OP1708. DON GIOVANNI, Live Performance, 14 Dec., 1957, w.Böhm Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Cesare Siepi, Fernando Corena, Jan Peerce, Eleanor Steber, Lisa della Casa, Roberta Peters, Uppman & Giorgio Tozzi. (E.U.) 3-West Hill Radio Archives WHRA 6011. - 4015023160118
“Karl Böhm has made at least a half dozen recordings of this great work. All are good; most are very good. But until this recording came along none was regarded as one of the ‘great recordings of the 20th Century’.
I like the sleek, undistorted sound, wideranging in dynamics as well as frequency response. The artistic merits are likewise remarkable. The orchestra begins with no special sheen, for about the first 30 seconds. Then, quite suddenly, it catches fire, and the whole game changes. By the time Leporello comes along, things have come together, a tension and an aura of expectation built, a level that persists until DON GIOVANNI is safely no longer around to bother any future Donna Anna and Elvira. The Met Orchestra plays as if possessed, its sound sleek and sure. It’s not like the VPO, but is just as beautiful in its own way, not surpassed by the VPO in any of the recordings it has made, under Böhm, Krips, or anyone else. It is remarkable, the impossible dream. It is mono, of course, but so perfectly balanced and undistorted that it makes no great difference.
The star of the singing cast is Eleanor Steber, who is likely the best Donna Anna ever. I heard her sing the rôle at an otherwise routine Met performance led by someone else around 1960. She has a large and wide-ranging soprano, totally secure, beautiful in tone, and most skillfully employed. It is seamless, betraying no hint of effort or difficulty. These qualities seem to inspire the whole cast. George London isn’t the biggest or loudest DON GIOVANNI in captivity, but his intellect and flexibility make him one of the best. Lisa della Casa’s Elvira is her specialty, and it is offered here in all its glory. Nobody else even comes close. Ezio Flagello offers a fast-thinking, agile, smooth-voiced Leporello; and Cesare Valletti’s sure negotiation of the formidable obstacles in ‘Dalla sua pace’ is surely unexcelled elsewhere. The others are inspired to the same level. I can’t say why this performance takes flight and others do not, but here it is for your enjoyment....”
- John P. McKelvey, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Jan./Feb., 2012
“Many a soprano has tackled Anna and come to regret the attempt, but Steber conquers the several contradictory requirements of the role in superb fashion….Her technical control is admirable: every high A is struck with precision and, unlike those of many who have that note, the descending sixteenths which follow are equally clean. Beyond vocal fortitude, an Anna must have an easy command of fioriture….This broadcast portrayal may represent the apex of Steber’s Metropolitan career.”
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, p.315
“The singers [in the above] leave little to be desired. Steber is an imperious and accurate Donna Anna with the technique needed in ‘Non mi dir’ and fully confirms her status as one of the great Mozart singers of the time….The surprise of the performance is Jan Peerce as Don Ottavio, singing with good vocal quality and the technique required by the runs in ‘Il mio tesoro’.”
- Richard Gate, CLASSIC RECORD COLLECTOR, Winter, 2008
"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
“Lisa Della Casa, the Swiss soprano who combined an outstanding voice, stunning beauty and exceptional stage presence to become one of the foremost interpreters of Richard Strauss, was one of a generation of sopranos to emerge from war-shattered Europe in the 1940s. In her Strauss roles, like the title character of Arabella, which alternately calls for demure graciousness and soaring enthusiasm, Ms. Della Casa displayed ‘a wholly appealing kind of fragility, tender and unmannered’, the musicologist J. B. Steane wrote in his book THE GRAND TRADITION: 70 Years of Singing on Record. She was equally extolled for her roles in Mozart operas.
