OP0165. FAUST, recorded 1951, w.Cleva Cond. Metropolitan Opera Ensemble; Eugene Conley, Eleanor Steber, Frank Guarrera, Cesare Siepi, etc. (Austria) 2-Preiser 20015. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 717281200158
"This Faust was recorded in mono - but don't let that deter you! In the long lost days of the LP, this was the second opera recording I ever purchased, the first time I heard anything in French, and the first time I ever heard FAUST. It remains my favorite recording of the piece, and chiefly because it introduced me to two important singers: Cesare Siepi (Méphistophélès), the first bass voice I ever admired, and Eleanor Steber (Marguerite), the great American soprano who could just about sing anything (and pretty much did). This FAUST was originally part of a series of Metropolitan Opera recordings under the Columbia Masterworks label. The other MET stalwarts recorded here are Eugene Conley (Faust) and baritone Frank Guarrera (Valentin), both of whom sing solidly throughout, and Thelma Votipka (Marthe) and Margaret Roggero (Siebel) who provide strong characterizations. Top honors go to Siepi, who demonstrates exactly how Gounod's Mephisto is supposed to be sung - beautifully understated, with a warm tone, excellent legato and elegant phrasing, without one ounce of any buffo mannerisms that usually creep into other interpretations of the role. Steber runs a very close second, delivering a charming interpretation of the famous ‘Jewel Song’ with a real trill, clean scales, and perfectly placed staccato high A's that are a cause for smiles. And for the record, tenor Conley delivers a more than adequate high C in ‘Salut, demeure’. Maestro Fausto Cleva brings lots of energy into the mix, and the traditional cuts that are observed do nothing to lessen the drama.
I wore out the LP version of this recording long ago; I'm incredibly happy to have a pristine, clean copy once more which I shall continue to enjoy for many years to come."
- Loyal Bluto
“Eugene Conley, a tenor with the Metropolitan and New York City Opera Companies, was the first American tenor to open the season at Milan's La Scala. Noted for his ability to reach high notes, Mr. Conley was invited to La Scala in 1949 for the revival of Bellini's I PURITANI, which was rarely performed because the first tenor aria included a D flat above high C. Mr. Conley' success resulted in his becoming a favorite with Milan operagoers.
A native of Lynn, Mass., Mr. Conley began his professional career as a radio singer on a small station in the Boston area. He was first heard on national radio in 1939, when the National Broadcasting Company put him on the air in ‘NBC Presents Eugene Conley’. He performed also on NBC's 'Magic Key’,' the Columbia Broadcasting System's 'Golden Treasures of Song' and Mutual's 'Operatic Review’. Mr. Conley appeared with Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra and was also a regular performer on the 'Voice of Firestone’, a radio and television program.
In 1940, he made his operatic début at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as the Duke in RIGOLETTO, and in the New York La Scala Opera Company's production of Verdi's RIGOLETTO. He went on stage without rehearsal. Mr. Conley performed with New York's San Carlo Opera Company, the Cincinnati Summer Opera and the Chicago Opera Company before going into the Army Air Corps in 1942.
While in the service, he sang in the musical WINGED VICTORY, in a cast composed entirely of Air Corps personnel. In 1944, during the show's New York run, Mr. Conley was loaned to the San Carlo Opera when Fortune Gallo, the impresario, pleaded that the war had created a shortage of tenors in New York. At that time, this was regarded as Mr. Conley's most prominent performance on the operatic stage.
In a concert at Town Hall, in 1946, he presented a program of operatic arias and Irish songs. Ross Parmenter, a critic for The New York Times, wrote: ‘It is in opera that Mr. Conley is most at home. Not only does he sing arias with a passionate outpouring of melody, but he has the control and amplitude of voice to bring them off on the ambitious scale he sets for himself. His high, ringing notes evoked many a 'bravo’.'
By the time he made his début with the Metropolitan Opera, in January 1950, Mr. Conley had sung at the Paris Opéra-Comique, where he made his European début; London's Covent Garden, Stockholm's Royal Opera and La Scala. At the Metropolitan, in his first performance, he sang the title role in FAUST.
In 1953, Mr. Conley sang at President Dwight D. Eisenhower's inaugural. In 1978, Mr. Conley appeared in concert at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall in a program of operatic selections, including in the performance, as he did all in his others, ‘Danny Boy’.”
- C. Gerald Fraser, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 Dec., 1981
"Steber definitely possessed the most glorious instrument of all, with its classically organized technique, impeccable management of breath support, easy agility and, above all, that phosphorescent top register….She was a singer who possessed a rare combination of vocal radiance, technical mastery and personal charisma, and during her best years, the distinctive purity, spinning tone and easy sweetness of her soprano [which] made her the Mozart-Strauss soprano of one’s dreams."
- Peter G. Davis, OPERA NEWS, Nov., 200
"Nature would appear to dictate, that in general, tenors are short and portly, baritones are of medium height and stocky, and basses tall and rather spare. In the case of Cesare Siepi he was not only very tall but remarkably good-looking and possessed of a magnificent physique. He was the epitome of the rakish Don Giovanni that became one of his greatest roles, and never less than impressive in the dignified and sometime dominating characters allotted to the operatic bass."
- Alan Bilgora
“With his slender but firm voice and winning stage presence, Frank Guarrera was a fixture at the Met in a number of roles: Escamillo in CARMEN (his début role in 1948), Marcello in LA BOHÈME, Valentin in FAUST. He also essayed larger, Verdian roles with honor, if not quite the vocal opulence of contemporaries like Robert Merrill, or Leonard Warren, whom he replaced as Simon Boccanegra a few days after Mr. Warren’s death onstage in 1960.
In 1948, when the 24-year-old Mr. Guarrera was participating in the Metropolitan Opera’s ‘Auditions of the Air’ (a precursor of the current National Council Auditions), which he eventually won, Toscanini heard him on the radio singing Ford’s monologue from FALSTAFF and arranged for an audition. The result was Mr. Guarrera’s engagement at La Scala in Boito’s NERONE on the 30th anniversary of Boito’s death. It was the first of several performances under Toscanini; Mr. Guarrera sang Ford on the conductor’s legendary 1950 FALSTAFF broadcasts, still available on CD.
His final role at the Met was Gianni Schicchi, which he last sang in 1976. After his retirement from the stage, he taught at the University of Washington in Seattle for 10 years."
- Anne Midgette, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 27 Nov., 2007