OP0113. DIMITRI MITROPOULOS Cond. Vienna Staatsoper Ensemble, w.Cesare Siepi, Fernando Corena, Gottlob Frick, Léopold Simoneau, Elisabeth Grümmer, Lisa della Casa, Rita Streich, etc.: DON GIOVANNI. (Austria) 3-Sony SM3K 64263, Live Performance, 24 July, 1956, Salzburg. Outstanding sound quality! Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 074646426326
“Mr. Siepi was a classic Italian basso cantante, or ‘singing bass’, with a warm, slightly dark voice that was ideally suited to Mozart. Yet his voice was so robust that he could easily summon the power for King Philip II in DON CARLO, Gurnemanz in PARSIFAL and the title role in BORIS GODUNOV. In his prime, the tall, handsome Mr. Siepi, a natural onstage, was a favorite at the Metropolitan Opera, where he gave nearly 500 performances, singing 17 roles during a 23-year association. Bing wrote in his 1972 memoir, 5,000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA, [that Siepi] ‘made an overpowering debut and a well-deserved great career at the Metropolitan’. After his first Don Giovanni at the Met in 1952, Mr. Siepi became the Giovanni of choice in houses around the world, bringing a sly blend of vocal refinement and animal magnetism to his portrayal. Critics and audiences embraced him for a wide range of roles. Assessing an impressive Gurnemanz in a 1970 PARSIFAL at the Met, the critic Herbert Weinstock wrote in the British magazine OPERA that Mr. Siepi ‘really sang the role rather than growling it and acted with touching conviction’, articulating Wagner’s words ‘as if born to them’. He also excelled in broadly comic roles, like Don Basilio in Rossini’s BARBIERE.
At 18, urged on by friends, he entered a voice competition in Florence and won first prize. A manager in the audience quickly engaged him to sing the role of the hired assassin Sparafucile in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO for a production in Schio, near Vicenza. With the outbreak of war he moved to neutral Switzerland, returning to Italy when hostilities ended. He appeared in Verdi’s NABUCCO at La Scala in Milan in the first postwar production at the reconstructed theater, which had been damaged by bombs.
After his breakthrough Met debut, Mr. Siepi was in demand internationally. He scored triumphs at the Salzburg Festival during the 1950s and made several live recordings there, including a 1954 DON GIOVANNI conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Erna Berger among the cast.
In his day Mr. Siepi was considered a natural successor to Ezio Pinza. Like Pinza, who had starred in SOUTH PACIFIC, Mr. Siepi appeared in a stage musical, BRAVO GIOVANNI. The critic Howard Taubman, writing in THE NEW YORK TIMES, praised Mr. Siepi for bringing ‘the richest and best cultivated vocal instrument to Broadway’ since Pinza. The show, however, unlike Pinza’s SOUTH PACIFIC, was a flop. Still, Taubman gave the famous bass credit for trying. ‘Happily’, he concluded, ‘Mr. Siepi is at ease in his new surroundings and his voice glorifies them’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 July, 2010
"Simoneau remains the most irreplaceable of [the above] singers. His was one of the most beautiful tenor voices of the past half century. His legato, control of dynamics, and elocution were just perfect....He blended perfectly with other singers in ensemble, yet he never lost his gleaming individuality....Since he retired about 25 years ago, we haven't heard a tenor like him."
- Ralph V. Lucano, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, March/April, 1998
“In comparison with her contemporaries, Grümmer was a greatly under-recorded soprano. Since she possessed an attractive, cream-toned voice, a splendid florid technique, and a smooth legato delivery allied to a pleasing stage presence, it is curious that she was so neglected by the major record companies.”
- Vivian A. Liff, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, May / June, 2011
"Elisabeth Grümmer was one of a wonderful constellation of German lyric sopranos who dominated the Central European opera houses and concert halls in the 1950s and '60s."
- Kurt Moses, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, March/April, 2010
“Lisa Della Casa, the Swiss soprano who combined an outstanding voice, stunning beauty and exceptional stage presence to become one of the foremost interpreters of Richard Strauss, was one of a generation of sopranos to emerge from war-shattered Europe in the 1940s. In her Strauss roles, like the title character of Arabella, which alternately calls for demure graciousness and soaring enthusiasm, Ms. Della Casa displayed ‘a wholly appealing kind of fragility, tender and unmannered’, the musicologist J. B. Steane wrote in his book THE GRAND TRADITION: 70 Years of Singing on Record. She was equally extolled for her roles in Mozart operas.
In Europe, where Ms. Della Casa performed at the major opera houses, her beauty and charisma could seduce even a great conductor like Herbert von Karajan into pursuing her for roles that were out of her vocal range. ‘Karajan saw me as the Marschallin and, if you can believe it, immediately asked me to sing TANNHÄUSER with him’, even though the role, Venus, called for a dramatic soprano or a mezzo with an upper register and thus was not at all appropriate for her voice, she said in an interview in Lanfranco Rasponi’s book THE LAST PRIMA DONNAS. ‘He told me I had just the right kind of sexiness to make a splendid goddess of love’. She turned down the role.
