OP2130. LORD BYRON’S LOVE LETTER (de Banfleld), recorded 1958, w.Rescigno Cond. Rome Ensemble; Astrid Varnay (Varnay Creator Record, 17 Jan., 1955, Tulane University), Gertrude Ribla, Nicoletta Carruba & Mario Carlin; GERTRUDE RIBLA, w.Ormandy Cond. Philadelphia Orch.: Wozzeck (Berg) – Three Scenes, recorded 1947. (Germany) Naxos 8.111362. Transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. Final Copy! - 747313336227
“The RCA Victor recording of LORD BYRON was one of the first the company made in stereo (1958), though the LP was released only in monaural. The set remained in the RCA catalog only a short time and soon became a rarity. This is its first release on CD….The opera was first performed at Tulane University in New Orleans, 17 Jan., 1955. The Old Woman was sung by Astrid Varnay, then at the top of her career as a Wagnerian soprano. The Spinster was sung by Patricia Neway, noted for her dramatic interpretations of the operas of Menotti….Of the original cast, only Varnay is heard here – in all her vocal splendor….To fill out the disc, Ribla is heard in three of Marie’s scenes from WOZZECK, recorded in 1947….Ribla is a vocal force as well.”
- Charles H. Parsons, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, July/Aug., 2011
“The composer Raffaello de Banfield was born in 1922 in the English city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne to the Austrian flying ace Gottfried von Banfield (the last Knight of the Military Order of Maria Theresa) and the Countess Maria Tripcovich, who originated from Trieste, Italy. The couple had settled in Newcastle in 1920. De Banfield studied in Switzerland at the international Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz and subsequently in Trieste at the Lyceum Dante Alighieri. He attended the University of Bologna and the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory in Venice, where he was a pupil of Gian Francesco Malipiero. In 1946 he moved to Paris, to study composition at the Paris Conservatoire with Henri Büsser, and also with Nadia Boulanger. He remained at the Conservatoire until 1949, and during this time came into contact with many leading figures in French intellectual life of the period, such as Picasso, Cocteau and Poulenc, as well as the conductor Herbert von Karajan, who remained a life-long friend. The painter Leonor Fini introduced him to the French choreographer and ballet dancer Roland Petit. As a result de Banfield composed the music for Petit’s ballet Le combat (The Duel), which had its first production in London in 1949. Based upon the Tancred and Clorinda episode in Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata, this ballet was subsequently performed frequently at the Vienna State Opera between 1959 and 1973, with choreography by Dimitrije Parlic.
De Banfield led an international existence, and in America he became a member of the intellectual circle surrounding the writer and composer Paul Bowles. Through this he met the writer and playwright Tennessee Williams and the composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. Up until 1958 he divided his time between Paris and New York, and maintained a friendship with Maria Callas. Later, after oscillating between homes in Italy, France, England and the United States, where he lived for more than ten years, he served between 1972 and 1996 as director of the Trieste opera house, the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi, which he comprehensively renovated and modernised. In addition from 1978 to 1986 he was director of the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, which had been founded in 1958 by the composer Gian Carlo Menotti. De Banfield achieved international recognition for his compositions, which included the ballets Quatuor (1957) and Acostino (1958), the one-act operas Lord Byron’s Love Letter (1955) and Alissa (1965), and the Ritratto lirico, Colloquio col Tango ossìa La Formica (Conversation with the Tango or The Ant) (1959), as well as several works for solo soprano and orchestra, including For Ophelia, sung by Kiri Te Kanawa at a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, London in the mid-1970s. He received many honours, including being made a Grand Ufficiale of Italy and a Grand Cavalier of the Légion d’Honneur in France. He died at his home at Rive d’Arcano, near Trieste, in 2008.
