Ever heard a conductor sing?

February 25, 2018 by norman lebrecht


This is Barbara Hannigan at this week’s Victoires de la Musique.

And the orchestra sings along, too.

Comments (41)

  1. Nathalie Stutzmann perhaps?

  2. JoBe says:

    Leonard Bernstein.

  3. David R Osborne says:


  4. Elizabeth Owen says:

    ValeryGergiev grunts along bit like Erol Garner!

  5. David R Osborne says:

    Barbara Hannigan is an amazing talent and someone who has achieved something truly remarkable, namely turning her favoured repertoire into something that is almost entertaining.

    And yet, she seems as a singer to have little natural feel for this type of music, I find her interpretations very detached and cold. Likewise in this version of ‘Lost in the Stars’.
    Although I don’t think her choice of accompanist helps.

    1. J. Weiss says:

      I often wonder whether our own expectations shape the way we listen to music. I conceive Barbara Hennigan’s interpretations somewhat “outwardish”, extroverted. So if you expect a more intimate version of Weil’s songs you might be disappointed. But boy, what would we missing in variety if there weren’t artists like her, which contradict our expectations

      1. David R Osborne says:

        J, I think in that instance she thinks she’s singing ‘Glitter and be Gay’. Lost in the Stars is just not that kind of song. The really deep emotional stuff finds her out. But she does an amazing job with the avant-garde repertoire!

  6. Stefan Solyom says:

    I’ll be singing next week…

  7. Novagerio says:

    José Cura used to pull the stunt of singing Puccini arias while (sort of) conducting.
    Funny how his megalomaniac antics seem to have been forgotten by the media.
    Barbara Hanigan however, is a sympathtic and (opposite Mr.Cura), totally unpresumptuously talented true multi-musician.

    1. msc says:

      I know nothing of Cura’s simultaneous singing and conducting, but his Rachmaninov 2 is much better than most.

      1. Novagerio says:

        MSC: Wow! So you rank him and the Sinfonia Varsovia higher than Ormandy and the Philadelphia of the old days?…

  8. minacciosa says:

    All the time. For conductors, when hands and words fail, let song take wing…

  9. Thomasina says:

    Nicola Luisotti (semi-pro?).

  10. Robert Fitzpatrick says:

    But I have heard many pianists sing and quite loudly. Once at Curtis, an indignant member of the audience said to me at intermission: “Sir, there is someone singing along with the pianist, would you please make him stop immediately?” My reply: “Madame, it’s the pianist singing along with his playing and since he is a faculty member (the late Seymour Lipkin), it seems unlikely that he would listen to me since I’m just the dean.” She was furious at my reply and didn’t believe my analysis of the situation.

  11. Bruce says:

    There was an instance a few years ago at Pittsburgh Opera where the tenor was unable to finish the performance, so the conductor (a trained tenor) sang the rest of the role from the pit while conducting.

    Also, Peter Schreier used to conduct Bach Passions while singing the role of the Evangelist.

  12. Jim says:

    I sometimes sing along, but the players pretty soon tell me to shut up.

  13. ira licht says:

    cimarosa’s il maestro di cappella?

  14. Chris Platts says:

    Yes – at a concert of Monteverdi’s Vespers last night in St Leonard’s on Sea. The conductor- Marcio da Silva – principle conductor of the Hastings Philharmonic is also a fine counter tenor and baritone, and took the part of third tenor in Duo Seraphim.

  15. David A. Boxwell says:

    And who can soon forget the “experimental” “song stylings” of Glenn Gould.

  16. Sue says:

    Prefer this, after Lang Lang, from about 30 minutes onwards:

    I must say I prefer Barbara Hannigan singing this wonderful music to this opera singer with Christian Thielemann. (Hilarous watching Christian trying to be seductive with a female! It just doesn’t work!)

    1. Petros Linardos says:

      Quite a few gay actors have pulled off hetero lover roles very convincingly. But none of them is known for conducting German romantics very effectively.

  17. YoYo Mama says:

    She is horribly dressed for conducting an orchestra.

    1. Ben says:

      Indeed. Too much cloth.

  18. Frimfram says:

    Superlative! More!

  19. fierywoman says:

    Eliahu Inbal has this nasal weirdness that one hears when sitting in the orchestra.

  20. Ben says:

    She knows how to put on a show to bring the house down.

  21. Vlad says:

    M.A Charpentier was a French-Dramatic tenor and conductor in his own works. This is hardly a new phenomenon.

  22. Nora klein says:

    Toscanini can be heard shouting at the onset of the Dies Irae (Verdi Requim recording).
    Nota Klein

  23. Friso van Daalen says:

    Francoi-Xavier Roth is a great chansonnier 🙂 watch him sing „la mer“ at the Cologne Philharmonie

  24. Bogda says:

    Strangely no one mentioned Domingo so far 😉

    1. Nik says:

      Does he do both simultaneously?

      1. Bogda says:

        What comes immediately to mind is an old recording of Fledermaus (either from the Met of Covent Garden – not sure) where he suddenly started singing from the pit

        1. Thomasina says:

          I have read(but never heard the recording) that in the third act, the guard was singing “Celeste Aida” but he was too bad, so Domingo showed example to him…Is this a true story?

    2. Novagerio says:

      Bogda: Has Domingo ever sung while waving his arms with an orchestra behind him?

      1. Bogda says:

        Can’t recall if he’d turned his back to the orchestra while he was sining, but he was clearly conducting the performance at the time from the pit.

  25. Petros Linardos says:

    More amusing than singing: Segerstam.


    Laughing (start at 22:00)

  26. Novagerio says:

    Here’s a talented basso-buffo who certainly knows his Cimarosa!

  27. Brian B says:

    I don’t know if you can call it singing, but Toscanini can be heard humming in many recordings. And in the opera rehearsals he sings all the parts with text to give the players context, especially in recits with punctuating chords or figures.

    1. fierywoman says:

      In opera rehearsals the conductor sings so the orch knows where the rubatos will be. The conductor either sings (Domingo does this — all the parts!) or does a kind of sprech-stimme for the timing.

  28. RW2013 says:

    a singing A. de la P.

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