OP0847. UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, Live Performance, 1954, w.Toscanini Cond. NBC S.O. & Robert Shaw Chorale; Herva Nelli, Jan Peerce, Claramae Turner, Robert Merrill, Virginia Haskins, Nicola Moscona, etc. (Italy) 2-Myto 052.H100. Long out-of-print, final copy! - 8014399501002
"Recorded in 1954 - Toscanini’s farewell to the world of opera - this performance is generally deemed the most perfect of all his opera recordings.
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
“Robert Merrill made his Metropolitan début as Germont on 15 Dec., 1945, and celebrated his 500th performance there on 5 March, 1973. He remained on the Met roster until 1976. During his tenure with the Met, Mr. Merrill sang leading roles in much of the standard repertory, including the title role in RIGOLETTO, Germont in LA TRAVIATA, Figaro in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, Escamillo in CARMEN and Tonio in PAGLIACCI; he appeared in most of these many times. Regarded as one of the greatest Verdi baritones of his generation, he was known for the security and strength of his sound, as well as for the precision and clarity with which he could hit pitches across his two-octave range.
‘Although he occasionally appeared in Europe and South America, he preferred to base his career at the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang all the major baritone roles of the Italian and French repertories’, Peter G. Davis wrote of Mr. Merrill in THE NEW GROVE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN MUSIC. ‘In terms of vocal endowment, technical security and longevity, he was unequaled among baritones of his generation at the Metropolitan’. ‘After Leonard Warren's tragic death onstage at the Metropolitan in 1960, Merrill became more or less indisputably America's principal baritone and perhaps the best lyricist since Giuseppe de Luca’, the critic J. B. Steane wrote in his book THE GRAND TRADITION. ‘The easy and even production of a beautifully well-rounded tone is not common, especially when the voice is also a powerful one; yet this is, after all, the basis of operatic singing, and Merrill's records will always commend themselves in these terms. Mr. Merrill made many recordings for RCA. He sang in two complete opera broadcasts on radio under Toscanini - LA TRAVIATA in 1946 and UN BALLO IN MASCHERA in 1953 - both of which were later issued on CD. He wrote two autobiographies, ONCE MORE FROM THE BEGINNING (1965) and BETWEEN ACTS (1976), as well as a novel, THE DIVAS (1978). He received a number of honorary doctorates and awards.”
- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Oct., 2004
“Renowned for her lustrous voice, Claramae Turner sang more than 100 times with the Metropolitan Opera. But she is best known — or, more precisely, best unknown — for having introduced ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’, the sentimental ballad indelibly associated with Tony Bennett. That song, with music by George Cory and lyrics by Douglass Cross, was written for Ms. Turner, an operatic contralto, in the early 1950s and published in 1954. She sang it often as a recital encore. Then along came Mr. Bennett, who had a hit with it in 1962, won two Grammy Awards for it (record of the year and best male solo vocal performance) and has lived with it happily ever after. Mr. Bennett’s recordings of the song have sold millions of copies. It has also been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Judy Garland, Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Tennessee Ernie Ford and a torrent of others.
Ms. Turner, who died on 18 May, 2013, at 92, in Santa Rosa, Calif., was also known to audiences as Cousin Nettie in the 1956 film version of CAROUSEL, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. In that picture, which starred Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae, Ms. Turner sings the enduring standards ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and ‘June Is Bustin’ Out All Over’.
At the Met, where Ms. Turner appeared regularly from 1946 to 1950, her roles included Amneris in Verdi’s AÏDA, Marcellina in Mozart’s NOZZE, Erda in Wagner’s SIEGFRIED and Auntie in Britten’s PETER GRIMES.
Reviewing her Met debut, as Marthe in Gounod’s FAUST, in The New York Times, Noel Straus wrote, ‘Miss Turner accomplished some of the most able vocalism of the evening’. He added, ‘Hers is a warm, rich voice, admirably trained’.
Claramae Haas was born 28 Oct., 1920, in Dinuba, Calif., near Fresno. She got her start, fittingly, in San Francisco, as a chorister in the San Francisco Opera. She progressed to leading roles with the company, including Azucena in Verdi’s TROVATORE and Madame de Croissy in the United States stage premiere of Poulenc’s DIALOGUES OF THE CARMELITES in 1957.
In New York, Ms. Turner sang the original Madame Flora, the title character of Menotti’s THE MEDIUM, which had its world premiere at Columbia University in 1946. After leaving the Met in 1950, Ms. Turner performed regularly with the New York City Opera, where she sang Carmen, Madame Flora and many other roles. During this period Mr. Cory, a friend from her San Francisco days by then unhappily transplanted to New York, began work on ‘I Left My Heart’ for her.
Ms. Turner’s discography includes Humperdinck’s HANSEL AND GRETEL; THE TENDER LAND, by Aaron Copland; and the Verdi REQUIEM.
It does not include ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’, which she simply never got around to recording.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 7 June, 2013
“Claramae Turner was a true contralto. She was much praised for her rich, dark velvet sound and intense interpretations. Would Toscanini choose just anybody to sing Ulrica in his 1954 broadcast of UN BALLO IN MASCHERA? You can hear it for yourself here.”
- Charles H. Parsons, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Nov./Dec., 2008
“As a winner of the Metropolitan Auditions of the Air, Robert Merrill made his Metropolitan Opera débuton 15 December, 1945, as Germont père in LA TRAVIATA, opposite the Violetta of Licia Albanese and Richard Tucker's Alfredo. It was a rôle he was also privileged to sing and record under Arturo Toscanini.
Despite immediate audience popularity and the enthusiasm of Met management, Merrill pursued his career cautiously, staying with less demanding parts - Renato in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, Rodrigo in DON CARLO, Valentin in FAUST, and Marcello in LA BOHÈME - until he felt prepared for such larger rôles as the Count di Luna in IL TROVATORE, Barnaba in LA GIOCONDA, Amonasro in AÏDA, and, eventually, Iago in Verdi's OTELLO. Large or small, nearly everything he sang made an indelible impression. For instance, his Marcello for Sir Thomas Beecham's 1956 recording of LA BOHÈME, with de los Angeles and Björling. Gradually, his repertory broadened to include some 20 rôles, and over a career of 30 years, he was heard at the Met 750 times. Merrill's most notable foreign appearances were both as the elder Germont (a mainstay) - in Venice in 1961, and at Covent Garden in 1967.
It goes without saying that his work was a vital part of what made the Met's Golden Age so golden; he was highly valued there for his vigorous, powerful, and technically unshakable singing, if not for his acting skills (which were never a priority). In 1993, he was awarded the United States Medal of Arts.”
- Adrian Corleonis, allmusic.com