Monday, December 04, 2006

Answer to a poor soul sent here by google

Here's a search string that led to my page:

"Is Renee Fleming a better singer than Kiri Te Kanawa is or was?"

Gentle reader,

Renee Fleming was, until several years ago, a better singer than Kiri te Kanawa is now, primarily in that Kiri te Kanawa barely sings now and that's no good at all. RF now is certainly a worse singer than KtK was at her best, except when (occasionally) she's really good again, like in those Berg songs at Carnegie.

Some days RF is a worse singer than KtK ever thought about being, like when she's singing in a Southern accent, which KtK would never do, I'm guessing, or when she's singing jazz, which KtK did in a less misguided and grating way than RF. Te Kanawa, at her worst, was just dull. One of the crew at Parterre dubbed her "The World's Highest Paid Church Soprano," but then she went and sang that final run of Capriccio at the Met that (all snarkitude dropped for a moment) brought tears to my eyes at the outburst of "Madeleine!" in the final scene. Follow that link, by the way, and you'll also find the witty potshot about how K's Tosca is the only one you'll ever hear described as "soothing."

We could always compare them in certain roles. I, as much as anyone, like occasionally reducing opera to little more than the sausage race at a Brewers game.

Desdemona: Fleming wins.
Countess in Figaro: te Kanawa wins, unless it's Fleming fifteen years ago in which case it's a draw
Mimi in Rent: Neither of them ever sang it but wouldn't it be hilarious?
Effie in Dreamgirls: Oh stop, now you're just being silly.
Vanessa: Kiri was supposedly pretty good but Fleming hasn't sung it and I guess won't be offered it at the Met because they haven't staged it since 1965. *tap tap tap* Is this thing on?

So there you have it. Don't you love it when the internet provides an objective answer to your question?

Another disappointed reader googles his way here with the search string "words lamento della ninfa." Well I don't know them, of course, but I'm happy to make some up.

Ahime, com'e triste d'essere ninfa!
E ninfere qua e la, notte e giorno
Senza gia il tempo per fare altre cose!
Ahime, non vuoglio essere piu ninfa,
Ma che puo fare? Cantaro un lamento, cosi,
E forse Signore Monteverdi puo lasciare
La sua opera somnifera e interminabile di Poppea
Per due momenti, e scrivere le note
Per una povera ninfa, cantante suo lamento, ahime, senza musica.

Nymphs speak lousy Italian, as it turns out. One supposes they speak Nymph. I do hope ninfa means nymph, or I'm going to look like I'm not serious about these matters.


meretrice i. d'oscena said...

I would also mention Dame Kiri's trill in one of her Italian recital recordings-- that part at the end of D'amor sull'ali rosee where Leonora is supposed to trill "pene" and Dame Kiri manages to outweird the undisputed Queen of Weird Trill-Like Noises: Cecilia Bartoli.
I would make a vibrator joke, but really, Dame Kiri is too classy.

La Fleming, on the other hand, could trill standing on her head back in the day. Her pre-fame live recording of the Rossini Armida is hot stuff, pretty much free of the mannerisms. And that Donizetti 'Rosmonda' from the same period is better than KtK could ever have done.
But then you compare KtK's '4 Last Songs' (so pretty, but zzzzzzzzzz) with Fleming's waterlogged version (it's about death, lady, it shouldn't cause it). Fleming has become the proverbial girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead.

I think it is still within her power to do a fine Norma. She just has to decide not to do any of her schmoopy/shreiky/Pirata monkey-business. Or a Houston Traviata-style "e TAAAAAARRDEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE". (Dear God, the first time I heard that, I did an Olivero swoon: it took me 16 measures to finally hit the floor). Can you just hear the "Ah no, son mei figli!"... shudder.
Come back to us, Renee! This could be the thing that people talk about for decades to come!

Winpal said...

Remember KtK's Morgen at dawn on the beach in Gisborne for the new millenium? I totally ate that up.

If it had been current Fleming, computers would have crashed worldwide.

Maury D'annato said...

Metetrice, you're going to have to forgive me if I stoop to quoting myself, but it's funny we made the same reference about Fleming. Some time back I wrote:

There once was a girl
With a strawberry curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
And when she was good,
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad, it was usually in some revival of 19th century crap we didn't really give a good goddamn about anyway, but increasingly it was also in Strauss which is not ok.

Anyway I'm glad someone else remembers that she used to be great. Her trills make me wet my pants.

As to Norma, I don't know. She'd need to take a giant step back, but if she did that, it might be fantastic. I do think it'd be a notch underpowered, but still...

Thomas said...

Too bad no one saw her concert Daphne at Carnegie last year. It was lovely. One of the best vocal performances I've ever heard.

Maury D'annato said...

