Monday, November 4, 2013

THREE TENORS; ONE'S BECOME A BARITONE!



The regular release of operatic recitals on CD is long dead. But three tenors -- oh, I'm sorry -- two tenors and someone who says he's a baritone now, have recent releases: Jonas Kaufmann, currently the male Anna Netrebko, a super star; Klaus Florian Vogt, a German lyric tenor who is singing Wagnerian roles and was quite wonderful in his two Metropolitan Opera performances as Lohengrin in 2006; and Placido Domingo who in The Widder's opinion wasn't much of a tenor but was acclaimed by the multitudes as a great tenor who is now pretending to be a baritone and is getting acclaim for that too.

I used to think no one who had ever heard a great tenor, Corelli, Tucker, Bergonzi, Aragall, Del Monaco before his auto accident could confuse Domingo with one of them, and I thought those who heard the younger Atlantov, Cossuta, Giacomini on a good night, all Domingo's generation, couldn't really think of him as someone equal to them, likewise the younger Neil Shicoff (and there are those who felt that Merighi, Martinucci, Bartolini were easily as good if not better) .

Domingo started as a lyric tenor with no volume and no high notes, so there was no comparing his sound to Pavarotti. And though, when audible, Domingo in his prime had a rich, chocolate mid range, the sound was nothing compared to the younger Carreras. Came the day Domingo decided he would massacre Wagner with horribly pronounced German and bland, unenterprising interpretations -- and these too were acclaimed. Those who had seen Jon Vickers or James King could scarcely believe it. Though he did build his tenor for volume without losing his voice, and turn the high B flat from a crack into a hit or miss reality, that meant Domingo had more vocal smarts than many singers, his vocal equipment was still modest and he was a bore. And as time went on he transposed down further and further, more and more often. Yet what love from the well-washed and wealthy! The moronic reviewers who had no idea of what a good tenor or a good anything is, poured out their love, and recording wallets opened up. So if he wants to say he's a baritone, why, I guess he's a baritone.



But perhaps we should start with the least known of these three in America, Klaus Florian Vogt. He suddenly appeared just as Lohengrin does, in two performances of that opera, unheralded. He was unknown at the Met. He was wonderful. Aryan looking and good on stage, he has a light but beautifully projected tone that had a genuine radiance about it. He was commanding when need be and more audible than one would have supposed in act two, but act three was full of  "old fashioned" tenderness, sweetness and pathos. He reminded me of those wonderful Lohengrin records in Italian made around the turn of the 20th century by Vignas and De Lucia (both get complete collections from Ward Marston's superb label), tender, caressing accents, breathtaking piani and wonderful float. This was another world from the generalized, businesslike Domingo, or the well intended and good looking but gruff sounding Peter Hoffman, or a younger Siegfried Jerusalem who had a lovely sound in the middle but lacked the projection and the float of Vogt. Vogt had a huge success with a shocked audience, but hasn't been back. He is very busy in Germany, though, and has sung major Wagner roles all over the place, including Bayreuth. He can be seen to good effect on DVD's of Lohengrin and Parsifal.


His voice, curiously, resembles what Jonas Kaufmann described as his young voice, a voice Kaufmann didn't want and worked to change. Vogt is a high set, very German tenor, nothing of the baritone coloration we've come to expect in Wagner, and a high, bright production throughout the range. He can sing the lower tessitura (range) that Wagner often uses for his tenors, but the sound remains high and even "piping". The annotator here mentions the great Karl Erb, a similarly high, bright tenor. I'm sometimes reminded of the great Julius Patzak, who, over a very long career, sang a wide range of roles, many heavier than one would have supposed right for his voice.

Vogt's CD, available for about seven months on Sony, but only as an import, mikes him rather closely, never a great idea for an opera singer. One doesn't get a strong sense of how his voice expands and fills a space, and the somewhat "white" quality of the tone is too apparent if one listens to the whole thing at one sitting.

