Listen: The Art of Beautiful Singing

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Welcome to Operavore, a new show about all things operatic. We know that herbivores like nothing better than a juicy green leaf...carnivores juicy red meat. Operavores? Nothing makes them happier than beautiful singing, and that’s what’s on today’s menu.

The operas of Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini gave it a name: bel canto. On today's show, writer Fred Plotkin shows us how it can turn up in some unexpected places. Playwright Terrence McNally tells interviewer (and legendary mezzo) Marilyn Horne how beautiful singing hooked him. He also considers some of his favorite modern operas and unusual productions.

And La Cieca – also known as James Jorden, editor of the opera fan website Parterre Box – tells us why beautiful singing doesn't always turn up where you might think. Join host Naomi Lewin for our debut edition of Operavore.

This week's show re-airs on the Operavore Stream on Monday at 2 pm. Also: Follow Operavore on Twitter at @Operavore.

Tell Us: Which Performance Epitomizes Maria Callas?

The soprano Maria Callas (1923-1977) is often credited with revitalizing the art of bel canto. But she's just as well known for the passion of her fans — and her detractors.

Some fans relish the stylistic acuity of her bel canto roles and intensity she brought to dramatic scenes. Others found the technical flaws in her singing — including a wobble that grew worse in later years — too pronounced to ignore.

There was also Callas the personality. Some found her to be difficult and demanding while fans say she was simply a perfectionist.

Where do you stand? Listen to these three clips and tell us which best captures Callas in the comments below. We'll share some of your remarks on next week's show.


1) "Ah! Non giunge uman pensiero" from Bellini's La Sonnambula (Paris, 1965)

2) "Vissi d’arte" from Puccini's Tosca (Covent Garden, 1964)

3) Casta Diva from Bellini's Norma (Rome, 1957 - Callas enters at 2:25)

Comments [17]

William from Miami Beach Fl

Carmen/Callas...I was 22 and had very little money then,I paid $20 for the ticket at Madison Sq.Garden when I first saw and heard Callas,she sang the Habanera and the Seguidilla from Carmen,I fell in love with her and although another diva was there too... Marilyn Monroe who sang Happy Bday to JFK and looked incredibly beautiful it was the sound and beauty of Maria Callas that now as an old man still remember vividly.Viva Callas!

Jan. 27 2013 04:38 PM
William F Bellais

The "Norma" 1857 performance captures the best of Maria Callas in the three presentations. Had I been in the room to hear this performance I would have been awed into silence. Regardless of the criticisms, she still holds my musical and operatic heart.

Jan. 23 2013 12:39 PM
Robert Pass from NY, NY

For certain, the Norma from '57 is a spectacular example of BelCanto. She has it all - the notes are all there, the caressing of the tones, the sincere meaning. It is a perfect marriage of words to music that is, in the end, what makes Callas the greatest of them all.

Jan. 22 2013 09:22 PM
Mary Jane Hodge from Melville

Casta Diva, Casta Diva, Casta Diva
When the imperfect became perfect.

Jan. 22 2013 05:40 PM
Sarah E from Bronx

While I like Opera, my fav is chorul music. The reason for this is simple. Chourl music tend to a least give altos a chance to star, while Opera is all the sopranos all the time. Not that I donot like soprano sound, I am a alto and want my range to get heard. I would like some Opera where Countenor get his movent in the sun so to speak. Thank You.

Jan. 22 2013 05:29 PM

@MJ: The audio is posted now at the top of this page and you can listen to the full show on demand.

Thanks everyone for your feedback!

Jan. 22 2013 10:20 AM

Congratulations to WQXR for the launch of the new Operavore program. I'm delighted with the chance to enjoy the expertise and perspectives of Naomi Lewin, the celebrated Marilyn Horne, opera scholar and champion-Fred Plotkin, my introduction to la Cieca and of course, interesting guests and topics.

Loved the first broadcast and look forward to your continued success. Listening to and learning from this fine team is a wonderful and appreciated addition to Saturdays-
Thank you!

Jan. 21 2013 02:32 PM

The new show sounds good, can I download it as a podcast?

Jan. 20 2013 03:42 PM

Les hit it right on the nose. Not only is Callas channeling Malibran and Grisi, but she is also embodying what Bellini, Donizetti and Puccini, etc. heard in their own heads when they composed. Yes, she had her issues, but we take the good with the bad. There is something otherworldly and unique about Callas that few singers possess. For me that list also includes Chaliapin, Caruso, Marion Anderson and Paul Robeson.

Jan. 19 2013 07:24 PM
Eric Hallander from Little Silver, NJ

The second choice elicited the tear stained eye response the most. Had to wipe them several times. Now, to be fair, I listened to them in order, so it could be that choice 1 from La Sonnambula prepared me for my emotional breakdown in the Tosca choice, and I was too spent to respond to the other Belinni choice.

Jan. 19 2013 04:50 PM
Patrick Shea from Manhattan

Great show, Naomi Lewin!

I'll tune in b4 every opera. To hear the great Marilyn Horne speak--

much less sing--is well worth it. Loved it & La Cieca, too!

We should remember we lost a great La Cieca last year--the wonderful

contralto, Lili Chookasian!

Jan. 19 2013 04:29 PM
Patrick from New Jersey

While I think Norma is the best representation of your 3 selections. I believe one of Callas' greatest roles was Leonora in Il Trovatore. It combines everything one could search for if you are looking for a representation of her artistry. A towering interpretation of one of Verdi's great roles!

Jan. 19 2013 03:54 PM
Paul from Brooklyn, NY

So far the new Operavore show sounds GREAT. Keep it up.

Jan. 19 2013 12:45 PM
Dave from Canada

This looks great.

Jan. 19 2013 12:30 PM
Fred from Wethersfield, CT

While the Tosca clip is not Bel Canto but definitely verismo, is my favorite. Notice where Tosca sees the letter opener for the first time and her hand shakes and almost spills the wine. This not only great singing but wonderful acting.

Jan. 19 2013 11:48 AM
Les from Miami, Florida

I have two alternate choices from the videos posted here. I think two of the supreme achievements of Maria Callas are the recording of "I Puritani" with di Stefano and Serafin conducting the La Scala forces, because her Elvira has a pathos and directness that I haven't heard in other great singers who have this in their repertory. I also think "Ah! non credea mirarti", and in fact her Amina in the entirety of "La Sonnambula" with Bernstein conducting at La Scala, is likewise a consummate achievement. I'm one of those who is stymied in my appreciation of the wobble that plagued this artist, especially in later years; and the verismo roles and acting that's celebrated I often felt was a case of gilding the lily. For me, the two abovementioned are as if Maria Malibran or Giulia Grisi were reborn in our time in Maria Callas, from what I've read about both of them.

Jan. 19 2013 06:34 AM
Carrie from NY

With productions and TV broadcasts now-a-days, I think the emphasis of "The Art of Beautiful Singing", is on the word "beautiful," - pretty to look at, the face and the shape of the body more important than the vocal chords and musicality. Bel Canto belonged to the era of real beautiful singing,- rather oddly built singers with individual, distinctive vocal productions...with ease, undeniably beautiful tones, (definately not forced), adhearing to the music, and not in the competition of becoming a starlet or a hunk!

Jan. 18 2013 10:58 AM

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