Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What The Deaths Of Magda Olivero & Licia Albanese Mean For Opera

The latin term trado has been translated into a multitude of definitions: to hand over, give up, deliver, transmit, surrender, impart, entrust, confide, leave behind, bequeath, propound, propose, teach, to hand down, narrate, recount. It served as the basis for the word we now know in the English language to be tradition. With the recent passing of Magda Olivero (age 104) and Licia Albanese (age 105), the opera world loses yet another link to the composers of the past. These were the last remaining sopranos that originated the 20th-century's verismo period and served as an essential connection to the past for future opera audiences. Once upon a time, singers worked directly with composers to tweak the characterization and often had music written specifically for their vocal capabilities. There was something almost sacred that was being passed down for safekeeping to the following generation. Looking back over the history of slightly more than 200 years reveals a great deal about the relationship with the soprano and composer.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had soprano Caterina Cavalieri. A singing student of rival composer Antonio Salieri, Mozart wrote the role of Konstanze in his Singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail for the soprano which she premiered on July 16, 1782. On May 7, 1788, Cavalieri sang the role of Donna Elvira in the Vienna premiere of Mozart's Don Giovanni. Other works by Mozart written for her are Davide penitente (1785) and the role of Mademoiselle Silberklang in Der Schauspieldirektor (1786). Gioachino Rossini had Isabella Colbran. Born in Madrid, she studied under Girolamo Crescenti in Paris. The dramatic coloratura soprano first met Rossini in Naples where he composed the title role of Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra especially for her in 1815. She went on to sing the lead roles in his operas Otello, Armida, Mosè in Egitto, Ricciardo e Zoraided, Ermione, La donna del lago, Maometto II, and Zelmira. He eventually married the soprano in 1822 when they moved to Bologna and she sang the last role composed specifically for her, the title role in Semiramide, before the couple split in 1837. After her death, Rossini continued to credit her as being the greatest interpreter of his music. Gaetano Donizetti had Giuditta Pasta. Italian by birth, Pasta studied in Milan with Giuseppe Scappa, Davide Banderali, Girolamo Crescentini, and Ferdinando Paer, among others. She sang regularly in London, Paris, Milan and Naples between 1824 and 1837. Donizetti wrote two roles specifically for the soprano: the title roles in Anna Bolena and Amina in Bellini's La sonnambula (Vincenzo Bellini even wrote Norma for the soprano). She later taught singing with such notable students as Emma Albertazzi, Marianna Barbieri-Nini, and Adelaide Kemble. Pasta retired at her Lake Como villa and in Milan, where she devoted herself to advanced vocal instructions until her death in 1865. Giuseppe Verdi had several leading ladies to premiere his works, including Marcella Lotti della Santa (Aroldo), Teresa Stolz (La Forza del Destino, Aida), Marie Sasse (Don Carlos), Fanny Salvini-Donatelli* (La Traviata), Antonietta Marini-Rainieri (Oberto, Un giorno di regno), Teresa Ruggeri (I Lombardi), Marianna Barbieri-Nini (I due Foscari, Macbeth, Il corsaro) and Sophie Cruvelli (Les vêpres siciliennes). Many of these women were either his mistresses or, in the case of Giuseppina Strepponi (Nabucco), his wife.  Richard Wagner had Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient. The German soprano combined a rare quality of tone with dramatic intensity of expression, which was as remarkable on the concert platform as in opera. She created several roles for Wagner Adriano (Rienzi), Senta (Der Fliegende Holländer), and Venus (Tannhäuser). She was to have also done a premiere turn as Elsa (Lohengrin) in 1849, but politics intervened. After her death, a two-volume work entitled Memoiren einer Sängerin was released that were reportedly her erotic memoirs.
Then came the verismo composers: Giordano, Alfano, Mascagni and Cilèa. Magda Olivero often had roles created for her by these composers. Thirty-one of the forty-four composers whose operas Olivero sang during her career were still alive when she began to study. Licia Albanese sang the role of Cio-Cio San in Puccini's Madama Butterfly in over 300 performances. One of her early teachers, Giuseppina Baldassare-Tedeschi, was a contemporary of the composer. "In opera, verismo (meaning 'realism', from Italian vero, meaning 'true') was a post-Romantic operatic tradition associated with Italian composers. They sought to bring the naturalism of influential late 19th-century writers such as Émile Zola and Henrik Ibsen into opera. The style began in 1890 with the first performance of Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana, peaked in the early 1900s, and lingered into the 1920s. The style is distinguished by realistic – sometimes sordid or violent – depictions of everyday life, especially the life of the contemporary lower classes. It by and large rejects the historical or mythical subjects associated with Romanticism. The Italian verismo composers comprised a musicological group known in its day as the giovane scuola ('young school'). The most famous composers who created works in the verismo style were Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Umberto Giordano and Francesco Cilea. There were, however, many other veristi: Franco Alfano, Alfredo Catalani, Gustave Charpentier (Louise), Eugen d'Albert (Tiefland), Ignatz Waghalter (Der Teufelsweg and Jugend), Alberto Franchetti, Franco Leoni, Jules Massenet (La Navarraise), Licinio Refice, Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (I gioielli della Madonna), and Riccardo Zandonai."
Today we have a singer like Dawn Upshaw who has championed the composers of the late 20th-century and nurtured the type of relationship with them that harkens back centuries. Many of the composers include Osvaldo Golijov, John Harbison, Esa-Pekka Salonen, John Adams, and Kaija Saariaho, Henryk Górecki, and David Bruce. Some have even written works specifically for her throughout the last decade. But what of the Mozart, Puccini, Donizetti, Rossini, and Bizet, works that remain the most performed in United States opera companies today? Who is left among the living, that is the closest connection to these composers, that can pass on the tradition to future opera singers? On December 2, the great Maria Callas would have turned 91. As the younger generation seeks out advice from living sources that either worked with composers or had teachers that were living at the time 19th and 20th century music was written, it's easy to see the list is quite extensive. Imagine Patricia Racette working characterization on Carlisle Floyd's Susannah with the originator of the role Phyllis Curtin; Christine Goerke coaching the title role of Strauss's Elektra with Inge Borkh; Anna Netrebko seeking advice from Leontyne Price who sang the role of Leonora in Il Trovatore around the world; Pumeza Matshikiza having a working session with Mattiwilda Dobbs about her early studies with Pierre Bernac and his work with Reinhold von Warlich; or Kathleen Kim asking about the over 60 roles that coloratura Renée Doria performed during her career. Check out the formidable soprano legends that new singers should be clamoring to work with on music, after the jump. 
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*also sang the following Verdi roles during her career: Mina (Aroldo), Gulnara (Il corsaro), Lucrezia (I due Foscari), Elvira (Ernani), Giovanna (Giovanna d'Arco), Giselda (I Lombardi), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth), Amalia (I masnadieri), Desdemona (Otello), Gilda (Rigoletto), Violetta (La traviata), and Leonora (Il trovatore).

