So how does Elisabeth stack up? I have put on my player:
Leontyne Price sings Mozart (recorded 1965-77) various.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Leontyne Price, but the sheer size of her voice leaves one with the feeling of struggle. Elisabeth is right: she stays in the style of Mozart and does not wander off into Verdi or Puccini, but she is struggling to get the large ship of her voice into the tiny bottle of Mozart style. Her “Ch’io mi scordi di te,” K. 505, is the most operatic of the group and the best performance for Leontyne. It gives scope to the enormous size of all her interpretations.
Kiri Te Kanawa Mozart Arias (recorded 1981-93) Gyorgy Fischer.
The sense of struggle stops when we come to Kiri, a singer who is just right for Mozart, both vocally and musically. Kiri is food and drink. She doesn’t sing “Ch’io mi scordi di te,” K. 505.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf Mozart Opera Arias (recorded 1946-52) von Karajan, Krips, Pritchard, Braithwaite.
I have always enjoyed Elisabeth’s Mozart. This recording is very early in her post war career. Her “Martern aller Arten” is especially impressive, and her performances of the Countess Almaviva’s arias are considered definitive.
Mozart Lieder, Koncertarien Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Walter Gieseking etc. (recorded 1955-1968).
Her “Ch’io mi scordi di te,” K. 505, is from 1968. At 52 she had already learned to cover her tone, but it’s still recognizably her. She answers the question, “If Elisabeth Schwarzkopf were a mezzo, what would she sound like?” She can still skip through the fast notes, and she still has the best glissando going, graceful and beautiful. She knows how, and she knows when.
Kathleen Battle Mozart Arias (recorded 1986) Andre Previn.
Kathleen Battle is the most personal interpreter of Mozart of this bunch. She is the most herself, the most poetic and ethereal. I miss her. Her “Ch’io mi scordi di te” is a different aria, one with a violin obbligato instead of the piano in K.505.
Cecilia Bartoli Mozart Arias (recorded 1991) Gyorgy Fischer.
Cecilia was 25 when she recorded this album. At that age she was mature and less idiosyncratic than she became later. I think this is the Cecilia Bartoli I prefer. Her “Ch’io mi scordi di te,” K. 505, is gorgeous, just the right amount of light and heavy.
The star of all these albums is Mozart. “Ch’io mi scordi di te,” K. 505, is called the greatest of all concert arias. They kicked out Renée Fleming in Vienna because she said she couldn’t sing it, and they wouldn’t do without. Listening to these singers perform it, it shines brighter with repetition. Why is it that one never tires of Mozart? We need all of these singers and more to fill our Mozart requirement.
I would have to investigate further to see if Elisabeth sets the style for those who came later. Perhaps she shines more backward than forward.
Footnote. Many of these recordings are now hard to find. I'm showing the ones I could find.
Footnote 2. 2012 I found a lot more than before.