Friday, July 13, 2012

Memories of Opera on the Radio pt. 3

Here's what I get for organizing boxes and boxes and wall fulls of broadcast opera on CD. It took several weeks and half a hernia but its done. Now I'm able to reacquaint myself with:

Cilea: Adriana Lecouvreur MET April 19, 1969 Renata Tebaldi, Franco Corelli, Anselmo Colzani, Irene Dalis/Fausto Cleva

Tebaldi and Corelli: God and Goddess
Adriana! The opera all the critics love to hate. How many of them pay their way in? A great actress pines for the love of Franco Corelli-in tight pants, yet-sniffs poisoned flowers and dies. What's not to love? Audiences for his opera weren't worrying about the critics. They wanted to hear Tebaldi and Corelli. By 1969, at least in this performance, the great lady did complete turns around the circle of fifths to find her pitch-. But she delved into chest with abandon  and could still float a lovely tone -listen to the end of Act I-or the finale ("Ah del ciel") Corelli, exudes sex even in the radio. Macho, loud, stentorian, romantic in Act 1 with Adriana, supplicant in Act II, dashing and grief stricken throughout. Listen to the applause. Every time these two scratched the place erupted. That too, was opera. I was moved by a quote from soprano Loretta diFranco: "I remember doing Jouvenot in Adriana Lecouvreur, and the entrance of Tebaldi was incredible. You just stood in awe.That was great beauty."

This Adriana came to Boston the following week on tour. I was 12. It was the one evening I couldn't attend. Probably because my parents had a card game or the St. Vincent  de Paul Society and I couldn't get a ride into Boston. I missed Tebaldi and Corelli. All the more reason to enjoy this broadcast.

Lawrence Tibbett as Simon Boccanegra
Elisabeth Rethberg
Verdi: Simon Boccanegra  MET January 21, 1939 Lawrence Tibbett, Ezio Pinza, Giovanni Martinelli, Elisabth Rethberg, Leonard Warren/Ettore Panizza

Lawrence Tibbett put this dark, wonderful opera of the Genovese doge on the map. This is a well known performance, studded with names the likes of which don't exist today. Father Owen Lee, who is my guide in life, suggested that this may be the greatest Met broadcast ever. Lawrence Tibett's name is always mentioned with a sadness. His career was destroyed by alcohol but on this Saturday afternoon nearly seventy-five years ago he retained this large, warm beautiful baritone. Elisabeth Rethberg was in the twilight of her career but sunsets are usually very beautiful. Pinza and Martinelli. Legends  today. It was just a Saturday afternoon in New York. I m humbled listening to this-especially to  Leonard Warren as Paolo-already at 28 the next great voice in line to the great roles.

Giannini: The Taming of the Shrew. NEW YORK CITY OPERA April 13, 1958. Phyllis Curtin, Walter Cassel, John Alexander, Sonia Stolin/Peter Herman Adler.

The sound quality here makes me wonder if this was  a telecast. Peter Herman Adler was music director of the NBC Opera. I don't know. this was a New York City Opera production and a work and a cast like this make the best case for this company. An opera written by an American composer with a wonderful all-American cast. Phyllis Curtin, a gorgeous woman and exemplary musician. She probably makes music out of her grocery list. Walter Cassel is best known  today for another American opera-The Ballad of Baby Doe. A few blocks south he was also a Kurwenal, Scarpia, Telramund and Rigoletto. John Alexander sang everything and sang everything well. It's a further testament to the New York City Opera that his cast plays and sings so well as a unit. It's truly an ensemble company-delightful..exactly what this opera needs.

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde   MET March 19, 1955 Astrid Varnay, Set Svanholm, Joseph Metternich, Blanche Thebom, Jerome Hines, James McCracken/Rudolf Kempe

Read Astrid Varnay's memoir 55 Years in Five Acts.By the time of this performance the lady was in her mid thirties and had been singing leading roles at the Met since her last minute debut as Sieglinde December 6, 1941 (imagine the reviews THAT morning after). Varnay was coming to the end of her first Met tenure. From her book we learn that Rudolf Bing didn't much like Wagner and didn't much like Varnay. Her huge, black marble voice-which could take on a whine or a twinge of bitterness-is in great form for this Isolde. She gets the rage of Act I down. The love is a stretch for her, but there's plenty of beautiful singing. Bing also complained of the difficulty of bringing great conductors to the Met. He got it right with Rudolf Kempe. Kempe gets the architecture right-but he remembers that Wagner himself never intended his singers to be dwarfed by the orchestra. The beginning of Act II  is a perfect blend of an ecstatic orchestra and an electrifying Isolde. Set Svanhom doesn't need to be second to Melchior or anybody else. His performance is a bit square-not a lot of passion or fire-but he paces the treacherous third act quite well-he begins the opera strongly ("Was ist's? Isolde!") and ends it in beauty. I'm delighted to have re -discovered this broadcast. All the more reason to clean your room once in a while. 

Rossini: Semiramide OPERA CO. OF BOSTON February 7, 1965 Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, Joseph Rouleau, Andre Montal/Richard Bonynge.

I had heard about this performance from folks who were there nearly fifty years ago. Marilyn Horne as the Assiriyan general Arsace was eight months pregnant, thank you very much. She made her entrance aboard a ship that came down the aisle of the Donelly Theater on Mass. Ave and Huntington Ave-the theater is long gone. I doubt Semiramide was known by many in 1965. Dame Joan had been singing it since 1962 and would bring it to Chicago,  London, Australia-everywhere but New York! Boston got her in this long, magnificent tragic opera by Rossini. Not only was Semiramide known in 1965, but the type of dramatic florid singing would have been new to many. Of all of the off air and studio recordings of Sutherland and Horne in this music  it is this performance in my hometown, in a decrepit theater near Symphony Hall that out sings all the others. Both are in their magnificent primes-pregnant or not. Both blend perfectly in the two great extended duets. The music holds no terrors for wither of them-and my they do toss off the notes. The men fare less well. Rouleau has a marvelous bass voice but the fiorature, heavily cut-is beyond him. On my CD there are chunks of the opera missing-it was either severely cut-likely-or parts are simply missing on the original tape. Whatever. Find this for the two ladies, or the one lady and the pregnant general.

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