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«Porgere la voce»: Vorrei spiegarvi – Oropesa & Sills

Updated: Apr 24, 2022

Porgere, a verb whose quotidian definition is «to offer, to give», also has meaning in the context of theatrical performance. According to the leading Italian encyclopedia Treccani, it means «To recite/perform, to exhibit, appropriately modulating one's voice and taking care of one's pronunciation, pauses, and gestures. Said about actors, lecturers, or in general any who speaks publicly. The verb infinitive [porgere] is also used as a noun.»

Italians invoke the concept of porgere when remarking upon the distinction of an artist's phrasing (porgere la frase), tonal emission (porgere la voce), and overall vocal performance (il suo porgere).

A sterling Mozartian opportunity for il bel porgere della voce e delle frasi is his K. 418, «Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio!», written for his sister-in-law Aloysia Weber as a replacement aria within Pasquale Anfossi's Il curioso indiscreto and surviving today as an ambitious concert option for agile high sopranos. The dramatic premise is that a certain Marchese wishes to test his beloved Clorinda's fidelity and sends his friend, a Conte, to tempt her to stray. Clorinda gently rebuffs the Conte, telling him to go back to his beloved Emilia, yet not without denying her own attraction to him.

Mozart transforms this moment into an ambitiously scaled, vocally challenging two-part aria. The opening adagio demands from the soprano an unstressed breath control particularly through and beyond the passaggio, unforced ability to take ascending and descending leaps, clarity of intonation in her call-and-response moments with the obbligato oboe, and range extending to the E within the Queen of the Night's realm. The concluding allegro is more syllabic overall yet still calls for an unflagging response in the top register and, towards the end, a startling leap from B below middle C to the D over two octaves above.

On to recordings of two American sopranos, preeminent in their respective eras a half-century apart. First, Lisette Oropesa, alumna of the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program and 2019 winner of the Beverly Sills Award; followed by Beverly Sills herself, a Met company member only in the final half-decade of her career yet longtime primadonna of New York City Opera (which used to occupy the opposite side of Lincoln Center Plaza) and, in the words of the late Andrew Porter, «a diva of the people».

2020 August, München-Sendling

Il Pomo d'Oro

c. Antonello Manacorda

Lisette Oropesa

In this performance all the necessary musical elements are accounted for in orderly fashion. Oropesa enunciates every syllable with care—no small feat in light of the vocal line's high tessitura and frequent melismatic tangents—and she does not permit any «noise» in her tone. This insistence on tidiness results in an overall uniformity of mood and affect which leaves unexplored the piece's rich opportunities for inflection of tone and text. The various facets of Clorinda's state at this moment—her acknowledgment of high emotional stakes, her personal struggle between conflicting amorous feelings, and her commands to the Conte to «leave, rush off, flee far away from me»—are amply laid out in the music; Oropesa's personal investment in those stimuli remains a secret. Such interpretative nuances as heartfelt verbal utterance and guiding the vocal line both towards and away from points of harmonic tension are skirted in favor of a correct, dispassionate porgere la voce.

1970 August, London

London Philharmonic Orchestra

c. Aldo Ceccato

Beverly Sills

Within the opening bars one hears how Ceccato's battuta allows for rhythmic flexibility in the best Italian prima la voce tradition. Launching the opening adagio even more spaciously than Manacorda's interpretation, he paces the aria in a manner that seconds the built-in cadences of the language, applying slight rallentandi towards vocal entries and towards phrase endings. This allows Sills time both to flex her voice through Mozart's winding phrases as well as time for each vowel to fully sound.

La Sills porge le frasi con l'ardore suo consueto—Sills phrases with her wonted ardor for text and line. She articulates with feeling and plays with the music as would a great violinist, etching many phrases in her very personal fil di voce (thread of voice) and lofting her voice through the numerous slow-burn melismas with Italianate portamento. The great double-octave leap on «d'amor non parlate» (6:50-6:57) exhibits Sills's daring indulgence of chest resonance, a sound she was actively cultivating during this period leading up to her role debut as Elisabetta in Donizetti's Roberto Devereux that October.

Careful relistening leads to the impression that Oropesa strives for a bottom-to-top homogeneity of tone whereas Sills plays her registers off of each other. The former approach earns this reviewer's respect, the latter approach wins this reviewer's enthusiasm.

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