The opera Lord Byron’s Love Letter is as well-known for its libretto as for its music. The text provided by Tennessee Williams is based on a play that he wrote in 1946. The setting is Williams’s beloved New Orleans at the time of the annual Mardi Gras, during the late nineteenth century. The plot revolves around an eccentric old lady, lost in the past, and her spinster granddaughter. Together they live, none too comfortably, in a decrepit house in New Orleans. The focus of their lives is an old love letter, purportedly written by Lord Byron, which they display to visitors for money. The opera Lord Byron’s Love Letter was first performed at Dixon Hall, Tulane University, New Orleans on 17th January 1955, with the principal parts of the Old Woman and The Spinster taken by Astrid Varnay and Patricia Neway respectively. Both were leading singers of the time: Varnay was renowned for her unrivalled command of the Wagnerian repertoire on both sides of the Atlantic, and Neway for her creation of the part of Magda Sorel in Menotti’s opera The Consul. Neway subsequently created the rôle of the Mother Superior in the original Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, for which she received a Tony Award. The present recording of Lord Byron’s Love Letter was made in Rome by RCA three year’s after the work’s première, with the soprano Gertrude Ribla taking over the part of The Spinster, and the distinguished American-Italian musician, Nicola Rescigno, conducting. When released in America at the end of 1958, Time magazine commented that ‘Italian Composer Banfield’s score offers some green and willowy moments of vocal beauty’. Nonetheless the recording’s time in the catalogue was short, since when it has never been commercially reissued, becoming a sought-after rarity in the process, until its present republication.
The dramatic soprano Astrid Varnay (1918–2006) was born into an operatic family: her mother was a coloratura soprano and her father a spinto tenor. The year in which she was born they founded the Opera Comique Theatre in Kristiania, Sweden, although they were both born in Hungary, and they managed it until 1921.The family then moved to Argentina and later to New York, where her father died in 1924. Her mother subsequently remarried another tenor, and the young Astrid, after studying to be a pianist, decided at the age of eighteen to become a singer. She worked intensively, first with her mother and then with the Metropolitan Opera conductor and coach Hermann Weigert, whom she later married. She made her sensational stage début at the Metropolitan in 1941, substituting at short notice for Lotte Lehmann as Sieglinde in Die Walküre with no rehearsal. After this triumph, six days later she replaced Helen Traubel in the same opera as Brünnhilde, and her operatic career was effectively launched. She made her Covent Garden début in 1948 and, at the suggestion of Kirsten Flagstad, her Bayreuth Festival début in 1951. She sang every year at Bayreuth for the next seventeen years and at the Met until 1956, when she left following a disagreement with Rudolf Bing. She henceforth concentrated her career on Germany where she was revered, living in Munich. She moved from the dramatic soprano repertoire into that for mezzo-soprano in 1969, and during the 1980s into character parts. She made her last appearance in Munich in 1995, almost fifty-five years after her Metropolitan début. Her brilliant career is well documented in both commercial and unofficial sound recordings.
Gertrude Ribla (1919–1980) was born in New York and studied singing with Frances Alda. She won an amateur singing competition in 1936 and made her first NBC radio broadcast in 1941, subsequently singing in the 1943 national NBC broadcast of the third act of Rigoletto with Toscanini conducting. She won the Metropolitan Opera’s Auditions of the Air in 1948, and made her début at the Metropolitan during the following year as Aida. Other parts which she sang there until 1951 included Leonore in Il trovatore. During the 1950s she was active across America, singing in Chicago and New Orleans as well as with the New York City Opera. In 1958 she took part in an Italian radio broadcast of Weinberger’s Schwanda the Bagpiper. Other parts which she sang included the title rôle in Turandot, Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana, and Marie in Wozzeck, excerpts from which she recorded with Eugene Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1947. These are included as a bonus in this present release.
The conductor Nicola Rescigno (1916–2008) was born into a musical family in New York. He studied music with Pizzetti, Giannini and Polacco and made his conducting début in 1943, leading La traviata in Brooklyn. He subsequently was music director for opera companies in Connecticut and Havana, and first appeared at San Francisco in 1950, directing Madama Butterfly and Il barbiere di Siviglia. He was a co-founder of the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1953, and worked there until 1956, when he left to inaugurate the Dallas Civic Opera, where he was the music director until 1990. Here he worked with many of the world’s top singers, having already struck up a close professional relationship with Maria Callas, with whom he recorded extensively. He first conducted at the Metropolitan Opera, where his father had been a trumpet player, in 1978. He appeared as a guest in Italy, Mexico, Portugal and the United Kingdom. He was particularly admired for his skills as an operatic accompanist."
- David Patmore