OP1094. GUGLIELMO TELL, Broadcast Performance, 18-20 April, 1956, w.Rossi Cond. RAI Ensemble, Milano; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Anita Cerquetti, Gianni Jaia, Giuseppe Modesti, Jolanda Mancini; Nicolai Gedda; Guglielmo Tell - Excerpts. (Italy) 3-Myto 001.216. Long out-of-print, final copies! - 608974502164
“Rossini's WILLIAM TELL – his last opera – has had something of a revival in recent years, either in its original French version or in Italian translation. This one, from a 1956 production in Milan, wouldn't be worth notice were it not for the presence of Fischer-Dieskau in the title role. He sang a fair amount of Italian opera, not always convincingly, but here he is very good: robust, intelligent and persuasive in his characterization, singing well in the Verdian style the music requires. Most of the rest of the cast is also good, with Cerquetti a bit strident but effective as Matilde. Jaia hits Arnoldo's high notes well enough, but there isn't much sweetness in his voice and he shouts more than he sings; the set contains as a bonus most of Arnoldo's arias sung by Gedda, and he shows how they should be done. The orchestra and chorus are fine, and Rossi leads them in a spirited and sympathetic performance.”
- Alexander J. Morin
“Mario Rossi was an Italian conductor, noted for his solid and meticulous readings of a repertory ranging from Italian classics to Russian moderns such as Prokoffiev, to the German operatic classicist Christoph Willibald Gluck. He studied composition in Rome with Respighi and conducting with Giacomo Setaccioli, graduating in 1925, and soon after graduation he took up the post of assistant conductor to Bernardino Molinari. Appointed resident conductor of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence (1937–46), he made his début on the podium there in 1937 with Mascagni's IRIS. The following year he led the premiere of Gian Francesco Malipiero's opera ANTONIO E CLEOPATRA.
He conducted in all the major opera houses of Italy. As well as establishing himself in the standard Italian repertory, he took part in many revivals of ancient works such as Galuppi's IL FILOSOFO DI CAMPAGNA, Monteverdi's IL RITORNO D'ULISSE IN PATRIA, and Piccinni's LA BUONA FIGLIUOLA.
From 1946 till 1969 he served as chief conductor of the orchestra of the RAI in Turin. He elevated this group to an international level, making guest appearances in Brussels (1950), Vienna, (1951), and Salzburg (1952). Amongst his best performances on record were IL MATRIMONIO SEGRETO, IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, DON PASQUALE, UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, OTELLO and FALSTAFF.
His recordings of Gluck's PARIDE ED ELENA (1968) and of Prokoffiev's ALEXANDER NEVSKY (1954) display Rossi as an unquestionably great conductor whose styles in a 1770 German masterpiece as well as in a 20th-Century Russian masterpiece are remarkable for avoiding any distinctively ‘Italianate’ or otherwise inauthentic stylistic tendencies. In other words, the range of Rossi's musical sympathies was extraordinary. He was certainly one of the least-known of the great orchestral conductors of the 20th Century, one of the very few conductors who sounded authentically Gluckian when performing Gluck, just as much as he sounded authentically Verdian when performing Verdi. Achieving excellence across such a disparate repertory is rare even for great conductors, most of whom are stylistically authentic only in the music of a few periods, or a few nationalities (usually their own). For sheer universality, Rossi had few if any equals.”
- Zillah D. Akron
“Anita Cerquetti, a gifted Italian soprano who rose to instant fame in 1958 when she was called on to substitute for the mythic and sometimes mystifying Maria Callas in one of opera’s most dramatic episodes, and three years later surprised people again by ending her own career, died 11 October,in Perugia, Italy. She was 83. Her death was confirmed by Alfredo Sorichetti, a conductor who helps oversee an annual singing competition and academy named in Miss Cerquetti’s honor, in her hometown, Montecosaro. She had been hospitalized for several days after a heart attack, he said.
The drama that brought Miss Cerquetti worldwide attention began on 2 Jan., 1958, a Thursday, the opening night of Bellini’s NORMA at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome. After Callas, the glamorous American-born prima donna in the lead role, received a few derogatory whistles amid much applause for the first aria, ‘Casta Diva’, she began to appear tense. She never emerged for the second act, locking herself in her dressing room. Boos, hoots and foot-stomping shook the cheap seats. In the royal box, the president of Italy, Giovanni Gronchi, and his wife waited nearly an hour before leaving, and the show never resumed. Callas retreated to her hotel, insisting she was ill, and stayed there for five days. She could hear chants in the street below: ‘Down with Callas!’. By Saturday, there was a new chorus: ‘Long live Italian women!’.
Those were the words that met Miss Cerquetti, a rising star who happened to be performing the same role in Naples, when she stepped in for Callas at the Teatro dell’Opera for the first time on that Saturday night. The audience loved her, roaring at her version of ‘Casta Diva’.
Callas apologized for her absences and offered to return to the stage the following week — to sing two performances free. The manager of the opera house declined, and the Italian government, which subsidized the opera house, ordered her replaced. The role now belonged to Miss Cerquetti, who had a powerful, dramatic voice that audiences adored. Miss Cerquetti, who was just 25, had already impressed opera lovers in the United States, making her début with the Chicago Opera in 1955, singing the role of Amelia in Verdi’s UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. But while replacing Callas thrust her to a new level, it also took a toll. She went on to noted performances at La Scala in Milan and elsewhere, and on Italian radio broadcasts, but just three years after those tumultuous days at Teatro dell’Opera, she abruptly retired and all but disappeared. This time, it was Miss Cerquetti who faced questions. Had her voice failed? Did she have neurological issues? Heart problems? She blamed fatigue. ‘It got to the point where I had absolute need of physical rest. Above all, I needed to sleep. This was from stress. But, thank God, my vocal cords remained intact and have remained so until today. This is the truth’.
‘Miss Cerquetti’s recorded performance of arias by Verdi, Bellini, Spontini and Puccini leaves no doubt that her voice is a remarkable instrument’, John Briggs wrote in The New York Times in 1957 in a review of an Operatic Recital by Anita Cerquetti, one of a small number of commercial recordings she made. ‘Whether it is being used with skill is another question’.
‘I received many offers to return. There were moments when I almost accepted. But then I thought, what’s the point? I’ve already found my peace, my serenity. To return under the gun? Basta! And so I closed the door’.”
- William Yardley, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 16 OCT., 2014
“The career of Anita Cerquetti was all too brief. She withdrew from the scene in 1961 after establishing herself as one of the leading artists of the world. It was a stupendous instrument, to my ears a more natural voice than either Callas’ or Sutherland’s. Cerquetti recorded very little, though there is a good deal of live material. Her recording of ‘Casta diva’ from Bellini’s NORMA is singing to be treasured.”
- Michael F. Bott, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 2011
“In a career that lasted barely a decade, dramatic soprano Anita Cerquetti established an immense reputation that survives into the twenty first century. Why did she retire at age 30? Countless explanations have been advanced to justify Cerquetti's early departure from the stage, ranging from heart problems to ennui, impending motherhood to an instrument about to collapse owing to overuse. Yet not one seems satisfactory. Spasms in the facial nerves were an initial cause cited by the singer. After retiring for a period to rest, she returned to the stage. Why, then, did she permanently retire shortly after her reappearance? Cerquetti has suggested that she was tired and looking forward to giving birth to a child. That child, however, made her appearance some years after Cerquetti's retirement. The real truth may never be known and is perhaps unknown even to the diva herself. Despite the mystery surrounding the closing of Cerquetti's career, those ten years were of an undeniable magnitude. The soprano's voice -- large, bright, firmly supported up to an E flat above high C, searing in its penetrative power -- would have been a phenomenon in any age. Although its agility stopped short of the rapid-fire precision demonstrated by Maria Callas or Joan Sutherland, its keen focus was of the sort that stopped listeners in their tracks. Like other such densely compacted voices with fast vibratos, it sometimes veered sharp on top and was sensitive to dry acoustics. Cerquetti's was an instrument that required open spaces to fully unfold. Following a mere year of vocal study at the Conservatory in Perugia, Cerquetti made her début in Spoleto singing the title rôle in Aïda. From the very beginning, she was exposed to intense pressures to help fill the critical need for sopranos who could sing the dramatic repertory. For her début, she was also asked to assume the rôle of the High Priestess for a singer who had fallen ill. From that point through her final great year in 1958, she expended herself coming to the aid of those who had pressing need of her. When she was called upon to take over the rôle of Norma from Callas during a January 1958 production in Rome, she sang the rôle both there and in Naples, where she was already contracted. America heard too little of her, but she made an unforgettable impression in Chicago when Tullio Serafin (a mentor to the artist) brought her to the Lyric Opera for Verdi's UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, which also starred Jussi Björling and Tito Gobbi. When the soprano returned two years later, she was in less-glowing voice, but her Elisabetta in DON CARLO was well received. Despite her considerable size, Cerquetti learned to move with poise on-stage; with advice from both Serafin and coach Mario Rossi, she likewise learned to phrase with eloquence and beauty of sound. Though lacking a true pianissimo, she achieved the effect of softness and reflection by keeping her instrument truly and gently on the breath.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was by virtual acclamation one of the world’s great singers, from the 1940s to his official retirement in 1992, and an influential teacher and orchestra conductor for many years thereafter. He was also a formidable industry, making hundreds of recordings that pretty much set the modern standard for performances of lieder, the musical settings of poems first popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. But he was essentially a lyrical, introspective singer whose effect on listeners was not to nail them to their seat backs, but rather to draw them into the very heart of song.
The pianist Gerald Moore, who accompanied many great artists of the postwar decades, said Mr. Fischer-Dieskau had a flawless sense of rhythm and ‘one of the most remarkable voices in history — honeyed and suavely expressive’. Onstage he projected a masculine sensitivity informed by a cultivated upbringing and by dispiriting losses in World War II: the destruction of his family home, the death of his feeble brother in a Nazi institution, induction into the Wehrmacht when he had scarcely begun his voice studies at the Berlin Conservatory.
He had the good luck to age well, too. In 1988, at 62, he sang an all-Schumann program at Carnegie Hall, where people overflowed onto the stage to hear him. Donal Henahan, then the chief music critic of The New York Times, noted that Mr. Fischer-Dieskau’s voice had begun to harden in some difficult passages — but also that he was tall and lean and handsomer than ever, and had lost none of his commanding presence. Mr. Fischer-Dieskau described in his memoir REVERBERATIONS (1989) how his affinity for lieder had been formed in childhood. ‘I was won over to poetry at an early age’, he wrote. ‘I have been in its thrall all my life because I was made to read it, because it gave me pleasure, and because I eventually came to understand what I was reading’. He discerned, he said, that ‘music and poetry have a common domain, from which they draw inspiration and in which they operate: the landscape of the soul’.
Before adolescence Dietrich was inducted into a Hitler Youth group where, he recalled years later, he was appalled by the officiousness as well as by the brutality. His father died when he was 12. And he had just finished secondary school and one semester at the Berlin Conservatory when, in 1943, he was drafted into the Wehrmacht and assigned to care for army horses on the Russian front. He kept a diary there, calling it his ‘attempt at preserving an inner life in chaotic surroundings’.
Instead of returning to the disastrous campaign in Russia, he was diverted to Italy, along with thousands of other German soldiers. There, on 5 May, 1945, just three days before the Allies accepted the German surrender, he was captured and imprisoned. It turned out to be a musical opportunity: soon the Americans were sending him around to entertain other P.O.W.’s from the back of a truck. The problem was, they were so pleased with this arrangement that they kept him until June 1947. He was among the last Germans to be repatriated.
Because of his youth, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau had been in no position to make his own choices in the 1930s and ’40s, so he didn’t encounter the questions about Nazi ties that hung over many a prominent German artist after the war.
Mr. Fischer-Dieskau gave his first professional lieder recital in Leipzig in the fall of 1947. Success followed success, with lieder performances in Britain and other European countries, beginning in 1949. He first toured the United States in 1955, choosing for his New York début to sing Schubert’s demanding WINTERREISE cycle without intermission.
He had made his opera début in 1948, singing Posa in Verdi’s DON CARLOS at Berlin’s Städtische Oper (later renamed the Deutsche Oper), where he was hired as principal lyric baritone. He also sang regularly at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and appeared frequently in the opera houses of Vienna, Covent Garden, Salzburg and Bayreuth.
Versatility was not the least of Mr. Fischer-Dieskau’s assets. He tackled everything from Papageno in THE MAGIC FLUTE to heavier parts like Wotan in DAS RHEINGOLD and Wolfram in TANNHÄUSER. He recorded more than three dozen operatic rôles, Italian as well as German, along with oratorios, Bach cantatas and works of many modern composers, including Benjamin Britten, whose WAR REQUIEM he sang at its premiere in 1962.
Mr. Fischer-Dieskau’s insistence on getting things right comes through vividly in scenes of him at rehearsal or conducting master class. In a widely circulated video at the time, showing him coaching a young Christine Schäfer, Ms. Schäfer is singing beautifully, or so it would seem to your average mortal, yet the smiling maestro interrupts time and again to suggest something better. And it isn’t merely that he is invariably correct; it’s also that when he rises to sing just a few illustrative notes, the studio is instantly a stage, and he illuminates it with what seems to be an inner light.
Of the many tributes he received over the decades, perhaps none was more heartfelt than that of the British music critic John Amis: ‘Providence gives to some singers a beautiful voice, to some musical artistry, to some (let us face it) neither, but to Fischer-Dieskau Providence has given both. The result is a miracle, and that is just about all there is to be said about it….Having used a few superlatives and described the program, there is nothing else to do but write ‘finis,’ go home, and thank one’s stars for having had the good luck to be present’.”
- Daniel Lewis, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 18 May, 2012