OP1928. FAUST, Live Performance, 4 Jan., 1958, w.Morel Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Nicolai Gedda, Hilde Güden, Jerome Hines, Robert Merrill, Margaret Roggero, etc. (E.U.) 2-Walhall 0270. - 4035122652703
“Widely admired for his sensitive musicianship, masterly tonal control and impeccable diction in a spate of European languages, Mr. Gedda possessed a lyric tenor voice that shimmered like silver but was no less warm for that. He was one of the most versatile, and professionally long-lived, tenors of his era, with many dozens of roles to his name in a career that lasted until he was well into his 70s - a good two decades past a classical singer’s customary retirement age. Over a quarter-century, he sang 367 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, from his début in the title role of Gounod’s FAUST in 1957 to his final performance, as Alfredo in Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA, in 1983. But the role for which Mr. Gedda was very likely most famous was Russian: Lensky, the young poet in Tchaikovsky’s EUGENE ONEGIN. Reviewing Mr. Gedda in a concert performance of ONEGIN with the Boston Symphony in 1976, Richard Dyer wrote in The Boston Globe: ‘The tenor’s voicing of Lensky’s aria - an ideal union of responsiveness to word and musical line, a demonstration of vocal and technical mastery and varied and beautiful tone, and an expression of wise and generous human feeling - was a classic demonstration of why, for some of us at least, operatic singing is the highest achievement of human art’.
Mr. Gedda made his United States début in 1957, singing Faust with the Pittsburgh Opera. Reviewing his Met début, in the same role later that year, under the baton of Jean Morel, Howard Taubman wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES: ‘His carriage is tall and straight and his movement buoyant. It is credible that he will attract Marguerite. Even more impressive than his appearance is the intelligence of his singing’.
With the Met, he also sang Anatol in the world premiere of Samuel Barber’s VANESSA, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, in 1958, and Kodanda in the United States premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti’s THE LAST SAVAGE, under Thomas Schippers, in 1964.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 10 Feb., 2017
“Of all the important tenors active during the latter half of the twentieth century, Nicolai Gedda was by far the most versatile and industrious, a questing musical spirit who left few areas of the operatic and song repertories unexplored. During a career that spanned nearly fifty years, Gedda was in demand the world over for the warm, sweet, silvery beauty of his voice, his patrician command of style, and an unshowy but dazzling technical virtuosity that was invariably in the service of the music.
Born to poor parents in Stockholm, Gedda was raised by his father’s sister and her Russian husband, a Don Cossack singer and cantor in a Russian orthodox church. It was from his strict stepfather that Gedda picked up his facility with languages and reading music - as well as an innate shyness and a distaste for confrontation that did not serve him well in later dealings with opera managements, not to mention two unhappy early marriages. The vocal rudiments were there from the beginning, however, and while he was working at his first job, as a bank teller, one of his helpful customers recommended a teacher - Carl-Martin Oehman, a former lyric tenor at Stockholm Opera and mentor of Jussi Björling.
Oehman, Gedda once recalled in his typically modest way, ‘taught me all the essentials, which I knew nothing about’. One can’t help thinking that the perfect vocal placement, firm muscular support, smooth register management and sovereign musical instincts were already present, just waiting to be coaxed out. Additional studies at Stockholm Conservatory lasted just two years before Gedda - in 1952, at age twenty-six - was given the leading role in Adam’s POSTILLON DE LONJUMEAU at the Royal Opera and created a sensation, especially with the brilliant high Ds that cap the coachman Chapelou’s famous entrance aria. Walter Legge, EMI’s legendary record impresario, and his wife, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, were in town and demanded to hear the new tenor everyone was raving about. After a short audition, Legge immediately fired off cables to conductor Herbert von Karajan and Antonio Ghiringhelli, the intendant of La Scala: ‘Just heard the greatest Mozart singer in my life: his name is Nicolai Gedda’.
