Mado Robin: the eighth world wonder?

The French coloratura soprano, born on 29 December 1918 in Yzeures=sur-Creuse  could actually be considered the eighth world wonder.
Her voice was of the soubrette type with a very pleasant girlish timbre and her coloratura technique more than sublime, but there was more: her high notes were extremely high. With her voice she not only reached the F4, but even had the C4 within her reach without any problems, one of the highest notes ever sung by a human voice


All her high notes in a row, with the description:

She was star of television and radio in the 1950s the fifties,  was a very celebrated radio and TV star in France, but her fame reached far beyond her national borders. She celebrated her greatest triumphs as Lakmé and Leïla (Pearl Fishers), but her Lucia and Olympia were also proverbial.

Mado Robin hits C7 Lucia di Lammermoor:

Gounod’s Mireille is not really a role we would expect from her, but it fits wonderfully well with her childishly naive timbre. I enjoyed these fragments the most, much more than her Lucia and Bellinis.

Kerstcadeautjes van Bryn Terfel

 Simple gifts luidde de titel van de cd die Bryn Terfel heeft uitgebracht in 2005. Het kwam precies op tijd voor de Kerst. En soms gebeurt het  dat de titel dekt de lading. Zeker in dit geval, want cadeautjes waren het en zijn het trouwens nog steeds. En al is het niveau van het gebodene niet altijd even hoog, het plezier om ze uit te pakken is even groot.

In 1989 won hij de “Singer of the World” competitie in de categorie liederen, een prijs die hij eigenlijk ‘op de groei’ had gekregen. Niet, dat hij het niet verdiende, zijn stem was toen al van een ongekende schoonheid, maar zijn jeugdige overmoed moest nog ietwat getemd worden, en aan zijn talen moest nog behoorlijk gewerkt worden – zelfs zijn Engels was niet helemaal vlekkeloos.

Tegenwoordig behoort hij tot de grootste baritons van onze tijd.. Niet alleen omdat hij een pracht van een stem heeft waar hij alles mee kan doen wat hij wil. Ook zijn acteertalent, fantastische tekstbegrip, muzikaliteit en een innemende persoonlijkheid zijn buitengewoon fenomenaal. Dat alles komt hem goed van pas op deze cd, waar hij van alles en nog wat op zingt: folksongs, populaire liedjes, klassiekers en evergreens.

Het lijkt net een feestje en een feestje is het. Bij een feestje moeten ook gasten uitgenodigd worden en die ontbreken dan ook niet. Met zijn bariton-collega, Simon Keenlyside zingt hij het eerste deel uit Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater en het, speciaal voor Terfel door Karl Jenkins gecomponeerde Ave Verum Corpus, tenor Aled Jones doet mee in Panis Angelicus, en de gitarist John Williams begeleidt hem in She Was Beautiful, een liedje gebaseerd op de Cavatina uit The Deer Hunter.

Terfel is een groots artiest, en alles wat hij aanraakt verandert in goud. Ook deze, op het eerste gezicht op een ratjetoe lijkende (wat het waarschijnlijk ook is), cd. Een waar geschenk. Maar even een kanttekening: het is echt niets voor de puristen.

Voor wie geen Spotify hebben: ook op Youtube te beluisterebn:


Simple Gifts
Bryn Terfel; London Symphony Orchestra olvBarry Wordsworth
DG 4775563

Britten, his songs and Ian Bostridge


Britten’s vocal oeuvre is almost inextricably linked with one singer, Peter Pears. For many years they were partners, both in art and in daily life. For Pears, Britten composed his songs and operas, and with his voice in his head, he made arrangements of English folk songs. So it is not easy, especially for an English tenor, to add something new and unique without going to extremes.

Robert Tear was a champion at that, as were Philip Langridge, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson and John Mark Ainsley.
James Gilchrist, too, is the prototype of an English tenor. His voice is sweet and a little dry, just on the borderline between a character tenor and a lyrical tenor. He strongly pronounces the consonants without being obtrusive, and he plays nicely with the text. His approach really suits the songs. That I am not unreservedly enthusiastic about the performance is due to Gilchrist’s low notes, which sound a bit too baritonal. Not bad in itself, but there I notice a certain disconnection between the two registers.

