TifosoBonisolli wrote:Difficult to answer in a post - it would need a whole book to answer this properly. But I'll give my best.
Lilli Lehmann - she certainly was a wreck when she recorded, but as opposed to other wrecks of the period, there is not even a faint hint to any qualities she might have had earlier
Nikolai Figner - no voice, no technique, no top
Lina Cavalieri - no voice, no style, no technique, a café-concert singer at the most - a career entirely built on physical beauty, she'd fare splendidly in our 21st century operatic world
Luisa Tetrazzini - sharp-voiced, and the impersonated intonation problem
Enrico Caruso - vulgar singing for the standards of the period; a good voice, but a laboured, pushed top
Giovanni Martinelli - stiff "organ-pipe" tone, no hint of any modulation
Giacomo Lauri-Volpi - much the same as Martinelli, plus he's constantly prone to off-key singing
Leo Slezak - incapable of colouring his voice, frequently effortful top, very unmusical
Maria Jeritza - even less capable of colouring the voice, and - opposed to her legendary acting skills - a boring interpreter as far as music is concerned
Nellie Melba - whistle-buoy-turned-soprano
Leonard Warren - muffled, wobbly voice, lacking any acceptable lower register
Ferruccio Tagliavini - a voice imitator (mimicking Gigli, of course), not a singer
Boris Christoff - same as for Tagliavini, with Shaljapin (Chaliapin) as the innocent cause of the listener's misery
Maria Callas - one of the most vulgar voice productions of all times, an odd combination of shrill and chesty (and terribly wobbly, of course)
Renata Tebaldi - "beautiful" singing only in comparison with Callas, but certainly with nobody else
Birgit Nilsson - foghorn-turned-soprano
Richard Tucker - backward, guttural voice production, mannered, "chewing" diction
Gianni Raimondi - a bleating, pushing tenor without a single positive quality
Carlo Bergonzi - nasal, lacking any charisma, the strained top of the century
Giuseppe di Stefano - how to ruin a golden voice in no time by total ignorance of vocal technique
Ettore Bastianini - the baritone version of di Stefano, minus passion
Julius Patzak - completely colourfree voice production, horrible diction (he never learned to sing German properly, rather, he sang in a broad, vulgar Viennese dialect)
Aureliano Pertile - a tinny, rattling sound, no top
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau - the driest voice ever
Leonie Rysanek - opera's screaming queen
Joan Sutherland - both her voice production and her way of musical interpretation made her always sound like her own grandmother
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf - just one word: mannerism
Without wanting to criticize your (actually most interesting) question, it's somewhat unfair to discuss only miti falsi from the past - almost each of those (however overestimated) singers from the past sang like a god(dess) in comparison with almost each "top star" of our own sorry operatic era. (I've stopped my list before coming to the Carreras-Ghiaurov-Behrens generation, which younger listeners may consider "historic", as well - but for an account of the overestimated exponents of that - and the following - generation/s, a forum post is REALLY not enough.)
Since there is no reply to this well thought out posting apart a short one from Geoff who declined the challenge, it fell upon me with my limited knowledge to pick up the gauntlet.
The first point I like to make is that in my humble opinion there is no falsi miti among the famous singers of the past, but there are quite a few names of the present generation that I can think of who fit the description. Up to around the seventies of last century, opera singers were judged by the ability to sing, ability to act or good looks were added bonus, but not a necessary condition. Singers studied for a long period before they can make the stage. Most of them have to work their way slowly through provincial theaters before graduating to the major houses. With such a vigorous system, the average ones would have fallen by the way side. The system nowadays is different. Opera singers are required to act as well, be good looking and to sing in order to attract the 'younger' audience (The average age of people who listen to opera on a regular basis is just over 70, and I am on the high side of the average). Singing is placed on a less important footing. It is not surprising that some of the active superstars might not even get a comprimario role if they were on stage fifty years ago.
Now to the list of singers in the post. It offered a one line negative criticism of their ability without offering the reason why they were placed on the list of falsi miti. Good singing does not depend on a beautiful voice alone. There are other attributes that make a great singer. With my limited knowledge I have to confess that there are quite a few names on the list that are strangers to me, but among the ones I am familiar with:
Luisa Tetrazzini - displayed a flexible and high coloratura, of the kind that was very much in vogue in the lyric theater of the day.
Enrico Caruso -It is generally agreed that he revolutionized tenor singing. If he was vulgar then all the others that come after him are vulgar.
Giovanni Martinelli - fortyy years career in the Met in dramatic roles is not to be slighted unless the Met was run by a lunatic during that period. By all account he did not record well, but those who heard him live attested to his voice as powerful and pure.
Giacomo Lauri-Volpi - exceptional range and technical ability
Leo Slezak - he is a helddentenor of the German school, not a Latin lyrical tenor
Boris Christoff - nothing further from the truth. Are we are talking about the same person?
Maria Callas - It is a well known fact that her voice was far from perfect. Some would describe her voice as ugly. But her ability to colour her voice and her stage presence is unmatched. When I first listened to Callas in Lucia (EMI recording with di Stefano). I knew nothing about opera and did not understand what she was singing about. I was moved by the sad singing followed by the joyful singing, something that I have never experienced before. That got me interested in classical singing. Later on I found out that it was the fountain scene, that she was singing about the ghost and how she felt about Edgardo. She is the ultimate kunst diva.
Renata Tebaldi - Toscanini described her having 'voice of the angel'. If the criticism is true than Toscanini must have resided in a place where there was no angel.
Could have gone on but the list is too long to go into each and everyone and I am getting tired
We are talking about people with great careers, who left behind treasures that we admired every time we listened to them. We have to judge them by their entire career as a whole, not by the years that they were in declined.
ps: one last name I cannot resist to defend:
Ettore Bastianini - he suffered from cancer at the prime of his life. Is it surprising that in the latter part of his career he was not what he was?