Archive for the ‘eleanor steber’ Tag

A French Delicacy Discovered: Andrée Esposito

L’Objet du Désir


Back in the pre-youtube days (yes, a mere 5+ years ago), presumably in one of my crusty old opera books, I came across this photo of a french diva who performed to acclaim from the mid-50’s through 70’s. I remember being smitten, and trying to imagine experiencing a great lyric soprano, in this case as Thaïs, in such an alluring, voluptuous package (my feminine ideal, which I wish would return to favor). I also stood in disbelief of the costume, which could hold its own even among today’s drag best, and would still be considered shocking on the stage of any international opera house. This exotic, statuesque vision was one Andrée Esposito.

Somehow she only reentered my radar last week. I’ve been transfixed since, exploring her art on youtube. Yes, she had much more than just a beautiful physique. Her elegant phrasing and on-the-breath tonality bears more than a slight resemblance to another of my favored divas, Eleanor Steber. One can also hear flashes of Sills’ attack and brightness, but none of her acidity or tonal pressing. This is impassioned, fully committed, unforgettable singing, and particularly idiomatic in her native french.

She embodies all the finest qualities of the french operatic style: a ringing, well supported column of sound, and the perfect dose of taut tonal nasality. But, unlike Steber, who sometimes stepped over into a matronly firmness of tone, Andrée, while having thrust, never muscles past a girlish vulnerability. So many of the quintessential french divas of mid-century (ie: Vallin, Robin) offer too brittle or bright a sound for my ears, and one which feels more caricaturish and less human. Andrée offers the best of their qualities, but balanced with a cool smoothness more pleasing, and realness more affecting to my modern ears.

An Overview: Her Life & Career


She was born (February 7, 1934) in Algiers, Algeria, into a family of French-Italian origin. She completed her studies at the Paris Music Conservatory, where she was a pupil of Louis Noguéra and Charles Panzéra.

Andrée was then quickly invited to all the major opera houses of France, including the Paris Opéra-Comique, singing the standard French light lyric repertory: Olympia, Philline, Mireille, Micaela, Leila, and Lakmé. She made her debut at the Paris Opéra in 1959, as Violetta. Other roles there included Rosina, Lucia, Gilda, Xenia, Marguerite, Juliette, Manon, Thaïs. She also enjoyed singing Rosalinda and Hanna. She was also a very active recitalist.

Andrée was married to French baritone Julien Haas, with whom she often appeared on stage, the two were also active as voice teachers at the Strasbourg Music Conservatory. (Wikipedia)

A Video Sampling


These videos are some of her finest offerings available online (do NOT miss “La Chanson perpétuelle” below). Both the Mireille and Manon duos are with the elegant, tender french lyric tenor Alain Vanzo.

“Oses venir, toi qui braves Vénus!,” from Massenet’s Thaïs

With Andrée as the courtesan Thaïs, this recording (french radio, 1959) also features the magnificent Robert Massard as Athanaël, a Cenobite monk, and tenor Jean Mollien, as the nobleman Nicias. Albert Wolff conducts.

Continue Experiencing Andrée’s Art —>

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The Famed DIVA Totem Pole

Fanantics at Opera in the Park


I was just reminiscing with a friend about one my most fond demented personal operatic moments. In anticipation of SF Opera in the Park (1999), I wanted to come up with something to match the spirit of the lifesized cardboard Callas figure an opera queen had used to stake out his picnic site in a previous year (at right, from the EMI Unknown Recordings ad campaign). I thought…what might create some buzz, embody my fanaticism for my diva(s), and yet be practical enough to be carried down to Golden Gate Park?

My creation: the DIVA Totem Pole, which I fashioned from portraits of my top seven favorites. A friend or two were initially embarrased (especially during the morning walk into the park: a parade of shame?), but by the end of the day, I think they too fell under its irresitable spell. Once we reached Sharon Meadows, we marked our territory by posting it in the ground. We had a ball in the shadow of the totem: drinkin’, noshin’, ‘n hangin’.

The Interview


Thankfully, SF Chronicle Senior Writer Bob Graham was in attendance that day, and was also wooed by the totem’s magic. He did a casual on-site interview with me. The next morning, I rushed down to retrieve the newspaper from my mailbox, quickly opened the Datebook section, and was thrilled to see my local color included in his review of the day: Fresh Air and Free Arias in the Park. Best of all, it included the listing of the divaaaaahhhs, as well as my own hilarious self-billing: a “part-time professional countertenor now on sabbatical.”

The Divas


The totem features, from the bottom 7. Renée Fleming (with David Daniels inset), 6. Elisabeth Rethberg, 5. Christa Ludwig, 4. Montserrat Caballé, 3. Eleanor Steber, 2. Lisa Della Casa, 1. LEONTYNE PRICE. You can see, although I am also devoted to Kunst Divas, I do favor Stimm Divas, when push comes to shove. That’s right, no Callas, although I admire her art greatly!

Numbers 7 through 6 would be different now, BUT 5 though 1 would remain quite intact, and La Price would still reign supreme. I felt compelled to include a living/performing diva (and countertenor!), and was very into Renée (ie: her Eschenbach Four Last Songs recording) and Daniels at the time. Next to their portraits, it read “BONUS DIVAS: STILL ON STAGE”. Stemme, Melton, Borodina, or Baltsa would likely topple both of them now as the active divas, were I to revisit this adoration. And, Eileen Farrell would HAVE to make a climb up the totem too.

Next up…Diva Masks at SF Opera in the Park (2002)!