What happened next would probably leave any young singer breathless. Gedda was instantly cast as Dimitri in EMI’s splashy new recording of BORIS GODUNOV, starring Boris Christoff (‘that BORIS recording opened the doors of the world to me’, Gedda once remarked), and he made a La Scala début as Don Ottavio in DON GIOVANNI under Karajan’s baton. Gedda suddenly had invitations to sing everywhere - Faust and Weber's Oberon in Paris, the Duke of Mantua at Covent Garden and dozens of other requests from Rome, Vienna, Salzburg, Berlin, Munich and Tokyo.
Meanwhile Legge kept Gedda busy in the recording studios after BORIS with Bach’s b-minor Mass under Karajan, rarities such as Cornelius’ BARBIER VON BAGHDAD and the French version of Gluck’s ORPHÉE, Strauss’ CAPRICCIO, Pinkerton in MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Faust, as well as solo recitals covering a wide range of repertory. One of the most impressive examples I know of the young Gedda on disc, at age twenty-eight, is Lehár’s LAND DES LÄCHELNS, in which he sings the mysterious yet passion-driven Prince Sou-Chong, a role made famous by Richard Tauber. It’s a ravishing piece of singing, delicately shaded and exquisitely controlled until all the character’s banked-up emotions come tumbling out in a glorious rendition of the Tauberlied, ‘Dein ist mein ganzes Herz’. Even here, vocal connoisseurs will marvel at the singer’s technical control when Gedda eases into the reprise of the big tune without so much as drawing a breath.
Rudolf Bing snapped up Gedda early on (an unusual move by this canny impresario, who usually liked to keep Metropolitan Opera audiences expectantly waiting, even for the most sensational new discoveries), and Gedda made his Met début on 1 November, 1957, as Faust. Thereafter the tenor, like so many important singers of his generation, tended to base himself in New York, while reserving plenty of time to fulfill engagements in Europe and make hundreds of recordings. So New York heard Gedda display the full range of his vocal talents and language facility until he left the company in 1983 - classic roles (Don Ottavio, Admèto in ALCESTE), standard repertory (the Duke, Alfredo, Rodolfo, Pinkerton, Edgardo), French specialties (Hoffmann, Don José, des Grieux, Pelléas, Roméo), bel canto (LA SONNAMBULA, L’ELISIR D’AMORE, DON PASQUALE), Russian roles (Dmitri, Lenski, Gherman), new American opera (VANESSA and THE LAST SAVAGE) and even a touch of operetta (Johann Strauss’s GYPSY BARON). Gedda never generated the hysterical fan response of, say, Franco Corelli, but few left his finely nuanced, vocally secure, emotionally generous performances feeling cheated.
Gedda wound down his career slowly during the 1990s, giving concerts, teaching and taking on occasional character roles, such as the ancient Abdisu, Patriarch of Assyria, in Covent Garden’s 1997 production of Pfitzner’s PALESTRINA. He also finally found marital contentment in 1997 with Aino Sellermark, who collaborated with Gedda on his memoirs, MY LIFE—MY ART. The couple settled in what appeared to be an idyllic retirement in Tolochenaz, a Swiss villa, where Gedda could take pride in recalling an extraordinarily productive career that had made him one of the most admired and widely heard tenors of his generation. Gedda died 8 January, 2017, aged 91.”
- Peter G. Davis, OPERA NEWS, 9 Feb., 2017
“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
“As a winner of the Metropolitan Auditions of the Air, Robert Merrill made his Metropolitan Opera début on 15 December, 1945, as Germont père in LA TRAVIATA, opposite the Violetta of Licia Albanese and Richard Tucker's Alfredo. It was a rôle he was also privileged to sing and record under Arturo Toscanini.
