Are you an old-school opera singer, or new?

The ultimate A:B test across the board.

How do you score?


Watch out for Kaufmann vis Fillipeschi at 14:00.

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  • This is really great. But one thing to remember if that the singer’s formant ~3-5 kHz is easily boosted in even ‘primitive’ recording equipment, giving that extra ping to the tone. That may not be the case in all of these. What can’t be faked is richness and clean vibrato that complements the highest notes. Chiaro e ‘scuro!

    • True but has introduced me to some fabulous singers: Salvarezzo, Zanelli, Stracciari and Reinmar.

      The women are rather dire!

      • To me it proves how effortlessly great tenors (and baritones) of the past sang the most difficult arias, without the need to bawl (which even “the world’s greatest tenor” is showing signs of).

  • It is not really a “direct confrontation” because the quality of recordings is so varied which works both ways actually but often makes meaningful comparisons virtually impossible. Also, it seems like most if not all excerpts are chosen to show off top notes – even when comparing basses – which is only one aspect of a singer’s skill. As can be expected, in some cases old singers sound better and in others the current ones are preferable. Big surprise: every generation has some performers that are better than others.

  • Thanks Norman. Whilst sound may vary on these recordings, and personal preferences for individual voices may change and music taste changes over the years, this is still very useful if you are a teacher of singing like me, no matter about the other things, and to see who has the more reliable technique that will enable a voice last and for someone to sing safely and not run into trouble down the line.

  • Thanks Norman. Whilst sound may vary on these recordings, and personal preferences for individual voices may change and musical tastes change over the years, this is still value in this and useful if you are a teacher of singing like me, no matter about the other things, and to see who has the more reliable technique that will enable a voice last and for someone to sing safely and not run into trouble down the line.

  • Only one issue is of importance here. Maria Callas said in an interview with Lord Harwood in 1968, specifically about bel canto, that contemporary interpretations of the term are wrong. Bel canto does not apply to an age, a country, a singer, or an opera, or its composer; it is a method of training the voice, she calls it a ‘straightjacket’, that all singers must wear, regardless of the Fach they choose. She goes on to say that, with the advent of verismo, where singers no longer needed the discipline required to have solid breath control and the ability to sing legato, without breaks across the registers, with an even tone throughout the voice and perhaps most importantly, the ability to use fioriture to impart the drama, they left the studio too early. In the comparative study Mr Lebrecht presents here, this is the salient point. Bickering about ‘sound quality’, or ‘the comparison only looks at passages that include high notes’ and so on isn’t helpful; the point is that Callas was right, and if anyone knew what she was talking about, it was Callas, aware of how she ruined her own voice. Singers leave the studio when they feel themselves ready, no longer when the pedagogue declares them ready, so their techniques are inadequate. Callas did not do this, but she made up for it when she turned into a party girl and Onassis’s trophy. Add to that the endless round of competitions in which singers compete, the age limit of which is invariably 30, so that by the time a singer reaches this age, he or she is already ausgesingt. Another curiosity is that master classes used to be conducted by the great singers–Sutherland, Caballé, Kraus, Cotrubas, Nilsson, Zeani–after their retirement. And these classes were not only meant to benefit the young singers taking part, but also the ‘masters’, so that they could apply what they learnt at these events to future ‘students’. although many of the masters hated the so-called master classes. Sutherland. for one, at one of the Cardiff Singer of the World competitions, famously commented that they leave young singers more befogged than before. But nowadays singers in their prime present ‘master classes’! Sutherland and the like agreed to present these things with four- and five-decade careers under their belts. Contemporary singers, bless them, may have beautiful voices (and bodies and faces, and let’s not go there), but they have hardly had the opportunity to prove themselves as having established long, successful and above all, vocally healthy careers. When I first heard the sensational voice some seven or eight years ago, Angela Mead made a huge favourable impression on me. But are my ears deceiving me when they tell me there’s already just the tiniest hint of a wobble in the upper register, the vibrato is not under control and those acuti are becoming fewer ind further apart?

    • this contribution is of enormous value.
      i wonder if the lack of great singing nowadays have anything to do with our demography? I mean, in Callas’s time young people are still crazy about operas, and the great teachers of great bel canto tradition have a lot of talents to choose from, and they got to choose from the best, and because of the Zeitgeist, operatic students were more willing to spend more quality time to learn and were willing to endure harsher discipline, unlike today, most of them might think less of an operatic career, and is content to be another Chorlotte Church or Boceli, and that leaves us much fewer really good singing talents, just a theory.

  • Silly to compare live with studio performances. I’ll take the live — with all its chances — anytime.

  • Ridiculous. In almost all cases, a stacked deck, especially in the case of less than first rate singers who exist on video either because someone filmed from an iPhone or the novelty of the production took precedence over everything. You can find plenty of second rate performances from the ’50s, ’40s, and earlier, and some great ones from the present day. Di Stefano may be held up an example of an extraordinary diminuendo on high, but he could only do so in his early years. If there’s anything to learn from this, it’s about the rhythmic freedom of some of the earlier singers, regardless of the ultimate beauty of their voices or their ability to project in monstrously large halls.

  • Well Kaufman had the aria transposed so he didn’t have to sing the high C. And some say he’s the best tenor nowadays…

    • Yes… and many tenors of days past transposed the aria as well. In addition, pitch has risen since Verdi wrote Il trovatore.

    • Active range of good tenors is two octaves which means 24 notes. If JK is lacking one of them but sounds better than others in the rest, the score would be 23 : 1 and he can still qualify as the world’s greatest. Having said that, I just want to remind everyone including myself that rankings in music are silly and unnecessary, so — enjoy the artistry and forget the “competition”.

  • One thing that immediately comes to mind is that Celeste Aida is marked piano for the final b flat, something that the older singers here completely ignore. It is much more difficult to sing it piano. Forte may sound thrilling, but it’s not in the score.

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