Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Who? Why, Ileana Cotrubas, who else?!?!

I have been doing a little online research on her this morning and I was delighted to discover that an enlightened youtube user has reposted the “Sempre libera” from her 1981 Met Traviata.

Here is a review from the New York Times (March 19, 1981) of her Violetta. Okay, so it's by Donal Henahan, who often had his head up his butt. But even he got it right sometimes:

“It is unlikely that there is a better Violetta now on the world's stages than Ileana Cotrubas. In her first Metropolitan appearance as the pathetic courtesan, she gave a transfixing performance. A singing actress of great imagination and temperament, she was able to exploit the full range of emotions in her first-act scene, and unless a Violetta does that the jig is up. From the first puzzled and tentative notes of ‘e strano’ straight through to the almost delirious brilliance of ‘sempre libera’ she drew one long, unerring curve of vocal and dramatic excitement. She was not, like some Violettas, a case of conspicuous consumption throughout the night, hacking and wheezing incessantly. She coughed a little and fainted when necessary, and generally played on our sympathy like a virtuoso.”

Well, judge for yourselves.

I also found “Caro nome” from her Met Gilda a few years before that (1977, I believe). She is less perfect here; the voice is a little strained on the top, but her musicianship is always paramount. This performance is preceded by an adorable interview in which she present quite a winsome side to her personality than the adamant, demanding one that we acknowledge as well.

Yet she was and is demanding because her standards are SO high. As evidence, I submit her recording of the “Et incarnatus est” from the Mozart C Minor Mass. If this were the only evidence we had of her artistry, she would be assured of her place among the great Mozarteans, not only of recent years, but of all time.

Finally, I found this quote from an interview in which she rages against Regietheater. I espouse this viewpoint myself, so of course I quote it here:

“I teach both technique and interpretation, because you cannot separate them. I think it is nonsense to say that you have to develop a rock solid technique first and then think about interpretation later. You have to develop both of them at the same time. If you explain technique too clinically, as is often done today, you will forget everything about ‘singing,’ and this is the worst disaster you can have. I have to warn American singers about this especially. Often they are fantastic technically, but they lose all the emotion.”

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Blogger AndrewGoesBroadway said...

This Et Incarnatus Est is absolutely perfect.



August 6, 2007 at 7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you! i love cotrubas and i love 'et incarnatus est', but i do find her short breath a distinct liability in this piece, e.g. the beautiful phrase that spans from 2'07 - 2'25 suffers from being broken up by TWO intakes; and in several other places as well. i was just listening to arleen auger sing this on youtube ( ) and, at the same tempo as cotrubas, she spins it out as one glorious uninterrupted line. so i just feel that cotrubas's inherent voice physiology, or perhaps her technique, or her choice of where to breathe, somehow don't allow this piece of music to be fully consummated... i was just interested in what you think...

August 11, 2007 at 2:35 PM  
Blogger Counterleben said...

Thank you so much for your lovely post and for referring us to the Arleen Augér clip. At her best, this singer was beyond exquisite and I find her performance of this aria to be her absolute best. (Of her song recordings, the one I adore above all others is "Love Songs" (not the most inspired title) on Delos.

In defense of Cotrubas, the breaths that she takes are very much traditional ones. Auger's extraordinary breath control allows her to spin out the lines beautifully, but unless I am mistaken, even the great Erna Berger breathes in the same spots as Cotrubas (sorry, I'm too lazy to check my recording right now).

And while I adore Augér at her best, I must confess that sometimes, even here, her tone strikes me as a little thin. While with Cotrubas, there is something so plangent, so yearning, so vulnerable about her tone that I am even more moved by her performance.

The fact that Augér could sing with such technical assurance live is testament to her marvelous technique. In fact, she may very well have been better-equipped technically than Cotrubas.

Isn't it wonderful that we have both of these performances (as well as those of many others) to delight in. If a soprano can really sing this aria, it seems to bring out her best.

August 31, 2007 at 8:50 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home