Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Memories of Opera on Radio

A young friend and I have exchanged lists of collected opera performances on CD for trade.
 I had spent part of this spring cataloging and updating my collection of broadcasts going back to 193 (Deems Taylor's Peter Ibbetson). My list is long but in no way as impressive as the many completists with whom I correspond.

My friend sent me his 'wish list' from my collection. I'm delighted to share. As I pulled the CDs and sampled some, the floodgates of memory opened.

Massenet: Werther  March 27, 1971-the Met broadcast premiere of an opera the company had not performed since 1910. Franco Corelli starred as Goethe's unhappy (and unhappy, and unhappy...) poet,  with Rosalind Elias as Charlotte. With John Reardon and Donald Gramm.. Alain Lombard conducted. There was an outcry that Corelli was cast in this over Gedda. And its true our Franco yelled and yodelled his way through the French. But who would have looked better in the blue frock coat and tight-tight leggings?  Elias was gorgeous in this role. I met her years later and she told me the role was her favorite-it meant a lot to her. To me, too. Elias is on Broadway this year, at 82 in Follies. Great lady

Rosalind Elias: Still wowin' them
I saw this Werther  in Boston a few weeks after the broadcast. Crespin sang the Charlotte with Corelli. What I remember most is Corelli's's wife screaming at him back stage. She could be heard out front, in the vast car/boat show-esque War Memorial Auditorium. Backstage there was a mob around him. Crespin was ignored and pissed. He picked me, a kid out of the crowd, flashed me a smile (it would have melted you, too-I don't care who you are) and signed my program.

Last night of  'La Loca' Beverly Sills and John Mauceri
Menotti:  La Loca (The Madwoman) Menotti wrote this as a vehicle for Beverly Sills's farewell performances in 1979 and 1980. There was a great deal of pre-show hype about this. I attended a talk Sills gave where she described the opera -then a work in progress. Her description of the mad Queen Juana-a daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella-who was abused by father, husband and son...was riveting. Alas. At the premiere in San Diego the opera was still in progress. At the New York opening, well, a great opportunity had been squandered. The lady herself was cheered to the rafters. Chunks of it as I recall had no music! An opera who first lines are "Early this morning I saw three horses, galloping round and round", well it didn't improve from there. And I thought it sad that Sills took her last curtain calls as the abused and elderly Juana, in rags. Nevertheless, always a pro, the lady stopped the applause and said, "Thank you for a wonderful love affair. The best is yet to come." You gotta lover her.

Puccini: La boheme October 16, 1972. The Met debut of Henry Lewis, who became the first African American to conduct at the Met. Is he still the only one? Scandalous. This is an in house recording. Anna Moffo was in the midst of her vocal crisis, plus a high profile marriage to Robert Sarnoff, the chairman of RCA. She lost her voice but not her glamour. She had just sung Mimi in Hartford. The reviews were not kind. Occasionally she could put it over, but her career never recovered from a disastrous broadcast of Lucia in 1969. (A party favorite for vocal necrophiliacs.) Richard Tucker sang Rodolfo-what a luxury to have that great voice based at the Met for so many years. He died a few years later at 63-I heard later performances and he easily rattled the roof. The real deal. If you are under fifty you missed out on a voice that  like Nilsson, had vast and tremendous presence.

J. Strauss: Die Fledermaus January 23, 1955 Eleanor Steber. What's not to love? By 1955 the booze and the night life were catching up with her. She had a few years of great singing ahead of her (Arabella, Vanessa) but already she was feeling Bing's preference for foreign artists. I don't think there was a finer musician in opera than Steber. Her master classes at NEC years later were a hoot. She was bedecked like the Boston common Christmas tree. Her concerts in Jordan Hall yielded nothing to age or the party life: Big Verdi, Strauss, Mozart, Poulenc, Brahms. The voice was patchy but the delivery was great. Oh yes-Fledermaus. Patrice Munsel I'm sure stole the show as Adele. She was later considered somewhat crude but I've never heard an -ina performance from Munsel  where she didn't steal the show. Charles Kullman and John Brownlee are in the cast: the latter made his debut in opera in London, 1926, on Melba's last night at Covent Garden. Jarmila Novotna was demoted to Orlofsky in her final Met years. Franz Lehar's Giuditta, not to mention a Violetta, Butterfly and Octavain of note-I used to see Novotna at the Met in the mid 1980s. She was that age herself then, but a lovelier old lady you never saw, except for my Grandmother Annie Duddy-but she died a few years earlier.

Phyllis Curtin. Who was lovelier?

Milhaud La mere coupable This is the neglected third Figaro play by Beaumarchais. Milhaud's opera was introduced in Geneva in 1966. I doubt it's been performed again. This is the premiere, in so- so sound. I have always loved Phyllis Curtin, for her pioneering of American music-and her great mix of sexiness and brains. What an artist! She's the Rosine-the title character.  Curtin stated many year ago in an interview that she had sung the permiere of this opera. Last year I finally found this 50 year old broadcasts. I wrote the lady asking if she's like a copy-she wasn't interested but wrote me a long marvelous post ("Dear Christopher: What a memory you have!") She herself recalled little of this except it was a rush-rush job, deadlines missed and there was a whole lotta sight reading going on. One listen told me why the opera isn't done. Jose van Dam has a tiny role-with Luis Quilico. Serge Baudo conducts.

MORE TO COME........

No comments: