In an interview with Mezzo-Soprano Dolora Zajick, Opera authority Brian Kellow laments in his very fine blog, Follow Kellow, the scarcity of dramatic voices in the many vocal competitions about which he writes. Later, in the interview, Ms. Zajick discusses the issue further, echoing the interviewer’s own views. Ms. Zajick gives the opinion that today’s conservatories and college music departments shy away from the standard repertory, opting instead for rarities that will bring atention to their institutions, rather than to heir students

Kellow further states that “In New York, for instance, it’s well known that there is a reluctance for many teachers to commit to the extra time and care needed to train dramatic voices. Generally, lyric voices turn into finished products much sooner, and teachers who desperately crave a reputation in the business for turning out top talents, perhaps can’t be blamed for focusing on lighter voices.”

I am not completely in agreement with those opinions, nor do I want to set out to debate the insights and views of two respected artists. I’m opting instead for sharing my own findings by way of opening up the discussion.

My friend Jim Slouffman made us a gift of a multi-DVD collection of the operas of Richard Strauss. In almost every instance the casting is beyond reproach, featuring some of the great  voices of the past century, Another collection of CD’s I recently acquired features (mostly German) singers associated with the Dresden Opera during the first half the 20th century. The repertory is largely Strauss/Wagner, and so are many of the voices: Straussian-Wagnerian.

Was it something in the water, I wondered? Or was there a German/Scandinavian way of training voices that has been lost? Or i it perhaps that only Scandinavians (Flagstad, Melchior, Nilsson) and Germans are physically equipped to handle the rigors of the Wagner/Strauss canon? What about George London or James Morris or Ramon Vinay in their time? What about today’s Christine Goerke and Jay Hunter Morris?

I then went on a brief search trying to find an answer to the questions I had asked myself. Laboriously I came up with some snippets of information.

Birgit Nilsson, soprano – Studied with several teachers on scholarship at the Royal Conservatory in Sweden. Hated them. Made her professional debut at the age of 26 (Agathe in Der Freischütz), and felt so awful about her performance that she contemplated suicide. Luckily she gave that up and bounced back. The rest is history. Nilsson recommended the stage as the best and only teacher.

Kirsten Flagstad, soprano studied voice as a teen, made her debut at 18 and sang small and big roles in fledgling operetta and opera companies in Scandinavia. It was not until she was 33 years old that she sang her first Isolde and, in her own words, “found her voice.”

Lauritz Melchior, tenor studied with the same teacher. Debut at age 23. Sang baritone roles for the next few years. Retrained as a tenor and made his debut in the title role of  Tannhäuser at age 28.

Hans Hotter, bass-baritone played the organ and conducted a choir and learned singing pretty much on his own. Debut at age 21. By his mid-20’s he was singing many of the Wagnerian bass-baritone roles.

Back in the day, so to speak, there were no opera workshops. There were no Diction and Movement and Vocal Rep classes. Singers were able to make their stage debuts early in life and get their stripes by dint of hard work and trial and error. Nobody seemed to get into vocal trouble in those days. In some cases – Flagstad and Melchior – there were false starts in the wrong vocal category, but the errors got quickly righted.

But it was not a big deal: singing as a baritone for five years when you were really a tenor is one heck of a lot better than waiting tables for five years or floating from young artist program to vocal competition to audition in the hope of getting one foot in the door.

But this is America and that was Europe and we live and sing in a different world.

Opera houses are bigger, much bigger today, even in the “regions.” Two tenor friends have started their careers in Germany. Over eighty opera houses there, with year-round seasons. Average size in the mid-hundreds, not in the four digits. One of them sings small roles in his home theater and guests around Europe singing bigger roles, oratorio and concerts. Not much of that is available in our neck of the woods.

So, I will happily settle for very well trained lyric tenors and lyric mezzos and lyric sopranos and lyric baritones who can sing the Almavivas and Rosinas and Susannas and Guglielmos for a few years until their voices mature and hopefully graduate to the big boy/big girl rep.