But individual selections are often beautiful. The tone with its heady sweetness is ideal for Lohengrin, his farewell to the Swan and parting gifts given to Elsa should her brother return, is filled with pathos. His enunciation is ideally clear, and not dependent on vowel manipulations; and by singing on the breath, not forcing, he is able to make a sudden soft tone (a subito piano). Parsifal's two big moments, Amfortas die Wunde!, and Nur eine Waffe taugt, are firmly sung. In the highly chromatic first, his intonation is superb, he sings tricky intervals clearly and cleanly without swooping, and his rhythm is dead on. The aria's climax is "Erlöser rette mich", often blasted, but Vogt sings it as the words suggest it is, a prayer. He executes the diminuendos as written from loud to soft (almost no one does) on "Erlöser" and "rette mich", makes a plausible crescendo (as written) on "als schuld beflekten Händen" but then, as almost no one does, sings the pianpiano marked (pp) until the final cry for The Redeemer. Fundamentally, after Parisfal's first realization, this is an intense and private prayer by someone who is still a boy, and that's how Vogt does it. It's wonderful. Nur eine Waffe taugt is a benediction; Vogt gives it a tender reading, with really beautiful words, absolutely clear intervals, enough contrast between louder and softer dynamics, if not the thrust that one might want.

Vogt made an earlier Wagner CD, which has not circulated at all in America, and there he sings more of the lyrical music. To balance this CD he sings some heavier music, such as a nicely managed but slightly thin sounding Allmächt'ger Vater from Rienzi. But he and Camilla Nyland sing a soft, tender, inward and sweet "O sink hernieder", part of the long act two duet from Tristan und Isolde. They sing the intervals in tune and he floats his line (higher at times than hers) really magically. This would be a small house Tristan and it's perhaps a role he won't do, but a recording with these qualities would be rewarding. He also sings the dying Siegfried's farewell to Brunnnilde: Brunnhilde! Heil'ge Braut, again a role it would be hard to imagine him doing, but this short segment is very beautifully done (and quite wonderfully accompanied by Jonathan Nott and The Bamberger Symphoniker).




Vogt and Nyland reunite for the end of act one of Die Walkuere. A Finn, she, like Vogt, has a lyric voice but sings some heavier roles. As far as I know she has sung with the San Francisco Opera, alone in North America. Vogt starts with Ein Schwert Verhiess mir der Vater.  Siegmund is  a very low lying role; the cliche that "any Verdi baritone could sing it" is true enough. Jon Vickers, though he had a bright sound, was really at ease in this tessitura and had a massive romantic sound and manner that was thrilling. James King who had begun as a baritone but had an easier top than Vickers, was also wonderful, if less unique. The famous Siegmund in the 1950's, Ramon Vinay, had started as a baritone and returned to being one, and Ludwig Suthaus, a great singer of the role, had the ripe easy lower range needed, as did the somewhat gruff sounding but moving Jess Thomas. The über Siegmund of course was Lauritz Melchior who began as a baritone, but is in a class of his own.

But of course, tenors have sung the role often. Wolfgang Windgassen who the conductor Hans Knappertsbusch dismissed as a "cravat-tenor" (an operetta singer) was famous in the role, Peter Hoffmann sang it, famously, in the Bayreuth Ring produced by the late Patrice Chereau, Siegfried Jerusalem sang it carefully (there is even an exciting video with him and an older but still wild and woolly and really thrilling Leonie Rysanek) and so on.

Still, when Jonas Kaufmann sang the role in the Machine production at the Met (the machine didn't kill him but just made him look foolish), he didn't have the impact the role needs in that big house. It's very hard to imagine Vogt doing the role live in a big house (though I believe he has sung it).

