OP0068. OTELLO (in Italian), Live Performance, 23 Feb., 1946, w.Szell Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Torsten Ralf, Leonard Warren, Stella Roman, etc.; TORSTEN RALF: Leoncavallo & Wagner Arias - Live Performances, 1937-46. (Italy) 2-Giuseppe di Stefano GDS 21013. Long out-of-print, Final Copy!
“Dramatic tenor Torsten Ralf achieved both artistic and popular success in several of the repertory's heaviest tenor roles. His large, smoothly produced voice was not quite of Heldentenor caliber, given that it lacked the baritonal lower register thought of as necessary for such challenges as Tannhäuser, Tristan, and Siegfried. But Ralf possessed unusually full and powerful top notes, fitting him ideally for such roles as Walter von Stolzing and the often painfully high Strauss heroic tenor roles. Indeed, one of the latter was his own creation. Ralf was a conscientious musician, seeking to follow the composer's intentions. When, however, he sang the final B flat at the conclusion of ‘Celeste Aïda’ softly as Verdi notated, his reward was only a smattering of applause.
Ralf made his début in Stettin as Cavaradossi in a 1930 production of TOSCA. He sang at Chemnitz in 1932 and 1933, then in Frankfurt from 1933 to 1935. In 1935, he began an eight-year association with Dresden, where he appeared as Apollo in the premiere of Strauss' DAPHNE in 1938. A recording made at the time testifies to Ralf's extraordinary facility in the very high tessitura of the role. Ralf's début in London also took place in 1935 and he remained with Covent Garden until the outbreak of WWII made his return impossible. He revisited London once more in 1948, as Radames.
London critics appreciated Ralf at his first appearance on 8 May, 1935 -- but the opera house administration liked him even more. He had come from Germany to substitute for an ailing singer in LOHENGRIN. Unable to book a flight, he traveled by ship and train, arriving just three and a half hours before performance time. His supple, yet powerful voice appealed greatly to the public and he became an instant favorite. Surprisingly, Ralf's Walter in MEISTERSINGER the next season was felt to be lacking, but Ernest Newman wrote that his Parsifal was the finest he had ever heard. In November 1936, Ralf was a part of the Dresden Staatsoper ensemble visiting London and offered his Bacchus in a single performance of ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, conducted by the composer himself.
During the period of hostilities, Ralf sang in Central Europe. On 26 November, 1945, he made his début at the Metropolitan Opera performing Lohengrin under the baton of Fritz Busch, himself new to the company. The critics were pleased with his smooth delivery of the hero's long narratives and a TANNHÄUSER three months later was regarded as positive. During the interim, Ralf's Walter elicited the opinion that no other tenor within memory had sung the role with so much freshness and ease. Under George Szell's firm direction, Ralf's Otello was fluent in the more lyric stretches, but short on the volcanic intensity needed for the dramatic outbursts. The eloquence Ralf brought to his Parsifal was as welcome at the Metropolitan in March 1947 as it had been in London.
Among Ralf's recordings, the pre-WWII MEISTERSINGER Act III is indispensable, showing his soaring tenor at its best. Ralf was only 53 at the time of his death.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Stella Roman, née Florica Vierica Alma Stela Blasu, was born in Cluj, Romania. She studied in Rome with Giuseppina Baldassare-Tedeschi and made her Italian début at Piacenza in 1932. After appearing successfully at the Rome Opera, she sang the rôle of the Empress in the La Scala première of DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN in 1940. She made her Metropolitan début as Aïda in 1941. During the 1940s she alternated with Zinka Milanov in big Italian rôles. She appeared at San Francisco during the same period, where her rôles included Donna Anna, Mimi and the Marschallin, a rôle she repeated at the San Carlo in Naples in 1951.
According to one commentator, ‘An unorthodox and sometimes hectic technique prevented the singer and her warm, beautiful lirico-dramatic voice from achieving greatness, but she was a fascinating artist capable of effortless, high pianissimos and vibrant climaxes, as can be heard in off-the-air performances from the Metropolitan, notably her Amelia (UN BALLO IN MASCHERA) and Desdemona'.”
- Z. D. Akron
"[Warren's] remarkable voice had a dramatic intensity which did not come naturally to him. As with everything else in his life, he worked at that until he got it right. Fortunately, his incomparable voice and dramatic power are still available to us on recordings of some of his most famous roles....[He] became one of the most famous and beloved operatic baritones in the world....Warren's flawless technique, seamless flow of sound, and brilliant top voice were his vocal trademarks and these qualities became the standard by which others would be measured, including me."
- Sherrill Milnes, AMERICAN ARIA, pp.76-77