OP0008. AGNESE DI HOHENSTAUFEN (Spontini), Live Performance, 29 April, 1970, w.Muti Cond. RAI Ensemble, Roma; Montserrat Caballé, Antonietta Stella, Bruno Prevedi, Sesto Bruscantini, Giangiacomo Guelfi, etc. (Italy) 2-Rodolphe RPV 32671, incl. full libretto. Very Long out-of-print, final copy! - 3322220326713
“Many years of labor went into Spontini's final stage work. It was first performed in 1829 and given in a much-revised edition in 1837. With its huge orchestra, vast cast, and the subordination of set arias to massive and extended ensembles, it broke with all conventions. It was ahead of its time and clearly influenced many later composers, including Meyerbeer and Wagner. Unfortunately, it did not please its early audiences. Following those initial outings, it languished unheard until its 1954 Florence revival, drastically abridged. Although strongly criticized at the time, mainly on dramatic grounds, the production finally revealed the unique quality of the work and its vital importance in the development of 19th Century neoclassical romantic opera. Ignoring the overblown nature of the libretto, there is much of musical worth, and a fine collection of star soloists does justice to the melodic, intense and sometimes frenetic vocal writing….a version of this seminal score should be in the collection of anyone interested in 19th Century romantic opera and fine singing.”
- Vivian A Liff, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Nov./ Dec., 2004
“Montserrat Caballé, the Spanish soprano widely counted among the last of the old-time prima donnas for the transcendent purity of her voice, the sweeping breadth of her repertory and the delirious adulation of her fans, was one of the foremost opera singers of the second half of the 20th century. Ms. Caballé was an enduring, vibrant international presence, appearing at the Metropolitan Opera, with which she sang 98 times; Covent Garden; La Scala and elsewhere, as well as at the opening ceremony of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. She was also widely heard in recital, for many years making an annual appearance at Carnegie Hall.
Ms. Caballé was, critics concurred, one of the sublime representatives of a type of diva most often associated with a bygone, golden era: smolderingly regal, seemingly inscrutable, a larger-than-life presence accorded godlike status by her reverential public. Ms. Caballé’s exalted status was won by virtue of the vast number of roles at her command (more than 100, an almost unheard-of tally, from fleet, silvery Mozart to weighty Richard Strauss and weightier Wagner) and the length of her performing life (she sang publicly until she was well into her 60s, more than a decade after a singer’s usual retirement age).
Her recitals were often interrupted mid-song - after she had tossed off an especially intricate passage or scaled a particularly daring height - with wild cheering, foot-stomping and cries of ‘Brava!’. On one occasion, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York in 1983, a fistfight nearly erupted in the audience, with adulatory screamers on one side and pugilistic purists, demanding silence, on the other. But above all - and this is what moved her fans to ardor in the first place - there was the voice itself.
For sheer vocal glory, reviewers wrote, few voices, if any, could rival Ms. Caballé’s. She was possessed of a lyric soprano that, though light and shimmering, was not without heft. It was renowned for its riverine suppleness, and for an ethereal translucence that few other voices could equal. Over nearly half a century, critics invoked adjectives to describe Ms. Caballé’s sound that would read as staggering hyperbole for almost anyone else: ‘She possesses’, STEREO REVIEW magazine said of Ms. Caballé in 1992, ‘one of the most beautiful voices ever to issue from a human throat’.
Ms. Caballé displayed a noteworthy consistency of timbre throughout her range, largely sparing listeners the audible gear-shifting that can occur when singers move from low notes to high. Though she was not strictly a coloratura soprano, the innate flexibility of her instrument let her essay the Olympian heights of some coloratura works with ease. She was especially esteemed for her ability to spin out haunting, sustained pianissimos - the whisper-quiet passages that are among the most demanding tests of a singer’s mettle, entailing diaphragm strength and breath control akin to an athlete’s. All of these qualities made her voice particularly well suited to the bel canto repertory, consisting of elegant, filigreed works by 19th-century Italians like Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini. As a result of her prowess in that genre, Ms. Caballé was acknowledged to have helped spur a bel canto revival on opera and concert stages round the world at midcentury and beyond. She was also adept in other genres, counting among her repertory German lieder; the Spanish dramatic songs known as zarzuelas; the operas of Verdi, for which she was widely known; Richard Strauss’s Salome, which she called her favorite operatic role; and the title part in Donizetti’s LUCREZIA BORGIA, which propelled her to international stardom after a single performance in 1965.