Anna Tilbrook is an ‘absent’ accompanist – she leaves everything to the tenor, but maybe it’s down to the recording.
The songs recorded by LINN (CKD 404) in 2012 cover ten of Britten’s composing years: from 1937 to 1947. Britten was 24 when he composed the cycle On this Island. In 1947, he was still a young man, but because of what happened in those years, he became an “early adult”.


The Canticles were created over a period of more than 30 years and they do not form a real unity, although they have a few things in common: faith and (homosexual) love. They are wonderful songs, little operas really. Whether Ian Bostridge manages to live up to it all? At one time I thought so. When he just started singing, I thought his voice was beautiful and his diction and understanding of lyrics extraordinarily good. I have come back from that. His emphatic articulation has become more than annoying and his clearly audible enjoyment of his own voice is extremely irritating. It is a pity.

I also have some difficulty with the folk songs intended as encores, and that too is down to the singers. Christopher Maltman, despite his beautiful voice, is too neat and lacklustre, and David Daniels does not know what he is singing.

Ian Bostridge, David Daniels, Christopher Maltman
Timothy Brown (horn), Aline Brewer (harp), Julius Drake (piano)
Virgin Classics 5455252


And speaking of Bostridge… On 3 February 2009, Brussels’ De Munt gave a semi-concert performance of Britten’s Death in Venice at the RHC. The opera actually consists of one big monologue and the role of Gustav von Aschenbach is a real tour de force for a tenor.

Not so Ian Bostridge, for he sang and played mainly … being Ian Bostridge. Nowhere did he express any of an inner conflict. Was he at all confused by the infatuation that had suddenly come over him? It seems not; if he were in love at all it was surely only with himself. And there he stood, a slightly bored and blasé peacock, interested only in his own beautiful singing. He studied his nails extensively (even bit one off, I swear), for the rest he walked around a bit with his hands in his pockets. Did he even know what Britten’s razor-sharp and heartbreaking swan song was about?

But the rest of the cast was fantastic, with English baritone Andrew Shore leading the way. It was truly phenomenal how, with small steps and gestures, he could give shape to seven different characters and also colour them individually, so clever! The orchestra and choir (conductor Paul Daniel) were also fabulously beautiful.

More Death in Venice: Death in Venice: an autobiographical testament?

Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Renée Fleming!

The life of an opera star is no bed of roses. You are born with a voice that you then try to mould into an instrument that will always obey you. Throughout your life, you work on your technique, take language and acting lessons and you keep your body in shape because appearance is also very important, especially for a woman. And should you not only be wanting a career but also a family life, then things get tough. No wonder that at some point you start to question what is most important in your life and where your priorities really lie.

In the wonderful documentary by Tony Palmer (the maker of more wonderful documentaries, just think of the film about Maria Callas), Renée Fleming, one of the greatest opera singers of our time, talks at length about her fears and doubts. We see her during rehearsals and performances, we admire her dresses, watch home videos showing an apparently happy family life and wipe away a tear listening to her rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’ at Ground Zero.

At the presentation of a new creation from the master pastry chef: a chocolate treat called ‘La Diva Renée’, we get slightly moved. And she well deserves it.

Renée Fleming
Film by Tony Palmer
Decca 0741539

Renée Fleming sings Berg, Wellesz and Zeisl. A must buy!

Renée Fleming en belcanto

The French Collection by Piotr Beczala: practically perfect!

February 2015 was the day: The French Connection, the long-awaited sequel to Piotr Beczala’s DG debut CD was out.

And it was worth the wait. Not least because of the repertoire: French opera, along with the more lyrical Verdi, is Piotr Beczala’s strong suit. I truly know of no singer who can surpass him in Massenet and Gounod.

His wonderfully juicy tenor voice is light and elegant and his Werther, Des Grieux, Faust and (certainly!) Roméo are among the best interpretations you can expect from the current generation of young tenors. You could say that Beczala is the epitome of French singing.

The tone is set with a perfectly sung “Pourquoi me réveiller” from Werther. Beczala’s languorous recitation betrays not only text understanding, but also (or perhaps mainly?) his affinity with the music. In one of his last interviews, he said he prefers to sing sad roles, roles in which he dies at the end, because then he can express all his feelings. You can really hear this.

That the Polish tenor is gradually moving towards heavier repertoire is rather logical. His voice has developed considerably in depth, without his high notes having to suffer for it.

