Unreasonable Sounds: Coloratura

So this post is likely only of interest to my hard-core opera fan readers. (There are at least two of you I think…Lisa and Andrea. Arnab, I’ll make you an honorary one, god knows I’ve subjected you to enough opera in 30 years of friendship).

Just back from Washington Concert Opera’s performance of Bellini’s La Sonnambula, a work that lives up to every opera cliché: ridiculous argument, stock characters, and preposterous coincidences. (Just a taste: the heroine’s honor is redeemed because she, while sleepwalking, walks across a bridge by a mill, singing a four-part aria of surpassing difficulty. This proves that she could not have been fooling around with the count while betrothed to another. She just had an untreated parasomnia!) Ach! such problems these people have!

The clichés don’t matter a bit, though, because the music, particularly that final sleepwalking bit, is exquisite. Long-breathed melodies that unfurl and envelope you so seductively that time slows down in waves of golden sound. And we did get some golden sound Sunday afternoon–a little intermittently, it’s true–but the young Cuban soprano Eglise Gutierrez sang Amina, the Sleepwalker, and in the aria “Ah non Credea Mirarti,” was just glorious.

Check her out doing this role in a staged production in Argentina.

Her ability to spin out the “long line” in such a lyrical, smooth way is key to this particularly opera. (Her love interest, the promising young tenor Renè Barbera, did very well in this department too.) Amina also calls for a lot of coloratura, the fast ornate singing, full of high notes, trills, scales, etc. that singers like Joan Sutherland and Beverly Sills were famous for. (People like me, who love operatic coloratura, are sometimes called canary fanciers; keeping the “bird” thing going, Jenny Lind, a legendary coloratura was termed “the Swedish Nightingale”). “Ah non Credea” in La Sonnambula is followed by spectacular coloratura bit that closes the opera, which, in truth, Gutierrez wasn’t quite up to. So I did what is often a bad thing when I got home–went you YouTube and searched for the singers who had nailed this bit of musical olypmics with close to a perfect 10.

Here are the links from my searches, for any fellow canary fanciers out there:

(Even if you are not a fan of opera, I think you’ll agree that these are remarkable displays of the flexibility and expressive power of the human voice.)

Roberta Peters

(Both a bit of Bellini’s Puritani and “Ah! non giunge” the Sonnambula finale.)

Perhaps not an excess of taste, but “wow” factor in extremis.

Joan Sutherland

Fearlessness, thy name is Joan.

and my favorite

Amelita Galli-Curci, a golden age singer. Nothing like the modern style, but with a lightness and clarity in the voice that I think time travels back to Bellini’s era.

With her you don’t have to chose between long legato line, hers is magical, seamless spun gold, and the coloratura, which alone, among singers I know, was delivered with a feather-light touch. Yes, the recording is old. It’s worth listening through the scratches.

And the cabeletta:

Had enough? Didn’t think so, it’s probably only you and me here now. And for us, the voice that made me fall in love opera and still makes me hold my breath.

The Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé:

Okay, back to ordinary life now!

One Reply to “Unreasonable Sounds: Coloratura”

  1. Bravo, Arthur. Imagine what Galli-Curci might have sounded like had she recorded during the electrical era: for me, she is unique in this group for making use of the *words* along with the notes and beautiful legato phrases as expressive tools.

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