OP1926. LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Live Performance, 11 Jan., 1958, w.Leinsdorf Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; George London, Fernando Corena, Lisa Della Casa, Hilde Güden, Mildred Miller, Giorgio Tozzi, Regina Resnik, etc. (E.U.) 3-Walhall 0271. Specially priced. - 4035122652710
“In the many performances I have appeared in, there were many wonderful colleagues who had me in raptures. There were those with magnificent voices, or great musicians, wonderful actors or great personalities. But George London had it ALL. He was as impressive on stage as he was the wonderful colleague and friend in his private life.”
- Birgit Nilsson, as quoted in Leonardo A. Ciampa’s THE TWILIGHT OF BELCANTO, p.130
“George London was a dramatic and very expressive singer. In many rôles he sang like a demonic panther with a sound of purple-black in color. London was a singer favoring the drama in a piece, varying color to suggest shifts of mood. His acting on stage was described as overwhelming. The special magnetism of this artist is documented on his great recordings. Every rôle he sang was sung with utmost expression and unbelievable commitment, truly a singing-actor!”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“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 1940's. 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 1940's, 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, ‘Te 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
“Hilde Güden made her début at the Vienna Volksoper in Benatzky’s operetta HERZEN IM SCHNEE. Her operatic début was at the opera house of Zürich where she appeared as Cherubino. Although the soprano was of Jewish origin it was Clemens Krauss who engaged her to the Munich State Opera, but she was soon forced to leave Germany. Tullio Serafin gave her the opportunity to sing in Rome and Florence. It was not until after the end of the war that she was allowed to return to the Munich State Opera where she remained an admired member until 1973. She gained great success abroad, at La Scala, Covent Garden, at the Grand Opéra de Paris, at the Glyndebourne Festival (Despina, Zerlina), at the Teatro La Fenice, the Maggio musicale di Fiorentino, and last but not least, at the Met, where she sang from 1951 until 1965. One of her greatest achievements was Rosalinde in Johann Strauss’ DIE FLEDERMAUS. At the Salzburg Festival she regularly appeared as Cherubino (1947, 1952, 1953), Zdenka, Zerlina (1946), Sophie (1949, 1953, 1960), Norina (1952), Aminta in DIE SCHWEIGSAME FRAU (1959), Zerbinetta (1954), the Countess Almaviva (1963 - 1966), Anne Truelove in Stravinsky’s THE RAKE’S PROGRESS and as Julia in the first performance of Boris Blacher’s ROMEO UND JULIA (1950). Hilde Güden was a versatile singer, equally successful in operettas, lieder and oratorio work. She was considered as one of the most accomplished Mozart and Strauss singers of the time and was a much admired member of the so-called ‘Wiener Mozart Ensemble’. On 1 May 1945, before World War II was officially ended, the Vienna State Opera resumed operations with a performance of Mozart’s LE NOZZE DI FIGARO under Josef Krips. Hilde Güden was one of the brightest Viennese stars and one of Decca’s busiest artists during the ‘50s and ‘60s. As a lyric and coloratura soprano she enjoyed remarkable success.
Hilde Güden’s voice was a high soprano of silvery gleam and youthful shining. It was very responsive to coloraturas as well as to cantilenas (essential for Richard Strauss), and it was of a highly individual timbre. If you want to experience Güden’s charming personality, play her magnificent recordings of Richard Strauss or her ravishing operetta recordings. She was the ideal Sophie, Zerbinetta, Zdenka, Daphne, Aminta - and, she is still unequalled as Rosalinde!”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“Hilde Güden was among the extraordinary young Mozart/Strauss singers who emerged from Vienna immediately after WWII and who dominated Mozart performance well into the 1960s. Güden's considerable ease in the top register destined her to sing the lighter roles of Richard Strauss and she made a mark in operetta as well, achieving celebrity in the works of Johann Strauss, Lehár, and others. She was a trim, sparkling personality on stage; as a Decca artist, she left numerous recordings of her best roles.
