OP0698. FIDELIO, recorded 1961, München, w.Knappertsbusch Cond. Bayerischen Staatsoper Ensemble; Sena Jurinac, Jan Peerce, Frederick Guthrie, Gustav Neidlinger, Dezsö Ernster, Maria Stader & Murray Dickie; Knappertsbusch Cond.: Leonore Overture III (both Beethoven). 2-Westminster Stereo 471 204. - 28947120421
"Anyone who has heard the legends surrounding German conductor Hans Knappertsbusch knows that 'Kna' favored under-rehearsed, spontaneous performances and slow tempi. Well, yes, and those idiosyncrasies mark his recordings as well as 'live' radio broadcasts that have survived. His 1961 Westminster studio recording of Beethoven's FIDELIO has always been reckoned something of a failure for these very reasons, but I think it's time for a reappraisal. Sure, Kna's tempos are often times slower than the norm, but this just underscores how attentive he is to giving his singers space to breathe (as well as carefully underlining Beethoven's harmonic structure). And what singers! Every member of this cast is world-class, headed up by the remarkable Sena Jurinac. Vocally secure and possessing an incomparably creamy legato, Jurinac was a true dramatic soprano and a memorable singing actress. Too few of her stage performances are available today and this, along with a wonderful Octavian on the Decca Erich Kleiber ROSENKAVALIER, showcases Jurinac at her best. Singing Florestan to Jurinac's Fidelio/Leonore is the American tenor Jan Peerce. Peerce was approaching the end of his operatic career when he made this recording and his voice at times sounds a bit worn. But that quality fits the role of the falsely imprisoned Florestan to perfection in a performance otherwise notable for a truly remarkable intelligence and sense of humanity. (It's amusing to recall that, about 15 years earlier, Peerce recorded the same role with Toscanini for RCA. Thus, Peerce has the distinction of working for both the fastest and the slowest Fidelio conductors on record!). The evil jailer Pizarro is the fabulously memorable Gustav Neidlinger, while the smaller roles are filled by such stalwarts as Deszö Ernster, Maria Stader and Murray Dickie. What we wouldn't give to hear such a cast today! But Knappertsbusch is the real star of this production and he has many thought-provoking things to say about Beethoven's only opera. Note that the performance includes the Leonore III overture interposed before the final scene of Act II. That's the way many conductors performed FIDELIO fifty and a hundred years ago after Gustav Mahler introduced the trick around the turn of the last century. People still debate whether it works as a musical device but, in Kna's hands, the performance of the interpolated overture helps transform a story about particular people living in a particular place and time into a universal epic of human love and freedom. Very moving."
“With her graceful bearing and a voice both rich and penetrating, Sena Jurinac was a star of the first generation of European singers to emerge after World War II. She made her début in Vienna on 1 May, 1945 — in the company’s first performance in a liberated Austria — as Cherubino in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO, a rôle she sang 129 times there. Though she made her first mark in Vienna, which became her artistic home, her radiant Mozart performances at the Glyndebourne Festival in the 1950s catapulted her to international stardom. She also made lauded appearances at the Salzburg and Bayreuth Festivals, the Royal Opera House in London, the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, La Scala in Milan and the San Francisco Opera.”
- Zachary Woolfe, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Nov., 2011
“The Jurinac voice was capable of a gleaming fortissimo, but it also commanded a wide range of shadings of colour and dynamic. The top notes could be floated with an ethereal purity; the middle and lower registers had a very human warmth….The present release is particularly valuable in presenting her as a Lieder singer….Like such great Lieder singers as Rehkemper, Erb, Janssen, Lehmann or Schumann, Jurinac gives us unforgettable musical phrases….We owe her a great deal – and history has already judged her to be one of the immortal sopranos of the twentieth century.”
- Tully Potter
"The basic tonal quality [of Peerce’s voice] is bright, ringing, and firmly focused on the note….The superior diction that Toscanini so admired is abundantly audible, as is the elegant musicianship and fervent declamation. Most striking of all [Peerce] exudes an infectious self-confidence and absolute security in his vocal personality, virtues that cannot be taught."
- Peter G. Davis, THE AMERICAN OPERA SINGER, p.421
“Jan Peerce was known as ‘Toscanini's tenor’, with his clean, incisive singing, exceptional breath support, and immediately distinctive timbre. After his New York song recital in 1964, Theodore Strongin wrote in The New York Times: ‘He is a phenomenon, a master professional, a tenor of impeccable poise and control. His enunciation is completely clear, no matter what the language. His fortissimos fill the hall. His pianissimos, though remarkably soft, come through as clearly as many singers' fortissimos, so solid is the basic quality of his voice’. Mr. Peerce participated in Toscanini's broadcasts of LA BOHEME, LA TRAVIATA, FIDELIO, UN BALLO IN MASCHERA and the last act of RIGOLETTO. Many of these were released by Victor as commercial recordings. On 14 May, 1941, Mr. Peerce made his stage début as the Duke in RIGOLETTO in Philadelphia. He made his Metropolitan Opera début on 29 Nov., 1941, as Alfredo in LA TRAVIATA. In his Metropolitan Opera years, Mr. Peerce concentrated on the Italian repertory. From 1941 to 1968 at the Met, Mr. Peerce sang 205 performances in 11 operas, plus 119 performances on tour. His last complete stage performance at the Metropolitan Opera took place on 21 Feb, 1966, in DON GIOVANNI. On 16 April, 1966, he was one of the participants in the Metropolitan's farewell gala, the last performance in the old opera house.
‘Basically’, Robert Merrill said, ‘Jan was a lyric tenor with a heavier voice than most lyrics’. Mr. Merrill, the baritone who sang many times with Mr. Peerce, said that the tenor kept his voice to the very end because he never forced. ‘He never went out of his repertory’, Mr. Merrill said. ‘The Met offered him many roles that he refused to accept because he thought they were too heavy for him. Jan stuck to what he knew he could do. He produced a beautiful sound and had a perfect legato. He also had high notes, and who can forget the C he used to take at the end of the first act of BOHEME? Everybody at the Met loved Jan. He had temperament, sure, but never a bothersome ego’.
James Levine, who first heard Mr. Peerce in Cincinnati many years ago and later worked with him professionally, described Mr. Peerce as ‘one of the most extraordinary singers and human beings I have ever known’. He paid tribute to the tenor's ‘stylistic versatility, rhythmic élan, communicative ability and wide repertory’.
When he was not singing at the Metropolitan Opera, Mr. Peerce was giving concerts. He never could stand still. But the basic condition of his voice never changed, and he thrived on a schedule that would have killed most other singers. He also appeared in European opera houses, and in 1956 was the first American ever to sing at the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow since the war.
His films included appearances in CARNEGIE HALL, TONIGHT WE SING and GOODBYE, COLUMBUS. He recorded for many companies. For many years Mr. Peerce was one of the steadiest, most reliable singers before the public. He attributed his vocal longevity to a secure technique.”
- Harold C. Schonberg, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 Dec., 1984