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body size in opera


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#46 papeetepatrick

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Posted 25 August 2009 - 10:08 AM

I'm pretty sure there's no empirical basis for linking poundage with a big voice, as opposed to correlation. Crash diets are certainly not good for a singer -- any such radical messing with one's instrument needs to be approached cautiously.

(Callas' vocal difficulties may have been exacerbated by too much weight loss, but her problems lay deeper than that. I have tapes of her early in her career, and even then there were these sudden mysterious lapses.)


I've got the old tapes of the late 40s and 50s, the Mexico city and some Scala, Aida, I Puritani, Vespres Sicilianes, Nabucco, one old Tosca I don't have but that goes back too; and I never heard any lapses, although I'm not doubting you--just never heard anything that stuck out. I'd be interested to know what you mean specifically. And there is simply no comparison to what she did after 54 or 55, those of use who love those early recordings don't even hear it as a the same singer; for me anyway, other than Flagstad, there hasn't been any other opera soprano as Callas was in those early years (and to think she had a career in Greece even before those). Most of the rest of the time, as is well-known, the high notes were often of a strident ugliness that literally hurts the ear. She, of course, had 'problems' in all areas of life, I wouldn't be surprised if her life wasn't a constant fugue state. But I won't even listen to most of the later recordings anymore, the difference is too incredible.

(Apologies if I repeated things from other contributors to the thread. This one started well before I arrived, and I've only had time to get through about half the thread just now.)

dirac--sorry, I had meant 'not doubting you' originally, and didn't proofread. You may know these recordings better than I do, I just usually find them a lush vocal paradise.

#47 dirac

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 01:42 PM

No worries, Patrick. Seems to me there was an unsteadiness in the high notes as early as my Mexico City Trovatore in 1950, I think it was. Some of the B's and C's on her recordings from '54 and '55 aren't delightful to the ear, either. Later on it wasn't only the high notes but a ghastly wobble that marched through her vocal range like Sherman's troopers. I'm no musician or vocal expert but I don't think that rapid weight loss and/or personal problems account(s) for what happened to her.

#48 richard53dog

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 04:39 PM

No worries, Patrick. Seems to me there was an unsteadiness in the high notes as early as my Mexico City Trovatore in 1950, I think it was. Some of the B's and C's on her recordings from '54 and '55 aren't delightful to the ear, either. Later on it wasn't only the high notes but a ghastly wobble that marched through her vocal range like Sherman's troopers. I'm no musician or vocal expert but I don't think that rapid weight loss and/or personal problems account(s) for what happened to her.


From some written sources, it seems like the wobble was there VERY early, back in her student days in Athens. According to some of her contemporaries quoted in The Unknown Callas:the Greek Years, Callas was troubled by a wobble in the early 40s. She worked with her teacher, Elvira di Hidalgo who gave her exercises to steady her voice and they seemed to have done the trick, at least temporarily. The Greek colleague offered that di Hidalgo felt the wobble was due
to damage done to Callas diaphragm by her heavy singing as a small child. (Callas had a super example of a driven stage mother).

A few years later, in the late 40s, Louise Casselotti (a friend and coach) is quoted in George Jellinek's bio of Callas as commenting that Casselotti heard some early performances of Callas in Italy as Turandot ca 1948 and that her top wavered badly in those performances.

So it's fair to conclude that the unsteadiness was there from the beginning but was sometimes more noticeable than other times
.

#49 Hans

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 04:54 PM

I think her dramatic weight loss could certainly have affected her vocal stability as it would have altered her diaphragmatic support. So if the wobble was there early on, it makes sense that the weight loss would exacerbate it. Callas herself said that her vocal cords were perfectly healthy--it was the support that was missing. There is some interesting information, including a quote from Voigt, in the 'Vocal Decline' section of the Maria Callas Wikipedia page.

#50 dirac

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 05:22 PM

From some written sources, it seems like the wobble was there VERY early, back in her student days in Athens. According to some of her contemporaries quoted in The Unknown Callas:the Greek Years, Callas was troubled by a wobble in the early 40s. She worked with her teacher, Elvira di Hidalgo who gave her exercises to steady her voice and they seemed to have done the trick, at least temporarily. The Greek colleague offered that di Hidalgo felt the wobble was due
to damage done to Callas diaphragm by her heavy singing as a small child. (Callas had a super example of a driven stage mother).