In Europe, where Ms. Della Casa performed at the major opera houses, her beauty and charisma could seduce even a great conductor like Herbert von Karajan into pursuing her for roles that were out of her vocal range. ‘Karajan saw me as the Marschallin and, if you can believe it, immediately asked me to sing TANNHÄUSER with him’, even though the role, Venus, called for a dramatic soprano or a mezzo with an upper register and thus was not at all appropriate for her voice, she said in an interview in Lanfranco Rasponi’s book THE LAST PRIMA DONNAS. ‘He told me I had just the right kind of sexiness to make a splendid goddess of love’. She turned down the role.
Her complaint was the opposite at the Metropolitan Opera, where, she said, the general manager Rudolf Bing typecast her. She sang four roles at the Met — Countess Almaviva, Donna Elvira, the Marschallin and Arabella — a total of 114 times in her 147 performances. ‘My 15 seasons at the Metropolitan were not happy ones’, Ms. Della Casa told Mr. Rasponi. ‘Mr. Bing would not have it any other way, for he kept repeating that I was indispensable for the Mozart and Strauss operas, and that he had a surplus of sopranos for the Italian and French ones’.
Yet Ms. Della Casa rarely bickered or engaged in offstage dramatics. In an opera world notorious for outsize egos and histrionic rivalries, her colleagues openly admired her. The Romanian soprano Maria Cebotari, famous for her portrayal of Arabella in the 1940s, lobbied for the young Ms. Della Casa to sing alongside her in the role of Zdenka. ‘I’ll put my hand in the fire for her’, Ms. Cebotari told a Vienna opera manager who was skeptical of this relatively unknown soprano’s talent.
Ms. Della Casa was also admired for her glamorous good looks. The German soprano Anneliese Rothenberger compared her to Elizabeth Taylor.
Still, at 55 and at the height of her career, she abruptly announced her retirement in 1974 after singing her last Arabella at the Vienna State Opera. She then retreated with her husband, Dragan Debeljevic, and their daughter, Vesna, who was often in poor health, to their castle near Lake Constance in Switzerland. She offered no public explanations, nor was she ever tempted into recitals or master classes.
Ms. Della Casa appeared first at the Salzburg Festival in 1947 as Zdenka in ARABELLA; after hearing her premiere performance, Richard Strauss himself asserted, ‘The little Della Casa will one day be Arabella!’ In the fall of 1947 she made her début as Gilda in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO at the Vienna State Opera, where she remained an ensemble member for 27 years.
In 1953 Ms. Della Casa made her début as the Countess Almaviva at the Metropolitan Opera, where she continued to perform until 1968. Her early Met performances as Donna Elvira and Madama Butterfly did not impress the New York critics. But she hit her stride with Arabella. ‘There was a youth in her movement and a beauty in her appearance that might well have driven Vienna’s gay blades wild', Howard Taubman of The New York Times wrote in 1957. ‘And her singing was unfailingly lovely — accurate, well focused and sensitively phrased’.
‘The strange thing about a singer’s destiny’, she told Mr. Rasponi, ‘is that you have to renounce everything for its sake, and then it’s all over in a flash.”
- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 Dec., 2012
“Roberta Peters, who would sing with the Met 515 times over 35 vigorous years, was internationally renowned for her high, silvery voice; her clarion diction in a flurry of languages; [and] her attractive stage presence. In addition to the Met, with which she appeared regularly from 1950 to 1985 - one of the longest associations of any singer with a major opera company - Ms. Peters was heard at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Cincinnati Opera, the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden and elsewhere. Known for taking meticulous care of her voice, she continued to sing in recital until well into her 70s, a good two decades past the de facto retirement age in her line of work.
