto:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AZu-TMlDuI

    while other examples could be Joan Sutherland, of them with the big, imposing voice or Lina Pagliughi coming up from the lighter voices.

    Those same traits are also present today, and we can enjoy nice performances from Nino Machaidze, Elena Mosuc, Diana Damrau or even Inva Mula:


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  21. #14
    Schigolch
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    The role of Leonora, all things count, needs a true drammatico d’agilità to really give the correct answer to all the different requests incorporated by Verdi to the score.

    We want her to be a ‘tragedienne’ singing the Miserere, but to float in the air during the Convent scene, “Sei tu dal ciel disceso”. Manage a very high-pitched aria like “D’amor sull’ali rosee”, but also her fiendishly difficult cavatina, “Tacea la Notte Placida”…. It’s not a surprise the usual cut of the Fourth Act cabaletta: “Tu vedrai che amore in terra”, because so few sopranos are really able to sing it well after such a tour de force.

    “Un’ altra notte ancora senza vederlo…”, this phrase introduces a young Romantic heroine, a girl full of love, that lives for this love, and finally dies for this love. We need to get back this side of Leonora also, what introduces an added layer of complexity to the role.


    The superb voice of Zinka Milanov was heard as Leonora for many years. This is a velvety Leonora, with so rich overtones that really can take the listener away… and makes him forget that the style is not fully there.

    Milanov – Leonora

    Between 1950 and 1955, Maria Callas sung around twenty Leonoras, showing us the soul of the young maid in love, but with a wonderful attention to meet all the nuances in the score. Arguably the best Leonora on record.

    Callas – Leonora

    A truly sumptuous voice, with velvety overtones, this is Leontyne Price‘s reputed Leonora

    Price – Leonora

    Montserrat Caballé was able to bring to the role her reputed Belcanto singing technique, but also provides the Verdian drama.

    Caballé – Leonora


    The best Leonora today is Sondra Radvanovsky:


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  23. #15
    Schigolch
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    About Violetta, I think we can link one of our own In-Depth articles:

    http://operalively.com/forums/conten...d-their-voices

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