Ms. Caballé’s evident devotion to tone over text, reviewers complained, could result in diction so slipshod that it bordered on anarchy. At times she would actually substitute nonsense syllables for a song’s text, when she appeared to feel that the words as written, with their congestion of consonants, would impede the flow of pure, vowelly sound. She was no actress, critics agreed, a consensus in which Ms. Caballé cheerfully concurred. And her ample frame, reviewers sometimes noted, cut an unpersuasive figure of the consumptive heroine - think of Mimì in Puccini’s LA BOHEME that is grand opera’s stock-in-trade.
Ms. Caballé also developed a reputation for pulling out of scheduled performances, a source of chronic irritation to reviewers and chronic disappointment to fans. ‘It is a standard joke in the business’, the music critic Will Crutchfield wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1986, ‘that ‘Mme. Caballé is available for only a limited number of cancellations this season’. And yet … there was the voice, for in the end, when it came to appraisals of Ms. Caballé, it was always the voice that carried the day. Writing in NEWSDAY in 1994, the critic Tim Page encapsulated the perennial contradictions of her art. ‘We attend Montserrat Caballé concerts for one reason - with the hope of being transported’, he wrote. ‘There are many more versatile artists, many more incisive interpreters and - God knows -many more venturesome programmers. But when Caballé is ‘on’ -as she was sporadically during her Tuesday night recital at Carnegie Hall - there is no more beautiful voice in the world’. That voice, Ms. Caballé often said, had been a gift from God - one on which she had built rigorous, hard-won training that her impoverished childhood had very nearly placed out of reach.
Named for Our Lady of Montserrat, the patron saint of Catalonia, Maria de Montserrat Viviana Concepción Caballé i Folch was born in Barcelona on April 12, 1933.
Amid the Depression, and the Spanish Civil War, she was reared in poverty. (In interviews throughout her career, Ms. Caballé diplomatically expressed equal pride in her Catalan and Spanish backgrounds. She was also circumspect about whether her family had been Republicans, supporting Spain’s democratically elected government, or Nationalists, supporting the military dictator Francisco Franco.) What was plain was that during those years, her family, formerly middle class, knew great hardship. Long afterward, when she was safely swathed in the jewels and furs that are a diva’s prerogative, Ms. Caballé recalled a time when she owned only a single dress. To the sneers of her classmates, she wore it to school every day for a year. It was clear that the child had a remarkable talent. Though her parents could scarcely afford it, she soon began studies at the Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu in Barcelona, first on the piano and then, as a young teenager, in voice. Her primary voice teacher, Eugenia Kemeny, made her pupils spend a full year doing vocal exercises and breath training before they could approach real music. That training, Ms. Caballé would say afterward, let her sustain her career as long as she did.
When Montserrat was about 16, her father fell ill and could not support the family, forcing her to withdraw from the conservatory. She worked for nearly a year in a handkerchief factory before attracting the sponsorship of wealthy Barcelona patrons, who agreed to support Montserrat and her family. In gratitude, she returned annually throughout her career to sing in Barcelona. At 20, Ms. Caballé graduated from the conservatory with its gold medal for voice and embarked on auditions with Italian opera companies. Nervous and untried, she failed at all of them, inspiring one agent, she recalled, to suggest she forsake singing and find a husband. Trying her luck in Switzerland, she caught on with the Basel Opera in 1956, singing small roles until she was called upon to sing Mimì in place of an ailing soprano. She spent the rest of the ’50s and early ’60s singing throughout Europe.
Ms. Caballé remained relatively unknown in the United States until April 20, 1965. She had been engaged to fill in that night for an indisposed Marilyn Horne, singing Lucrezia Borgia in a concert production by the American Opera Society at Carnegie Hall. Reviewing the performance in The Times, Raymond Ericson wrote: ‘Miss Caballé had only to sing her initial romanza, a typically melting Donizetti aria with small vocal flourishes, and it was apparent that here was a singer not only with a beautifully pure voice but an outstanding command of vocal style. It was not surprising that so early in the opera the audience stopped the performance for five minutes with its applause and cheers’. The performance established Ms. Caballé’s international career. She made her Met debut in December 1965, singing Marguerite in Gounod’s FAUST.
Ms. Caballé’s career was not without difficulties. Over the years, she endured a series of illnesses, including phlebitis, a heart attack and a benign brain tumor, resulting in missed performances. ‘I don’t cancel because of temperament’, she told THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE in 1995. ‘I have had seven major surgeries in my life. I have had tumors. I have had two children with Caesareans; you don’t just get up and sing the day after one of those’.
