Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cherubino Taste Test

Opera is not a science; but the scientific method, when applied to art, sometimes yields surprising results. We have a little game we love to play here at Seattle Opera’s education department, what we call the “Singer Taste Test.” It’s a little bit like going to a wine-tasting, except instead of comparing Syrahs, Merlots, and Cabernets the idea is you compare Callas, Sutherland, and Eaglen all singing the same phrase from Norma and immediately hear the differences between the singers. You can, of course, pit them against each other and try to figure out which one is your favorite...and if you do this exercise in a group, you’re sure to get divergent opinions.

We’ll try this little scientific experiment here, today, and see if it works on a blog. Our control group is the passage we’re comparing: in this case, the end of Cherubino’s aria “Non so più,” when the confused teenage boy sings “E se non ho che m’oda, e se non ho che m’oda...parlo d’amor con me, con me...parlo d’amor con me!” (And if there’s no one to hear me [chatter about love]...I speak about love with myself.) Now, most of “Non so più” is a wild, breathless aria, illustrating this hormone-addled youth’s chaotic emotional state. But Mozart slows everything way down, here at the end, and allows in this final line either a lewd interpretation of what it is Cherubino is doing with himself, or a more tender take on the boy’s predicament.

The question is, what do the different voices of great singers bring to the role? And what interpretive decisions do each make about the words and the character? We have four Cherubinos, today, for you to compare:

Italian Fiorenza Cossotto, famed for bigger Verdi mezzo roles in the 60s, 70s, and 80s
(Giulini, Philharmonia Orchestra; EMI 358602-2)

American Tatiana Troyanos, master of a wide mezzo repertory (pictured, right, as Giulio Cesare)
(Böhm, Deutsche Oper Berlin; DG “The Originals” 449 728-2)

American Frederica Von Stade, who sang Handels’ Xerxes at Seattle Opera in 1997
(Solti, London Philharmonic; Decca 410 150-2)

Austrian Angelika Kirchschlager, who sang Strauss’ Octavian at Seattle Opera in 1997 (right, singing Hansel)
(Jacobs, Concerto Köln; Harmonia Mundi HMC 801 818-20)

Which Cherubino appeals to you the most? Which is most boyish? Which most mature? What kinds of different interpretation do you hear?


Bob said...

I do this sort of thing quite a bit with my singer friends, and I'm planning to do more of it on my blog.

I've found, though, that you get a very different reaction from people if they don't know who the performer is ahead of time.

Felicia Mehl said...

I like doing this with Il Balen. Youtube is great for stuff like that.

I think I liked the third singer (Von Stade) the best. Her voice is gentle and the interpretation seemed very clean and classic-sounding.

Anonymous said...

My favorite YouTube "Il balen" is Robert Merrill. But to the topic...

I thought Troyanos' the best of these four, but I am excited to know that will be hearing this opera in the hall next week. I can hardly wait!

Joel Grant