White Shirt Monday: Vintage Operetta

WSvintage_DS_fatntza[soprano going 2nd Act Fiordiligi in 3…2…1…: Birgit Binnewies (Lydia) and Daniela Sindram (Wladimir) in Franz von Suppé’s rosenkavalieresque mezzo-sings-boy-who-dresses-up-as-girl operetta “Fatinitza”, Bremen ca. 1995. – Photo credit: Jörg Landsberg/Bremer Theater]

Recently, my-friend-the-dramaturg and I talked about mezzo experiences from the past and he mentioned an old trouser role performance he once saw with a very young Daniela Sindram back in the 90s. Behold, he even found a photo (I may have begged) and scanned it for me.

So here you go: a 40 Guns Award in the making! Although I’d say those are 39 guns already, even in that flower print dress (did you ever stop to think why the only moment Cherubino kisses or almost kisses the Countess in “Figaro” (depending on the director) is when he wears a dress?! #QueeRosina!).

I’ve always had a soft spot for “Fatinitza”, which rarely gets revived these days, but is the perfect mezzo trouser vehicle about a dashing young lieutenant who has to dress up as a country girl to sneak into the palace and see his crush – a crush whose uncle falls in love with said country girl in a very Ochsian way. The hommage to “Rosenkavalier” is intended and delivered with a well-orchestrated wink.

“Ochs” resigns in the end and the mezzo lieutenant gets to marry the princess. Of course it is based on a Scribe play (of course!), the melodies are dazzling, and I’ll be here swooning right along with Princess Lydia. Also, “Fatinitza” should be mandatory feelgood viewing for all fledgling baby opera dykes out there (imagine I had seen this first instead of “The Children’s Hour” – I might have dared to come out sooner!).

18 thoughts on “White Shirt Monday: Vintage Operetta”

  1. This is *such* a good point: “Did you ever stop to think why the only moment Cherubino kisses or almost kisses the Countess in “Figaro” (depending on the director) is when he wears a dress?!” Oh opera. 🙂 I think this is why my subconscious self fell in love with the art form. When I first started getting into it (about four years ago), I thought, “Ooh, this is so classy. So sophisticated!” Then I realized how queer it was… and was head-over-heals in love. 😀


    1. I wish I could blame it on something classy like the music, but I think I was plain crushing out on lyric sopranos (back then in the late 80s when I was a tween). Little did I realize how queer *I* was, and that there even was representation for/of me,,, 😉


      1. My first three opera arias are, in order, Der Hölle Rache, L’Amour Est Un Oiseau Rebelle, and Una Voce Poco Fa. They all made an impact, but Maria Ewing’s Habanera holds a special place in my heart. I liked her performance and wanted to see more, so I watch Le Nozze with her as Cherubino, and boom, learned about pants roles. Haven’t looked back. 🙂


        1. Oh, Ewing’s Cherubino was one of my first, too! Though I was a bit too hung up on the Countess to notice it at the time…
          Also, two mezzo arias out of three, you were definitely off to a good start! 😉


        2. Was Te Kanawa the Countess? I could get lost in those brown eyes for hours…

          Yup, the mezzo gods were looking out for me. 🙂 Larmore was my first Una Voce, and while I’m not a rabid fan, she was a solid introduction to Rossini in particular and Bel Canto in general. She brought a lot of joy and vigor to the text, which is *essential* to Rosina’s character.


          1. yes, The Kanawa it was. I got lots for quite a few years there. Definitely my 90s instead-of-a-boyband crush.

            I’ve always admired Larmore for getting into Early Music on a belcanto base. And now it seems she had once more reinvented herself, with recent Kostelnickas (and with Loy, to boot!) – I hope I can catch one of those, I am curious how she sounds in thevery darm and dramatic repertory. The last I’ve heard of her was her Vivaldi Alcina.


        3. I love that we’ve had the same reaction to the same Nozze, despite the separation of nearly two decades. :p

          Larmore is a puzzle to me. Her voice is so heavy, so I don’t fully understand why she went the coloratura/bel canto route instead of Verdi (or even Wagner maybe?). But she is able to get her voice to do what she wants it to do, and I greatly respect her for that.

          In baroque, I’ve heard her Cesare and Orlando Furioso’s Alcina. Both very good, but not exactly my favorites. Not exactly sure why. :/


          1. That’s the magic of Le nozze. Or perhaps the Magic of Te Kanawa. 😉

            Larmore’s voice is sizable and dark, but I don’t think it’s has enough lower heft for dramatic. at least not in the mid/late 90s (these days, I really want to hear her Kostelnicka).

            Falling for singers and voices is so much about gut instinct and “clicking” with a certain sound/delivery of sound – there are singers whom I admire and whose technique is stunning and who I should by all means love to no ends, but instead I tear my hair out wondering why I don’t fully fall for them even though I should.
            Then again there’s voices/singers with a flaw or three, but there’s just something about them that makes your brain melt away and they’re “it”. Perhaps Larmore simply doesn’t click with you the way others (I am sure you have examples on that front, too!) do.


