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Why are mezzos nicer than sopranos?

August 13, 2014 by norman lebrecht

15 comments.


It is a truth universally acknowledged that cellists are easier to get along with than violinists. The first to tell you this are, of course, cellists, but a lifetime’s association with both species confirms that the guys and girls on the lower strings tend to be gentler, sweeter, more agreeable than the more nervous, fractious players on the high wires.

Gregor-Piatigorsky vs Heifetz undated

 

The same truth applies, on the whole, to female singers (though not, necessarily, to male). Every mezzo I have ever come across or worked with has been a privilege and a pleasure, some developing into lasting friendships, others parting in mutual respect. Never a harsh word, so far as I can recall.

Sopranos, on the other hand….

Now, why is that?

 

joyce and jessye


Comments (15)

  1. Neil McGowan says:

    You’ve simply not met the right sopranos, Norman :)

    1. MWnyc says:

      Or he hasn’t met the right mezzos!

      I’ve certainly heard of a few who can be a pain-in-the-body-part …

  2. songstorystyle says:

    Competition I suspect, and the characters they play. Sopranos tend to be playing the centre of attention ‘it girl’ and are expected to ‘live up’ to that in their daily lives, whether consciously, or not. There is also a sense that unless a Soprano delivers 100% of the time, and looks great while doing so, she can be replaced. Furthermore, the Soprano is often playing a character who is fundamentally set apart by something, whom others have strong reactions to, male and female. One’s artistic patterns inevitably inform our lives. Whereas in contrast to be a good mezzo you have to be comfortable being a totally generous performer, that is to say, turning all your attention on to those around you. You can’t just be out on your own, musically or dramatically. It’s almost inherent in the drama and music that you blend and support and nurture the performers on stage with you. Quite often for example, your job is to support the soprano and make her feel like the centre of the universe, which, in the world of the opera, she is. Which is why I think many singers experience a genuine identity crisis when they swap from one to the other.

  3. ruben greenberg says:

    Baritones are nicer than tenors; clarinettists, nicer than oboists (anybody is nicer than an oboist). Violists are much nicer than violinists. Too many high notes are hysteria-inducing.

    1. George Young says:

      I’m an oboist and I’m as nice as can be. However, I also play the cor anglais/english horn, so perhaps that explains it.

  4. Louis Hurst says:

    There is much less competition to be a Mezzo or a Cellist than there is to be a Soprano or a Violinist. They tend therefore to be more secure about their jobs.

  5. Tomo Sawado says:

    In Joseph Volpe’s “The toughest show on earth”, there are several half-joking remarks about tenor and soprano’s difficult characters from two Met CEOs.

    “When God made high voices, he also made smaller brains”——Rudolf Bing

    “I’ve often wondered whether their constant struggle to sound beautiful in the thin air of their upper register puts some kind of terrible pressure on their brains”——Joseph Volpe

    I am not sure about brain things, but I can easily imagine that physical-mental pressure is greater than in tenors compared to baritones and even sopranos, and it would make them less nicer, and more difficult and nervous. Interestingly, you can find that causes of death for prominent tenors tended to be heart failure, and many died before age 70.

  6. Mark says:

    I’ve come to call it “The Ciesinski Effect”
    . . . can’t think why. . .
    ^_^

    1. Richard Cumming-Bruce says:

      Or indeed, as Norman seems to agree, “The DiDonato Effect”

  7. James says:

    Among instrumentalists, the double bassists are the most easygoing, undoubtedly because they must accommodate all the other parts.

  8. GEll says:

    The Mezzo voice, generally speaking, is impossibly boring to me. I much prefer Sopranos and not just any kind. Cannot abide nightingales, soubrettes, light lyrics, pure lyrics or pure coloraturas. Spinto-dramatic and Hochdramatisch are my thing. Prefer bass-baritones over any other male voice type.

  9. Emily says:

    Maybe something about sopranos/violinists often getting the tune in a piece of music, somehow induces an inflated sense of self-worth?

  10. Nick says:

    I guess you never had the opportunity of seeing and hearing some of the greats like Janet Baker, Teresa Berganza. Marilyn Horne or Christa Ludwig.

  11. John O'Brien says:

    Mezzos are usually service oriented but they can go feral if provoked. So watch it sops! As for the high voices being difficult, the air up there can be quite thin!

  12. M2N2K says:

    A well-known definition of a string quartet is: one who thinks (s)he is the best violinist, one who thinks (s)he is actually a better violinist, one who is a former violinist, and one who hates all violinists. This definition was probably invented by violinists.


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