Music: Climbing the Valkyrie Rock

Hildegard Behrens and Eva Marlon sing opera's toughest roles

The major romantic-opera composers, along with enriching the repertory, each toughened the requirements for those who perform their music. In addition to the usual considerations of vocal agility and purity of tone, Wagner demanded endurance, a prodigious memory and a sound that could cut like hot steel through his dense orchestrations. Puccini required singers capable of searing dramatic flights, coupled with limpid lyricism. And Richard Strauss, envisioning his ideal Salome, was only partly joking when he asked for a 16-year-old with the voice of...

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