Despite immediate audience popularity and the enthusiasm of Met management, Merrill pursued his career cautiously, staying with less demanding parts - Renato in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, Rodrigo in DON CARLO, Valentin in FAUST, and Marcello in LA BOHÈME - until he felt prepared for such larger rôles as the Count di Luna in IL TROVATORE, Barnaba in LA GIOCONDA, Amonasro in AÏDA, and, eventually, Iago in Verdi's OTELLO. Large or small, nearly everything he sang made an indelible impression. For instance, his Marcello for Sir Thomas Beecham's 1956 recording of LA BOHÈME, with de los Angeles and Björling. Gradually, his repertory broadened to include some 20 rôles, and over a career of 30 years, he was heard at the Met 750 times. Merrill's most notable foreign appearances were both as the elder Germont (a mainstay) - in Venice in 1961, and at Covent Garden in 1967.
It goes without saying that his work was a vital part of what made the Met's Golden Age so golden; he was highly valued there for his vigorous, powerful, and technically unshakable singing, if not for his acting skills (which were never a priority). In 1993, he was awarded the United States Medal of Arts.”
- Adrian Corleonis, allmusic.com
“Robert Merrill made his Metropolitan début as Germont on 15 Dec., 1945, and celebrated his 500th performance there on 5 March, 1973. He remained on the Met roster until 1976. During his tenure with the Met, Mr. Merrill sang leading roles in much of the standard repertory, including the title role in RIGOLETTO, Germont in LA TRAVIATA, Figaro in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, Escamillo in CARMEN and Tonio in PAGLIACCI; he appeared in most of these many times. Regarded as one of the greatest Verdi baritones of his generation, he was known for the security and strength of his sound, as well as for the precision and clarity with which he could hit pitches across his two-octave range.
‘Although he occasionally appeared in Europe and South America, he preferred to base his career at the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang all the major baritone roles of the Italian and French repertories’, Peter G. Davis wrote of Mr. Merrill in THE NEW GROVE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN MUSIC. ‘In terms of vocal endowment, technical security and longevity, he was unequaled among baritones of his generation at the Metropolitan’. ‘After Leonard Warren's tragic death onstage at the Metropolitan in 1960, Merrill became more or less indisputably America's principal baritone and perhaps the best lyricist since Giuseppe de Luca’, the critic J. B. Steane wrote in his book THE GRAND TRADITION. ‘The easy and even production of a beautifully well-rounded tone is not common, especially when the voice is also a powerful one; yet this is, after all, the basis of operatic singing, and Merrill's records will always commend themselves in these terms. Mr. Merrill made many recordings for RCA. He sang in two complete opera broadcasts on radio under Toscanini - LA TRAVIATA in 1946 and UN BALLO IN MASCHERA in 1953 - both of which were later issued on CD. He wrote two autobiographies, ONCE MORE FROM THE BEGINNING (1965) and BETWEEN ACTS (1976), as well as a novel, THE DIVAS (1978). He received a number of honorary doctorates and awards.”
- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Oct., 2004
“The American bass Jerome Hines had a long and distinguished career at the Metropolitan Opera singing a wide variety of rôles with true consistency of voice and style. He appeared with the company for more than 40 years from 1946. An imposing figure - he was 6ft 6in tall - he had a voluminous bass to match his stature.
His charismatic presence made him ideal for the many rôles demanding a big personality. It was thus hardly surprising that Sarastro in THE MAGIC FLUTE, Gounod's Mephistopheles, the high priest Ramfis in AÏDA, the Grand Inquisitor in DON CARLOS, Boris Godunov, and King Mark in TRISTAN UND ISOLDE were among his leading rôles.
Although always faithful to the Met, Hines made many forays abroad. In 1953, he undertook Nick Shadow, with Glyndebourne, at the Edinburgh festival, in the first British performances of Stravinsky's THE RAKE'S PROGRESS. That led to engagements in leading houses in Europe and south America, and eventually to Bayreuth, where he sang Gurnemanz, King Mark and Wotan (1958-63). In 1958, he made his La Scala début in the title part of Handel's HERCULES, and, in 1961, he first appeared at the San Carlo in Naples, in the title rôle of Boito's MEFISTOFELE. His Boris Godunov, at the Bolshoi in Moscow in 1962, was, by all accounts, a deeply impressive portrayal.