Look at Joyce Di Donato just now in her late forties moving into roles like Adalgisa and Semiramide. Or any number of other singers who wait for the big roles until their voices are ready. Elīna Garanča is fazing out Octavian and Rosina and gearing up for Donizetti’s Leonora. I would not be surprised if she goes from Carmen to Eboli and Dalila one of these days.

If a voice is meant to sing Wagner it will sing Wagner as long as all of the surrounding circumstances make it possible: the right management, the right timing, the right venue.

As for Verdi, I see no problems, meaning that if you have a Trovatore or a Luisa Miller to cast, as the MET does this upcoming season, you will find somewhere in the world the right singers for Azucena and Di Luna and Manrico and Miller and Count Walter.

Here in Cincinnati, where we have lived for the past nine years I have seen a very good Meistersinger and a first class Otello at the Cincinnati Opera, both cast with many American singers.

Meanwhile the University of Cincinnati has been training and turning out some very fine young singers who sang on the stages of the College Conservatory of Music everything from Donizetti to Britten, Poulenc and Mozart. Mercifully no Verdi or Wagner, which would be both silly and suicidal when performed by young people in their early twenties.

Among those voices I have been listening to over the past few years there are a few that belong to singers already at the start of very promising careers. And the voices, to my ears, are big enough. When you have a chance, find baritone Andrew Manea or bass-baritone Brandon Morales or baritone Tyler Alessi or tenor Pedro Arroyo or mezzo-soprano Kayleigh Decker on either their websites or  on You Tube. And if you cannot, just simply remember those names, don’t worry: you will soon be hearing their sufficiently large voices in the very near future in an opera house near you.

(photographs left to right: Brandon Morales, Tyler Alessi, Kayleigh Decker, Pedro Arroyo, Andrew Manea,

Rafael de Acha

http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com All About the Arts



Another addition to any Opera-lover’s DVD library – SUPREME SOPRANOS (VAI DVD 4594) – has been added to the Video Artists International catalogue.

This collection of remastered videos features world-reknown sopranos from the bygone years of great singing in excerpts, arias and duets from the operatic repertoire. Here follows a capsule review of each one of the 17 tracks on the DVD:

Birgit Nilsson – Turandot – In questa reggia – January 1, 1967 telecast.
Arguably the greatest dramatic soprano of the post-war years, Madame Nilsson delivers a perfect mix of fire and ice, pairing stillness, minimal gesturing and intelligent husbanding of her seemingly inexhaustible vocal resources in a stunning In questa reggia.

Eileen Farrell – Tristan und Isolde – Isolde’s Liebestod – March 4, 1959 telecast.
We will not argue that Ms. Farrell had a right to sing the blues and give up an operatic career to marry a NYC cop and live happily in Staten Island ever after. Oh, but only if… This is an Isolde for the ages, inexplicably a role she never sang from A to Z.

Renata Tebaldi – Madame Butterfly – Un bel di / Death scene – January 6, 1961 telecast.
A so-so actress Signora Tebaldi earns this time an accolade for her commitment to Japanese body-language in both these scenes. As a singer she is ever deserving of praise for her fine, if cautious vocalism. Never our cup of sake as Butterfly, this is nevertheless a fine example of the singing of one of the important Italian sopranos of the 1950’s.

Victoria De Los Angeles – La boheme – Act I scene – February 12, 1960 telecast
Avoiding odious comparisons, this is for our money the loveliest Mimi of them all.  The performance is right on target with the character of the Parisian seamstress vividly expressed in intelligent acting choices and glorious vocalism by our all-time favorite Spanish soprano. She is in fact so believable as the young Mimi that one forgets she was pushing forty when this telecast was given. Brian Sullivan adequately partners her in the scene.

