White Shirt Wednesday: Soubretta Swagger


[I would trade for cigarettes! – Regula Mühlemann (Isolier) in the Leiser&Caurier-for-Bartoli production of Rossini’s “Le Comte Ory”, orginially produced for Zurich, here in Vienna/Theater an der Wien 2013. – Photo Credit: Werner Kmetitsch/Theater an der Wien]

Yes, I know it’s Wednesday already (schedules continue to be crazy at the moment). Please take the mezzo soprano in a uniform as a peace offering.

Regula Mühlemann (God, is it becoming a trend that I am writing about singers a decade my junior?!) was under contract in Luzern two seasons ago and seems to have gone to freelance in lightning speed, with appearances on the Salzburg festival roster in 2012. If she looks familiar, it’s possibly because you’ve seen the “Freischütz” movie version last year where she starred as Ännchen enxt to Juliane Banse’s Agathe.

In between Ännchen, Despina and Papagena, Mühlemann covers classic soubretta repertory – at the moment, she’s starring as Serpetta in the Neuenfels “Finta Giardiniera” in Berlin (Staatsoper). Still, White Shirt Laurels are in order, especially since it was her first trouser role (Mühlemann wrote about the experience – she was apparently a last minute replacement, joining the Vienna repirse a mere week before the opening – on her Facebook wall). Well done!

On another note, Bartoli seems to continue the trend of casting sopranos in the traditionally mezzo-cast roles when she takes on the leads – Isolier is usually a mezzo part (and we think of Joyce DiDonato in last year’s MET broadcast and thank your lucky stars for that!), Adèle was written for soprano (the famed Cinti-Damoreau).

Today, the Bartoli PR department issued a fan service email about the upcoming Norma recording on Decca with Bartoli in the lead. It’s something I am stoked about due to the ‘historically informed’ approach, the new look at reception aesthetics (I do love Callas, I do love Caballé/Horne, I swoon over Troyanos, but I always willing to make some extra space in my pantheon) and the early 19th century voices that the part of Norma was originally slated for. I did a double-take when I sae that Bartoli has picked seasoned belcanto soprano Sumi Jo (!), known for her very high tessitura, as soprano Adalgisa. That should be a very interesting timbre mix – a lower one for the seasoned Norma, two-time mother and two-timed partner, and a higher one for young Adalgisa in the middle of first love? It fits with current gender ideas that we tend to put on high vs. low female voices (not that these conventions are necessarily a good thing).

Mezzo Adèle going for soprano Isolier – in this case Bartoli and the Zurich cast of Isolier, soprano Rebeca Olvera – is illustrated quite nicely here (previously posted in the comments by Sofi Cente). Make sure to watch the last two minutes! Cold drinks will be over there at the bar.

PS. Soubretta Swagger should be the name of an operatic super heroine. She would obviously have a cape, boots, ridiculously high notes and a Marvel comic series dedicated to her. Now we just need a name for the mezzo counterpart…

17 thoughts on “White Shirt Wednesday: Soubretta Swagger”

  1. I like the fluidity between mezzo and soprano that you discuss here. I have been SO obessed with the DiDonato/Damrau/Pisaroni/D’Arcangelo Don Giovanni lately, and it connects to this post in two ways. (1) Donn’Elvira, which is often sung by a soprano, is sung by DiDonato, a mezzo (well, sometimes I think she’s a soprano with decent low notes, but that’s another discussion :D). (2) The contrasting timbres of DiDonato/Damrau and Pisaroni/D’Arcangelo make the characters incredibly easy to follow, even with only the audio to guide the listener. Of course, I use the libretto to understand what is actually happening in the plot, but the characters are so distinct aurally, and it’s wonderful.

    By “current gender ideas that we tend to put on high vs. low female voices,” do you mean “high voice = young” and “low voice = old”? I am all for smashing gender conventions, but isn’t this the same convention that gives us most of our mezzo pants roles? AKA “young boy/man = high voice = mezzo”? (I do love discussing gender and opera with you; I’m still pondering the butch Elena/femme Malcolm dynamic that we discussed a while ago.)

    Fangirling over singers who are greatly separated from one’s own age must be a trend among opera-lovers. Joyce DiDonato is nearly twice my age (44 vs my almost-23); Diana Damrau (42, and the mother of two) and Luca Pisaroni (38) are not that much closer to my age; and Susan Graham is almost as old as my mom (which is disconcerting, to say the least!). The only one I can think of that is within a decade of me is Kate Lindsay.

    Ooh, I GIFed the *relevant* parts of that video a few weeks ago. (http://bit.ly/17q9ENl) The staging fits perfectly with the music: Adèle getting more and more… excited… 😀

    Comic books are the ONE nerdy thing that has not completely claimed my life… yet. I’m worried that if I start, I won’t be able to stop. Actually, that is how I feel about Wagner, and I just got my hands on the Met’s 2013 Parsifal yesterday, so I think my Wagner phase is about to start. I’m excited about that… but it’s yet another nerd/life-claiming thing. 😀 With that said, here’s my thoughts on a opera-based comic book: Soubretta Swagger with her partner (in every sense of the word) Maniac Mezzo, who wields a gun (a la Donn’Elvira, http://bit.ly/11iCL1L), dresses in leather (a la slightly-more-practical Xena), and chest voice to die for (a la Kasarova).

    Oh my, this has gotten so long. I guess I’ve been building up white-shirt thoughts for some time now, and I need an outlet. 🙂


    1. If you manage to get into Wagner by starting with Parsifal, mad props to you! I still struggle with that one at times. My entry drug were the Valkyrie and Tristan (aka “Brangäne & Isolde”. Heh. ).
      Age, just like gender, is overrated when it comes to appreciating opera singers! But I still feel like a cradle robber when I do White Shirt posts on people with birthdates in the 80s. I guess that’s one thing that will only get worse…

      And yes, voice/gender conventions as in high voice = youth & innocence, lower voice = been around the block a few times (which does get us most of our trouser roles). Fits right in with the tenor nurses, although the more important marker in baroque opera for high/low voices was class and metaphysics. Only then comes age. And really far-off is gender.

      So, Maniac Mezzo… but wouldn’t that gun hinder the cape and the flying? 😉


  2. i squealed a little hearing sumi jo and bartoli! since VK is taking nxt yr easy perhaps i should look into this if they also team up for live performances… that whole norma run this (or is it nxt?) summer at salzburg is completely sold out..


    1. this summer, though perhaps they repeat if it runs well?

      Since Bartoli usually tours with her projects, there should be a chance to catch it along the way, although I don’t know if she’ take the recording cast along.


    1. thank you, Rico!
      I own the DVD, but a smaller digital version for “on the go” is much appreciated – I will try to make a post about it without calling undue attention to the clip(s) and its kind uploader.


      1. Speaking of age, major respect to Podles for that characterization. Earlier in her career she sometimes seemed a self-regarding talent, but here she throws vanity to the winds. Her Birkenfeld was a promise; this is a glorious fulfillment.


  3. Ah Anik still out there bringing back the treasures. Thank you! Have to say the Ernman / Bartoli / Loy Alcina in Zurich next year has my eye… though not sure I can cope with the conflicted “would love this to have been VK” issues 😉


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