Ernani    (Schippers;  Bergonzi, Price, MacNeil, Tozzi)    (2-Frequenz 051 016)
Item# OP1462
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Ernani    (Schippers;  Bergonzi, Price, MacNeil, Tozzi)    (2-Frequenz 051 016)
OP1462. ERNANI, Live Performance, 1 Dec., 1962, w.Schippers Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Leontyne Price, Carlo Bergonzi, Cornell MacNeil, Giorgio Tozzi, etc. (Italy) 2-Frequenz 051 016. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 800327851067


“The principals (including conductor) of this performance of ERNANI overlap considerably with the RCA recording made five years later. But Cornell MacNeil is, in my view, stronger than Mario Sereni, while Giorgio Tozzi vs. Ezio Flagello is a toss-up. In the lead roles Leontyne Price and Carlo Bergonzi sing with greater involvement and dramatic impetus here than they do in the studio version. In addition, Price sounds in slightly fresher voice, and more at ease with the coloratura in the cabaletta to ‘Ernani, involam’. Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of this live version is the approximately 25 minutes of music cut from Verdi’s score, which are present in the RCA set.

Still, the Met performance has so much more of the smell of the theater that it is clearly preferable as a musical and dramatic experience. To show us all how normal such a remarkable level of singing was in those days at the Met, there is also available, on the Myto label [OP0239], a 1965 live ERNANI with Price, Franco Corelli, Sereni, and Cesare Siepi. These were not gala evenings, just the normal house standard!

Price and Bergonzi sing differently than they do on the RCA set. They are more involved in the drama at every moment, they hold notes longer and inflect with a thrust that is missing from the studio recording. Price’s luscious soprano produces a remarkably beautiful sound throughout, but she is not averse to pushing the voice at climactic moments, thus adding urgency to her performance. Her trill in the cabaletta to ‘Ernani, involami’ is perfect, and in the quartet that ends the third act she soars gloriously above the other three. Bergonzi is even farther removed from his beautifully vocalized but rather staid bandit Ernani heard on the RCA. The cabaletta to his entrance aria pushes forward (from both him and Schippers) in a way totally absent from the studio recording....both Price and Bergonzi ‘color words with real dramatic force’. The tenor’s singing in the opera’s final scene is the kind of vocalism that catches you up short with its beauty.

MacNeil is stupendous here. This might be (along with a Met TOSCA from the same period) the best recorded representation of the American baritone. A few years later he would resort to a kind of generalized overbearing forte and fortissimo, but here MacNeil sings with a variety of dynamic shading. Where power is wanted, it is supplied in abundance. The ‘A-flat’ at the end of ‘Oh, de’verd’ anni miei’ is spectacular, and brings the house down. But what lasts in the memory is the even legato and tonal beauty of the aria as a whole. MacNeil’s leading the finale to the third act, ‘O sommo Carlo’, is reminiscent of Leonard Warren’s singing in the 1954 Met radio broadcast.

Tozzi’s voice lacks the blackness of Flagello in the RCA recording, but he shapes the aria beautifully. The two greatest Silvas in my experience were Slavic: Boris Christoff and Nikolai Ghiaurov. But Tozzi is certainly more than adequate. The remainder of the cast is fine, and the performance gives us one more reminder of what we lost with the untimely death of Thomas Schippers at 47. ERNANI requires a conductor who honors Verdi’s beautiful melodic line and the intensity of the score’s dramatic content. Schippers’ conducting crackles with energy but also displays elasticity and suppleness of phrasing.

This is a stunning performance of what is one of the finest of Verdi’s early operas."

- Henry Fogel, FANFARE

"...give Bergonzi a lyrical moment, no matter how brief, and he turns it to account....spinning out more lyrical phrases than one remembered Verdi had written....[he] banishes all trace of the bandit Ernani and becomes the aristocratic Don Juan of Aragonin manner as well as name."

- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.384-85

"After earning her degree from College of Education and Industrial Arts at Wilberforce, OH (where she studied with Catherine Van Buren), Leontyne Price was awarded a scholarship to attend the Juilliard School of Music where she continued vocal training with Florence Page Kimball. Upon hearing her there, Virgil Thomson invited her to sing Saint Cecilia in the 1952 revival of his FOUR SAINTS IN THREE ACTS. She then toured the United States and Europe as Bess in Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS (1952-1955); on this tour she met and married bass-baritone William Warfield who was singing the role of Porgy.

In October 1953, Price sang the premiere of Samuel Barber's HERMIT SONGS at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and she gave her first New York recital in November 1954. In December of the same year she sang Barber's PRAYERS OF KIERKEGAARD with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Her appearances in TOSCA, DIE ZAUBERFLOTE, DIALOGUES DES CARMELITES and DON GIOVANNI on television brought her to wide attention for both her outstanding singing, and for being the first African-American leading soprano of note.

In the following seasons, she made her debuts at San Francisco, Chicago, Vienna, London, and Milan. This culminated in her first appearance at the Metropolitan Opera House as Leonore in IL TROVATORE, an evening that garnered a front page review in The New York Times. The Metropolitan would soon become her favored opera house; she sang most of her wide repertoire there, including Aida, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Leonore in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, ERNANI, Amelia in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, Donna Anna (DON GIOVANNI), Pamina (DIE ZAUBERFLOTE), Fiorgiligi (COSI), Ariadne (ARIADNE AUF NAXOS), and Tatiana in EUGENE ONEGIN. She sang her last operatic performance there in 1985 as Aida.

Leontyne Price's voice was a spinto soprano of great beauty. She had a wonderful feeling for the sweep of the long phrases of Verdi and her technique allowed her to encompass all of the difficulties of Donna Anna (DON GIOVANNI) and Elvira (ERNANI). Her lower register had a quality often described as 'dusky' which many listeners found quite sensual. Most of her important operatic roles were recorded by RCA, but only a small fraction of her recital repertoire found its way onto disc. Leontyne Price will always be remembered as one of the greatest Verdi sopranos of the twentieth century."

- Richard LeSueur,

"A pure baritone with power from low to high notes, Cornell MacNeil was considered the equal of Leonard Warren and Robert Merrill, the other stellar American Verdi baritones during the second half of the 20th century. From 1959 to 1987, he sang 26 roles in more than 600 appearances at the Metropolitan Opera alone. But he reached his peak in his Verdi performances. 'The larger and more complex the part, the better he was', James Levine, the Met's longtime conductor, said of Mr. MacNeil's Verdi roles in a 2007 interview with Opera News. 'Boccanegra, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, Falstaff, Iago - a lot of these parts could be said to be the most challenging and varied. He sang lots of Amonasros and Scarpias marvelously well, but those more complex ones were where he was at his best'.

Though not known as a temperamental artist, Mr. MacNeil was remembered for a spectacular public outburst when he stormed off the Parma Opera stage in Italy on 26 Dec., 1964. It happened during UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, when the Parma audience, notorious for rude displays of disapproval, hissed at the soprano Luisa Maragliano just as Mr. MacNeil was about to sing the aria 'Eri tu'. 'I was getting more and more angry as the rumbling and noise got worse', he told THE NEW YORK TIMES the following day. 'I couldn't stand it any longer. 'Basta, cretini!' I shouted and walked off the stage'. The situation grew worse in his dressing room, where the stage director warned him to return to the performance because he had his family's safety to consider. Refusing to go back onstage, Mr. MacNeil sent his wife and children to their hotel. But when he made his way to the back entrance, he was assaulted by theater employees. 'During the scuffle, I got socked on the jaw', Mr. MacNeil said, displaying a bruised chin during his TIMES interview. The following day the MacNeils fled Parma.

Cornell MacNeil - on his mother's advice, studied with the retired baritone Friedrich Schorr at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford. Before WW II ended, Mr. MacNeil joined the Radio City Music Hall Glee Club and also did backstage announcements. It was his sonorous baritone that announced the news to Radio City audiences of both the German and Japanese surrenders.

Mr. MacNeil made his opera debut when, after a brief vocal audition, the composer and director Gian Carlo Menotti immediately decided to cast him as the male lead in THE CONSUL, which opened on 1 March, 1950, at the Shubert Theater in Philadelphia. THE CONSUL, the first full-length opera composed by Menotti, won the Pulitzer Prize in music that year. Still a raw talent, Mr. MacNeil took voice lessons over the next two years while working nights at the Bulova Watch factory in Queens. In 1953 Mr. MacNeil made his New York City Opera debut, as Germont in LA TRAVIATA. Though acclaimed for his sumptuous singing in that performance, he also committed a memorable faux pas that began the occasional carping by critics about his acting abilities. In a 2007 interview with Rudolph Rauch for OPERA NEWS, Mr. MacNeil recalled making hand gestures in the aria 'Di Provenza' that didn't agree with the music, and he acknowledged he had been unaware of the meaning of the words he was singing. 'It seemed like the hand was out there for about half an hour, and it began to shake', he said. 'I finally got it back in, and I decided then I was not going to sing any more Italian operas until I really knew the language'. His Italian improved, though his acting continued to draw sporadic barbs from critics. Commenting on his performance as the villain Scarpia, the villain in a 1985 performance of TOSCA at the Metropolitan Opera, Donal Henahan of The Times wrote, 'Cornell MacNeil, the Scarpia, sang mellifluously, but his wooden acting could fool nobody into believing him a sadistic tyrant'.