He doesn't seem to have problems with the lower writing and as the line gets a bit higher for the notorious climax on the name, Wälse, (G flat and G natural where the tenor break supposedly happens), he has no trouble. The youthful tonal quality is appealing. I love hearing the words pronounced so clearly and lovingly. Still, a weightier tone and darker color can work better in this music. But it is novel and rewarding to hear this sung with no sense of forcing or artificial weighting of the tone and the songfulness he brings to the end, "Nächtiges Dunkel deckte mein Aug'", is really lovely. Nyland (this finale starts with "Du bist der Lenz") has a pleasant not quite steady voice and knows the style. Their soft and tender give and take is persuasive (and rare). When he pulls the sword from the tree. he sings cleanly and honestly without forcing but to be fair, without quite the needed impact either. This is an interesting way to sing a lot of this music by a total professional; I'd be interested in hearing that earlier CD. But I'm willing to bet we never see him again at the Met.

Jonas Kaufmann began, he has said, with a voice he hated, "like Peter Schreier". Schreier had a small, bright, rather white tone but made a distinguished career in Bach, in Mozart roles and in some large character roles (he is a wonderful Mime in the Janowski Ring, available cheap from Sony). He is also a conductor. Kaufmann took the risk of changing his entire technique to build a darker, fuller, larger tone, that would make him a candidate for leading roles. He did this while married (to a singer) and raising children, so he obviously had both courage and a lot of faith in himself.

He used the technique pioneered by an American, Douglas Stanley who was very influential across Europe, but especially in Germany. Kaufmann changed his voice with the very last living student who had actually worked directly with Stanley. Stanley's method was controversial and still enrages pedagogues who insist that it ruins more voices than it helps (Hildegard Behrens was taught the Stanley method by Jerome Lo Monaco, who had also worked with Stanley himself, her badly tuned shrieking speaks for itself -- it certainly doesn't sing. But her motives were the same as Kaufmann's. She started as a light lyric and wanted to sing the big roles; she praised Lo Monaco for teaching her to use her chest voice, among other things. But Nelson Eddy was also a Stanley apostle and kept a very nice tone).


(Stanley gives Eddy a lesson)

Stanley's main idea was to throw out the old notions of "placement" and "making the sound" and instead concentrated on giving the singer a maximum control of his/her larynx. By lowering the larynx, freeing jaw and tongue and breathing correctly, Stanley argued, any voice would become larger, darker and the singer's stamina would increase. Stanley's disciples modified his teaching somewhat, training their students to judge in preparing a role when to use the lowered larynx and when to let the larynx ride higher, using (slightly) some of the "old fashioned" ideas of "head tone", sensation based singing, which reflects changes in the vocal folds (feeling a "buzz" above the bridge of the nose, or at the top of the scalp).

Ideally, then, a Stanley trained singer could go back and forth; Kaufmann could sing with far more force and thrust than he had with his conventional training, but still sing softly and sweetly when he wished, and there was no danger to his top. Actually, Stanley doesn't effect the extremes of the voice much. Even those who the method very likely harms, such as Behrens, keep high notes and can belch out low ones however long they sing. If there is going to be wear on the tone it is in the middle where the voice can stiffen or even fall back on the throat (both happened to Behrens after a few years as an international singer), and tuning can suffer especially throughout the middle (true of Behrens) and as time goes on over the entire range (Behrens' high shrieks though they thrilled certain sexually ambiguous male Asians for some reason were usually very sharp, but after a while her middle would either stiffen into sharpness or sag into a horrifying flatness).

For a lot of people, including idiot Wagner fetishes, screaming is part of the thrill -- the singers scream for hours, then they scream in adulation. Such fans are fools of course, Leider, Flagstad and Melchior were not screamers, and the last two, both using rather conventional methods, lasted a very long time. But then again, no one would ever have heard of Hildegard Behrens outside the German circuit if she had not dropped her jaw, mangled her larynx and shrieked like a banshee. Oh, she acted too. She raised her shoulders and popped her eyes. Isn't that acting?

So far Kaufmann is holding up. He and Anna Netrebko (a coarse, hard Tatyana in the Met's recent Onegin, breathing hard and screaming flat now and then) have been marketed the same way. But it came easier to Netrebko who out of the box had a very attractive and at times, beautifully full tone. It took Kaufmann longer. They are the same age but for no reason I am going to bet on his holding up longer.


