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When singers make baby Mozart weep; today’s culprit: Dorothea Roschmann

baby-mAh, the youtube comment section! – exerting its powerful pull whenever boredom strikes. I’ve posted earworm‘s video before, along with a rant stating:

I am a very big fan of her Dove sonos in general and Mozart on the whole. I think it suits her voice in the best possible way, a voice I find exciting and descriptive. I also like her go for broke style. Sometimes (like in the case of this Dove sono) it can miss the mark but when it works it feels very evocative and sends shivers down my spine. So I tend not to fault her too much for these not-quite moments. Her singing is full of life and life is quite often a gamble.

But if you check out the mini convo started by the latest comment below the video you will see some people have the exact opposite opinion regarding her singing. It never ceases to amuse me how people can hear the same thing in such radically different ways.

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Head to head Dove sono

Yesterday was one of those London fog days when humidity seeps into your bones. Driving home at 9:30pm is like disappearing into the dark. Once home it’s time for a cup of tea and cats settling in the lap. Normally only one of them does, but last night I had the unusual honour of both of them pilling up in my lap for a long session of Röschmann. I suspect my Vitellia-like cat has a special liking for Röschmann, she’s never been a lap cat. Today she’s back, though cautiously as headrest.

But yesterday’s Victorian evening is not what the post is about. It’s about youtube comments. Yes, premature darkness, fog and cold bring out the bitchy side. Haven’t had a properly ranty post in a while, eh.

I don’t mind it if people don’t like something I do but it ticks me off when someone posts more than once in a youtube video’s comment section urging you to better listen to so and so’s version if you want to hear a real [insert aria]. Especially if, out of curiosity, I do listen to what was suggested only to go ho-hum. This post could be over right now if I were satisfied with the cliched (but true) conclusion that we can’t all like the same things. But I have a bit of emotional investment here (a soft spot for Dove sono) so I’m going for a comparison. Feel free to chime in.

So yesterday, after listening to the hilarious Der Hochzeitsbraten on Earworm’s channel (listen if don’t know it, it’s realy worth your 11min), I felt like a bit of Porgi amor and Dove sono, which she had posted as well. Now I’m not the biggest fan of how Röschmann finishes this particular Dove sono. On the other hand, I am a very big fan of her Dove sonos in general and Mozart on the whole. I think it suits her voice in the best possible way, a voice I find exciting and descriptive. I also like her go for broke style. Sometimes (like in the case of this Dove sono) it can miss the mark but when it works it feels very evocative and sends shivers down my spine. So I tend not to fault her too much for these not-quite moments. Her singing is full of life and life is quite often a gamble.

The thing with voices is that you like what you like and if you don’t like the sound of something, no amount of arguments regarding someone’s skill and general proficiency can change your mind. Much less being told you should like something simply because it’s come down the ages as great.

It’s the same with style and personality. I said above I like singers who go for broke, who sing in a lively manner and emphasise drama over beauty. It’s not to say I don’t like beautiful singing (Valer Sabadus comes to mind) but I prefer it when the singer goes with the drama instead of focusing on beauty for the sake of beauty. If the drama calls for beauty and the singer can’t do that I feel things suffer as much as when the drama calls for something less angelic and all you get is well rounded notes.

When we say beauty, what kind of beauty? If it’s too ethereal and angelic I tend to feel a bit overwhelmed with the sugar and porcelain feel of it. Beautiful is a sound that reminds me of dignity and heroism rather, though I also accept velvet and kind gentleness.

After this long preface I present you an Elisabeth Schwarzkopf version of Dove sono I found on youtube without digging too deeply. As you know I’m not knowledgeable about old recordings, so I don’t know how other versions from her compare. My focus is solely on Schwarzkopf’s tone and dramatic style, as this is what I’ve been going on in the past couple of paragraphs: what makes a voice attractive or not.

Dramatically, there is a general sense of sadness and melancholy but I don’t feel like the Contessa is that heartbroken over her marriage going sour. More like ha, we had so much fun once, too bad it’s over. Listen to her giuramenti – it’s so reserved, even detached. Hello! Perchè mai, se in pianti e in pene is delivered in a matter of fact manner and schoolmarmy in sound: all those boring dinners with your friends, Sr Almaviva, you owe me all that!

When the tune changes tempo as Mozart obviously wants the singer to get into it, she’s still barely picking up steam (it’s a wise decision, as there is a danger of disconnect with the orchestra here. But a riveting performance is rarely based on wise choices1). For the last few ingrato cors she sounds rather surly. Her last trill on ingrato is… not to my taste. I’d say the understanding of the role is Contessa as majestic noble woman more than someone who was Rosina just as a few years ago. If you remember, Rosina is from a bourgeois family, so not exactly born and bred Marschallin. I’d advise against reserve here.

Now check out Röschmann’s version:

It’s apt to compare two German singers as neither’s Italian is tops. Whereas Schwarzkopf stays German both in pronounciation and in delivery, Röschmann’s German accent comes through less harshly (doltchetza) and she goes all out in delivery. That aside, it’s just a warmer voice, more beautiful to my ears in moments like cangio or menzogner. She keeps quite a bit of German spirit in her delivery but it’s expressive and believable singing.

Listen to each one’s initial dove sono line as I think it’s where voice alone is showcased. Everybody agrees it’s a moment of whistfulness and (most likely) everybody is going to go for beauty of sound. To me Röschmann sounds vulnerable and heartbreaking because of tone alone. Easily the more beautiful voice and the more appropriate for the role: her vibrato tells me this Contessa is a young woman who still believes in marital happiness. I understand Schwarzkopf was once the gold standard Contessa. For me there’s no contest whatsoever.

Some people in the comments complained about the faces Röschmann makes. What faces do they think a woman would make in the same situation as the Contessa? I like it when realism comes through in an interpretation (which is why I find certain concert performances so riveting). I get that some are more into stylised stage presences but the very fact that the singer is less animated does not make them better. In this case I want the singer to show the heartbreak behind a line like di cangiar l’ingrato cor.


  1. perhaps I shouldn’t compare live performances to studio recordings but that was the first one I got my claws on and for obvious reasons I wasn’t digging any further.