OP0205. DON CARLOS, recorded 1965, w. Solti Cond. Royal Opera House Ensemble; Nicolai Ghiaurov, Carlo Bergonzi, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Martti Talvela, Renata Tebaldi, Grace Bumbry, etc. (E.U.) 3-Decca 455 439. Final Sealed Copy! - 8014394401796
“Nicolai Ghiaurov, the Bulgarian bass was one of the leading opera singers of his day whose warm, rich bass voice made him ideal for roles like King Philip in Verdi's DON CARLOS or the title role in Moussorgsky's BORIS GODOUNOV, both of which were among his signature roles. His vocal power and striking stage presence helped gain him the kind of accolades opera usually reserves for its tenors and sopranos.
His Metropolitan Opera debut, in November 1965, as Mephistopheles in Gounod's FAUST, received rapturous reviews. ‘The man indeed is sensational’, Harold C. Schonberg wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES. ‘He not only has a remarkable voice, but he is also big in every way’. He added, ‘He has presence, the kind that Pinza and Chaliapin had, the kind that jumps over the footlights and seizes the listener in a palpable embrace’.
By then, Mr. Ghiaurov was already a star in Europe; his American debut, at the Chicago Lyric Opera, had taken place two years earlier. His Met debut would have come earlier, too, he told an interviewer in 1965, but a tenor accidentally got in the way. At a party in Milan, Rudolf Bing, the Met's general manager, made Mr. Ghiaurov an offer, which was overheard by Franco Corelli. According to Mr. Ghiaurov, Corelli ‘became very excited’ and said to Bing, ‘How dare you offer him so little? From then on, everything was ruined in that discussion’, Mr. Ghiaurov said.
As beloved as he was in New York, Mr. Ghiaurov never created a home base there of the kind he had in Europe; he sang 81 performances of 10 roles at the Met, including a gala in 1991 celebrating the 25th anniversaries his debut, Ms. Freni's and the tenor Alfredo Kraus's; he also appeared in the Met's centennial gala in 1983. His last performance there was in 1996, in RIGOLETTO.
He remained active in Europe, however. In 2001, he tried out a new role, Dosifey, the old believer, in Moussorgsky's KHOVANSHCHINA, in a new production in Zürich, having often sung Khovansky in the same opera. In December in Venice, he sang Basilio in Rossini's BARBER OF SEVILLE, the role in which he made his operatic debut in Sofia in 1955.
His remarkable vocal longevity was often attributed to his choice of roles suited to his voice and to his care in later years not to overextend himself with too many performances.
After his operatic debut, Mr. Ghiaurov's progress was rapid: Bologna in 1958, La Scala in 1959, Covent Garden in 1962. ‘It is not entirely good to move up with such speed’, he told an interviewer. ‘I do not have the long experience with the smaller roles first. Almost from the beginning it is the big roles’.”
- Anne Midgette, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 3 June, 2004
"Considered the foremost Verdi tenor of his age, Mr. Bergonzi sang more than 300 times with the Metropolitan Opera of New York from the 1950s to the '80s, appearing opposite a roster of celebrated divas that included Maria Callas, Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi, Rise Stevens, Victoria de los Angeles and Leontyne Price.
A lyric tenor of some vocal heft, Mr. Bergonzi lacked the sonic weight and brilliance of tenors in the Wagnerian mold. But what he did possess was an instrument of velvety beauty and nearly unrivaled subtlety.
'More than the sound of the voice, it is Mr. Bergonzi's way of using it that is so special', Peter G. Davis, reviewing a 1978 Carnegie Hall recital by Mr. Bergonzi, wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES. 'He is a natural singer in that everything he does seems right and inevitable - the artful phrasing, the coloristic variety, the perfectly positioned accents, the theatrical sense of well-proportioned climaxes, the honest emotional fervor. Best of all, Mr. Bergonzi obviously uses these effects artistically because he feels them rather than intellectualizes them - a rare instinctual gift, possibly the most precious one any musician can possess'. In the view of his many fans, this vocal elegance amply compensated for the fact that Mr. Bergonzi was no actor and, by his own ready admission, no matinee idol. 'I know I don't look like Rudolph Valentino', he told THE TIMES in 1981. 'I know what a proper physique should be for the parts I sing, but I have tried to learn to act through the voice. The proper, pure expression of the line is the most important thing'.