Her complaint was the opposite at the Metropolitan Opera, where, she said, the general manager Rudolf Bing typecast her. She sang four roles at the Met — Countess Almaviva, Donna Elvira, the Marschallin and Arabella — a total of 114 times in her 147 performances. ‘My 15 seasons at the Metropolitan were not happy ones’, Ms. Della Casa told Mr. Rasponi. ‘Mr. Bing would not have it any other way, for he kept repeating that I was indispensable for the Mozart and Strauss operas, and that he had a surplus of sopranos for the Italian and French ones’.
Yet Ms. Della Casa rarely bickered or engaged in offstage dramatics. In an opera world notorious for outsize egos and histrionic rivalries, her colleagues openly admired her. The Romanian soprano Maria Cebotari, famous for her portrayal of Arabella in the 1940s, lobbied for the young Ms. Della Casa to sing alongside her in the role of Zdenka. ‘I’ll put my hand in the fire for her’, Ms. Cebotari told a Vienna opera manager who was skeptical of this relatively unknown soprano’s talent.
Ms. Della Casa was also admired for her glamorous good looks. The German soprano Anneliese Rothenberger compared her to Elizabeth Taylor.
Still, at 55 and at the height of her career, she abruptly announced her retirement in 1974 after singing her last Arabella at the Vienna State Opera. She then retreated with her husband, Dragan Debeljevic, and their daughter, Vesna, who was often in poor health, to their castle near Lake Constance in Switzerland. She offered no public explanations, nor was she ever tempted into recitals or master classes.
Ms. Della Casa appeared first at the Salzburg Festival in 1947 as Zdenka in ARABELLA; after hearing her premiere performance, Richard Strauss himself asserted, ‘The little Della Casa will one day be Arabella!’ In the fall of 1947 she made her début as Gilda in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO at the Vienna State Opera, where she remained an ensemble member for 27 years.
In 1953 Ms. Della Casa made her début as the Countess Almaviva at the Metropolitan Opera, where she continued to perform until 1968. Her early Met performances as Donna Elvira and Madama Butterfly did not impress the New York critics. But she hit her stride with Arabella. ‘There was a youth in her movement and a beauty in her appearance that might well have driven Vienna’s gay blades wild', Howard Taubman of The New York Times wrote in 1957. ‘And her singing was unfailingly lovely — accurate, well focused and sensitively phrased’.
‘The strange thing about a singer’s destiny’, she told Mr. Rasponi, ‘is that you have to renounce everything for its sake, and then it’s all over in a flash.”
- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 Dec., 2012
“Conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos stood apart from the European traditions that dominated first-rank American orchestras for much of the twentieth century. After attending the Athens Conservatory, where he studied piano and composition, his opera BÉATRICE was presented there. The French composer Saint-Saëns was in the audience, and was so impressed that he arranged a scholarship that enabled the 24-year-old to study composition with the Belgian composer Paul Gilson and piano with Busoni in Berlin. Busoni persuaded him to abandon composition and concentrate on becoming a conductor.
From 1921 to 1925, Mitropoulos assisted Erich Kleiber at the Berlin State Opera and on Kleiber's recommendation, was appointed conductor of the Hellenic Conservatory Symphony Orchestra in Athens. In 1927, he became conductor of the Greek State Symphony Orchestra and in 1930 was engaged to conduct the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, where he instituted the practice of conducting from the piano.
In 1937 Mitropoulos succeeded Eugene Ormandy as musical director of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. He became a U.S. citizen in 1946, and remained in America until 1959. After 12 years in Minneapolis, he was invited to share the conductorship of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra with Stokowski, becoming its conductor when Stokowski resigned in 1950. Mitropoulos resigned the post after sharing the podium with Leonard Bernstein, his co-principal conductor, in the Orchestra's 1958 tour of Latin America. From 1954, he was a dynamic force as Bruno Walter's successor at the Metropolitan Opera, where he introduced many new operas, including ones by Richard Strauss and Samuel Barber.
Mitropoulos never conducted his own works, but considered his best composition to be a Concerto Grosso written in 1929. His lived simply and took little part in social activities. His conducting style was passionate, highly-charged and demonstrative; he had a phenomenal memory and rarely used a baton. He programmed much modern music and particularly admired Schönberg and the Second Viennese School, such as Webern and Berg, as well as twentieth century American and British composers. His recording of Mahler's First Symphony made with the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra in 1941 was the first ever made in the U.S. of that work, and Mitropoulos was awarded the American Mahler Medal of Honor in 1950 for his work in promoting the composer's music. He died while rehearsing Mahler's Third Symphony with Toscanini's famous La Scala Orchestra.”
- Roy Brewer, allmusic.com