Verdi, one might expect, would expose him much more than Wagner. But in fact, the best performances I have seen him give at the Met have been in three non Wagnerian roles, Cavaradossi where his high A sharps on "Vittoria!" really flashed out into the house, thrilling the audience; a phenomenally well acted and sung Don Jose; and his Faust, which if not ideal, contained some very impressive singing. However much vocal manipulating he is doing, he has held on to a basically lovely and quite distinctive timbre; he has an easy top and he sings within his means. He had a lot more volume in Zurich and Munich than he has at the Met but in the huge house he does not force. I didn't think the Siegmund special, the Parsifal was a very shrewd piece of singing, carefully judged and very effective when need be. For today's audience it helps that he's great looking and by operatic standards a persuasive actor. 

On the Verdi album he has very good Italian, not only pronouncing well, but with what Italians call intenzione, using the color and emphasis within the word to convey meaning and emotion. His tone is firm and arresting, if not always strictly speaking glamorous in the sense of Tucker or Corelli. He makes a wide range of dynamic and coloristic choices, some of them self conscious but many of them provide an expressive impact, which has gotten far too rare even from Italians. That easy, thrusting top is also right in this style and imparts a sense of excitement to what he does.

O tu che in seno agli'angeli from La Forza del Destino is a heart felt, exceptionally accomplished performance of a killer aria -- it's been a very long time since one has heard this combination of vocal skill and emotional readiness. Though the mikes come in for a close up and he ignores the written portamenti, he certainly manages a glamorous Celeste Aida, with a very impressive breath span, The tricky rise to the high B flat on "ergete un tro(no)" is thrilling and he carries the phrase over, making a very long diminuendo holding the piano f into the start of the reprise, and he ends the aria as written with a morendo (dying away) of the high B flat attacked very softly. The vowels on the two earlier B flats are opened more than is usual for him, very exciting, but that final "o" on "sol" is very covered, I believe I saw the poster at Opera-L, Gualtier Malde, use the term cupo piano to describe Angela Meade doing something similar, so if you read that, here's an example! 

The Barcarole from Un Ballo in Maschera is somewhat throaty ("ingolata" is what Italians say) and without much charm, but Riccardo/Gustavo's long scena, Forse la soglia attinse... ma se m'e forza perditi is given with passion, with relatively open vowels and much sweet soft singing. The final scene of act three of Il Trovatore is given complete, with Erika Grimaldi throwing in Leonora's lines. "Ah, si, ben mio" is fast. It's marked adagio and this isn't one, and for one of the only times in the album Kaufmann muscles his way through, sounding decidedly like a German, a little rough and the tone throaty. He scoops intervals and grunts his way through "dal ferro ostil trafitto ch'io resti fra le vittime..." in a manner better suited to Tiefland. He also smears the implied coloratura writing earlier, not firmly establishing the sixteenth notes on "il braccio avro piu forte" for example. He does manage the two trills (first one is better) but ignores the demi-staccati, a feature of this aria (for example ("la mor - te a me" -- or later, "so - lo in ciel" -- these form grupetti that add contrast to the slow melody and are part of Verdi's emotional rhetoric). The fast sixteenth notes in Di quella pira are smeared, his voice isn't responsive enough to do them, and he ignores the marcato signs that are all over the aria, "madre infelice" for example. The descent from the first unwritten high C is very clumsy, the second unwritten high C sounds throaty and although he hangs on, it's not easy.

The great Luisa Miller scena starts unpromisingly, the grand recitative, "oh fede negar potessi" is too fast and Kaufmann's sound seems backward, but the aria goes well. The tempo seems right (marked andante, the solid conductor is Pier Giorgio Morandi) and though his tone is slightly rough, he does catch the nostalgia and grief in Rodolfo's remembrance of happier times, and while the closed "o's" aren't ideal ("lo squardo innamorato") the whole has a convincing shape and the play of soft and softer singing finds some honey in his tone. The Otello arias are done well too. Though I thought "Dio, mi potevi" too considered sounding, there is a deeply committed and beautifully sung " niun mi tema". 

The fans on line think Kaufmann will sing EVERYTHING. I don't know how well he would do some of these Verdi roles, or whether he'd have the volume in the biggest houses for some of the Wagner roles. But the recent Wagner CD was a very successful record artistically. This Verdi compilation is somewhat more rough and ready with singing that occasionally shows strain or contrivance. Sadly, it does seem as though he is imitating Domingo now and again.




And that brings us to Domingo the baritone. But this has gone on long enough and I have already bashed the tenor. Caruso when once asked what made a great tenor, said, "luck and good health". Domingo has had both to a remarkable degree; at an advanced age for anyone, let alone an opera singer (he is in his seventies, though the exact birth date has been debated) he still can make a sound. It's not a baritone sound, and it's not rich and beautiful, but we live in a time with no impressive baritones in the big Italian roles. The days are long gone when Taddei, Gobbi, Guelfi, Bastianini, Panerai emerged into the world after World War 2, and Americans like Warren, Merrill and somewhat later, the younger Cornell Macneil were active, more or less at the same time, and the Germans had the glorious sounding Josef Metternich, Russians had the improbably beautiful sounding Pavel Lisitsian, the Estonians had Georg Ots and the Romanians had Nicolai Herlea. A second generation of Italians emerged with Cappuccilli and the French born Italian, Managuerra (both dead), Bruson and Nucci (though old, still singing now and then). The people trotting out on the world stages today range from lovely lyrics who force unmercifully to bellowers with no real vocal quality and no interpretive or stylistic affinity for the roles they sing.

In that world Domingo seems less like an egomaniac unable to let go, and more sensible. Though none of the singing here matches the better let alone the best versions put on record since the cylinder (do people know of let alone care about Amato, Ruffo, the miracle Battistini, de Luca, Giraldoni, Stracciari, Ancona?), none of it is disgraceful. More arresting is the realization that Domingo really understands how this music should go. Whether he can give voice to that insight memorably has to be put to one side, but from vivid recitative, beautifully and meaningfully pronounced, to arias that have at least the right musical shape and emotion, he really does more than his rivals today. He belonged to the last generation that really felt this music and identified with the style; and he has survived as a demonstrator of what can be done for the bland and clueless who are hired everywhere. I for one think there are very impressive people out there who just aren't hired at the big houses or promoted; I've heard some very impressive Americans, struggling in their forties. But if one simply takes the familiar names, Domingo has an old man's triumph -- maybe more symbolically than in actual sound -- but then again, most of the others sing badly despite their relative youth.

One of the great Verdi baritones, Pasquale Amato



13 comments:

  1. Hi Albert :-)

    I enjoyed reading your detailed reviews (although I must respectfully say that they would be even more enjoyable without the personal insults) and was wondering what you thought of Sondra's and Angela's Normas at the Met???

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  2. thank you for your fascinating, detailed analysis of these new recordings. in addition to being profoundly musical, you have an astonishing knowledge of vocal technique. and you're a damn good writer!

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  3. The notion of when singers peak and how well they manage or don't manage the downhill slope is always interesting, would be cool if you wrote about that.

    I remember seeing Big P in the early 80s at the Reykjavík Arts Festival, he wasn't yet the celebrity he later became then but the Icelanders were beside themselves and went nuts. It was later, of course, that I realized he was probably slightly beyond the peak at that concert and that it was all downhill from there.

    Kaufmann is still gorgeous but the strain in the voice has become obvious. I wonder where you think he is on the life-cycle curve.

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  4. Albert, very nice post as usual. Just a comment or two on vocal technique (though just a mere amateur, I've been studying with a Todd Duncan disciple for the past 20 years). Upon proper inhalation the larynx naturally drops and should not be forced down. A relaxed jaw and tongue are imperative and the best way to achieve the latter is to allow the tip of the tongue to rest lightly on the salivary gland upon inhalation. I'm not sure whether this leads to a bigger sound but in my own experience it leads to a better sound. I don't know of Stanley's teaching at all but some of what you describe certainly sounds like Duncan's approach.

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  5. Thanks everybody for reading, Jorge and Alan you are great pals. Alan, the You Tube where Stanley "teaches" Nelson Eddy above might answer your question. When I was young and played the piano for singers, I had a few clients who were studying with a Stanley teacher. They did various things to force their larynx down, one shoved a big spoon into the back of his mouth and SANG!!!!! The one issue I thought that the Stanley people were right about was the need for complete control of the tongue. There's a natural tendency for it to ride up or stiffen and that does really effect the tone. Being able to control the tongue is crucial. No less than Jessye Norman told me that she hadn't really been able to sing easily until she had complete control of her tongue; and as an pain backstage at the Philly Lyric (my father was good friends with Aureliano Fabiani who ran the company and managed Corelli in America, among many other Italian singers) as a teenager I used to see Franco do incredible things with his tongue as he warmed up -- he didn't like being watched but I learned to hide, given my girth something of a feat!!!! However, I do think "pure" Stanley, which involved forcing the larynx down and too much breath pressure was harmful for some singers (but then so are many methods, the "placement people" had all kinds of problems, including tight jaws, tongues that rode up and choked off the sound and shallow breathing). I believe people like Birgit Nilsson (I think she was fired by her first teacher) and Carlo Bergonzi (who said he transitioned from limited baritone to tenor by himself) when they say they essentially came up with methods that suited them. Birgit said that she became Birgit Nilsson the night she was forced to go on as Salome as a young singer in Stockholm with a bad cold. She was terrified since she couldn't feel any of the "buzz" she had been trained to feel, her "placement". She told me that the great Goeren Gentile who almost became General Manager at the Met later, but had directed the Salome said to her "Oh, just go on stage and roll around a lot, Birgit, no one will notice your singing. "I did," she said, "I didn't have a choice but in rolling around my entire neck and upper body became free and I found this "place" at the top of my head and I had SOUND -- the audience went mad!!!"

    jgdm thank you very much but I don't see any personal insults in this piece (you should see some of my first blog posts!!!!!!!). I am harsh about poor Hildegard but she was a professional singer who sold tickets to her performances, so criticizing her is not "personal" in the sense of attack a private person, though I did have someone in mind (since I am very naughty) when I talk of male Asians mad for her, but I didn't name him. But I do appreciate your reading and ask your pardon if I offended you.

    Unknown Prince, I think you can never tell how long someone can go on; some people have throats of steel and tons of confidence, and some are weaker physically and psychologically. I assume Kaufmann has at least 20 or so years left (I think he's 43). One reality is that audiences are very forgiving of favorites and are very sentimental after a while. My own personal but entirely unimportant opinion is that he'd be better off concentrating on about ten roles that really suit him and that are easy in his voice, rather than trying to do everything. But that of course is up to him; nor can any one foresee health issues that might create problems. I agree that now and again in both live excerpts to be heard and on the Verdi recital, there is an element of strain, but it's not continual and there is still a lot of beauty in the tone and evidence of good control. So we'll see. Thanks again to all who read, and I love comments!!!! Even those that disagree with me.

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  6. Thanks you so much as usual. I have nothing to add, except that I also love your responses when you go on more at length about what you wrote about. And thanks also for the previous post on Verdi. Sometimes I feel Italian opera does not get the academic respect that is accorded to German repertoire. In this, as in your Norma post (which forced me to rethink the whole issue of Bartoli doing the part) you showed yourself a great advocate for this music. I've never heard Kaufmann live, but I like that he seems to be very serious about his work. I just wish his vocal identity had a better center. Versatility is great, but most singers have a repertoire that is utterly ideal for their voices, and they can build and extend themselves from that core. I totally agree about Domingo. The man knows music and musical traditions. I wish he had swapped voices with Pavarotti (then again, he probably wouldn't have been Domingo). I didn't care for his later career at the Met. I felt he crowded other potentially good tenors out, but I guess the Met, and especially Levine, appreciated that he was reliable and drew an audience. Now I have to go get me some recordings with Vogt. Thanks for the constant education.