Don José (Carmen) is therefore on his “to do list”, hopefully he will also add Don Carlos. But most of all, I would love to hear him right now in the complete Herodiade and (why not?) Robert le Diable. And most certainly in “Le Cid”: I cannot remember the last time I heard “Ô” Souverain” sung so beautifully.

The only downside I can find is the duet from Massenet’s Manon, in which he is accompanied by Diana Damrau. Her voice does not appeal to me personally and I find her a not very sexy Manon.

Other than that: a CD to have and to cherish for ever!

Trailer of the album:

The French Collection
Arias by Massenet, Berlioz, Verdi, Donizetti, Boieldieu and Bizet
Piotr Beczala (tenor) with Diana Damrau (soprano)
Orchestre de l’Opera National de Lyon conducted by Alain Altinoglu
DG 4794101

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator

My first sweet sorrow

The title of this CD, Il primo dolce affanno (The first sweet sorrow) is taken from Benedetto sia ‘l giorno, one of the sonnets by Francesco Petrarca. With this, already, seventh part of the series Il Salotto (The Salon), Opera Rara presents a delightful selection of songs, tunes and duets from the middle to the end of the nineteenth century repertoire. (ORR230)

Bruce Ford sings ‘I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi’:

The three Petrarca sonnets in Franz Liszt’s irresistibly beautiful setting serve as the guiding principle; for the rest, the CD mainly offers unknown compositions by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Camille Saint-Säens, Prince Józef Poniatowski, Federico Ricci, Antonio Carlos Gomes, Antonio Buzzolla and Giuseppe Verdi. And, something to think about: why are these gems hardly ever performed?

Only Buzzolla’s ‘Barcarola’ for three voices is a little disappointing, which may be because of William Matteuzzi’s uncertain intonation.

For the rest, the singers (Elisabeth Vidal, Laura Claycomb, Manuela Custer, Bruce Ford, Roberto Servile and Alastair Miles) are absolutely excellent. They are also exceptionally well accompanied .

Elisabeth Vidal zingt ‘Theme varie for soprano’ van Camille Saint-Saens :

Carolyn Sampson and her flowers

© Marco Borggreve

On Tuesday, 14 April 2015, the British soprano Carolyn Sampson, much loved mainly by early music lovers, made her appearance in the Small Hall of the Concertgebouw with a not so very common programme. This time it was not so much about the composers, but about …. flowers. So no Bach, Handel or Purcell or… but, wait a minute! The last one was indeed represented, because he too paid an ode to the rose.

The Concertgebouw’s website summed up Sampson’s recital nicely: “Normally, opera diva Sampson gets flowers thrown at her, but tonight she offers the audience a bouquet.

With her floral recital, Sampson travelled all over Europe, for which there was also a good commercial reason: the Swedish company BIS released her long-awaited new solo album, Fleurs. Roses, lots and lots of roses, but also snowdrops, jasmine and lily of the valley are not forgotten.

The afternoon before her recital, I met her in the Concertgebouwcafé. It was as if the weather gods had granted her and her flowers that little bit extra: the day was warm and sunny, with a perfectly blue sky. Her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter was playing outside, while her six-year-old son had had to stay at home: he was already of school age and so it just was not possible to take him to Amsterdam.

The children are the main reason she does so little opera, because she would have to be away from home so very often, and she is just not willing to do that. Home is Freiburg, where she has lived for nine years with her husband, who has a job with the Freiburger Barockorchester.

“I do my best not to do more than two projects a month, but sometimes it is difficult to fit it all into the schedule. In April and certainly in May, I am always busier than I would like to be. And don’t ask me why, I just don’t know.
Of course, all kinds of Passions and Easter Oratorios come along then, but I don’t think that’s the only reason. My recitals get also programmed more often in those two months.”

Doesn’t Bach get a bit boring during those months?
“Can someone have too much Bach? Oh no, oh no! Bach is never boring, especially not the two passions. I always discover something new in them”.

“I come from a family of teachers, my father was a maths teacher. Music did not really play a role in our familiy, but at home we had a piano that was always being played.
When I discovered my voice, I went to the conservatoire, but the plan was really to become a music teacher. I wanted that too, it also fitted in perfectly with the family tradition. My teacher did not agree. He thought I had much more to offer and so I was sent to London, where I had to report to Harry Christophers of The Sixteen. And then it happened as it always does: a singer fell ill and I filled in. That was in Handel’s Samson”.

