OP1708. DON GIOVANNI, Live Performance, 14 Dec., 1957, w.Bohm 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. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 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 role 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
“Mr. Siepi was a classic Italian basso cantante, or ‘singing bass’, with a warm, slightly dark voice that was ideally suited to Mozart. Yet his voice was so robust that he could easily summon the power for King Philip II in DON CARLO, Gurnemanz in PARSIFAL and the title role in BORIS GODUNOV. In his prime, the tall, handsome Mr. Siepi, a natural onstage, was a favorite at the Metropolitan Opera, where he gave nearly 500 performances, singing 17 roles during a 23-year association. Bing wrote in his 1972 memoir, 5,000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA, [that Siepi] ‘made an overpowering debut and a well-deserved great career at the Metropolitan’. After his first Don Giovanni at the Met in 1952, Mr. Siepi became the Giovanni of choice in houses around the world, bringing a sly blend of vocal refinement and animal magnetism to his portrayal. Critics and audiences embraced him for a wide range of roles. Assessing an impressive Gurnemanz in a 1970 PARSIFAL at the Met, the critic Herbert Weinstock wrote in the British magazine OPERA that Mr. Siepi ‘really sang the role rather than growling it and acted with touching conviction’, articulating Wagner’s words ‘as if born to them’. He also excelled in broadly comic roles, like Don Basilio in Rossini’s BARBIERE.
At 18, urged on by friends, he entered a voice competition in Florence and won first prize. A manager in the audience quickly engaged him to sing the role of the hired assassin Sparafucile in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO for a production in Schio, near Vicenza. With the outbreak of war he moved to neutral Switzerland, returning to Italy when hostilities ended. He appeared in Verdi’s NABUCCO at La Scala in Milan in the first postwar production at the reconstructed theater, which had been damaged by bombs.
After his breakthrough Met debut, Mr. Siepi was in demand internationally. He scored triumphs at the Salzburg Festival during the 1950s and made several live recordings there, including a 1954 DON GIOVANNI conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Erna Berger among the cast.
In his day Mr. Siepi was considered a natural successor to Ezio Pinza. Like Pinza, who had starred in SOUTH PACIFIC, Mr. Siepi appeared in a stage musical, BRAVO GIOVANNI. The critic Howard Taubman, writing in THE NEW YORK TIMES, praised Mr. Siepi for bringing ‘the richest and best cultivated vocal instrument to Broadway’ since Pinza. The show, however, unlike Pinza’s SOUTH PACIFIC, was a flop. Still, Taubman gave the famous bass credit for trying. ‘Happily’, he concluded, ‘Mr. Siepi is at ease in his new surroundings and his voice glorifies them’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 July, 2010
"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 debut as the Duke in RIGOLETTO in Philadelphia. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut 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 Ã©lan, 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 TANNHÃ„USER 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 debut 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 debut 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 HÃ¶lle Rache' from THE MAGIC FLUTE, which, with its fiendish series of high Fs, 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 debut 17 Nov., 1951, substituting for Nadine Conner. 'The delightful surprise of last night's performance of DON GIOVANNI at the Metropolitan was the emergency debut 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