Living sopranos (ages current as of September 2014):
Hilde Zadek 97
Phyllis Curtin 93
Denise Duval 93
Inge Borkh 93
Renée Doria 93
Brenda Lewis 93
Lucine Amara 90
Adele Addison 90
Mildred Miller 90
Claudia Pinza 90
Bethany Beardslee 89
Mattiwilda Dobbs 89
Patricia Munsel 89
Irene Dalis 89
Wilma Lipp 89
Virginia Zeani 88
Leontyne Price 87
Gigliola Frazzoni 87
April Cantelo 86
Christa Ludwig 86
June Preston 86
Anny Schlemm 85
Rosalind Elias 85
Antonietta Stella 85
Gabriella Tucci 85
Teresa Żylis-Gara 84
Roberta Peters 84
Mary Costa 84
Rosanna Carteri 84
Dorothy Dorow 84
Heather Harper 84
Joan Carlyle 83
Anita Cerquetti 83
Mady Mesplé 83
Reri Grist 82
Christiane Eda-Pierre 82
Adele Stolte 82
Elinor Ross 82
Montserrat Caballé 81
Elly Ameling 81
Renata Scotto 80
Tamara Milashkina 80
Andrée Esposito 80
Fiorenza Cossotto 79
Raina Kabaivanska 79
Margherita Rinaldi 79
Margarita Roberti 79
Maria Chiara 79
Benita Valente 79
Mirella Freni 79
Colette Boky 79
Anne Pashley 79
Jeanette Scovotti 78
Zdzisława Donat 78
Ingeborg Hallstein 78
Rita Shane 78
Marisa Galvany 78
Gwyneth Jones 78
Felicia Weathers 77
Martina Arroyo 77
Grace Bumbry 77
Gundula Janowitz 77
Johanna Meier 76
Wilma Driessen 76
Rachel Yakar 76
Teresa Stratas 76
Edda Moser 76
Edith Mathis 76
Ileana Cotrubaș 75
Helga Dernesch 75
Helen Donath 74
Gilda Cruz-Romo 74
Josephine Barstow 74
Julia Varady 73
Janet Price 73
Anna Tomowa-Sintow 72
Sheila Armstrong 72
Makvala Kasrashvili 72
Éva Marton 71
Maria Pellegrini 71
Barbara Schlick 71
Malvina Major 71
Norma Burrowes 70
Kiri Te Kanawa 70
Felicity Lott 70
Karin Ott 69
Diana Soviero 68
Jessye Norman 68
Edita Gruberová 68
Magdaléna Hajóssyová 68
Carol Neblett 68
Luciana Serra 68
Katia Ricciarelli 68
Stefka Evstatieva 67
Felicity Lott 67
Gabriela Beňačková 67
Kathleen Battle 66
Mariella Devia 66
Jeannine Altmeyer 66
Catherine Malfitano 66
Nancy Shade 65
Rosalind Plowright 65
Gabriele Schnaut 63
Sylvia Sass 63
Carol Vaness 62
Ashley Putnam 62
Gianna Rolandi 62

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