He was fortunate to arrive at the Met just as the opera house was in need of replacements for the great Ezio Pinza, who had decided to appear in SOUTH PACIFIC. Unlike his distinguished predecessor, Hines could also sing the German and Russian repertory, in addition to Italian and French. In all, his innate musicianship stood him in good stead. Most of his discs derived from live performances. They reveal a sterling voice, a refined style, consisting of a burnished tone, a fine line and exemplary diction, although he never seems to have have been a very profound interpreter.
Hines was both a deeply religious person and a good writer. He combined these qualities in his own opera, I AM THE WAY, a work about Jesus, performed, with Hines as the protagonist, at Philadelphia in 1969. The previous year, he had published his autobiography, THIS IS MY STORY, THIS IS MY SONG, but his most lasting volume was GREAT SINGERS ON GREAT SINGING (1982), in which he made discerning comments on the art of many colleagues.
Hines' later appearances befitted his advancing years: he was Arkel, the elderly grandfather in PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE (Rome, 1984), and the blind father in Mascagni's IRIS (Newark, 1989). His last stage appearance was as Sarastro, in New Orleans in 1998, when he was 77.”
- Alan Blyth, THE GUARDIAN, 13 Feb., 2003
“Regarded by many as second only to Pierre Monteux among conductors of the French repertory, Jean Paul Morel became another of those important musical figures lost to Europe because of WWII. After biding his time in South America, he joined the New York Opera and later, the Metropolitan Opera. As a teacher, however, his effect on America's musical culture was even stronger as he guided a number of gifted students to maturity. Exceedingly well-trained, Morel had the benefit of studies with several exceptional musical specialists. In particular, his work in Paris with Noël Gallon who taught him theory; with Gabriel Pierné who instructed him in composition; and with famous composer, conductor, and singer Reynaldo Hahn, who worked with him on the song and opera literature, afforded him a grounding that made him a subtle and reliable leader of orchestras and an excellent teacher.
Indeed, he began as an instructor at the American Conservatory at Fountainebleau where, at age 18, he was as young as some of his students. He remained at the conservatory from 1921 to 1936, a period in which he also built a reputation as a conductor with a number of prominent French orchestras and with the Opéra-Comique. After the connection ended, he conducted at the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro and at Mexico City's Palacio de Bella Artes. Morel's American career opened with an instructorship at Brooklyn College from 1940 to 1943. On 12 November, 1944, he made his début with the New York City Centre Opera (as the company was known then), conducting a performance of LA TRAVIATA with Dorothy Kirsten as Violetta. Subsequent works under his leadership included CARMEN, MIGNON, LOUISE, AND LA BOHÈME. Morel remained a respected member of the company until 1951, when he resigned in protest over the company's dismissal of its first general director (and conductor) Lazlo Halasz. The board had actually approached Morel about taking on the directorship and had been met with not only his refusal, but with his wish to resign over the treatment accorded Halasz. The board declined to accept the resignation, claiming that Morel was obligated to remain for another year. When Joseph Rosenstock was hired as general director, Morel again sought his release and was refused. Citing a clause that no member of the musical staff would have pre-eminence over Morel other than Halasz, Morel persisted. Facing the threat of a breach of contract action, the board finally accepted Morel's resignation. In 1949, meanwhile, Morel had joined the Juilliard School of Music staff and began building an enviable reputation for turning out brilliant conductors, James Levine and Leonard Slatkin among them. Five years after his departure from the New York City Opera, Morel joined the conducting staff at the Metropolitan Opera, making his début with a 21 November, 1956, performance of Offenbach's LA PÉRICHOLE premiering in a new English-language production. In a total of nine seasons stretching to 1971, Morel conducted five works from the French repertory, as well as Gluck's ORFEO ED EURIDICE and MADAMA BUTTERFLY. His final season at the Metropolitan Opera coincided with his last year at Juilliard. During his more than two decades at the New York school, his instruction and leadership of the Juilliard Orchestra had brought a high level of distinction to its conducting program.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com