Three Sopranos: Elena Obraztsova, Ileana Cotrubas, Renata Scotto

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
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

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

image_description=Three Sopranos
product_title=Three Sopranos
product_by=Elena Obraztsova; Ileana Cotrubas; Renata Scotto; Czech Symphony Orchestra/Armando Krieger
Recorded at the Roman Amphitheatre of Siracuse
product_id=Immortal DVD 960011