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  7. Perdidia!!!! It's always great to see you here. Well, ALL these heavy duty conductors loved Domingo, Muti and Kleiber, who were not so easy going about singers, and Levine who is kind of easy going (he loved Behrens too). But I just didn't get it. I understand both singers are smart, musical and total pros so of course that counts and there was this sudden falling off in the big, rich operatic voices in the world, though some people could have gotten more chances and would have been better (Marton as opposed to Behrens for example, Polaski somewhat later on) and I do think Martinucci and Bartolini would have done a lot better had they gotten the push and patronage Domingo got. But there you have it. Trying to have a career is a huge risk and life ain't fair!!!! Vogt is on a fair number of DVDs and also Janowski is using him for his newer Wagner recordings. The aria recitals are tougher to get hold of. I think he's rewarding and I'd like to see him more, but though he was around when I was in Europe, I always ended up getting other tenors.

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  8. Hey Mrs JC (and hello to you too, Albert). I cheated a bit and downloaded Vogt's HELDEN cd from iTunes. Arkiv also has a limited stock available. Vogt's Wagner CD is available through MDT. Pardon the plug, but I order from them a lot as I have a fondness for the Hyperion and Chandos labels. Considering it is a UK based company, the prices are pretty good (just click on the $ option on the website.) And they are fast. I've had quicker delivery from them than from Amazon US in comparable situations.

    Now, after I return from AVA's Cosi fan tutte tonight I will give a listen to the Helden aria.

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  9. Albert mein sohn, Domingo bashing is old hat. His fans don't care, his agents and those who still hire him don't care, and he, as he strolls into his Swiss bank with bags of cash, definitely doesn't care. As for Kaufmann, I fear for his vocal health because he has the same pushy management as Villazon had (we remember what happened to him) and some of his recent performances are showing signs of ominous strain. Vogt is perfection on two feet. I hope he lasts a long time.

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  10. Great post!!! Speaking of old style tenors I just received the Marston set of Fernando de Lucia records. I haven't really heard much of him but when I listened to him on Marston I was pretty disappointed. I can't exactly put my finger on what bothers me so much except to say that unlike many old singers of that era, the idiosyncrasies of de Lucia's recordings don't sound authentic, i.e. a way he really would have sang in an opera house. Instead they sound like a tenor trying to sing in a "salon" fashion, with a deliberately leisurely slowness, in keys transposed to make his voice sound best on recording. By the time he recorded his top was obviously no longer very attractive, so the lowered keys seem designed to show off the more functional parts of his voice. I listened and didn't really feel as if I was getting a window to the past on how tenors might have sounded in the 19th century. More like a window into how an aging tenor adopted some strange mannerisms for the recording horn?