        4. LOL, the combined magic of both, I think.

          Interesting… her voice is certainly both sizeable and dark, but you’ve identified my issue: it lacks the heft (in contrast to, say, Dolora Zajick, whom I love). I’ve never even heard of Kostelnicka/Jenufa, and this is why I love talking to you– I learn so much. 🙂

          Yeah, the gut instinct/attraction is really hard to explain. Elina Garanca falls into the same category as Larmore– superb singer but just not “it” for me. On the other hand, I would travel to the ends of the earth for/with DiDonato, Connolly, and Kasarova. 😀


          1. Garanca is a prime example for me, too – technically flawless (too flawless perhaps), a hard worker, smart, dedicated – and yet I don’t love her as much as I wish I did. At least with her I can pinpoint a little why I don’t click: too much control.

            Classifying voices, apart from subjective impressions, is also difficult since they can change. When I first heard Larmore, she was a clearly a belcanto mezzo, with the timbre not even that dark, and enough size to fill a bigger house (I know she often got pitched against Bartoli in that aspect since some people just love to complain about Bartoli having a “small” voice).
            Even breaking it down into size, timbre and projection often doesn’t cut it – some early music voices have fabulously dark timbres, but aren’t big in size/volume, but still project perfectly. Difficult issue!

            Jenufa’s Kostelnicka is one of the most dramatic mezzo parts out there – not really regarding the voice (I’ve heard people coming from lyric backgrounds do it, and do it well), though you do need voice from it, but from the aspect of singing-acting and maneuvering through extreme displays of emotion. Then again, it’s a great role for the dramatic soprano/mezzo of a certain again – there’s a DVD out where Eva Marton chews her way through an admittedly dull stage set. There are quite a few notes off or lacking, but the energy and commitment to the text is stunning.


        5. With Garanca, I always feel that her sound is “covered”/muted; hopefully you will understand what I mean! Her basic timbre is lovely tho.

          Aaah, I’ve never really considered the differences in size, darkness, and heft. I think I’ve always grouped them into one category, but they are distinct. I will have to re-listen to young Larmore and some early music singers.

          Off to YouTube to listen to Kostelnicka. Will report on my impressions soon. 🙂


          1. o look, Eva Marton is even online in its entirety! It’s got Stemme as Jenufa to boot (another singer whom I wish I would love more and wose work ethics I really admire, but I just don’t fully click with her):

            And there’s a 1970 one with Astrid Varnay which I will ahve to check out now, since I don’t think any of the scenery will survive: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkwiiW6OVcU

            And, oh, check out the Munich trailer with Westbroek and Polaski! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qT1VyuUgs6Y

            Basically, it’s one of those singer-actor roles like Klytämnestra where conviction is nearly everything.

            Oh, and Larmore again: in the 90s, she made a recording titled “Call me mister” with an essentially lyric mezzo program of trouser role arias. I think the cover (she lounged on a club chair in a pinstripe suit with slicked back hair and a cigar in hand) might have enlightened quite a few fledgling opera dykes to their true calling. 😉 I had loved her Rossini before (both her Italian and her Barbiere were my first recording of eah), but that little detail sold me on her.


  2. i kept getting her confused with Rinat Shaham all these times. you remember that Der R broadcast Eyes mentioned with her and Lucy Crowe and Twyla Robinson? it’s on yt now! here. same user also uploaded another clip from same performance. now i also remember u mentioned she’s at the MET this dec


  3. Oh I adore, adore, adore Larmore!
    I first heard her about 11 years ago and completely fell in love with her Rossinis. I only heard her live for the first time last November and it kinda reignited much of the old mezzo spark for me. She had a bit of ill health about a decade ago, lost a ton of weight and has gone down an extremely varied trajectory since. I got to meet her after the recital and she’s a true lady to boot.
    She did a very sympathetic Geschwitz in Covent garden, and apparently a very fine Eboli in, I think, Possibly bologna in the spring. She’s a quite smart singer and does a lot of interesting stuff. Last I heard she’d married the very cute Italian bass player she travels with and was doing one of the us festivals. A singer I’ve enjoyed for a long time! Viva Jennie!


    1. Thanks for weighing in, Laura!
      I never knew what happened to Larmore (and thought it inconsiderate to ask or google), but when she reemerged prominently in Early Music I did a double-take since she was about half her own size (and she was in no way looking Wagnerian before).
      I’m saddened to hear she had health problems, but very happy to see her on track, even if it may be a different one, again.
      I’m still very impressed by her more or less singing Geschwitz and the Vivaldi Alcina side by side! Perhaps it is is because of her belcanto roots, but singing Vivaldi and Berg at more or less the same time takes a lot of experience.


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