Renata Scotto – Gianni Schicchi – O mio babbino caro – Concert performance: 11/11/91
When Lauretta sings “…andrei sul Pontevecchio, ma per buttarmi in Arno!” she is not being coy but really meaning business: “Either I am allowed to marry Rinuccio or I’ll go jump in the river!” Ms. Scotto trots out this little aria as an encore at the end of a concert, holding a flower in her hand as if she were delivering “When I’ve sung my songs.” Pretty but pretty dull.

Beverly Sills – The Daughter of the Regiment – Marie’s aria – Live performance – 1974
Ms. Sills sounds like a girl of Marie’s age but with the vocal maturity, the style and the exuberant personality of a mature artist in her prime. Her English diction is exemplary, even above the staff. And her singing, as ever, thrilling and nearly perfect.

Roberta Peters – Il Barbiere di Siviglia – Una voce poco fa – September 24, 1962 telecast
Roberta Peters at 20 (her debut), Roberta Peters at 32 (here in her prime), Roberta Peters at 40 (still pretty good), Roberta Peters at 50 (still good and going strong in recitals and musicals) always the same: perfect voice , pretty looks , poised delivery. She was the go-to Rosina of the 1950’s until mezzos began to horn in on the Rossini canon. But those mezzos could never ever pop out those incredible high E’s and F’s. Peters always could.

Montserrat Caballé – Norma – Casta diva – Live concert – January 30, 1971
One more in a long line of great Spanish singers that goes back to Manuel García and María Malibran, Señora Caballé is at the top of her form here, spinning a seamless legato and rising up to the top of her range with utmost ease in this notoriously challenging aria.

Lisa Della Casa – Faust Prison Scene – October 22, 1963 telecast
The excellent Swiss soprano, so respected in the Strauss-Mozart repertoire is a cookie-cutter Marguerite in this scene, with tenor Nicolai Gedda as Faust and bass Cesare Siepi as their nemesis. Not very exciting, the singing is alright, the acting by the numbers. And that goes for all three singers.

Joan Sutherland – Hamlet – Mad Scene/Otello – Willow Song – 3/17/61
In this telecast the Australian soprano made her American television debut. This is a reminder of the force of nature this 35-year old singer was: a late bloomer who re-invented herself hand-in-hand with her conductor-husband Richard Bonynge. Sutherland rose from run-of-the-mill aspiring soprano in search of an identity to the greatest dramatic coloratura of her time. Her acting is uncomplicated, her delivery of the text of both arias sincere, her singing spectacular.

Anna Moffo – La traviata – Ah, fors’ è lui…Sempre libera
She had both her detractors and her fans. She also had challenges: a battle with weight gain, emotional ups and downs…Not allowing for compassion to cloud one’s critical judgment let it be said that this March 16, 1962 shows the young Anna Moffo in top form, self-assured vocally and interpretively, and lovely to watch.

Mirella Freni – Don Carlo – Tu che le vanitá – 1985 concert performance
From the beginning of her career, Ms. Freni had to turn down offers of roles too big for her essentially lyric voice. She was wise to do so, for it assured her of unheard of vocal longevity: she sang Tchaikovsky’s Maid of Orleans at age 60! Here she sings Elisabetta’s eleven minute scena with aplomb, giving when she must, holding back when feasible. It is an intelligently cautious performance, long in beauty and reserved in histrionics.

Leontyne Price – Aida – Ritorna vincitor / La forza del destino – Pace, pace.
In a January 1, 1967 telecast, Ms. Price, then aged 40 sings two Verdi warhorses with her unfailingly impressive vocalism and noble bearing. It is a perfect ending to a treasure trove DVD – one more gift from the VAI archives.

