Archive for the ‘underrated’ 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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Rare Gems: A Dramatic Soprano Meet ‘n Greet

Underrated. Forgotten. Neglected. Unknown.


Spanish Soprano Angeles Gulin

Call them what you will. Re-discovering such divas has always been the pride of Opera Queens the world round, just like hipster punks staking their claim on discovering the coolest, unknown bands. But, back in the day it took the divining powers to wade through the sea of “pirates”! Today, we all know a quick click on youtube takes us places that it would require months of recording research to get to in the past.

So, I’m pleased to share a series of some notable, and some great “would be stars today” divas, suffering from varying degrees of neglect in posterity. No, I’m not talking about Gencer, Cerquetti, Souliotis, or Deutekom…they’re too easy, and hardly forgotten any longer. I’m focusing on dramatic and spinto sopranos (plus a bonus mezzo and baritone), billed by me as Divas With Cojones! Since they are among the rarest operatic fachs these days, and offer the most visceral thrill, they also deserve our greatest honor and sentiment. I hope these discoveries provide you the same pleasure they do me.

Why aren’t they household names?


They were either of a more eccentric type, dimmed by health problems, from smaller countries that offered less intl. exposure, or denied recording contracts of perhaps more “refined” singers. All this contributed to their lack of attention or fame, but conversely they now offer more unique pleasures. I just started to scratch the surface when I touted lesser known contemporary divas Anne Schwanewilms and Paula Almerares.

So, I now introduce (or, perhaps reintroduce) you to these fine Wagnerians, Verdians, and Mozarteans:

Anita Välkki (b. Sääksmäki, 1926)


This Finnish hochdramatische’s (heroic-dramatic) tone and tireless technique bears a resemblance to another more famous Scandinavian, although it’s even more dark and pleasing to my ears. Judging by these samples, it appears that perhaps only a lack of a leading role in the Solti Decca Ring (ie: Third Norn, instead of Brünnhilde), or the rumored onset of a short top (evidenced by later mezzo roles) kept her from becoming the household name that Nilsson did. What a crime. Amazingly, she began her career as an actress, and in operetta.

Enjoy her and the outrageously loud prompter in this “In Questa Reggia,” from Turandot (Puccini):

ThisO Don Fatale,” from Don Carlos (Verdi) is an unexpected treat, outside her fach, but VERY satisfying!

And, finally, Brünnhilde’sHo-jo-to-ho!,” from Die Walküre. This also offers some great video clips of her offstage, and of NYC.

Continue This Engaging Meet ‘n Greet!