YouTube is a particularly vast corner of the internet. You can lose yourself for hours watching everything from kittens and puppies meeting eachother for the first time to beauty tips to how to fix your washing machine and everything in between. Watching generations of singers on YouTube is nothing short of amazing. It is its own rabbit hole of endless pleasures as well as the less fortunate moments in the spotlight. This begins a new segment on the blog, where I will review many recordings of one particular aria or perhaps ensemble. I have no authority here, mind you. I'm just a operatically obsessive girl with an internet connection. I hope you can get a glimpse of some of my favourite arias, and how I listen to them. There will be bias, there will be blood ! (maybe), but there definitely be some fine music making.
The first aria up for review is the mother of all soprano sass queens (or princesses, I suppose), "In questa reggia" from Puccini's Turandot. Set in a non-specific yet legendary/mythical time in Peking, China, Turnadot is a vengeful princess, who is only eligible for marriage if her suitor solves three riddles. In this aria, she's explaining the need for all the theatrics in her courting rituals. Naturally, Turnadot is quite a dramatic lady, vocally and pysically. The role of Turandot is unlike much of Puccini's music for sopranos; it is heroic in quality, relentlessly high and loud with huge orchestration. To cope with this, the role is normally cast as a dramatic soprano of some variety. Of course, there are many varieties of soprano who have sung the role. Let's have a listen:
This is my personal favourite, and one of my all-time favourite singers. This a live performance from the 1971 Macerata Opera Festival. What I love: The seemless connection to top and bottom of the voice. Nilsson puts the steely severity of Turandot in front seat. Extreme balance of weight in apporach to the top, and there's always lots of brilliance all registers. This looks and sounds easy. What I don't love: The fact that this happened in the past. I wish I could have heard Nilsson live in her prime ! Also, there is a lot of strange camera action.
I was really ready to hate this one. I like Gherghiou's voice, but I think she went into the heavy repertoire too early in her career. I thought this would show Gherghiou's flaws, but this 2005 recording is actually quite nice !
What I love: Her voice is lithe and velvety, with multi-faceted colours and approaches throughout the range, displaying lots of contrast in different registers. There's lots of roundess in sound, and nice balance in the top and bottom- the sound is consistently bouyant. What I don't love: Repeated notes and the approach to the upper passagio sound unstable. The bottom of the range is too open- I think it makes the middle less stable than it actually is. My true issue with this recording is that it is a studio recording- I don't think this would be suitable for her voice in an opera house. I think the role of Liu would be a much better fit.
A modern day dramatic soprano hero! This recording is from this year at LaScala. What I love: The sound is beautiful in the middle, but the beginning already is quite wild in the approach to my ears. High sustained stuff is great. Beautiful balance between registers. Crack in the middle of the aria is probably caused by over opening and too much breath pressure through the middle register
What I don't love: Her top sounds too open, but in general I feel like there is just too much voice all the time. Her physicality is quite static, and yet seems rigid and laboured.
I haven't listened to a lot of Eva Marton's recordings, and I totally regret it! She is a complete superstar, as showcased in this 1988 live recording from the Met What I love: Lots of sound, with brilliance and suppleness to spare. Marton gives us many colours throughout the registers and is physically quite calm and poised. The voice is dynamic through leaps in the registers. Push to the top is forceful, and somewhat wide, but that is what the voice type is meant to do!
Gwyneth Jones is a powerhouse through the ages, as shown here at the 1986 Vienna State Opera gala. What I love: The voice is powerful yet supple; there is a push to the top, but the approach is supported with a lot of space up and over the height of the top register. Middle register is quite heroic with lots of different colours throughout. I think this is an ideal sound for this role, lots of focus in the sound and metal, but round and brilliant quality which is suitable in the Italian style.
It would be sacreligious of me to feature a Puccini aria without including Tebaldi. This is a 1964 studio recording. What I love: The sound is very round/lyric in the middle. Leaps up to the top are very dynamic. The sound is smooth, effortless, with a quite thrilling approach to top. What I don't love: In the high tessitura, the phrases seem a little short. I expected much more middle/low colour from Tebaldi, but the conservative approach to her lower registers nicely opened up the height of her high register. The final high note is a little wide, but so it goes!
Ahhh La Stupenda! This is a studio recording from 1972 is not at all in her normal scope of repertoire, but apparently her voice was huge, and I think this recording holds testament to the size of her instrument. What I love: She is giving so much sound and beautiful colour in the middle! The overall quality is lyric, round but lots of heroic colour in the sound. Top is brilliant (are we surprised?), but leaps to the top I find not as thrilling (read: dramatic as Nilsson or Marton), but I think because it's out of the kind of rep she did most regularly. The sheer consistency between registers is amazing. A thrilling use of the instrument; the differentation of colours is a result of pure connection and continual support.
There is so much variety between these recordings, but this is only a snapshot of what this repetoire can sound like. Obviously everyoine has their own tastes, and every casting of the opera will offer something completely different.
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