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December 15, 2009

Blast from the Past: tenor Miguel Fleta

One of the reasons why some folks carry on about the golden age of singing is that there were (or at least seemed to be) so many exceptional artists all at once -- a whole bunch of amazing sopranos and tenors, an impressive quantity of rich-toned baritones and basses. Even a lot of the singers who are not as well know today as Caruso and that legendary ilk had voices that we would kill for today. Among the less widely famous tenors of days gone by I have a soft spot for Miguel Fleta, the Spanish tenor (1892-1938) who created the role of Calaf in "Turandot."

Although he didn't have a very long career (it seems he didn't treat his vocal instrument as carefully as he should have), Fleta left a distinctive mark via recordings. His specialty was soft dynamics, which I think he does to particularly magical effect in "La donna e mobile" (just once, I'd like to hear a tenor today do something as unhurried and sweetly nuanced as Fleta does at the end of the first verse in this aria).

Whatever flaws one might pick out, this guy sings with a kind of personality that is all too rare now. For this blast from the past, in addition to the "La donna" chestnut, I've picked a couple of other arias that I think capture the engaging Fleta style (including a version of the dream aria from "Manon" that carries individuality to an dangerous extreme, which I find hard to resist nonetheless):

Posted by Tim Smith at 7:11 PM | | Comments (2)


Sr. Fleta is still well remembered in Spain by many opera fans, which is how I discovered him - through friends there, where he also is known for zarzuela. I agree about his technique, and do like the Manon very much.

I was fortunate to hear Jonas Kaufmann in this role in Chicago last season several times, and he might be the only tenor currently who could come close to Fleta's extended use of messa di voce, etc., etc.

Bravo for bringing Fleta to a wider audience!

Thanks very much for commenting. I hope to hear JK live before too long; his recordings reveal wonderful musicality and lots of the subtle touches that were hallmarks of the past. TIM

Ma per Dio, Kaufmann coming close to Fleta????
Kaufmann uses shameless falsetto crooning, he does not support the soft dynamics, plus his high notes are "open" sounds and his medium register is too throaty.

Speaking for myself, I'm so starved for something subtle that I'll take crooning over barking any day. But, as I said, I haven't heard this guy live, so I don't have a strong opinion about him yet. Interesting to see that he already inspires widely different reactions. TIM

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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