Thursday, August 02, 2007

More tales from the "What Ever Happened to" Files

When I was but a wee thing, didn't know "Porgi amor" from Porgy and Bess, one of my role models in freaking the fuck out about opera--sort of incidentally the first person to play me Rosa Ponselle--was a delightful fellow who shares my first name (well, my real one) and whose uberdiva was Sylvia Sass. I think fondly of her both because he was so into her, went to a full run of her Toscas I think, and also because I've always liked her lispy lunatic of an Elvira on that one Don Giovanni. I don't know much of the rest of her output, but I'm curious whether she blew it out altogether or just never completely caught on--I think she'd have been pretty young still in the 90's and I'm pretty sure she wasn't singing anywhere, at least in the States.

A very devoted fan on YouTube seems to have posted rather a lot of her work, so here's a clip I liked. Talk of Norma is in the air anyway, these days, isn't it?


alex said...

lovely post, maury! i had no idea that something like this existed. i don't know if it's because of faulty aural memory or what, but i always had associated her with much more raw-sounding (more in terms of spikier overtones than polish, per se) vocalism than this.

it also sounds like she's undersinging a bit, but i'm guessing that it's mostly a balance issue because it doesn't seem like the state of her voice in this clip is holding her to this.

i might have to take some more time to check out these youtube clips.

Maury D'annato said...

Alex: well, I'd guess later on she was indeed on the raw side. Anyway yes there are tons of clips, so check some of them out for sure.

armerjaquino said...

I'm a little freaked out- I was searching YouTube for Sass clips only the other day. There is, as Maury says, quite a wealth.

One of my favourite Sass recordings is, of all the unlikely things, her 'Ch'io mi scordi di te', and I too am a fan of that demented- in every sense of the word- Elvira on the Solti DG. She'd have made an absolutely mindblowing Vitellia.

manprano said...

There is too much to say! I'll start with the obvious. I've always passed on the one solo disc of hers that I've seen because it looked like someone shot the photocgraph for cover art in a park somewhere. I can almost smell Joni Mitchell's involvement somehow... But that said, this is a very attractive clip. Thanks for getting me past my shallowness, Maury!

That said, I'm pretty sure that if you lined up Callas' 1958 Paris Opéra recital/gala, frame for frame the phrasing (and sometimes yes, even the physical gestures) in the cavatina would match. I like them both. But I like saying "Sass" with a Hungarian lateral lisp better than I like saying Cahlahs all-poshy, so Sylvia wins linguistically if not musically.

And I like how when she gets all worked up in a phrase like somewhere around 1:10 from the end she looks like she's about to backhand any druid who comes near her!

winpal said...

It's so nice to see others discovering La Sass, and that so many videos have been posted on the Tube. She has always been a great favorite of mine. Back in the late 70s (yes, unfortunately I was already grown, partnered and employed then), my significant other and I would often go to the big Tower Records on Columbus Ave in SF to browse through the LP bins. I always made a beeline to the Sylvia Sass bin to see what was new (my partner would always check Labelle and The Three Degrees). She made a number of recordings, all sadly out of print for years. If you ever find any of them in a dusty shop, snap them up. There is her introductory disc (Puccini and Verdi, with a thrilling I Lombardi aria), a dramatic coloratura disc, a Donizetti and Verdi disc (with Lucia mad scene), an operetta disc, a Wagner disc (Wesendonck lieder, Isolde), and a Mozart disc. There is also an exciting Bluebeard's Castle on video with Solti. All worth seeking out in my opinion.

At the time, she was often compared to Callas, who had just passed. There is a story that she was once introduced to someone who said to her, "I hear that you're the new Maria Callas." Sass replied by saying, "No, I am the first Sylvia Sass."

winpal said...

Oh, and she also recorded the Strauss Four Last Songs, and another recital disc with arias from Medea, Adriana L., and a lovely poignant Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin. It really is a shame these haven't been re-released!

Drew80 said...

Winpal, that Donizetti/Verdi disc of Sass was pretty good, as I recall. My father has it on compact disc. I heard it a few years ago. Is my memory correct?

winpal said...

Hi Andrew, I don't know if the Donizetti/Verdi recital was ever released on CD (I have the original vinyl LP on Hungaroton from 1981. Ervin Lukács conducts the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra). I do know her first Decca recital disc (Presenting Sylvia Sass) and another Hungaroton operatic recital with Ádám Medveczky and the Budapest Symphony Orchestra have been released on CD, so it is possible there are more.

The Donizetti/Verdi has both arias from Ballo, Desdemona'a Act IV scene, Pace, pace from Forza, and the mad scene from Lucia. I haven't listened to the LP in a very long time, but I do remember there is a minimum of ornamentation and no E-flats in the Lucia, but it is dramatically quite interesting.

Drew80 said...

Winpal, that particular recital WAS released on CD. My father has the compact disc version of that recital, and not the LP version, and it contains exactly the arias you mentioned. The "Forza" aria concludes the disc, as I recall.

It very well have been an import, but he got a copy of it somehow, and it is not a pirate. It was an official Hungaroton release, with texts, photos, etc.

If it is important to you, I can get the release number.

Drew80 said...

Winpal, I have consulted my father's database.

The following is based upon entries in his database, not upon an examination of the disc itself, which he still has.

He bought the compact disc in May 1996 at Tower Records in lower Manhattan. It was a remainder disc at the time he bought it.

Its compact disc release number is Hungaroton HCD 12405-2.

On compact disc, the order of numbers is "Lucia", "Ballo", "Forza" and "Otello".

I was wrong about "Forza" ending the disc.

This information should be correct if the information in my father's database is correct.

If it is important, I can check the actual disc the next time I am over at my parents' house.

Burns said...

Ah, Sass. I always wanted to like here more than her vocalism allowed me to. I know her mostly from her recordings of Lady Macbeth and Odabella and from that "Bluebeard" video, which is great and no doubt the best choice for a native-tongue recording of the work. To me it seems like she gave all the indications of temperament and intensity without really conveying genuine involvement. I liked the big dark sound but she could have attacked the notes in a more interesting way (you could say the same of Radvanosky in this rep). And Sass lacked the abandon of, say, Suliotis or Gencer.

You know who was hot? Tab Hunter! (watching "Track of the Cat")

winpal said...

Andrew, thanks for all the info. I'm glad to learn this recital is on CD.

I am impressed with your father's database. I am still attempting to master accurate physical alphabetization, with only partial success.

Anonymous said...

I've heard the 'Stiffelio' and oddly, the 'Belfagor' (which is on someone's Amazon list of Great 20th Century Operas, but don't believe it).
I like the dark quality too, but wouldn't you rather hear her do the Abigaille aria? Maybe that woudl draw some fire out of her?