The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (72): She goes higher than anyone

The Panamanian-Dutch coloratura soprano Marianne Blok.


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  • Bell Song: she doesn’t go any higher than anyone else. It is lovely singing though; it’s rare to hear a soprano who actually sounds like a young woman. And I think the last note is the longest I’ve ever heard it (as well as being refreshingly non-screechy).

    A vos jeux: again, lovely. And the high F# (!) at the end actually sounds sweet.

    I had never heard of this singer. Thanks Norman.

  • She is a fine singer, but there is no evidence here to support the “higher than anyone” claim, unless she was singing this while standing on the summit of Mount Everest. The top note of these two recordings is F# in the excerpt from Hamlet. Just to cite one well-known relatively recent example, Natalie Dessay successfully climbed all the way to Ab in her performance of Strauss’s Spring Voices in December of 1993. A few decades ago I heard a solid A-natural in a recording of Alyabyev’s Nightingale, but unfortunately I do not remember the name of that soprano. However, according to Guinness, the highest note ever performed was actually achieved in 2008 by a male singer named Adam Lopez. They claimed that it was the piano’s top C, but to my ears the highest note he sang convincingly in his record-breaking attempt was A just below that which is amazing enough and a full octave higher than I ever heard reached by any female singer. For the widest vocal range of over four octaves with high end no lower than the piano’s top D, Yma Sumac in 1950s remains my favorite.

  • Well, both Mado Robin and Natalie Dessay certainly got higher, but nevertheless a beautiful discovery, thanks Norman.

  • I heard Marianne Blok sing the Queen of the Night at the English National Opera many years ago. I was still a schoolboy at the time and my parents took me to the performance. The Coliseum is such a large theatre. I remember mostly how tiny Marianne Blok suddenly seemed to me when she got off the impressive peacock chariot she rode in on for the first act aria- but perhaps that was exaggerated by the distance too. It was certainly a lovely voice and very accurate. The cast included Eiddwen Harrhy, David Rendall and Niall Murray if memory serves me right. Anne Collins sang the third lady and Marilyn Hill Smith was Papagena. Many theatres would love a cast like that now for a revival I am sure.

      • I’ve found that’s often true of lieder singers. Maybe they’re so accustomed to paying a lot of attention to the text that they can’t let go and just make pretty noises. (The reverse is often true of opera singers who sing lieder, to my ear anyway)

  • The most musical and natural voice the Netherlands have produced. She did not break-through internationally for reasons, common to very small and culturally-challenged countries.

      • Great musical talents flee the country to make a career abroad (a few examples of many: conductor Bernard Haitink, conductor Hans Vonk, Lied singer Robert Holl, conductor Jaap van Zweden, there is a whole list). When they make their name abroad, they are welcomed back with open arms. But first their extraordinariness has to be killed in the bud.

  • I think Yma Sumac matched Blok for height, and Miliza Korjus for charm. Erna Sack has been mentioned. Ilse Holweg, Erna Berger, Erika Koeth, and Lucia Popp are of this lineage. Blok is a very welcome and valuable addition to it, and as a current practitioner deserves all praise. I’ve heard Dessay only in Alcina, Lucia, and Manon, very fine but not stratospheric. I am too young to have heard ifrazini. , but loved Amelita Galli-Cuci from afar, on records. I enjoy Bruce’s comments on Lieder singers.

  • Minority opinions on coloraturas told me by the conductor-husband of one:

    Karl Muck – “The higher the voice, the lower the intellect.” (He quoted this while glaring at his wife.)

    George Bernard Shaw – “Nightingales’ tongues, peacocks’ brains.”

    • Students came from all over the world to take lessons from MB, who was also appreciated for her intelligence. Such sayings cannot be generalized….

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