Billie or Ella? Maria or Renata? Technique or feeling?

I stand back to no one in my admiration for Ella Fitzgerald's technique but all the vocal fireworks make for precious little emotion. Billie Holiday on the other hand makes you feel she's singing just for you.

Technique vs emotion also goes in listening to Renata Tebaldi (superb technique) and Maria Callas who like Lady Day makes you feel she's singing just for you.

David Oistrakh was a violinist who combined flawless technique with raw emotion. Sviatoslav Richter was his counterpart on piano. Their modern day successors are Julia Fischer on violin and Daniil Trifonov on piano.


@danager. Re:clip of Tebaldi and Callas. Well you tried. More than that I cannot ask of any man. Or woman. They do say that the fastest way to empty a room at a hifi show is to put on some opera. 

Tebaldi was technically superior to Callas. Tebaldi was smoother and in this clip you can clearly hear the crackling in Callas voice as even her most ardent fan will admit. Yet with her more limited voice, Callas conveys more heartfelt emotion. I can't explain in a technical way how she achieves this, not being a singer. Her fans just know it as the Callas Magic.

The scene is from Puccini's Tosca with Tebaldi and Callas in the title role. Tosca is being seduced by the chief of police in exchange for the release of her lover from prison and torture. Here she mourns her predicament in the song I Lived for Art - Visse d'Arte singing that she lived a life of innocence dedicated to her craft.

In reality, Callas lived the life being partnered to the boor Aristotle Onassis who didn't appreciate her singing. He once questioned why she continued singing since he had enough money for both of them. (You may remember him for marrying Jackie Kennedy. It was considered scandalous at the time for a former First Lady to marry for money. Ted Kennedy brokered the deal in person.)

In the opera, Tosca stabs the chief of police to death rather than submit to his blackmail. I always imagine Callas is thinking Take that, Onassis! as she plunges the scissors into her fictional foe so convincing is she in that role.



chowkwan -- Truly.. And far be it for me to denigrate the situation with cliche, yeah,  life imitates opera.

Technical proficiency is only another tool that may or may not assist the artist in achieving the ultimate goal: cause one to feel something.

To reduce an artist to a polarized representation of some manufactured binary makes no sense.  If Ella doesn’t make you feel anything, then, there ya go. Problem solved. Is this because she has “too much technical proficiency?”  Either way, it doesn’t matter, because she doesn’t move you. If Mariah Carey moves you just as much as Patti Smith, well, there ya go. Either way, any such judgment on the singers’ technical proficiency is irrelevant.
Feeling is the point.

@edcyn. Now we're remembering Callas, she was an audiophile. At the end of her life, she spent her days listening to her old recordings on reel tape. Prolly master copies. There is a photo of her in her apartment with her tape machine but even the all knowing internet couldn't find it. I'm guessing Revox A77 which was the go to machine in those far off days.

And a Furtwangler fan! See John Hunt's bio of Maria Callas. He was driving her and Beethoven came on the radio. Arriving at their destination, Callas insisted on staying in the car wanting to know the name of the conductor. Upon finding out she poured scorn. Ha! That's what passes for conducting today. We had Furtwangler.

@tylermunns To reduce an artist to a polarized representation of some manufactured binary makes no sense.


One man's reduction is another man's observation. e.g. Steve Vai shredder extraordinaire, but to what end? Technique per se is OK viz John McLaughlin who is shreddier than Steve but there is a musical point to all those rapid fire notes.

I got nuttin' agin' Steve you understand owning two of his signature guitars. Luv the monkey grip.


Steve Vai Zappa band. McLaughlin Miles Davis band. I rest my case.