OP0203. ALZIRA (Verdi), Live Performance, 16 March, 1967, w.Capuana Cond. Rome Opera Ensemble; Virginia Zeani, Gianfranco Cecchele, Cornell MacNeil, Carlo Cava, etc.; VIRGINIA ZEANI, w.Molinari-Pradelli Cond.: Arias & Scenes (w.Monti, Filippeschi, Rossi-Lemeni, etc.) from La Sonnambula & I Puritani (the latter being Broadcast and Live Performances, 1957-59). (Portugal) 2-Gala 100.701. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 8712177043033
“This Romanian opera star was just one of a group of outstanding sopranos condemned to pursue their careers in the shadow of Callas, Tebaldi and Sutherland….Zeani is revealed as a totally dependable singer. The voice is lovely, if slightly of occluded quality and the scale even and well balanced through a wide range. Her interpretations are finely judged and often quite individual….Definitely an enjoyable experience.”
- Vivian A. Liff, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 2009
“Virginia Zeani belongs to the singers who were almost ignored by the multi-national recording industry. She herself preferred her live recordings to those of the studio. This might be partly the reason why she is to be found on but a few commercial recordings. Hers is a voice of much flexibility, emitted with remarkable technical competence, extending from warm chest notes to high E. She sings with impeccable phrasing, with great intensity and dramatic conviction”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“Virginia Zeani was immediately noted for her rare ability to bring precise meaning to her music, achieving that rare synthesis of bel canto and expression which drew praise for her interpretations, both for their dramatic sensivity and intimacy and for her radiant singing. Beneath all this, however, there was something in Zeani’s timbre which went straight to the heart: an aura of veiled melancholy, a nobly controlled passion which blended exquisitely with the bewitching color of her voice, dusky in the center and radiant at the top. Hers was a voice of fascinating femininity, capable of expressing both tenderness and sensuality, both elegy and tragedy.”
- Davide Annachini
“Gianfranco Cecchele was born in 1938 in Padua, Italy. Even as a child he showed a precocious interest in opera and operatic singing. His interest was steadfast, and by 1963, when he was 25 years old, he decided to take some voice lessons. His teachers were impressed with his vocal potential, and in the same year he won a singing contest organized by the Teatro Nuovo in Milan. His début followed quickly, and in the following year he débuted at the Teatro Bellini in Catania, in a relatively obscure work, a one-act pastoral poem by Giuseppe Mulè entitled LA ZOLFARA. Possessed of a heroic voice, however, he quickly (within the same year, actually) moved on to La Scala to sing no less than the leading role in Wagner's RIENZI! Next—and this is all in 1964—on to Rome and AÏDA. Clearly, this young tenor with a stentorian voice was making a quick and powerful impression on audiences and critics alike. In rapid succession he accumulated a repertoire that included, in addition to Rienzi and Radamès, Don Carlo, Turridu, Don Alvaro and Calaf. In the following year he appeared at the Paris Opéra, with Maria Callas, in NORMA. It is hard to imagine a more rapid rise in a very demanding repertoire, and that of course was a double-edged sword. He was, after all, only in his 20's! He reputation spread throughout Europe and he gave 241 performances between 1964 and 1969. Of course, the inevitable happened, and toward the end of the period, around '67 and '68, he seriously strained his voice, causing vocal inflammation. Too many big roles too quickly. He had to quit singing entirely at that point, at least for a while, to undergo a long and painful recuperation from swollen and seriously strained vocal musculature. After a few years, however, he was re-establishing himself, and adding some less demanding roles to his repertoire and singing less often, having learned the lesson that many tenors do. Had he displayed that wisdom earlier on, there would likely not have been an interruption in his career. Also, the fact that he sang very largely in Italy made him an opera singer who, while enormously popular there, was not much known in America. This is also the case with two other fine Italian tenors, Mario Filippeschi and Salvatore Fisichella.”
- Edmund St Austell
“A pure baritone with power from low to high notes, Cornell MacNeil was considered the equal of Leonard Warren and Robert Merrill, the other stellar American Verdi baritones during the second half of the 20th century. From 1959 to 1987, he sang 26 roles in more than 600 appearances at the Metropolitan Opera alone. But he reached his peak in his Verdi performances. ‘The larger and more complex the part, the better he was’, James Levine, the Met’s longtime conductor, said of Mr. MacNeil’s Verdi roles in a 2007 interview with Opera News. ‘Boccanegra, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, Falstaff, Iago — a lot of these parts could be said to be the most challenging and varied….He sang lots of Amonasros and Scarpias marvelously well, but those more complex ones were where he was at his best’.
In 1959 Mr. MacNeil made his début at La Scala in Milan as Carlo in Verdi’s ERNANI. ‘His rich, flexible baritone soared and swelled with enormous power’, Time magazine wrote. He impressed La Scala’s manager, Antonio Ghiringhelli, enough that he offered him a contract. But Mr. MacNeil signed instead with the Met after making his début there on 21 March, 1959 — barely two weeks after his La Scala début — as the lead in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO. He would go on to sing that role at the Met more than 100 times.
Mr. MacNeil scored numerous successes in other roles as well. Commenting on his first Met appearance as Renato in Verdi’s UN BALLO IN MASCHERA on 7 March, 1962, Alan Rich wrote in The Times, ‘This superb American baritone may very possibly have had his finest hour’. He sang Scarpia more than 90 times at the Metropolitan following his début in the role on 2 Nov., 1959. His final performance at the Met was in that role, on 5 Dec., 1987. He retired from the opera a year later after medical tests showed he had a possible blockage of the carotid artery.”
- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 July, 2011