Rafael de Acha
http://www.RafaelMusicNoteas.com All About the Arts


vickersbjoerlingtuckermccrackencorellidi stefnogedda.jpg


VAI DVD 4589
VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL: http://www.vaimusic.com
Jussi Bjoerling and Renata Tebaldi – La boheme, Act I finale
Giuseppe di Stefano and Teresa Stratas – Manon, St. Sulpice scene
Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill – La Forza del Destino, Alvaro-Carlo duet
Richard Tucker and Lucine Amara – Pagliacci, finale
Franco Corelli and Lisa della Casa – Tosca, Act III scene
Franco Corelli and Regine Crespin – Un ballo in maschera – Act II duet
Jon Vickers and Giulietta Simionato – Aida – Act III duet
James McCracken and Robert Merrill – Otello – Act II finale
Nicolai Gedda, Lucine Amara, Jerome Hines – Faust – Final scene

Details: Nine excerpts, seven tenors, several additional artists. All but one of the excerpts from original Bell Telephone Hour telecasts. Two bonus tracks: Rolf Bjoerling singing a very nice Una furtiva lagrima; Richard Tucker singing excerpts from the Passover Service

Our evaluation: Invaluable archival treasures cleanly reproduced in High Definition video and well-packaged. The images are uniformly good. The singing is almost all spectacular, save for a badly miscast Lisa Della Casa as an ice cold Tosca opposite Franco Corelli‘s marvelous Cavaradossi.

When looking at video and not merely listening to great singing the bar automatically goes up. Viewing this video we are not only listening, but now looking up close at singers from the ranks of a mid-20th century golden age of singing.

We are watching them in costume earnestly attempting to act believably as young lovers, Spanish soldiers, Egyptian generals and European royalty. But sad to say, in that respect many of the artists represented on this DVD fall short of the mark.

Jussi Bjoerling looks more like a wined and dined Parisian bourgeois than an impoverished poet in the excerpt from La boheme, and both him and the nicely coiffed and healthy-looking Renata Tebaldi make few attempts at making heads or tails of both text and subtext in this iconic boy-meets-girl scene.

Their singing, however, is almost impeccable other than a botched cut-off at the end of the O soave fanciulla off-stage high C that turns a potentially moving ending into “Any note you can hold I can hold longer.” Bjoerling, who also murders the Italian pronunciation appears to be all out for himself musically and dramatically.

There are outstanding exceptions. It should be no news to anyone that Teresa Stratas was one of the great singing actresses of the post-Bing years at the MET. She is a superb Manon, though Giuseppe di Stefano‘s middle-aged Des Grieux is not. And, of all tenors, Richard Tucker is the ideal Canio in every respect.

Jon Vickers, one of the great dramatic tenors and singing actors of the century is a fine Radames in the confrontation scene with the Amneris of  Giulietta Simionato – a one of a kind Verdi mezzo, but never a singing actress.

Franco Corelli, unjustly labeled a “park and bark” tenor is an elegant and sincere Cavaradossi  and an impassioned Riccardo in the duet with Regine Crespin‘s excellent Amelia.

When transitions necessitated by time constraints are brought about with blunt cuts, it is hard to make sense of the proceedings. A glaring example of this is the jump from Ora e per sempre addio to Si, pel ciel in the Otello scene. The singing here is acceptable though neither James McCracken‘s vocalism not Robert Merrill‘s run of the mill Iago appeal.

The trio from Faust features the unjustly underrated Lucine Amara – a lovely Marguerite – opposite the ever-reliable Nicolai Gedda matching MET house bass Jerome Hines decibel for decibel. Even if the acting here is just OK, the special effect that has Marguerite’s spirit leaving her body and ascending up to Heaven is quite effective.

So, to sum things up, no news is good news. No, many of these old timers could not act their way out of an operatic paper bag, but could they sing!

And therein lies one of the ever present concerns that trouble those among us for whom Opera is not a concert in costume but a dramma per musica.

In today’s opera world more and more singers are coming out of conservatories and young artist programs ready for their operatic close-up. They can sing and act and deliver the text meaningfully and well-pronounced in several languages. And many of these young artists have voices to which we must pay attention.