A few years later, in the late 40s, Louise Casselotti (a friend and coach) is quoted in George Jellinek's bio of Callas as commenting that Casselotti heard some early performances of Callas in Italy as Turandot ca 1948 and that her top wavered badly in those performances.

So it's fair to conclude that the unsteadiness was there from the beginning but was sometimes more noticeable than other times.


Thanks, richard53dog. I have to get 'The Unknown Callas.'

#51 volcanohunter

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Posted 26 August 2009 - 08:52 PM

Among White's statements I found this one particularly extraordinary.

And when it comes to men, tenors (with the notable exceptions of Pavarotti and Ben Heppner) tend to be rather slightly built. Consider Jose Carreras: 5ft 6in and trim to scale.

Hasn't White at least seen photographs of Caruso, Gigli, Björling, Tucker or Bergonzi? I wouldn't describe Vickers or Domingo as "trim to scale" either. Ramón Vargas, Marcelo Álvarez and Salvatore Licitra certainly aren't skinny. And pardon me if it seems unkind to say this, but even in his prime Carreras didn't sing as well as any of them. Perhaps Juan Diego Flórez doesn't need to be fat to sing Rossini's Almaviva. Radamès is another matter.

I prefer my opera singers on the fat side. I like a well-upholstered voice. Personally I am mystified by the attraction of the skinny opera singer, and the state of operatic singing today depresses me more than I can say. I find myself retreating further and further into past audio and video recordings. Not too long ago record companies didn't hesitate to put a Sutherland, Price or Caballé on an album cover in all their bulk. What on earth happened? If, as that recent NEA arts participation survey suggests, opera audiences are continuing to shrink, the pursuit of the young and cute may not have fixed anything. I'd rather have the fat ladies again.

#52 papeetepatrick

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Posted 27 August 2009 - 06:49 AM

GWTW--There are some fine slender, if not exactly 'skinny' singers. Renee Fleming is wonderful, and Kiri Te Kanawa was voluptuous, never fat. These are 'well-upholstered voices' if I ever heard any (like that term, by the way.) Agree that Domingo is not 'trim to scale', but was perhaps more fleshy than fat; I always have thought he looked good. The 'rage' for skinny opera singers is just because, when it's possible, it may be more visually pleasning than obesity (I'm afraid I find it to be by a long shot, since I'm not going to fantastize about Voigt or Caballe no matter how well they sing). Anna Moffo was another fine singer who had a lovely figure, although she may have been mentioned earlier. There are some big women like Leontyne Price, though, that I never think of as being fat, because of the way they carry their bodies so majestically. I guess Nilsson did too, but I am not much of a Nilsson fan--big voice, but some ugly sounds. I would even suggest that, in this category, there are some who are heavy, some who are fat, and some who are obese. I don't object to any of these if they've got the vocal equipment, but Kiri TeKanawa is the only one I ever thought was close to perfect in all ways--the most beautiful and sexy (even though she only did Carmen briefly and felt more comfortable as Micaela), the richest voice, charming personality; although if I had to pick a single singer just for the voice it would be Flagstad and Callas (pardon the Gertrude Stein-ism.)

#53 fandeballet

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Posted 27 August 2009 - 08:19 AM

Dear volcano..........When I first him at the Met (1976) in "Adriana Locuvier" (sp.?), Jose had about the most beautiful and purest sounding voice, I have ever heard in person.

Of course going to sing with the German conductor Herbert Von Karajan, singing roles that a young tenor should not be singing, helped to ruin that sound. I heard him 3 years later in a concert with Caballe, at the Met. I was shocked that he had none of that pure sound left! His vioce was ragged, especially next to Caballe who sang with Jose 3 years earlier in "Adriana" and sounded pretty darn good for a heavy and middle-aged lady.

Jose was a passionate singer, and a descent actor who got better as time went on. But that early sound was lost forever in a really short time. What a shame.

#54 dirac

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Posted 27 August 2009 - 09:27 AM

And pardon me if it seems unkind to say this, but even in his prime Carreras didn't sing as well as any of them.


I think it was Karajan, as fandeballet said, who pushed him into taking roles too big for his voice. Radamès, forsooth! I agree, though, Carreras was never quite in that league, although I thought he had a lovely tone.

Personally I am mystified by the attraction of the skinny opera singer, and the state of operatic singing today depresses me more than I can say.


There's some wonderful singing today, but I, too, think the rage for skinny is an unhappy trend.

#55 Mashinka

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Posted 21 May 2014 - 02:41 AM

Here we go again.......

