BUT THE NIGHT. . .IS LONG: “The Sunken Bell” of Ottorino Respighi.

Let’s take a moment to ponder the effect of such a gathering: the voice of Martinelli—with its top-to-bottom brilliance, power, clarity, and noble declamatory pronuncia ringing out in Enrico’s music; the Italian plangency and beauty of De Luca’s baritone in L’Ondino’s; the profile of Pinza’s great basso cantante voicing the arguments of Il Curato—all bathed in the sound of what was then an experienced Italian opera orchestra, moulded by Toscanini and now in the hands of one of his finest successors.

And perhaps even more intriguing is the thought of Rethberg as Rautendelein. The role’s creator, Gertrud Callam, was a soprano of coloratura/Hochsopran persuasion (my only tracing of her is as Oskar on a Maskenball highlights disc with Rosvaenge, et al., recorded some dozen years later). A recent recording has Laura Aiken in the part, and a midcentury Italian one has Margherita Carosio, who with her native feel for the language and style, the bite and alacrity of attack in her lyric-coloratura instrument, seems close to ideal (I have only sampled the performance). Rautendelein’s writing contains florid and ornamental passages, and often reaches high (I’m pretty sure I heard a sustained D), so it seems to call for voices of these sorts. Postwar, one thinks of Hilde Gueden or the young Scotto. Stratas would have given us a performance,  and more recently the emergent Netrebko, as in her 1998 Lyudmilla. Sutton’s is a voice of this general type (though lighter and softer-textured), and she sang pleasurably. But Rethberg, exemplary in the Wagner/Strauss jugendlich repertory, a famous Aïda and Amelia, a perfect Agathe, etc., etc.—that’s a whole different elf, alike in calibre to her male colleagues. And to judge from contemporary responses, she dispatched the high notes and passagework without difficulty.

No opera house could now draw together a cast approaching the level of the Met’s in 1928. The NYCO’s was strong enough to make the work’s case. Armiliato’s alternate, Marc Heller, now undertook all four performances (of which I saw the third) in a six-day span, sustaining the role admirably, acting with strength and dignity, and finding some real pathos in the ultimate scene. I intend no aspersion on his work to comment on his vocal set-up, since it continues a theme introduced in my previous posts, and which we are bound to encounter again. Of all the darkly colored tenor voices I have encountered, Heller’s is perhaps the most extreme example, at least among voices that actually work. When he sang his first midrange lines, I was sure I was hearing a medium-weight baritone, and as he ascended into the quite demanding tessitura of subsequent passages, I was still sure I was hearing a medium-weight baritone. The voice remained steady and hefty, without any serious distortions, but there was no hint of clear ring. None of the metallic imagery we once used to evoke the color of this ring (a tone of gold, of silver, of bronze—or, as I once ascribed to René Kollo’s studio Lohengrin—aluminum) would apply; hemp would more readily come to mind. Timbrally, this is almost the perfect opposite of Martinelli, or of other voices of his time we might imagine for Enrico (e.g.: Bernardo de Muro or Francesco Merli, though I don’t know who in fact sang the Italian performances.) In some latterday commentary, I detect a tone of approval of prevailing tenorial darkness. Indeed, any readers who followed up on my lead in the Preamble (July 28) to Andrew Moravçik’s “Twilight of the Gods” in Opera, Nov., 2013, will have come across his citation of “an appropriately warm and dark timbre,” as if darkness were a given requisite of dramatic voices. I’m reminded of the references to “properly glistening oatmeal” or “properly runny eggs” so often encountered in  in writing about food, and while I agree about oatmeal, I’m not on board when it comes to eggs or tenors.