Delicacies: The Finest Light Lyric Sopranos

Why LLS (Light Lyric Sopranos)? Why now?

In April, I attended the Cal Perfs recital of Sandrine Piau at Hertz Hall. I’ll wait until my “Top 10” EOY post to review it, but needless to say, she was sensational. I bought my tickets well in advance, knowing it would be the sleeper of the season.

However, at the time it crossed my mind that the recital came and went without much fanfare, she had no SF Opera presence in this or any season to date, the hall was only half full despite its intimate size, AND even few if any of my opera friends in-the-know had it on their must list. The reasons? Her career has been almost entirely in Europe, she’s essentially a “specialist” (ie: early music, Mozart, and lieder/art song), and she’s an LLS. Unfortunately, this fach rarely commands the same mainstream attention as the big guns, and in more standard operatic fare usually serves ensemble or comprimario roles.

I’ve spent much time on jcm raving about my beloved coloraturas, dramatic sopranos, and at times full lyrics, but it’s time I shed a spotlight on the finest LLS of our time (all of them active). I hope you discover an artist new to you.

Wikipedia shares that an LLS “has a bigger voice than a soubrette, but still possesses a youthful quality.” SO, clearly this doesn’t include the full lyrics, typified by a Fleming, Moffo, or Steber. Their predecessors are Elisabeth Schumann, Bonney, and Cotrubas.

What are the qualities I want in my LLS?

I look for well modulated technique, emission “on the breath” (unless for expressive purposes), singing within one’s “column of sound” (— L. Price), a balance of sweetness and brightness (not too much of one), good taste (which is VERY important in this fach, lest they become cloying), and of course unique interpretive and expressive abilities/gifts.

There’s no hard line drawn between fachs, so some of these singers have characteristics of a coloratura, soubrette, and lyric, but I believe they are at their essence LLS. It should come as no surprise that many of their coloratura skills are astonishing, as a leaner voice is wont to move fast at times.

Karina Gauvin

She was the inspiration for this post, because, she, like Sandrine is offering a Bay Area recital this year (this weekend!), which I’m not going to miss. As with Sandrine, it likely won’t be sold out, has been rather under-marketed, BUT will surely contain some of the finest singing the Bay Area has heard all year. Her holiday album Images de Noël is always a part of my Christmas. I also recommend her Baroque duet album with Marie-Nicole Lemieux: “Streams of Pleasure.”

Sandrine Piau

She is the definition of good taste, portraying a supreme elegance, self-possessed carriage, and pristine tone. Her Mozart aria recital CD is superior to Dessays, but she’s less flashy and more reserved, so not the mainstream marketing darling that Dessay has become. (I admire Dessay’s art too for different reasons.)

Malin Hartelius

I saw Malin as Adele in a Holocaust-themed regie production of The Bat at Salzburg over a decade ago. She was one of the only redeeming qualities of the production. Her voice has a ripe freshness and cushiony support, delivered with a palpable verve.

Genia Kühmeier

Genia embodies qualities of the Viennese school of the 40’s and 50’s, reminding me at times of a young Schwarzkopf or lighter della Casa. She has thoughtful diction and a measured way of phrasing. I kick myself for missing her Pamina at SF Opera a few seasons back. She has all the qualities I want in a Pamina.

Joélle Harvey

Although still at the beginning of her career, she has already emerged as a special artist. I first heard her in the Merola Program. She was easily one of my favorite singers of that ’08 crop. She never seems to push, and has a way of drawing you in to her performance with very smart and spare dramatic choices, not relying on artifice.

Nadine Sierra

Nadine is no doubt on a trajectory to a fuller lyric (as this video selection hints at), but also at the start of her career, still has a youthful freshness. She’s a major talent. Her “Ruhe Sanft” at this year’s SF Opera in the Park had us all spellbound. Some of the seemingly easiest vocal production I’ve ever heard. Get your tix to her second Salon at the Rex this december!

Lisette Oropesa

Her tone strikes me as a sort of Gheorgiu/de los Angeles hybrid. I find that tautness captivating, because of all the expressive colors it allows. She was a standout in SF Opera’s recent Xerxes, and I enjoyed her professionalism and sense of humor in rehearsals, from my perspective as a Supernumerary cover.

Laura Claycomb

Laura is usually billed as a coloratura, but her tone is so unfailingly tender and sweet. I’ve enjoyed her movement towards the fuller lyric rep, as a recent La Rondine audio reveals. I wasn’t initially wooed by her 90’s appearances at SF Opera, such as Fiakermilli in Arabella, but in bel canto roles, and more recently, her voice offers a rounder, warmer quality.

Simone Kermes

She is the most daring and at times demented girl on this list. But, that’s why Opera Queens love her. I’m sharing her most unusual and unexpected recording. It highlights why she belongs on THIS list. At times, I hear Arleen Auger in her tone (NOT in her style). She’s also often classified as a coloratura, as has MAD skills, but I most enjoy her plaintive singing. Benita Valente once said she felt she was a dramatic trapped in a light lyric body. That definitely speaks to Simone.

Ji Young Yang

I had the privilege of sharing the stage with her in the SF Opera world premiere of Appomattox (again, as a Supernumerary). She’s was also a real stand-out in the ’06 Merola crop. She embodies the utter purity and emotional vulnerability that a role like Sophie requires. Tonally, she reminds of me Kathleen Battle in her prime.

AUDIO SAMPLE: Wolf’s So laßt mich scheinen, bis ich werde

Have I unjustly discluded one of your favorite LLS? Do share!

1 comment so far

  1. Anonymous on

    Thank you for the input and info. I must check them out. Keep us posted on recommendations of who to go and “see” in any up coming performance. Missed many operas this past year and a half. Now on to SF Ballet:)

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