Duet “Welcome as the dawn of day” from Handel’s Samson:

Sampson has already given three recitals in Amsterdam, and she remembers them well. In an earlier performance with Julius Drake she sang among other things various French songs. Repertoire after her own heart. Before the break she sang Liszt and Brahms and after the break came the French songs: Fauré and Debussy.

“Yes, you can safely say that I love French songs, they really do something for me. I also particularly love Poulenc. In 2014, together with Capella Amsterdam, I recorded his Stabat Mater for Harmondia Mundi. I sang it with tears in my eyes. So, so beautiful!”

“I would therefore really love to sing Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites, it really is my dream role! Hopefully, one day, something will come of, but for the time being she is not yet in the planning. But soon I will sing a role in another beautiful French opera: Melisande! I’m not allowed to tell you anything about that yet, but please know that I’m really looking forward to it!”

‘Vidit suum dulcem natum’ from Poulenc’s Stabat Mater:

“I also particularly like the romantic symphonic repertoire. If I could ever be home alone and have an evening to myself, without any obligations whatsoever, I would put on Mahler’s Second Symphony, I love it. But also Brahms 4 and the Symphony Fantastique by Berlioz. Or anything by Shostakovich, I love his fierceness!”

“I prefe to sing recitals, they are of the utmost importance to me, in the future I want to concentrate on them even more.”

“About my flower project…..
It was Joseph Middleton, my pianist, who came up with the idea. We are not just partners, we are also good friends. So he knows me really well and knows what suits me. So he thought that it was nonsense to come up with the umpteenth Schubert or Schumann, that it would be much more fun to do something with a theme.
The theme of “flowers” was an obvious one. There are so very many songs about flowers! Well, all right then, also about love, sex and women, but … But a flower is actually just like a woman. And vice versa. Yes, isn’t it?

The programme is divided into four sections: the rose, when the flowers speak, a French bouquet and flower girls by Strauss

“Is it true that all sopranos love Strauss? Yes, I think so. Maybe because he loved sopranos so much himself? He composed his most beautiful music for the soprano voice. Actually, he wrote very few songs for the tenor, but when I hear his songs interpreted by Jonas Kaufmann I get quite weak in the knees!”

Sampson’s latest CD just won’t go out of my head, that’s how much I like it. Whether it is Purcell’s surprisingly spicy “Sweeter than Roses”, Fauré’s lightly perfumed “Les roses d’Ispahan”, Strauss’ ethereal “Mädchenblumen” or Lili Boulanger’s poetically sensual “Les Lilas qui avaient fleuri”: it is all very beautiful.


Of course, I could search for all kinds of superlatives to better describe both the choice of songs and Sampson’s crystal-clear voice, but a simple “beautiful” will do, I think. It’s like all the flowers she sings about: bright, fleeting and transient. Like everything else, really.

About Eisler, Brecht, exile and Hollywood

We live in very strange times. One composer after another emerges from oblivion and starts a (re)new(ed) march to victory. At least, if he (she) is lucky, because nothing is as short as the human memory and many of the ‘excavated’ composers are already covered in a thick layer of dust, after they have been performed and/or recorded only once (or maybe twice). For: “No day without Bach” and Beethoven’s piano concertos really do have to be recorded for the hundred millionth time.

Hanns Eisler has never _really_ been forgotten, which he owes in part to his friend and author of the texts for his songs and cantatas, Bertolt Brecht. In 1998, Decca’s ‘Entartete Musik’ series released its second CD of Eisler’s music: songs he composed during his exile in Hollywood.

Eisler was not alone in seeking refuge in the Mecca of film industry and trying his luck there, and he too has participated in a few films. His main occupation, however, was teaching, first in New York and Mexico and from 1942 at the University of Southern California.

Eisler and Brecht in Leipzig

In Hollywood, Eisler was united with Brecht and in May of that year he started working on the ‘Hollywood Songbook’. For most of the songs he composed between May ’42 and December ’43, he used poems that Brecht wrote during his stay in Scandinavia in the years 1938 – 1940 (the so-called ‘Steffinsche Sammlung’),

When Brecht temporarily stayed in New York, Eisler turned to other poets: Hölderlin, Pascal, Eichendorff, Goethe. There is an essential difference between the settings: the ‘Brecht Lieder’ are often bitter, aggressive, sometimes cabaretesque in nature; the others tend to be more melancholic, more melodious, more rooted in the tradition of the art of song.