But ultimately it is Ms. Caballé’s transcendent voice, preserved on dozens of recordings, that will doubtless be remembered. Among the most highly regarded are two for RCA: a LUCREZIA, with Shirley Verrett and Alfredo Kraus, conducted by Jonel Perlea, and a SALOME, with Sherrill Milnes and Regina Resnik, under the baton of Erich Leinsdorf.”
- Margalit Fox. THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6 Oct., 2018
“Bruno Prevedi was an Italian tenor, particularly associated with the Italian repertory. Prevedi studied in Mantua with Alberto Sorenisa, and in Milan with Vladimiro Badiali. He made his début as a baritone in 1958, as Tonio, but quickly retrained himself as a tenor, and made a second début in 1959, as Turiddu, again at the Teatro Nuovo in Milan.
He sang widely in Italy, and made his début at La Scala in 1962, in Pizzetti's DEBORA E JAELE. He also appeared in Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Budapest, London and Buenos Aires. He sang the role of Pollione in NORMA in the Gran Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona during the winter season 1962-1963, then made his Metropolitan Opera début on 6 March, 1965 as Cavaradossi in TOSCA. During the following five seasons his roles included Alfredo, Manrico, Riccardo, Alvaro, Don Carlo, and Radamès.
Bruno Prevedi possessed an attractive spinto tenor voice with superb roundness at the top. He can be heard on a number of recordings for Decca, notably in complete performances of Verdi's NABUCCO, opposite Tito Gobbi and Elena Suliotis, in MACBETH, opposite Giuseppe Taddei and Birgit Nilsson, and MEDEA, opposite Gwyneth Jones, as well as a recital of tenor arias.”
- Zillah Dorset Akron
“Seeming from time to time a serious contender for consideration with the great prima donnas of her time - Callas, Tebaldi, and Milanov - Antonietta Stella never quite pulled together all the elements of her lavish gift. An immensely attractive woman with large, deep-set eyes and a figure that would have found favor in Hollywood, she presented an appealing stage presence but was not always able to control her impulsive histrionic inclinations. Although her vocal endowment led her to an early début, her lovely spinto-weight soprano was not sufficiently technically secure and not supported consistently enough to endure.
By her mid-teens, Stella had determined she would become a professional singer and began her vocal training. After studies in her native Perugia, and later in Rome, she won first prize in the 1949 Bologna Concorso. In 1950, she made a pre-professional appearance on-stage at Spoleto's Sperimentale and followed that in 1951 with her official début at the Rome Opera singing Leonora in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. A recording of SIMON BOCCANEGRA shortly thereafter revealed both a promising voice and some ungainly phrasing. Nonetheless, she was entrusted with the rôle of Lavinia in the world premiere of Guido Guerrini's ENEA, mounted by the Rome Opera in 1953. Italy welcomed the young soprano, despite her lack of experience. Engagements took her to many of the country's most prominent theaters, foremost among them La Scala, where she sang Desdemona in 1954 just a year after she had won good reviews in Florence for her performance in Verdi's AROLDO. Several of the lighter Wagner rôles also came her way with such parts as Elsa and Elisabeth and (less suitably) Sieglinde and Senta. The world beyond welcomed her as well: she was introduced as Aïda at Covent Garden in 1955 and at the Teatro Colón in 1956. Stella became a popular presence in several German houses and won appreciative reviews in Spain and Brazil. Stella made her Metropolitan Opera début on 13 November 13, essaying Aïda. Although she was in good voice, reviews held numerous caveats about her artistry and questions about her willingness to look past the approval of the gallery toward a deeper exploration of text and music. During four seasons, Stella sang more than 50 performances of eight different rôles, including Tosca, Butterfly (a memorable interpretation), Violetta, Elisabeth de Valois, Amelia in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA and the IL TROVATORE Leonora. Several ill-advised cancellations put an effective stop to Stella's American career. First, she exited a series of performances for Lirica Italiana in Japan. In 1957, she canceled her début with the San Francisco Opera. After the soprano presented the Metropolitan Opera with a doctor's certificate in 1960 asking for release (granted) for the company's spring tour and then showed up on the stage of La Scala during the period in question, Rudolf Bing filed breach of contract charges with the American Guild of Musical Artists. The action resulted in her suspension. Stella continued to appear in Europe, but decline was evident before she had reached the age of 40.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com