OP2123. IL TROVATORE, Live Performance, 6 May, 1960, Atlanta, w.Cleva Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Lucine Amara, Carlo Bergonzi, Jean Madeira, Robert Merrill, William Wildermann, Teresa Stratas, etc. (E.U.) 2-Walhall 0321. [Not a broadcast, rather an in-house recording in poor sound (since this was an early transistor recording).] - 4035122653212
“Considered the foremost Verdi tenor of his age, Mr. Bergonzi sang more than 300 times with the Metropolitan Opera of New York from the 1950s to the ’80s, appearing opposite a roster of celebrated divas that included Maria Callas, Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi, Risë Stevens, Victoria de los Angeles and Leontyne Price.
A lyric tenor of some vocal heft, Mr. Bergonzi lacked the sonic weight and brilliance of tenors in the Wagnerian mold. But what he did possess was an instrument of velvety beauty and nearly unrivaled subtlety.
‘More than the sound of the voice, it is Mr. Bergonzi’s way of using it that is so special’, Peter G. Davis, reviewing a 1978 Carnegie Hall recital by Mr. Bergonzi, wrote in The New York Times. ‘He is a natural singer in that everything he does seems right and inevitable — the artful phrasing, the coloristic variety, the perfectly positioned accents, the theatrical sense of well-proportioned climaxes, the honest emotional fervor. Best of all, Mr. Bergonzi obviously uses these effects artistically because he feels them rather than intellectualizes them — a rare instinctual gift, possibly the most precious one any musician can possess’. In the view of his many fans, this vocal elegance amply compensated for the fact that Mr. Bergonzi was no actor and, by his own ready admission, no matinee idol. ‘I know I don’t look like Rudolph Valentino’, he told The Times in 1981. ‘I know what a proper physique should be for the parts I sing, but I have tried to learn to act through the voice. The proper, pure expression of the line is the most important thing’.
Mr. Bergonzi began his career as a baritone, and after becoming a tenor a few years later was careful not to push his voice past its natural confines. As a result, he largely escaped the vocal wear that can force singers to retire by the time they reach their early 50s; Mr. Bergonzi, by contrast, continued to sing on prominent stages — and, as critical opinion had it, sing well — into his late 60s.
During World War II, Mr. Bergonzi spent three years in a German concentration camp for his anti-Nazi activities. He returned home after the war, weighing 80 pounds, and resumed singing.
Mr. Bergonzi made his operatic début in 1948 as a baritone, singing the title part in Rossini’s BARBER OF SEVILLE in Lecce, in southern Italy. After coming to realize that tenor parts were better situated for his voice, he made a second début, as a tenor, in the title role in Umberto Giordano’s ANDREA CHÉNIER in Bari in 1951.
In 1955, Mr. Bergonzi made his United States début with the Lyric Theater of Chicago (now the Lyric Opera of Chicago) as Luigi in Puccini’s IL TABARRO. The next year, on 13 November, he made his Met début as Radames opposite Antonietta Stella, also making her début that night.
Mr. Bergonzi also appeared at La Scala in Milan — where in 1953 he created the title role in Jacopo Napoli’s opera MAS’ANIELLO, based on the life of Tommaso Aniello, the 17th-century Italian fisherman-turned-revolutionary — and at Covent Garden, where he made his début in 1962 as Don Alvaro in Verdi’s FORZA DEL DESTINO. At the Met, in March 1964, Mr. Bergonzi was a soloist (with Ms. Price, Rosalind Elias and Cesare Siepi) in an acclaimed performance of Verdi’s REQUIEM in memory of President John F. Kennedy, under the baton of Georg Solti.
In 1994, Mr. Bergonzi, then 70, took the stage at Carnegie Hall for what was billed as his American farewell recital. The concert, a program of Italian art songs and arias, concluded with a 50-minute ovation and was warmly reviewed by critics. But as it transpired, that concert was no farewell. In 2000, two months shy of his 76th birthday, Mr. Bergonzi sang the one Verdi role he had never attempted: the title part in OTELLO, one of the most fiendishly demanding tenor roles in opera, in a concert performance with the Opera Orchestra of New York under Eve Queler. His performance — a high-wattage Carnegie Hall affair whose audience included Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Sherrill Milnes, Licia Albanese and Anna Moffo — was, by wide critical consensus, an unreconstructed disaster. ‘It was immediately apparent that there was something wrong’, THE GUARDIAN, the British newspaper, wrote shortly afterward. ‘A grainy tone in the voice inhibited everything. Bergonzi strained audibly in an unsuccessful attempt to reach the high A that caps the triumphant entry phrase’. Mr. Bergonzi withdrew from the performance after two acts, leaving his role in Acts III and IV to be sung by an understudy, Antonio Barasorda.
