Lotte Lehmann and the Bonding of the “Registers”–Part 2.

The exemplary balancing of the sound families (“registers”) in Lotte Lehmann’s voice at the fulcrum in the lower-middle range, about which I wrote in my last post, is subject to only the slightest shifts on all her recordings, early and late, opera and song, live and in-studio. It can be mapped with an almost eerie exactitude on the wonderful Suor Angelica excerpts (1920) that Michael Aspinall, in his Marston notes,  rightly singles out among several fine Puccini interpretations . The centering of the transition on E-natural, with a half-to-full-step tolerance depending on vowel, loudness, and direction of movement, will be clear to anyone following these performances with the music at hand, as will the equality of strength on either side of the center, and the absence of vowel modifications while passing through. And anyone who, like me, has heard many a pretty voice descend to nothing much on Susanna’s low A, or even just her C, in “Deh, vieni non tardar”  (here, “O säume länger nicht”), or to a hollow scratch on Ariadne’s A-flat at “Totenreich”  can hear what’s supposed to happen in Lehmann’s 1917 inscription of the former and her 1928  traversal of the latter. (This last is beyond the scope of this Marston collection of acousticals. But if  response is encouraging, Marston hopes to go on to  at least the Odeon electricals).

As we move from the 1918 account of the Act 11 Freischütz scene (see last post) to the 1925 version, some changes can be heard that are not attributable to improvement in recording technique. (In fact, I rather prefer the sound of the earlier recording, though better instrumental playing and leadership may be largely responsible.) The general direction of these changes is apparent in the same opening phrases of which I wrote two weeks ago, and though they are subtle, if you A-B them on these excellent transfers, you’ll hear them. On the very first interval, we are aware of two things: first, the voice’s tonal format has matured ever so slightly; and second, that opening portamentoed downward fifth to F#  with its open “ah” now stays more definitively on the “head” side of the registral DMZ—the touch of open light chest mix is gone.  In the next bar, the swell-and-diminish on the B-natural  of “bevor ich i-ihm” is more filled out, and even more bewitching. A few bars along, the beautiful “Welch schöne Nacht!”  is still perfect, but a different shade of perfect. The “ö” of “schöne” is a touch darker, with a little more of the “o,” or even “u,” and less of the “eh,” in the umlauted vowel. This gives the sustained upper F# a more gathered and marginally heftier texture, then carries the voice down the scale to a low B on “Nacht” that has a detectably deeper tint and an even more settled feel. This is not because  more “chest”  has been added, but, on the contrary, because just a bit more “head” (let’s say 10%) has overlain the entire descent. (Note that in 1918, she sings “Wie schö-ö-n die Nacht ,”  with a breath comma after the middle C# on “schōn,” then a new attack on the F# for “die,” and finally a clearly defined “chest” for the B on “Nacht,” whereas in 1925 she sings (as in the score) “Welch schöne Nacht,” without the break for renewal of breath, and with a more blended chest on the low B. It all goes together.)