On 23 Jan., 1950, the 19-year-old Ms. Peters stood on the stage of the old Metropolitan Opera House on Broadway and 39th Street in Manhattan. There, in the darkened hall, she sang ‘Der Hölle Rache’ from THE MAGIC FLUTE, which, with its fiendish series of high F’s, is among the canonical texts of the coloratura repertory. Somewhere out in the darkness was Mr. Bing. ‘It was the first audition I had done for anyone, and I was so scared’, Ms. Peters told The Chicago Tribune in 1993. ‘When it was over he asked if I would sing it again. Then he asked me to do it again. Well, I sang it four times, not knowing that he had silently brought in conductors Fritz Reiner, Fausto Cleva and Fritz Stiedry to hear me’. Peters made her impromptu Met début 17 Nov., 1951, substituting for Nadine Conner. ‘The delightful surprise of last night’s performance of DON GIOVANNI at the Metropolitan was the emergency début of little Roberta Peters in the part of Zerlina’, The New York World-Telegram’s review the next day said. ‘The voice came through the big house as clear as a bell, the notes equally bright and focused and the phrasing that of a true musician’.
Ms. Peters was by all accounts one of opera’s least diva-like divas.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 19 JAN., 2017
“On the other hand, I cannot resist sharing a typical diva-like confrontation Roberta Peters had at the Sol Hurok management in the then-shared office of Harold Shaw and Joe Lippman. Early in her career, when all performning artists were obliged to earn their stripes by recital-touring throughout the United States, Joe Lippman had arranged an extended recital tour for her which took her to all possible outposts, cultural or otherwise, many in the mid-West where venues were few are far apart, thus requiring travel via train and therein sometimes in cattle cars. Upon returning to New York she burst into their shared office lambasting Joe Lippman for her ’ordeal’. She clearly delineated all the indelicacies to which she had been subjected, not least of which was the cattle car experience. It should be noted that unlike other managers, Joe Lippman to his dying day, never once travelled via air, so he was all-too-familiar with travel conditions of that time. Harold Shaw, an old friend of mine, recounted this meeting with Peters and Lippman which Harold observed first-hand. When Peters finally abated, Joe Lippman, who had spent the time during her outburst twirling his unsmoked and wet cigar in his mouth, removed it briefly to quietly inform her that she was lucky: ‘They wouldn’t hire you the first time I offered your services’. That finally silenced her!”
- J. R. Peters (positively NO relation!)
“Karl Böhm was one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century in the German tradition. He studied music as a child and continued to work and study in music while serving in the Austrian Army during World War I - and while completing a doctorate in law. He never had conducting lessons, but made close studies of the work of both Bruno Walter and Karl Muck.
In 1921 he was hired by the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and then he became Generalmusikdirektor in both Darmstadt (1927) and Hamburg (1931-1933). He gained a reputation for his fine performances of Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss, as well as his championing of modern German music, including operas by Krenek and Berg. Böhm débuted in Vienna in 1933, leading Wagner's TRISTAN UND ISOLDE. In 1934 he became director of the Dresden State Opera, Richard Strauss's favorite theater. There, Böhm conducted premieres of Strauss's DIE SCHWEIGSAME FRAU (1935) and DAFNE (1938). He remained at the helm in Dresden through 1943, at which point he became director of the Vienna State Opera (1943-1945). Richard Strauss was not in official favor, and Joseph Goebbels banned any recognition of the great composer's 80th birthday in 1944. However, Böhm participated in a de facto observance, as a large number of Strauss' orchestral and operatic works ‘just happened’ to be played about the time of the birthday.
After the war, Böhm was forbidden to perform until he underwent ‘de-Nazification’, a procedure whereby prominent Austro-Germans were investigated for complicity in Nazi crimes. He was eventually cleared of any suspicion, and was permitted to resume work in 1947.
Böhm oversaw the German repertory at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires (1950-1953), and again served as director of the Vienna State Opera (1954-1956). He débuted in the USA at the Metropolitan Opera with Mozart's DON GIOVANNI in 1957, and took prominent German orchestras and opera companies on tour. The Vienna Philharmonic bestowed on him the title ‘Ehrendirigent’, and he was proclaimed Generalmusikdirector of Austria. He left a legacy of many great recordings, including a complete Wagner RING cycle considered by many critics to be the best. While his Wagner and Strauss were sumptuously Romantic, his Mozart was scrupulously Classical in approach.”
- Joseph Stevenson, allmusic.com