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More than a substitute

I realize that the death of Mary Curtis-Verna (whose obituary has finally appeared, a few weeks after the fact, in the New York Times) has not created the same shock waves as the deaths of Corelli, Di Stefano, or some of her other partners. I myself never got to hear her. But when I was working on The King and I with Herbert Breslin, her name was often invoked as an example of the many artists who in their day were rather taken for granted but who, if they sang today, would have the opera world at their feet. Herbert concludes many a diatribe about the decline of singing in our time with the theatrical assertion, "Oh, for a Mary Curtis-Verna!"

And to judge from the evidence, there's quite a lot to regret.

(Check out the audio clips here, as well.)

R. I. P.

By Anne Midgette  |  December 23, 2009; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  opera  
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Comments

I have heard some of Curtis-Verna's singing, and I have to say, while I think she'd have a much bigger career today than she had when she was active, the excerpts I have show her as a good, solid singer, not a great one and not one who'd have the opera world at her feet, even today.

Listening to the Trovatore excerpt at Can Belto, I heard better this year from Sondra Radvanovsky, though I've certainly also heard worse (Marina Mesheriakova, June Anderson); the glottal stops and aspiration aren't what I want to hear.

Her entire SF Opera career was about 10 performances, of which most were in 1952 and three, including the sole 1960 performance, were out of town.

Sorry, but I am not convinced.

Posted by: LisaHirsch1 | December 23, 2009 5:21 PM | Report abuse

P. S. You might try comparing Mary Curtis- Verna's Metropolitan Opera career with that of Lucine Amara. Amara was definitely a house soprano, but from 1950 to the late 1980s, she sang hundreds of performances versus Curtis-Verna's 97.

Posted by: LisaHirsch1 | December 23, 2009 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Yes, Radvanovsky was the one current singer I thought of whom I'd rather hear than her. But I'd certainly rather hear her than Mescheriakova, Cedolins, Frittoli, Massis, Guleghina, and most other so-called Verdians around today.

I'm not trying to claim she was on the level of the greats. (I'm not sure, though, what the number of performances proves. How many performances did Callas sing in San Francisco?)

Posted by: MidgetteA | December 23, 2009 10:25 PM | Report abuse

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