Thomas: I was on the fence about whether to go. A mannered Daphne could be death itself, and chances seemed good of that. I'm weird about Daphne, too. After the first time I heard the recording of Popp singing the final scene, I sort of sealed it in a vault only to listen to maybe every ten years because, chez Popp, it's the good china, not everyday stuff. Seriously, I can remember the almost spooked-out feeling I had at the wordless melisma as she turns into a big old tree.

thomas said...

Maury, I haven't heard the Popp. The only recording I'd heard was the Gueden, whose voice I don't particularly care for. To me, Fleming sang with a total lack of mannerisms, effortlessly spinning out these long, gorgeous lines. At the end of the transformation, she turned her back to the audience for an ethereal vocalise. It was magical.

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

Well, yours is funnier, but I thought of the girl with a curl quote because I used it just yesterday in reference to Kathy Battle. I went to a performance of the Poulenc 'Gloria' and Miss Battle's recording is basically perfect for that kind of music-- accurate, effortless, and so cold that icicles form in your headphones. And then I mentioned her 'Semele' recording, which, I'm sorry, has some of the most amazing fast (un-aspirated; are you listening, Miss Bartoli?) coloratura I've ever heard.
And then I thought of her appearence here in Nashville a couple of yeats back, doing the Mozart "Exultate" and the Previn 'Honey and Rue' as in: the audience certainly did rue the fact that Miss Battle chose to sing that. Facial contortions that looked like she was having a stroke, turning to face the orchestra and conduct them behind the conductor's back, wandering around the stage in a fog of crazy.

I agree with you on Miss Popp. How about that live recording of 'Julius Ceaser' auf deutsche-- now there's a Cleopatra that could get Ceaser into bed. Popp also has my undying affection for her 'Suor Angelica'-- at the very end, as Angelica dies, there's that 'Ahhhhhhhhhh' that I guess is notated in the score as a slide down from a specific high pitch. Most sopranos do it, and it is one of the most unintentionally laughable, comically melodramatic bits in all opera. All that beautiful, sentimental hearbreak, and then all of the sudden, the leading lady is asked to behave like Florence Foster Jenkins.
Anyway- Popp gasps dramatically without pitch, and manages to make it work without making it sound inappropriately orgamsic.

I wonder if any of you have heard a recording that Miss Popp did of a 20th-centry piece called 'Venus' by Othmar Schoeck? I have no idea what it's like, but have wondered about it for years.

Maury D'annato said...

I used to be on a path of Popp completism, but at some point I gave up. She was kind of my first uber-diva (other than Callas, who is in a separate category) and honorarily still is.

I don't have that recording. Actually she recorded so much I was probably never going to have all of it. It's like the Sinopoli opera about Lou Andreas Salome: I figured I'd mostly have it just to have it and probably wouldn't love it.

I love her most for Sophie.

Don't be knocking aspirated Coloratura, though. :) Some of my favorite singers...

Oberon said...

I think Fleming has the "better" instrument, she just doesn't know what to do with it.

Maury D'annato said...

You know, the interesting thing, Oberon, is that to my ear their instruments are a certain amount alike. I once heard KtK's 4 last on the radio and for a few minutes I was certain it was Fleming.

pietb said...

Talk about wetting your pants . . . I just sprayed tea all over myself, my keyboard, the desk, the screen, and a couple of co-workers. Need more lyrics about depairing nymphs. Are you sure you aren't related to a certain cabaret artist who recently died from moving to Australia?

Oberon said...

The thing that interested me about Fleming's voice from the first time I heard her (at the Met Auditions) was the natural strength of her lower register. It does not seem to be chest resonance, it's just the way her voice is built.

I once had tea at the home of Renee's teacher, the late Beverley Peck Johnson. I wanted to ask Mrs. J about Renee's lower register but there was so much to talk about and after we had cake, Mrs. J dozed off for a bit. My friend and I tiptoed around, washed the dishes, and were about to sneak quietly out when Mrs. J awoke with a start and picked up the conversation where she'd left off. We stayed another hour.

Kiri's timbre always struck me as slightly more delicate than Renee's. Beyond that, their stylistic approach could be similar though Renee has gone to extremes sometimes. Which, I believe, Mrs. J would find distressing. But she is no longer with us.

meretrice i. d'oscena said...

part of the problem, I think, is that once one sells all those CDs, and is on the cover of so many magazines, and is on 60 Minutes, and is the inspiration for a novel (What? She was the basis for the heroine in 'Bel Canto'? My goodness, I hadn't read that 800 times. I had no idea.)... is one going to listen to anyone who says one needs to tone it down?
One million Fleming Fans can't be wrong. Right?

Paul said...

Your pseudo-Italian is FAR more entertaining than that fake Latin one occasionally comes across - you know, the material that's used as placeholder text on half-developed Web site pages and starts "ipsum something-or-other."

alex said...

you mean the lorem ipsum?

check out wikipedia's entry on it! i must confess that i nerded out a bit on it when a friend of mine posted about it on some forums i also frequent.