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  11. Hivychen, mein Engellein, I always thought De Lucia was an English fetish, with much crazy repitchiing of his records because they thought the sound was too ugly, the vibrato too pronounced for him to be great, yet they created the myth of his greatness. There are some issues on Pearl and Opal where he sounds more like a baritone than De Luca, and the pitch would be impossible for strings to play (they are piano accompanied). Marston is guessing, since recording tables were not reliable and might speed up or slow down during a session; also tuning might have been higher than A=440 or lower, we just don't know. Since the closest he got to stardom was in the verismo rep (he was famous in Pagliacci, Carmen -- done as a verismo work in Italy -- Cavalleria, Osaka in Iris, a hard, rather heavy role that he originated -- and Lohengrin (!) one has to assume he was of the modern school, not the so called "bel canto" school (prima ottocento is the proper word, "bel canto" is a meaningless term invented by a press agent for Adalina Patti). That is that he forced his voice, "placing against the high palate" to get a more penetrating and dramatic sound and used too much breath pressure -- the result of that combination was the bleat and the tight white middle. He evidently never had a top; there's a letter from Mascagni who had inquired about a young Neapolitan Tenor called Caruso and had been told he had no high notes. He then heard Caruso and wrote back, "if Caruso is a high baritone, then De Lucia" -- and Mascagni had used him for world premieres -- "is a basso profundo". The records, many of them self produced despite the differing labels (he paid to make them) were advertisements increasingly for him as a teacher (he taught the great George Thill for example), and are after -- in many cases considerably after -- what might have been thought his prime. None of the reviewers who heard him thought he had charm -- though many of the lighter records -- he even recorded rag time in Italian -- are indeed charming, and none thought he had elegance. But those English voice obsessives and an American idiot who is a self appointed expert named Ciampa, convinced themselves that his crooning up and down the vibrato (he certainly doesn't firmly define pitches then articulate them rapidly in florid music, and he doesn't sing anything florid in full voice) was "the style". What might be stylish, and let's emphasize might, are his ornamentation and playing with rhythm, very much off the words (though this was a trait in early verismo singers too). Otherwise, it's personal taste. I like the sheer affection of some of his singing, he sings as though he loves the music, so when he does a piece of crap like "l'anima ho stanco" the caressing style, slow tempo and rubato almost transform the short aria into something that sounds like a professional wrote it -- but again, that is verismo. Sorry if you feel you got burned; I LOVE the Vignas Marston, a very different tenor and much more successful.

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  12. Why, lingin how kind of you to include my disabled Siamese twin, Albert, in your greeting. Albert is pouting because he went to Frau ohne Schatten last night and LOATHED the conducting so much that he had a hard time enjoying the splendid work of Christine Goerke, and after an iffy two acts, the superb and very moving Anne Schwanewilms in act three. He regarded the others, buffeted and assaulted by a highly promoted but untalented conductor named Jurowski with pity. He's young, Russian, thin and has long hair = genius in the eyes of some. Thank you for your shopping tips, I do know MDT and also several German dealers. They are wonderful, quick and, the Germans carry a lot of MAD stuff that we can't get in America. I LOATHE itunes. We (Albert and I) nearly suffered a nervous breakdown downloading the new note complete ONE TOUCH OF VENUS, the great Kurt Weill's best American musical -- NEVER AGAIN. We are too old!!!!!

    Mr. Myers, thank you for commenting. I know I (unlike sad Albert, who is unhappy in Philly and since he's sulking we're missing the last TWO BOYS tomorrow though we were supposed to go), that I may SEEM grandiose, but life has taught me that I don't matter a whit. I wouldn't expect anybody to take advice from me, certainly not Domingo or Kaufmann. They would not be even dimly aware of poor Mrs. John, an indigent widow. My impression of Jonas (yes, I've met him) is that he is a tough calculating cookie who is doing what he wants to do. If he ruins his voice, that will be on him. Villazon had a beautiful endowment and no technique. Tragic Albert wrote for PBS and Beverly Sills and during the dress of the telecast Boheme, where he had charmed everybody and was being called a "future star" she clamped shut her eyes and looked in Albert's direction (she found him unsightly) and said: "with luck he's got six years, maybe seven, with justice he's got nothing!" Wasn't Bubbles a sweetie? But she had rat shrewdness: he was in trouble within about five years and more or less finished within seven. I know he's still around and will be back at the Met. But the glow is gone. I think the mad fans will keep Kaufmann going for quite some time, even if he starts to sing badly, as long as he doesn't go bald or become a fatty.

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  13. I AM Klaus Florian Vogt! Seriously, I love that guy. Glad to know more about the voice itself. He has a set of true German groupies who follow his every appearance and post on Facebook. Rumor has it he will be singing again at the Met but I do not have a credible source, only reading the blogs.

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