In 1959 Mr. MacNeil made his debut at La Scala in Milan as Carlo in Verdi's ERNANI. 'His rich, flexible baritone soared and swelled with enormous power', TIME Magazine wrote. He impressed La Scala's manager, Antonio Ghiringhelli, enough that he offered him a contract. But Mr. MacNeil signed instead with the Met after making his debut there on 21 March, 1959 - barely two weeks after his La Scala debut - as the lead in Verdi's RIGOLETTO. He would go on to sing that role at the Met more than 100 times.

Mr. MacNeil scored numerous successes in other roles as well. Commenting on his first Met appearance as Renato in Verdi's UN BALLO IN MASCHERA on 7 March, 1962, Alan Rich wrote in THE TIMES, 'This superb American baritone may very possibly have had his finest hour'. He sang Scarpia more than 90 times at the Metropolitan following his debut in the role on 2 Nov., 1959. His final performance at the Met was in that role, on 5 Dec., 1987. He retired from the opera a year later after medical tests showed he had a possible blockage of the carotid artery.

A few years before leaving the stage, Mr. MacNeil gave a straightforward assessment of the opera world to his friend and Met colleague Jerome Hines, the well-known bass, who interviewed him for a 1982 book GREAT SINGERS ON GREAT SINGING. 'Opera is an excessive art form populated by excessive people', Mr. MacNeil said. 'We make it more excessive than necessary. Singing is really a very simple thing'."

- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 July, 2011

�Giorgio Tozzi, a distinguished bass who spent two decades with the Metropolitan Opera and also appeared on film, television and Broadway, was a distinguished professor emeritus at Indiana University�s Jacobs School of Music, where he had taught since 1991. He was previously on the Juilliard School faculty [originally having studied with Rosa Raisa, Giacomo Rimini and John Daggett Howell].

Esteemed for his warm, smooth voice; skillful acting; pinpoint diction; and authoritative stage presence - he was 6 foot 2 in his prime - Mr. Tozzi sang 528 performances with the Met. He was so ubiquitous there for so long that THE NEW YORK TIMES was later moved to describe him (admiringly) as �inescapable�. Mr. Tozzi made his Met d�but as Alvise in Ponchielli�s LA GIOCONDA in 1955. Reviewing the performance, The NEW YORK POST wrote that he �proved to have a voice of beautiful quality�, adding: �It was rich in texture and expertly handled both as to characterization and technique�. His most famous performances at the Met include the title roles in Mussorgsky�s BORIS GODUNOV and Mozart�s MARRIAGE OF FIGARO; Ramfis in Verdi�s A�DA; Don Basilio in Rossini�s BARBER OF SEVILLE; Philip II in Verdi�s DON CARLO; and Hans Sachs in Wagner�s DIE MEISTERSINGER VON N�RNBERG. Mr. Tozzi began his vocal life as a baritone. He made his d�but (as George Tozzi) in 1948, singing Tarquinius in Benjamin Britten�s THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA. Staged at the Ziegfeld Theater on Broadway, the production also starred Kitty Carlisle.

He originated the role of the Doctor in Samuel Barber�s VANESSA, which had its world premiere at the Met in 1958. Conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, the production also starred Eleanor Steber and Nicolai Gedda. Mr. Tozzi�s last performance with the Met was in 1975, as Colline in Puccini�s BOH�ME.

He also sang with the San Francisco Opera, La Scala and other companies and appeared as a soloist with major symphony orchestras throughout the United States and Europe. On film Mr. Tozzi dubbed the singing voice of the actor Rossano Brazzi in the role of Emile de Becque in SOUTH PACIFIC (1958), directed by Joshua Logan. (Mr. Tozzi had played the role himself, opposite Mary Martin, in a West Coast production of the musical the year before.) On the small screen he sang King Melchior in the 1978 television film of Gian Carlo Menotti�s AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS, also starring Teresa Stratas. On Broadway he received a Tony nomination for the role of the lonely California grape farmer Tony Esposito in the 1979 revival of Frank Loesser�s operatic musical comedy THE MOST HAPPY FELLA. (The award went to Jim Dale for BARNUM.)

- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2 June, 2011