It is not possible that this could have in any way annoyed my neighbors.

Stayed up very late to finish watching that Paul Czinner film of Der Rosenkavalier – the one from the 60s with Sena Jurinac in the title role and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as the Marschallin (and a rather warbly/tweety Anneliese Rothenberger as Sophie). I had seen clips of this film before, but I had never sat down and watched the entire thing. It’s pretty to look at in that slightly fake-looking 1960s color movie way. (Too much technicolor tulle, people. Too much.) The performance I enjoyed the most was Sena Jurinac’s as Octavian – what a beautiful voice! But I found that I didn’t quite warm to the film as a whole. It’s — well, I said it before. It’s pretty.

I read some reviews of it too. Why do some of the people who review older opera performances always ALWAYS claim that opera singers nowadays are just not up to the same level as opera singers way back when? I think they have fallen prey to the Fallacy of First Exposure. When you are coming to enjoy opera as a young person and hearing things for the first time and being amazed and bursting into tears during Strauss performances for the first time, the performances you hear tend to make a great impression on you. They stay with you. Later performances that you hear may not have the same effect on you. But that isn’t because the performances are not as good. Different, maybe, but the idea that casts of the 1960s, or 1980s or whatever are “unmatchable” now is difficult to believe.

Note that in thirty years I will no doubt be complaining that no one sings Mozart anymore like Dorothea Röschmann did, or modern Isoldes are never as good as Nina Stemme, or these silly young tenors who try to sing Schubert songs have nothing on Werner Güra. But those statements will of course be true.

12 thoughts on “It is not possible that this could have in any way annoyed my neighbors.

  1. I agree with this wholeheartedly. There are wonderful musicians from the past whose special qualities and performances still speak to us via recordings we wouldn’t be without (like Wunderlich, Schwartzkopf, Callas, Menuhin, Kreisler and many others) but I think we should be listening most closely to, and supporting, the wonderful musicians who are performing now. They, like we, are of our time.

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  2. I agree. Some performances become “legendary” for whatever reason and are talked up by people who never heard them. I’m fed up of being told what a great Grimes Vickers was. I saw him and hated his interpretation. I think there’s also a bias based on 1960s/70s studio recordings. I doubt that there has ever been a more flattering time to be recorded.

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      1. It was the time when stereo recording technique had been figured out by brilliant record producers like John Culshaw and Walter Legge. They had the time and budget to do studio recordings with top notch casts. Obviously it’s easier to sing well in short bursts in the studio than when you have to perform and act for three hours straight.

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  3. Anybody who says things were better in the 80’s would have to explain to me why, in detail, bc I’m pretty sure they weren’t. That said, there are one or two singers from that time (as there are from every era) who salted the fields for everybody thereafter.

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    1. I think what happens is that there are periods where there are outstanding singers in one particular area, say Wagner or bel canto, and then there are periods which run a bit dry for those specialties. The “good” period becomes a Golden Age, even if it wasn’t particularly memorable across the board.

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        1. That’s why I love that Levine interview in NYMag in ’87, where he made it pretty clear that a not insignificant number of the singers he was working with at the time sucked on ice…uh, I mean, left something to be desired.

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