But the younger, supple-voiced Mr. Bergonzi endures on his many recordings, including several of AÏDA (opposite Leontyne Price, Martina Arroyo and Montserrat Caballé); a BOHÈME and a BUTTERFLY opposite Renata Tebaldi; Donizetti’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR with Beverly Sills; and a three-record set for Philips on which he sings all of Verdi’s tenor arias.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 July, 2014
"Miss Amara is another of those American singers whose longevity astounds the opera chronicler….In her case, the record is particularly impressive. Probably more than any major soprano of the last fifty years, she was the classic house soprano, taking on an amazing variety of roles and maintaining in them a level of vocalism that demands respect…."
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, p.111
"The Amara sound as first encountered was round, free, limpid, clear, flexible, youthful in the extreme, and had an incredible spin on it. The soprano maintained these characteristics longer than just about any other singer I’ve ever heard or known anything about. No wonder Rudolf Bing cast her as the Celestial Voice in DON CARLOS, the inaugural production of his regime as general manager of the Met. More than half a century went by between the time, a few years later, when Bing famously said: 'She is singing like an angel! An angel!' With awesome intestinal fortitude, she [subsequently] sued the Met for age discrimination in 1977. The company had offered her a contract she deemed to be demeaning when she was not only still in fine voice but producing a sound somewhat larger and richer than she had in earlier years, which wonderful performances of TOSCA, TURANDOT (and I do mean the title role, in which she was terrific), and Elsa in LOHENGRIN in particular proved. The mighty Metropolitan initially felt secure in its ability to prevail over a disgruntled, aging soprano, and in certain other quarters as well, her courage made her a pariah….those who mattered most stood by her and were present to rejoice when, after the suit was settled to her benefit (and the Met’s, though company spokesmen were for some time loath to admit that having her back was a boon), she returned to the Lincoln Center stage after almost three years’ absence as Amelia in BALLO IN MASCHERA. That was in 1981, and her Met farewell was not for another entire decade, a statistic that truly speaks for itself.”
- Bruce Burroughs, Zinka Milanov biographer
“Born Jean Browning in Central Illinois, this contralto established for herself a singular identity among singers of the deepest, darkest rôles for female voice. Tall and strikingly attractive, she possessed both the physical and vocal allure for Carmen and created a riveting portrait of Klytemnestra, both addled and imperious. The later rôle, perhaps the one with which she was most closely identified, was captured on disc in both studio (with Böhm) and on-stage at Salzburg (with Mitropoulos). Her RHEINGOLD Erda in Solti's RING was likewise striking, voiced with steady, earth-deep tones, a sound once likened to ‘gleaming anthracite’."
Browning's father, half American Indian, half English, was a coal miner; her mother taught piano and soon included her daughter among her pupils. Upon her father's death, Browning moved with her family to St. Louis, where she won a scholarship to the Leo C. Miller School of Music. While a student there, she placed first in a competition whose prize was an appearance with the St. Louis Symphony. Under Vladimir Golschmann's direction, she performed Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto. In 1941, Browning entered the Juilliard School of Music, where she majored in piano, but also pursued singing, making her début as Nancy in von Flotow's MARTHA in a 1943 Chautauqua Summer Opera production. At Juilliard, she met and subsequently married a piano student, Francis Madeira, who later became conductor of the Rhode Island Philharmonic, a faculty member at Brown University, and occasionally accompanied his wife following her transition to a full-time singing career.
Olga Samaroff urged the young woman in 1946 to concentrate on becoming a professional singer. While still studying voice at Juilliard, Jean Madeira (as she was by then known) began making appearances with such other groups as the (American) San Carlo Opera Company. Gian Carlo Menotti chose her in 1947 to alternate with Marie Powers in the title rôle of his THE MEDIUM on its European tour. That same year, she was the recipient of the St. Louis Woman of Achievement Award. In 1948, she made her début at the Metropolitan Opera as the First Norn in a performance of DIE GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG, beginning her steady progress through such rôles as Amneris, Azucena, Ulrica, Orfeo, and Dalila. In 1954, she began a series of European appearances taking her to Covent Garden, Stockholm, Munich, and Salzburg.
The fall of 1955 brought Madeira's début at the Vienna Staatsoper in the rôle of Carmen, a triumph resulting in 45 curtain calls. When she sang Carmen at the Metropolitan in 1956, critic Irving Kolodin, writing in the Saturday Review, described her as ‘an intelligent artist who gives thought to what she undertakes’ and noted her effective use of her striking height. He also praised her portrayal by commenting, ‘Mostly it was done with a suggestion of youthful suppleness not often seen’.
In addition to her almost 300 Metropolitan performances in some 41 rôles, Madeira continued to appear elsewhere in America and Europe, offering her Carmen at Chicago, where critic Claudia Cassidy praised her as ‘svelte, darkly beautiful, with a mezzo soprano streaked in burnt umber and edged with a threat’, and at Aix-en-Provence. Her authoritative Erda was heard at Munich, London, and Bayreuth. In 1968, she took part in the premiere of Dallapiccola's ULISSE IN BERLIN, creating the rôle of Circe. She retired in 1971, shortly before her death in 1972.”
- Erik Eriksson, 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