Matthias Goerne, despite his young age (he was 31 at the time of the recording), was no longer an unknown quantity and already had a few recitals to his name. He has a wonderful timbre and sings with full understanding of the texts. Unfortunately, he is far too much like his illustrious predecessor (I will not name names) and that is a bit disturbing to me, although it may be a recommendation for someone else. Peanuts, actually, because as far as I know it’s the only recording of the complete ‘Hollywood Songbook’, so if you come across it: buy it!
He is accompanied by Eric Schneider in an exceptionally skilful way.

Hans Eisler
The Hollywood Songbook
Matthias Goerne (baritone)
Eric Schneider (piano)
Decca 460582-2

If you want to know what a jazzed-up ‘Hollywood Songbook’ sounds like, listen to Laurent Naouri. It’s quite fun to discover how very Weill-like Eisler sounds here. Listen to ‘Kalifornischer Herbst’, which could have come straight out of one of his ‘shows’.
It is a CD that is best listened to at night, with a glass of whisky.

Hanns Eisler and Sergei Prokofiev
Hollywood Songbook (extracts) & Improvised Variations
Laurent Naouri (bass-baritone), Guillaume de Chassy (piano), Thomas Savy (clarinets) Arnault Cuisinier (double bass)
Alpha 210

Dying with Dame Janet Baker

I must admit that I really don’t like Handel. But I am still going to recommend a CD that is almost half- filled with his arias. Is that possible? Yes, it is possible, because true beauty transcends all prejudices and preferences.

The short ‘O had I Jubal’s Lyre'(Joshua) is quickly forgotten at the first notes of ‘Che farò senza Euridice’.

Recording from Glyndebourne 2004:

Sung so beautifully and so longingly that one is not able to pay much attention to the following ‘Care selve’ (Atalanta). And with ‘Plaisir d’amour’, it is already certain that you will never want to part with this CD, and you just have to surrender yourself to the beauty of it all.

Janet Baker sings “Plaisir d’amour” (TV recital, 1982):

You swoon at ‘Amarilli mia bella’, because nobody on earth has sung it more beautifully. ‘Che puro Ciel’, makes your eyes fill up with tears and you know for sure that this must be the highlight of the CD. Because even more emotion, even more beauty… no, that cannot not possible. And then it comes: the lament of Dido from Dido & Aeneas by Purcell.

Janet Baker as Dido (1966 recording):

The young Baker (the recording is from 1962) turns you into her Belinda, her confidante. You see her lips tremble and you want to comfort her and tell her that it will all be all right, but it won’t be all right and you just die with her.

The legendary lady Janet Baker
Handel, Gluck, Mozart, Purcell. Martini, Giordani

 Holland Festival 1959 or La Divina in Amsterdam

1959 was a good Callas year. In January that year she first sang at Carnegie Hall, where she gave a concert performance of Il Pirata. It was a great triumph. This was followed by a few Medea’s(Cherubini) in London and a short tour in Spain and Germany.

And then the great moment arrived: her long-awaited performance in Amsterdam. Thousands of people gathered at Schiphol Airport to greet her.

Maria Callas arrives in the Netherlands in 1959. On the right: Peter Diamand, chairman of the Holland Festival.

The lights in the Hall were extinguished and all the spotlights were on her as she descended the Concertgebouw steps. Only the musicians of the Concertgebouw Orchestra had lights on their desks, which, according to witnesses, had wrapped the stage in a romantic atmosphere.

Callas was then technically at the height of her powers. She began with a tather cautiously sung ‘Tu che vedi il mio tormento’ from Spontini’s La vestale, but with ‘Surta è la notte’ from Verdi’s Ernani she already let go of all brakes.

The audience went wild with enthusiasm, which stimulated Callas to become even more intense and dramatic in her perfectly intoned reading of ‘Tu che le vanità ‘ (Don Carlo). She finished with the mad scene from Il Pirata, a true tour-de-force.

She gave every note a different colour, her pianissimo was breathtaking and the coloraturas optimal. A true Divina. If only I had been there then!

Spontini, Verdi, Bellini
Live in Amsterdam 1959
Maria Callas, Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Nicola Rescigno
EMI 5626832