OP0003. FAUST, Live Performance, 31 Dec., 1949, w.Pelletier Cond. Giuseppe di Stefano, Dorothy Kirsten, Leonard Warren, Italo Tajo, Claramae Turner, etc. (Switzerland) 2-Giuseppe di Stefano GDS 21015. Very long out-of-print, final excellent, ever-so-sl.used copy is missing brochure.
“Giuseppe di Stefano, a flamboyant, sometimes erratic opera star who in his prime after World War II was lauded as the most thrilling Italian tenor in a generation and was renowned for his superb voice, Mr. di Stefano had only brief years at the top, with a repertory that focused on lyric roles like the Duke in RIGOLETTO, the title role in FAUST and WERTHER. Rudolf Bing, the longtime general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, asserted that Mr. di Stefano could have been as great as Enrico Caruso if he had demonstrated more restraint in his personal and professional conduct. Mr. di Stefano conceded that he could be reckless. He reveled in his image as a bon vivant and bragged of his affairs, including a long romance with Maria Callas, his favorite onstage partner.
‘I wanted to enjoy life — not just the opera’, he said in an interview for OPERA NEWS in 1999, which took place at his villa north of Milan, on the edge of the lake district. ‘Yes, I smoked a lot. And it’s true I used to gamble, and I would stay up late and sometimes drive around all night. So of course the critics wrote: ‘He was not in shape to go on stage'.’ But Mr. di Stefano insisted that it was severe allergies that permanently damaged his voice.
With the onset of World War II, he served in the Italian army, assigned to an infirmary. But he was saved from duty on the Russian front by his regimental commander, an opera-loving doctor, who gave him a medical dispensation because he felt that the young man had a promising career ahead. Mr. di Stefano spent some of the war years as a pop singer, entertaining audiences at movie theaters between feature films. Then, in 1943, he fled to Switzerland, where he began his operatic career with recitals on a classical radio station in Zürich.
After the war, Mr. di Stefano made his opera début in Italy in 1946 at the Teatro Municipale, in the city of Reggio Emilia, as Des Grieux in Massenet’s MANON. He was quickly recognized as a rising star, praised for the rich, velvety texture of his voice and his great emphasis on diction. He was invited to sing at the major Italian opera houses. In 1948, Mr. di Stefano crossed the Atlantic to make his Metropolitan Opera début as the Duke in RIGOLETTO. But he received his greatest accolades for his performances as FAUST. Mr. Bing was awestruck by Mr. di Stefano’s interpretation of the role in the 1949-50 season. ‘The most spectacular single moment’, Mr. Bing wrote in his 1972 memoir, 5,000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA, was ‘when I heard his diminuendo on the high C in ‘Salut! Demeure’ in FAUST. ‘I shall never as long as I live forget the beauty of that sound’.
But Mr. di Stefano’s behavior soon caused Mr. Bing to sour on him. When a new production of LA BOHÈME went into rehearsal at the Met in the 1952-53 season, Mr. di Stefano failed to show up in time, contending that illness had prevented him from traveling from Italy to New York. Mr. Bing learned that Mr. di Stefano had in fact been healthy enough to perform at La Scala in Milan, and banned him from the Met for three years.
On his return to New York, Mr. di Stefano expanded his repertory to include Don José in CARMEN and Cavaradossi in TOSCA. But Mr. Bing, in his memoir, complained that the tenor persisted in his erratic behavior. ‘We never knew from day to day whether he would show up’, he wrote, adding that ‘his lack of self-discipline soon harmed what might have been a career men would remember with Caruso’s’. By the late 1950s, Mr. di Stefano’s career was in decline, with his failing voice often forcing him to cancel appearances. He insisted that an allergy to synthetic fibers had inflamed his larynx. But the opera world remained skeptical. After a miserable 1966 performance as Otello in Pasadena, CA, Mr. di Stefano’s stage appearances dwindled. In 1973-74, he and Maria Callas made a disastrous tour of North America, Asia and Europe, with critics panning their performances. Mr. di Stefano, who first sang with Ms. Callas in the early 1950s and later became her lover, rated her as the best diva with whom he ever sang. ‘Even when Callas’ voice wasn’t perfect, she had so much interpretation’, he said. ‘Opera is storytelling. Feelings must be conveyed. Acting must be moving. And Callas had it all’.
Even in old age, Mr. di Stefano insisted that he had no regrets about his short career at opera’s summit, and that he did not begrudge the success of peers like Luciano Pavarotti or Plácido Domingo. ‘I was never jealous of anybody’, he said. ‘I don’t have to go around insisting that I had one of the great voices. Fortunately, I made enough recordings to let people judge for themselves’.”
- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 March, 2008
"Dorothy Kirsten made her professional concert debut in a stage show at the New York World's Fair. She was also reunited with Grace Moore, who recommended her to the Chicago Grand Opera, where Miss Kirsten made her operatic début as Pousette in Massenet's MANON in 1940. Miss Kirsten sang 15 minor roles during her first season, and the following year shared the stage with Miss Moore in a Chicago performance of LA BOHEME, singing Musetta to Miss Moore's Mimi. In 1942, Miss Kirsten began to sing leading roles with the San Carlo Opera Company, in Washington and New York City. She made her New York City Opera debut in 1943, and by 1945 had performed with the San Francisco Opera, the New York Philharmonic and other major orchestras. Starting in September 1943, she had her own radio program, 'Keepsakes’, which ran for a year. Miss Kirsten's Metropolitan Opera debut, as Mimi in LA BOHEME on 1 Dec., 1945, was a critical success, and was the start of a 30-year association with that house. In 1971, when she celebrated her 25th anniversary with the company, she reminisced about that debut, and recalled that Miss Moore sat in the first box, at the side of the stage, and threw roses to her. When Miss Moore died in a plane crash in Denmark in 1947, Miss Kirsten sang Schubert's 'Ave Maria' at her funeral. Miss Kirsten's career was centered in the United States, but she did tour Europe and, in 1962, the Soviet Union. There, besides giving recitals, she sang Violetta in a Bolshoi Opera performance of LA TRAVIATA, to considerable acclaim, even though, as she said later, she had to go on without the benefit of a stage rehearsal. During her years at the Met, Miss Kirsten sang most of the important Puccini roles, including the title roles in MANON LESCAUT, TOSCA and MADAMA BUTTERFLY, and she starred as Minnie in a revival of LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST that helped restore the work to the repertory. She prepared for the title role in LOUISE by going to France to study it with the composer. She also worked with the composer Italo Montemezzi on L'AMORE DEI TRE RE before she performed it in San Francisco and at the Met. In addition to the Puccini heroines, her repertory included the female leads in Gounod's ROMEO ET JULIETTE and FAUST, Leoncavallo's PAGLIACCI and Verdi's LA TRAVIATA. She sang in the American premieres of Walton's TROILUS AND CRESSIDA and Poulenc's DIALOGUES DES CARMÉLITES, both in San Francisco. Miss Kirsten's voice was not huge, but she used it gracefully throughout her long career. When she gave her farewell performance at the Met, on 31 Dec., 1976, Allen Hughes wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES that 'she sang and acted the part of Tosca with the vocal control and dramatic acuity of a prima donna in mid-career’."
-Zillah D. Akron