Mr. Bergonzi began his career as a baritone, and after becoming a tenor a few years later was careful not to push his voice past its natural confines. As a result, he largely escaped the vocal wear that can force singers to retire by the time they reach their early 50s; Mr. Bergonzi, by contrast, continued to sing on prominent stages - and, as critical opinion had it, sing well - into his late 60s.
During World War II, Mr. Bergonzi spent three years in a German concentration camp for his anti-Nazi activities. He returned home after the war, weighing 80 pounds, and resumed singing.
Mr. Bergonzi made his operatic debut in 1948 as a baritone, singing the title part in Rossini's BARBER OF SEVILLE in Lecce, in southern Italy. After coming to realize that tenor parts were better situated for his voice, he made a second debut, as a tenor, in the title role in Umberto Giordano's ANDREA CHENIER in Bari in 1951.
In 1955, Mr. Bergonzi made his United States debut with the Lyric Theater of Chicago (now the Lyric Opera of Chicago) as Luigi in Puccini's IL TABARRO. The next year, on 13 November, he made his Met debut as Radames opposite Antonietta Stella, also making her debut that night.
Mr. Bergonzi also appeared at La Scala, 1953, and at Covent Garden, where he made his debut in 1962 as Don Alvaro in Verdi's FORZA DEL DESTINO. At the Met, in March 1964, Mr. Bergonzi was a soloist (with Ms. Price, Rosalind Elias and Cesare Siepi) in an acclaimed performance of the Verdi REQUIEM in memory of President John F. Kennedy, under the baton of Georg Solti.
In 1994, Mr. Bergonzi, then 70, took the stage at Carnegie Hall for what was billed as his American farewell recital. The concert, a program of Italian art songs and arias, concluded with a 50-minute ovation and was warmly reviewed by critics. But as it transpired, that concert was no farewell. In 2000, two months shy of his 76th birthday, Mr. Bergonzi sang the one Verdi role he had never attempted: the title part in OTELLO, one of the most fiendishly demanding tenor roles in opera, in a concert performance with the Opera Orchestra of New York under Eve Queler. His performance - a high-wattage Carnegie Hall affair whose audience included Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo, José Carreras, Sherrill Milnes, Licia Albanese and Anna Moffo - was, by wide critical consensus, an unreconstructed disaster. 'It was immediately apparent that there was something wrong', THE GUARDIAN wrote shortly afterward. 'A grainy tone in the voice inhibited everything. Bergonzi strained audibly in an unsuccessful attempt to reach the high A that caps the triumphant entry phrase'. Mr. Bergonzi withdrew from the performance after two acts, leaving his role in Acts III and IV to be sung by an understudy, Antonio Barasorda.
But the younger, supple-voiced Mr. Bergonzi endures on his many recordings, including several of AIDA (opposite Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo and Montserrat Caballé; a BOHEME and a BUTTERFLY opposite Renata Tebaldi; Donizetti's LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR with Beverly Sills; and a three-record set for Philips on which he sings all of the Verdi tenor arias."
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 July, 2014
“I heard Tebaldi many times, as a standee at the old Metropolitan Opera House from the mid-1950s through the early 1960s, and I never stopped marveling at the sheer beauty of the voice, her ability to project a pianissimo throughout the auditorium so that even though the note was extraordinarily soft, it sounded as if she were standing right next to you. The plushness of tone was probably the most unique feature of her singing, and along with that an innate sense of the appropriate shape of the phrase she was singing. She was not a subtle actress, never inflecting every phrase with subtexts of meaning the way Callas could, but nor was she a disengaged singer just pouring out lovely sounds. Her acting, both physical and vocal, was sincere and convincing, and at times very powerful. Her Butterfly broke your heart every time, through the moving way she shaped the ebb and flow of the music. There was no way you could see her as a 15 year old geisha, but by the wedding scene of the first act you were a complete believer.
Above all, there was that voice. It was immediately recognizable, distinctive, unlike any other. If you tuned in to a radio broadcast without hearing an announcement, two notes would be enough to identify the richly colored, luxurious sonority of the Tebaldi sound, a sound that caressed the ear and at the same time enveloped you. For many of us it was the sound that defined what an Italian soprano should be.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE