OP1384. AÏDA, recorded 1955, w.Perlea Cond. Rome Opera House Ensemble; Zinka Milanov, Jussi Björling, Leonard Warren, Fedora Barbieri, Boris Christoff, etc.; UN BALLO IN MASCHERA – Excerpts, recorded 1955, w.Mitropoulos Cond. Metropolitan Opera Orch.; Zinka Milanov, Jan Peerce, Leonard Warren, Roberta Peters & Marian Anderson. (E.U.) 3-Naxos 8.111042/44. Transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. - 747313304226
"No other singers have caught so well the serenity of two lovers whose readiness for death and anticipation of the ‘estasi d’un immortal amor’ is articulated in phrasing of constant refinement and beauty, mirroring the shimmering harmonics of the violins. Pianissimo singing in the upper register was a Milanov specialty."
- Stephen Hastings, THE BJÖRLING SOUND, p.313
“In the casting of a recording or performance of AÏDA, it is vital that the various relationships are balanced in terms of the ability of the singers to convey the tensions and emotions of the principals. This was never more important than in this recording with Aïda sung by the dramatic spinto Zinka Milanov. The title-rôle was assigned to the Croatian-born but American naturalised soprano who possessed one of the most beautiful voices of her time, a voice of translucent tonal beauty and considerable vocal power and her exquisite pianissimo singing was greatly admired in Bellini, Puccini and Verdi. Her vibrant soprano and power of expression could swamp weaker partners and never more so than here. Her ability to convey the drama and emotions experienced by Aïda can be fully appreciated in the contrast in her vocalism and expression in the singing of her two great arias. The rôle of Radames is sung by the Swedish-born tenor Jussi Björling. His long experience in the Italian repertoire enabled him to cover his plangent and wide-ranging tone with a patina of Italianata as if born in that country. Add a feel for Verdian line and idiom, clear diction, smooth legato and elegant phrasing, all allied to sufficient vocal heft for this demanding rôle and his Radames is incomparable. It is in the final scene that he and Milanov really tug at the heartstrings in their characterisation and expressiveness in some of the finest Verdi singing on record.”
- Robert F. Farr, MusicWeb International, Aug., 2006
"Perhaps the finest of all recorded performances of AÏDA is the 1955 production on RCA [above], which has been in the catalog for over 50 years. Opera Quarterly called it ‘the aristocrat of AÏDA recordings’. The entire cast, including Björling, Barbieri, and Warren, is no less than brilliant, and it seems that this particular score was written for Milanov, who performed it with the Metropolitan Opera Company 75 times. There is much dramatic power, perfect legato, perfect phrasing, and the presence of her fabled pianissimos, which are in every instance sublime."
- Raymond Beegle, FANFARE, May/June, 2006
"It is a well-known fact that Verdi’s AÏDA represents a major casting problem nowadays. But let’s turn the clock back a few decades to the summer of 1955 and feast our eye the five great Verdians RCA Victor had assembled in Rome for milestone recording….Jonel Perlea’s wise and spirited guidance achieved an AÏDA that towers over the many estimable efforts that followed this milestone into the recorded repertoire….everything clicked for [Milanov]: both big arias, the high C in ‘O patria mia,’ triumphant dominance of the upper lines in the ensembles, tonal richness over the entire range, and a marvelous command of the ‘pianos’ when the score called for them….Björling… treats us to a ‘master class’ all the way….[Barbieri’s] singing is full of passion, undaunted by the wide range the rôle of Amneris demands, and is always mindful of dramatic nuances. Leonard Warren’s sturdy baritone delivers everything a real Amonasro needs….it sounds as good as ever. No complete version has ever equaled it in my view."
- George Jellinek, FANFARE, Jan./Feb., 2006
“It was the Nile scene that did it. Never in my life have I heard a pianissimo like that, or the pure vocal control she had....[We] used to sit up in the balcony for every one of Zinka's performances and just marvel at her singing. When we came to Prague, we didn't expect to hear anything like that. Of course, I had heard wonderful Aïdas in New York — Rethberg, for instance — as a Juilliard student who went to [performances at] the Met. But Zinka's voice made such a direct connection with you. I would say the way that sound came out into the opera house and just pulsated all around you, that was electrifying.”
- Risë Stevens (on hearing Milanov's Aïda in Prague)
"Leonard Warren emerged as the principal baritone of the Met’s Italian wing in the early 1940s and remained so until his untimely death on the Met’s stage, 4 March, 1960, at the peak of his career. His smooth, velvety, and beautiful voice was powerful and had an unusually large range in its high register. It was easily and evenly produced, whether he sang softly or roared like a lion….Warren acted his roles primarily by vocal coloring, expressivity, and his excellent diction….his singing was unusually consistent….Warren’s legacy should be of interest to all lovers of great singing."
- Kurt Moses, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Nov./Dec., 2006
"[Warren's] remarkable voice had a dramatic intensity which did not come naturally to him. As with everything else in his life, he worked at that until he got it right. Fortunately, his incomparable voice and dramatic power are still available to us on recordings of some of his most famous roles....[He] became one of the most famous and beloved operatic baritones in the world....Warren's flawless technique, seamless flow of sound, and brilliant top voice were his vocal trademarks and these qualities became the standard by which others would be measured, including me."
- Sherrill Milnes, AMERICAN ARIA, pp.76-77
“A conductor/composer much beset by a series of catastrophes, Jonel Perlea nonetheless ranks high among his contemporaries for the fervor and meticulous attention to sound and form he brought to his interpretations. Interned by the Nazis during WWII and later the victim of a stroke, he prevailed, teaching and conducting with a modified technique employing the left hand only. Recorded evidence causes one to wonder about Perlea's abbreviated time with the Metropolitan Opera, but stories of backstage jealousies suggest the answer.
Perlea was invited to Bucharest to conduct the premiere of an orchestral work he had written and found himself intrigued by the possibility of a conducting career. His official début as a conductor came in Leipzig where he led an opera house performance of the ballet PUPPENFEE and quickly thereafter, the opera HÄNSEL UND GRETEL. Following several other German engagements and a year's service in the Romanian army, Perlea was made first principal conductor at the Bucharest Opera in 1926 and later, the company's music director and director of the city's conservatory. Throughout the ensuing years, Perlea's reputation grew through guest appearances at Europe's leading opera institutions and with its finest orchestras.
On their way from Bucharest to Paris in August 1944, Perlea and his wife were detained by Nazi officials in Vienna because they lacked the necessary visas. For the next year, they were placed in concentration camps, initially in Silesia, later in Kärten. Upon liberation by British troops, Perlea was sent to Italy for repatriation; subsequently he chose to attempt the rebuilding of his career there. A substitute engagement with Rome's Santa Cecilia Orchestra was so well-received that he was given a second concert, this time with his name on the playbills. Another success led to an engagement at La Scala where his TRISTAN UND ISOLDe was acclaimed. Perlea remained a principal conductor at Milan until 1949, also leading performances regularly at Naples.
After his American début with the San Francisco Symphony in 1949, Perlea came to the Metropolitan Opera where his 1 December début in TRISTAN drew high praise. The refined and clearly defined orchestral textures bespoke an exceptional gift for leadership; he supported his singers rather than dominating them. Similar high enthusiasm greeted his RIGOLETTO and CARMEN, but a failure to agree on repertory (the official story) led incoming manager Rudolf Bing to offer Perlea only one production for the following year.
Perlea returned to Italy to continue conducting there, finding ongoing favor with critics and audiences alike and leading several important opera recordings. Now a naturalized U.S. citizen, he was appointed music director of the Connecticut Symphony Orchestra in 1955 and taught at the Manhattan School of Music. A heart attack in 1957 presaged a stroke that left him disabled but not defeated. He continued to direct with his left arm only and in 1967, led a production of TOSCA for the American National Opera hailed as extraordinary for its authority and intensity.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com