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Three Sopranos
05 Jul 2006

Three Sopranos: Elena Obraztsova, Ileana Cotrubas, Renata Scotto

Even with a magnifying glass you won’t be able to find a date of this concert on either the DVD itself or in the sleeve notes.

Three Sopranos

Elena Obraztsova; Ileana Cotrubas; Renata Scotto; Czech Symphony Orchestra/Armando Krieger
Recorded at the Roman Amphitheatre of Siracuse

Immortal DVD 960011

$26.98  Click to buy

I fail to see why this date is omitted as nobody in the prehistoric days of BTT (Before first Three Tenors Concert of 1990) would have thought of assembling three sopranos (let alone two sopranos and one mezzo as is the case here). So this copycat took place later—one year later, to be exact. Of course, by now maybe people have forgotten that 1990 was the date of a new era and just mentioning 1991 would result in prospective buyers to look up the birth dates of the three ladies. And, yes, this makes some sense as Cotrubas and Obraztsova were each 52 at the time and Scotto had already reached 58.

Cotrubas at the time was nearing the end of her career and was probably already writing her famous autobiography, where she relentlessly attacks every director who doesn’t abide with the original production book. Her voice was never very rich; but by 1991 the sound was definitely thin and even more colourless. She produces quite a wobble in her first aria, Nedda’s balatella. Her Mimi is somewhat better but it is only in the Hoffmann barcarolle that she reminds us of the better singer she was in the seventies. This improvement doesn’t last long. She fails completely in Musica Proibita by Stefano Gastaldon, a magnificent melody recorded extremely well by a lot of singers, Beniamino Gigli’s version of 1930 probably being the best. The soprano’s voice has no charm and sweetness left and with her short breath (already a main problem in her best years) she cannot sustain the long phrases. I feared the worst when her last solo number turns out to be the Czardas from Fledermaus, one of those so called operetta numbers most operatic sopranos try to avoid as being far too difficult but this time the Rumanian soprano has more control of the wobbly sound and it is only the final high C that defeats her and becomes a shrill cry.

Madame Obraztsova’s appearance is distinguished by a fearsome hair-do, blonded in the best Soviet-style. The big voice happily is still there, though she often uses a hollow sound and likes to use some rather vulgar chest tones. Her French pronunciation in Carmen makes the lady more of a slut than she already is and almost the same can be said of her Dalilah. In the Hoffmann Barcarolle, Obraztsova is somewhat more restrained and better. In the Aida duet she really comes into her own, leaves hollow tone behind her and easily dwarfs Scotto.

The eldest artist is nevertheless the most interesting one. An old trooper like Scotto has, of course, given some thoughts to her repertoire and she has wisely chosen those pieces that can make an impression without exposing too much her vocal faults. She starts out with a rewarding lesser known piece by Puccini: Anna’s aria from Le Villi and she sticks to that kind of music the whole evening: somewhat dreamlike or reflective arias that can be sung a lot of the time in mezza-voce, revealing the still outstandingly beautiful and warm middle voice. The technique is still there too as she spins out deliciously long held pianissimi in Gianni Schicchi and especially in the beautiful A Vucchella and she can phrase imaginatively in the Morro, ma prima in grazia from Un Ballo. In all those pieces there are no exposed high notes but the moment there is one like in the Ballo aria the voice all at once goes horribly flat. And she proves in the big duet with Obraztsova that she is no Aida. While Cotrubas and Obraztsova just stand and deliver, Scotto acts as well, using her hands well to make some elegant and beautiful moves. This works for the first aria before it becomes clear she has intently studied the available footage of the Callas’ concerts and is unashamedly imitating the American soprano.

The picture quality is fine, though the sound is less good. Several times there are pre-echoes. The Czech Symphony Orchestra is better known for the thousands of recordings of movie scores it made during its long life. The sound is not overwhelming though they were much in demand after the fall of the iron curtain as they could be had rather cheaply in the early nineties. The director had the good idea to cut off a lot of the entries and goings of the ladies and probably some part of the applause as well without being too rude so that things move quick and fast.

Jan Neckers

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