OP1944. MIGNON, Live Performance, 27 Jan., 1945, w.Pelletier Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Risë Stevens, James Melton, Ezio Pinza, Mimi Benzell, etc. (E.U.) 2-Walhall 0287. - 4035122652871
ï¿½The Met has not performed MIGNON since 1949! It really is a gentle, nostalgic piece with lovely melodies, but shy on the drama. The title rï¿½le was a specialty of Risë Stevens (heard here in the 27 January, 1945, broadcast) and it is possible that she single-handedly kept the work in the repertory in the 1940s.
The Met backed her up with a spectacular cast. Melton, stunningly handsome with a reed-like, heady voice, is an ideal romantic hero. Benzell warbles Philineï¿½s big aria (ï¿½Je suis Titaniaï¿½) with sparkling gusto. The distinctive bass burr of Pinza adds dignity and beauty to the performance. In the ï¿½pants rï¿½leï¿½ of Frederic, Browning is sound and solid. Pelletier keeps the music bounding along, light and lively, pausing only for the tender, romantic melodies.ï¿½
- Charles H. Parsons, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, March/April, 2012
ï¿½Stevens is the complete opera professional, as was evident in her broadcast dï¿½but five years earlierï¿½.In the recitative one is struck by the unique, sensuous color of the voice, her generous feeling for textï¿½.and the dramatic thrust of her recognition of Wilhelm Meister.ï¿½
- Paul Jackson, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE OLD MET, p.293
ï¿½By the time Risë Stevens was 18, she was appearing regularly, sometimes in leading roles, with the Little Theater Opera Company, a Brooklyn troupe. (The company was later known as the New York Opï¿½ra-Comique). In the audience one night was Anna Schï¿½n-Renï¿½, a well-known voice teacher on the faculty of the Juilliard School. She began teaching Ms. Stevens privately, and arranged for her to attend Juilliard on a scholarship, starting in the fall of 1933. Ms. Stevens spent two and a half years at Juilliard, where she continued her studies with Schï¿½n-Renï¿½. Though Ms. Stevens had been considered a contralto, Schï¿½n-Renï¿½ discerned her true vocal register and helped lighten her voice for mezzo roles. In 1935, financed by Schï¿½n-Renï¿½, Ms. Stevens spent the summer at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria, where her teachers included the distinguished soprano Marie Gutheil-Schï¿½der.
Ms. Stevens returned to Europe, making her formal operatic dï¿½but in Prague, as Mignon, in 1936. Joining the Met in 1938, she made her first appearance with the company on 22 Nov., singing Octavian out of town in Philadelphia. On 17 Dec., she performed for the first time on the Metropolitan Opera stage in New York, singing Mignon.
In Ms. Stevensï¿½ 351 regular appearances at the Met, her professionalism was perhaps never more apparent than it was in one of her many productions of SAMSON ET DALILA. Playing the temptress Dalila, Ms. Stevens reclined on a chaise longue to sing the aria ï¿½Mon coeur sï¿½ouvre ï¿½ ta voixï¿½, among the most famous seductions in opera. One night, overcome with theatrical passion, Samson flung himself onto her mid-aria. Samson did not know his own strength. Under his considerable force, the chaise longue, on casters, began to move. Ms. Stevens sailed offstage and into the wings, still singing."
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 March, 2013
ï¿½[Melton] was not the greatest tenor of his time, but he was a good one, and he was an important American personality of the forties and fifties. His radio show, THE JAMES MELTON HOUR, enjoyed great success.ï¿½
- Leonardo A. Ciampa, THE TWILIGHT OF BELCANTO, p.131