With the Anschluss, Güden escaped to Switzerland where she auditioned for the Zürich Opera. Engaged on the spot, Güden made her début in 1939 as Cherubino in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO. Numerous other roles came in the aftermath of her success and she remained in Zürich for two years. Family matters called her back to Vienna in 1941 and, finding herself unable to leave her home country, she accepted an engagement in Munich where she appeared first with conductor Clemens Krauss as Zerlina in DON GIOVANNI. Composer Richard Strauss attended a performance of COSÌ FAN TUTTE and, struck by the beauty and splendid vocal resources of the young singer, urged Güden to study the role of Sophie in his DER ROSENKAVALIER. After taking his advice, Güden made her Italian début as Sophie at the Rome Opera in December 1942. Given her intense dislike for the Nazi regimes in both Austria and Germany, Gueden elected to remain in Italy. When the Nazis occupied that country, she simply withdrew from performing for the duration of the war, seeking shelter first in Venice, then in a rural town near Milan.
Following the conclusion of hostilities, Güden returned to Austria and was invited to the Salzburg Festival in 1946 where she débuted in the signature role of Zerlina. That same year, she was engaged by the Vienna Staatsoper where she remained a treasured artist until 1973. In 1947, she sang at Covent Garden for the first time and, in 1951, she began a relationship with the Metropolitan Opera which lasted for nine seasons and embraced more than 100 performances in 13 roles. For the Metropolitan, she created the role of Anne Truelove in Stravinsky's THE RAKE'S PROGRESS in a production coming shortly after the work's Venice premiere. Among other roles in New York, Güden sang both Musetta and Mimì in LA BOHÈME, Zerlina, Susanna, Sophie, Zdenka, and Rosalinde.
At Salzburg, Gueden offered a saucy performance of the title role in Strauss' DIE SCHWEIGSAME FRAU in 1959, and, in Vienna, a radiant Daphne in 1964, both productions captured on disc. Her cherishable Sophie was preserved on commercial recording under Erich Kleiber.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
"Erich Leinsdorf, a conductor whose abrasive intelligence and deep musical learning served as a conscience for two generations of conductors, had a utilitarian stage manner and his disdain of dramatic effects for their own sake stood out as a not-so-silent rebuke to his colleagues in this most glamorous of all musical jobs. In addition, Mr. Leinsdorf - in rehearsal, in the press and in his valuable book on conducting, THE COMPOSER'S ADVOCATE - never tired of pointing out gaps in culture among musicians, faulty editing among music publishers and errors in judgment or acts of ignorance among his fellow conductors. He rarely named his victims, but his messages and their targets were often clear. Moreover, he usually had the solid grasp of facts to support his contentions.
Mr. Leinsdorf moved to this country from Vienna in 1937. Helped by the recommendation of Arturo Toscanini, whom he had been assisting at the Salzburg Festival, Mr. Leinsdorf made his conducting début at the Metropolitan Opera a year later with DIE WALKÜRE. He was 25 years old at the time . A year later he was made overseer of the Met's German repertory, and his contentious style - in particular an insistence on textual accuracy and more rehearsal - won him no friends among singers like Lauritz Melchior and Kirsten Flagstad. Backed by management, he remained at the Met until 1943. At the New York City Opera, where he became music director in 1956, Mr. Leinsdorf's demanding policies in matters of repertory and preparation made him further enemies, and he left a year later. His searches for permanent employment turned mostly to orchestras. After the briefest of tenures at the Cleveland Orchestra during World War II, Mr. Leinsdorf took over the Rochester Philharmonic and stayed for nine years.
Mr. Leinsdorf's last and most prestigious music directorship was at the Boston Symphony, where he replaced Charles Münch in 1962. No contrast in style could have been sharper: Münch had viewed conducting mystically, as a kind of priesthood; Mr. Leinsdorf's policy was to make performances work in the clearest and most rational way. Observers both in and out of the orchestra could not deny the benefits of Mr. Leinsdorf's discipline, but there were some who were hostile to what they perceived as an objectivity that could hardly be called heartwarming.
One American orchestra manager a few years ago responded to musicians' grumblings over Mr. Leinsdorf's rehearsal manner by saying that he was ‘good for my orchestra’. And so he probably was.”
- Bernard Holland, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 Sept., 1993