 

http://www.theguardi...no-stars-weight

 

Although I made my views clear in earlier posts that a singers weight doesn't bother me (though of course I'm aware there are health issues) perhaps the role of Octavian does require a certain body type.  The picture doesn't really give an idea of this singer's figure in actual costume, in other pictures she does appear on the chubby side, and, more concerning in a 'trouser role' rather short.  Tara Erraught is not in the Jane Eaglen/Jesse Norman mould and is in my view a highly attractive young woman http://www.taraerraught.com/index.php her curves in an evening dress are pretty good I would say.

 

The press is making a lot of the story, but could it be just a case of mis-casting?  I haven't heard her sing although I have a ticket for 3rd July but I imagine a storm of controversy at the outset of her career could actually be good publicity.



#56 sandik

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Posted 21 May 2014 - 07:53 AM

Well, they say there's no such thing as bad press. 

 

There's some thoughtful discussion of this here as well, and a small compare/contrast in relation to discussion of larger men in the field.



#57 Kathleen O'Connell

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Posted 21 May 2014 - 08:55 AM

...  in other pictures she does appear on the chubby side, and, more concerning in a 'trouser role' rather short.  Tara Erraught is not in the Jane Eaglen/Jesse Norman mould and is in my view a highly attractive young woman http://www.taraerraught.com/index.php her curves in an evening dress are pretty good I would say.

 

 

 

Go here for a picture of Tara Erraught (Octavian) and Teodora Gheorghiu (Sophie) in their Rosenkavalier costumes.

 

There's nothing wrong with Erraught en travesti that a kinder costume and a better hairstyle couldn't fix. One of the adults in charge needed to get the production designer behind closed doors and tactfully suggest that maybe, just maybe, this particular shiny white suit wasn't really the way to go. And not just with Erraught. I'm guessing that the population of women who might actually look good in that outfit -- much less convincingly male -- is pretty small. OK -- maybe Sophie Koch or Elina Garanča could pull it off ... but really, these folks are allegedly professionals and should know how to cut a suit to flatter the singer they're working with.

 

PS -- here's a whole Tumblr (with GIFs and all) devoted to mezzos en travesti: http://whowearsthetrousers.tumblr.com/



#58 dirac

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Posted 22 May 2014 - 05:24 PM

I agree with Kathleen that the costume could have been more flattering, but otherwise I'm rather dumbfounded by this. Astonishingly harsh. The modern taste is for (relatively) skinny singers, skinny female ones at any rate, and it seems to me these reviews are just more evidence on the pile. God knows how some of these writers would react to Marilyn Horne in a suit of armor vowing eteral love to Joan Sutherland.

 

Thank you, Mashinka, for pulling up this old thread.



#59 Birdsall

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Posted 22 May 2014 - 05:58 PM

The opera world has gone to pot. I left it possibly for good. I just hear mediocre to horrendous voices on stage. Rarely outstanding. There are some great singers like Kaufmann, but for the most part I wouldn't cross the street for a free ticket to most current singers. And I think the major problem is that they are hiring for looks now and not voice. 

 

But what I find ridiculous is that they are hiring the singers for their looks yet they are coming up with the ugliest and most ridiculous sets imaginable. Why do they want Hollywood star types (who usually can't sing) and then put ridiculous sets up there with them? They want beauty in the people but surround them with ugliness! To me that makes no sense. 

 

Things are really, really, REALLY bad when I am longing for the days of Cheryl Studer, June Anderson, and Carol Vaness (all decent singers but in their heyday they did not hold a candle to Caballe, Joan Sutherland, etc). So back when I first started listening the new singers were decent but not great, but compared to most of today's singers they are goddesses. 

 

My ears were bleeding when I heard the Met's recent first cast Norma, yet I read rave reviews all over the internet. I was in shock that was what is considered good singing today. Angela Meade was much, much, much better but only got two performances and was second cast. 

 

Vincenzo Bellini was rolling in his grave! Bel canto is gone! 



#60 Mashinka

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Posted 23 May 2014 - 03:13 AM

One of the critics defends his stance:

 

http://www.theguardi...urne-fat-ladies

 

He does not exaggerate the response to the reviews; as I was going out the door the other morning I heard the announcer say they were about to open the phone lines on the subject - unheard of on the philistine LBC radio station.  Opera has managed to become a hot news story even in a week when the news is dominated by the local and EU elections.




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