Angela Gheorghiu to Jonas Kaufmann: Stop singing Wagner

Here’s what she tells a Munich paperWagner schrieb ja wunderschöne Phrasen, aber als Sänger bezahlt man das teuer. Eigentlich müsste ich Jonas bitten, das zu beenden und nur noch Verdi und Puccini zu singen.

She’s worried that he’ll pay a heavy price for the big roles. We’re sure he’ll take her advice to heart.

Love the headline:

Regie, Scherze und Wagner – Angela Gheorghiu, die letzte Diva, redet Tacheles über Jonas Kaufmann

angela gheorghiu2

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  • “Wagner writes beautiful phrases but a singer pays for them dearly. I must ask Jonas to end this and only sing Verdi and Puccini.” (rough translation).

  • Singers only pay dearly for singing Wagner because of the modern obsession with forcing them to compete with huge orchestras. Wagner is known to have constantly told players to shut up so the singers were able to sing without pushing to be heard. Given a sensitive conductor and orchestra, Wagnerian roles shouldn’t be more taxing than anything “heavy” by Verdi or Bellini… Blimey: some Mozart arias are taxing enough!

    • Well said, this together with the higher pitch used today, 440Hz, places additional stress on singers. Dame Nellie Melba makes for a good read on this subject.

  • The reason why Kaufmann should NOT stop singing Wagner is that he demonstrates more than anyone the need for the same Italianate approach to “line” and legato in Wagner as in Verdi. Wagner only becomes unhealthy – and unattractive – when the attack becomes unhealthy, when it becomes all too glottal with choppy phrases. That applies to any composer of course, but Wagner’s drama, in combination with the german language, tends to lend itself to vocal abuse if the principles of legato are abandoned. I heard his Siegmund at the Met, and it was some of the most exciting, powerful but nuanced, musical singing I have ever heard, with the legato and tonal elegance I have waited a short lifetime to hear in that role. And absolutely healthy, because the onset and release of every phrase is smooth, with breath and space well prepared long before he makes sound, and every voiced consonant and diphthong carrying the sound, never allowing the phrase to drop. So, maybe he should reverse the argument, and persuade those who remain locked in the french and italian repertoire to explore the belcanto in Wagner. Maybe he could persuade Gheorghiu to sing Elsa! (For technical geeks, or just for the curious, check out his “Amfortas!” on YouTube. Look how he prepares the breath and creates huge space in the pharynx long before he lets out that incredible sound. He shapes THEN plays his instrument, so efficiently. Legato at work!)

    • Though I’ve not seen Kaufman live, I absolutely agree with your comments about line… The basis that should be behind the operatic rep at all times unless specifically stated. The reason why singers started with Bel Canto vocalise which makes good line and preparation imperative is the reason why it is less (yup – I did just write “less”) remarkable that Callas was able to sing Wagner one week and Verdi the next…. A seamless technique gives an ambitious singer the ability to do that. Though I stick with my opinion of the pressure of monster sized orchestras upon singers of every ability in the bigger houses these days!

    • I don’t think Gheorghiu will be singing Elsa or any other Wagner, if she still feels as she did about eight years ago. She said in an interview back then that she finds his operas too long and prefers highlights. “Prefers” is probably soft-selling it; she said something to the effect that one should not do the entire operas. Admittedly, she was communicating in English, so nuances were elusive.

      Also (me talking, not Gheorghiu), she does not have the best memory for music and text, and is prone to memory lapses even in things she has sung many times over years. I’ve suspected this is one reason her repertoire is small for a star soprano. Getting Elsa or any Wagner heroine into her head at this advanced stage would probably be a hardship for her, the prompter, and everyone else.

  • She might also, considering the years she has been appearing on the stage, learn how to sing!

    That said, I profoundly hope Jonas limits his occasional Wagnerian appearances to the roles currently in his repertory. It would be foolish to attempt Tannhauser, Tristan or the Siegfrieds !

  • GB Shaw wrote in an article on Falstaff: “Verdi’s…habit of thaking the upper fifth of the compass of an exceptionally high voice and treating that fifth as the normal range” contrasted with “Wagner’s return to Handel’s way of using the voice all over its compass and obtaining physical relief for the singer…has made the Wagnerian singer now the best singer in the world. Verdi applied this system with special severity to the baritones.”

    Shaw counted the notes in “Il Balen” from Trovatore: “There are 210-220 notes…barring 5 notes in the cadenza, only 3 are below the F on the 4th line…whilst nearly 140 lie above the stave…The singing is continuous from end to end and the strain on a normal baritone voice is frightful.”

    Verdi did write his operas with the abilities of the singers he had on hand. The soprano roles are particularly challenging.

    • Indeed, and also commented on the subject in “The Perfect Wagnerite”, and elsewhere. He also noted (correctly) that many voices singing Italian repertoire were ruined because of the prevailing style – which included doubling the sung line in the orchestra. Ms. Gheorghiu ought to know better, but somehow…

  • His Parsifal is unsurpassed and his Lohengrin makes me weep, His Siegmund is everything one would imagine a hero to be…………….I have grown to love Wagner’s operas even more since the advent of Kaufmann on the scene……….I cannot imagine the scene without him. Thank goodness for the direct transmissions from the Met and Covent Garden.

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