But on this occasion let us walk down Opera Memory Lane in the comfort of home and enjoy, thanks to VAI, these historic performances on DVD.

Rafael de Acha
http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com All About The Arts





A superb opening concert of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s 2017 Summermusik.

Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.3 in A minor is a superb vehicle for any orchestra, and last night it became the perfect opener for the inaugural concert of the CCO’s new era under Maestro Eckart Preu, the first of twelve concerts to be given in the orchestra’s August 2017 lineup.

What makes Mendelssohn’s Op.56 “Scottish” has to do mostly with an entry in the composer’s diary, in which he wrote after a visit to Scotland in 1829, “In the deep twilight we went today to the palace were Queen Mary lived and loved…The chapel below is now roofless. Grass and ivy thrive there and at the broken altar where Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything is ruined, decayed, and the clear heavens pour in. I think I have found there the beginning of my ‘Scottish’ Symphony.”

The Andante/Allegro opening is followed by a spirited Vivace, which in turn segues to a stately Adagio in which the strings are first given a march-like melody that is then passed on to the woodwinds and brass, and finally shared by the entire ensemble. It is a movingly evocative section that constitutes the heart and soul of the composition. The final movement begins restlessly, but, in an unusual musical turn of events, it is unpredictably brought to a serenely majestic finish by the composer.

Mendelssohn’s symphony was also a perfect calling card for Music Director Preu, who passionately led the orchestra’s three dozen regular members, mining for subtlety and color, and eliciting great playing from his formidable ensemble.

With Concertmaster Celeste Golden Boyer leading the CCO’s strings, this listener has never heard the CCO sound more cohesive and assured. The woodwinds’ principal flute, Rebecca Tyon Andres, Connie Ignatiou, oboe, Miriam Culley, clarinet, and Amy Pollard, bassoon excelled in soli throughout the program. And, the brass section did superb work in the Mendelssohn, and later in the Peter Maxwell Davies piece that brought the evening to a close.

Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, Köchel 216, opened the second half of the concert. It is amazing that the composer wrote such an unceasingly joyous and mature work during his dismally unhappy years as an indentured servant-musician in the service of Salzburg’s Archbishop Colloredo, especially considering that he was nineteen years old, and still finding his way in the world of 18th century music.

Maestro Preu obtained perfect balance between orchestra and soloist, offering a clear and elegant performance of this concerto that featured, violinist Angelo Xiang Yu, who played with the Mozartian grace and technical maturity of a much older artist. After his second bow to a standing ovation, Yu returned the compliment with a rapturous rendition of the Meditation from Massenet’s Thais.

An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise is a musical depiction of a wedding in one of Scotland’s Orkney Islands—a wedding gone awry. The consumption of a few pints of Scotch fuels the revelry with dancing and carousing that is reflected in Peter Maxwell-Davies composition, and in the tongue-in-cheek playing of the CCO and the conducting of Maestro Preu.

The entrance from off stage of the superb bagpiper Karen May provided the first of two showy coups de théâtre that ended the concert. The second involved the entire Cincinnati Caledonian Pipes and Drums Band, marching on stage in full regalia to the tune of Scotland, the Brave.

As the evening’s encore, Maestro Preu, in a casual and charming manner, invited the audience to join in a singalong version of Auld Lang Syne. It was a light-hearted finish to a superb opening concert of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s 2017 Summernusik.

Rafael de Acha
All About the Arts

Portions of this review, in addition to four other upcoming ones will be included in an end-of-season overview of the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra’s 2017 Summermusik that will be published on http://www.seenandheard-international.com

The details:

Cincinnati: August 5, 2017 SCPA Mayerson Theatre
Cincinnati Chamber Orhestra. Summermusik 2017
Eckart Preu, Music Director
Felix Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 56 (“Scottish”)
W.A. Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major, K. 216
Angelo Xiang Yu, violin
Peter Maxwell Davies An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise
Karen May, bagpipes



Claramae Turner is what one might call an “all things to all people” singer. Just looking at the list of arias and excerpts in CLARAMAE TURNER Opera Arias and Scenes (1946-1953) (VAI 1283) one is blown away by the scope and variety of styles, languages, and composers represented in this indispensable CD from VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL/VAI AUDIO.

The selections come mostly from live radio broadcasts: Standard Hour, Mutual Opera Concert, “Let’s Go to the Opera.” Some have a live audience and the applause that goes with it.

The sound is nicely enhanced from old acetates and tape recordings, rather than from the few commercial recordings Ms. Turner made. And, like with all VAI products, the packaging is neatly accompanied by interesting biographical information.

Now for the singer.

I’d wager that Claramae Turner would have attained the international stardom that eluded her during her career had she been alive and singing today. But stardom is fleeting, and many a voice does not survive the rigors of today’s working schedules. A career like Turner’s evaluated on its own terms would be the envy of many a singer.

She made her solo professional debut in her early twenties and sang healthily and uninterruptedly until her early retirement at the age of 54. She created the role of Nettie in Carousel, and she, not Tony Bennett, introduced I left my heart in San Francisco.

Operatic roles? The MET wasted her talent in roles like Marthe in Faust and Auntie in Peter Grimes. No wonder she said ciao! after four seasons!

In Chicago and in San Francisco she checked off Azucena, Eboli, Herodias, the three hags in Il Trittico, Ulrica, Klytemnestra…

Still on the subject of Ms. Turner’s singing, one is astounded by the stylistic range and intelligent vocalism of this formidable singer, who delivers in this CD an elegant seguidilla from Carmen, a flawlessly sung pair of Dalila’s arias, impeccable legato in Mignon’s Connais tu le pays, a gutsy O don fatale, the dual assignments of La Cieca’s Voce di donna and a let-it-rip Laura-Gioconda duet with Regina Resnik (in her soprano incarnation), a fearless Santuzza-Alfio duet, Erda’s Weiche, Wotan, weiche, and an unequaled Afraid? Am I afraid? from Menotti’s The Medium.

Ms. Turner’s voice straddles the dramatic mezzo and contralto reps and ranges with ease. The voice is supple (she does a nifty run in the Dalila-High Priest duet from Samson and Dalila.) The high notes in O don fatale do not faze her. Neither do the dips into the below the staff region in the Samson and Dalila excerpts, in which the singer displays a hair-raising chest voice.

One should have nothing but gratitude for VAI for having the initiative to produce and issue this album. I, among the grateful, recommend it to anyone seriously interested in the art of singing.

Rafael de Acha
http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com All about the Arts.

Video Artists International/VAI Audio




The Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, led by Santtu-Matias Rouvali is Sweden’s national orchestra and the country’s pride and joy.

Its past music directors include Neeme Järvi, Christian Zacaharias, Kent Nagano and Gustavo Dudamel. Rouvali was just appointed its Chief Conductor and given a four-year contract. The future looks bright.

This orchestra is absolutely first rate. I just finished listening to the Gothenburgers in a hair-raising performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition followed by Janáček’s Taras Bulba followed by Smetana’s Die Moldau – all three brilliantly played and conducted by the hundred-plus ensemble and its 32-year old Music Director.

The Swedes and its Finish leader deliver a massively plush sound while playing like a well-oiled apparatus. Maestro Rouvali conducts with the cool mental clarity and warm heart that suit the big Romantic works he favors.

And, speaking of favors, do yourself one and listen to this link https://vimeo.com/221784978?from=outro-embed .

If you like what you hear you can sign up through Vimeo or directly with the orchestra by email or on Facebook to receive monthly links to their concerts. or find them on You Tube. You will be glad you did, especially when you realize it’s all free.

Rafael de Acha
http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.com All About the Arts