OP2807. FAUST, Live Performance, 8 May, 1971, w.Gavazzeni Cond. Teatro Colon Ensemble; Nicolai Gedda, Heather Harper, Nicolai Ghiaurov, Robert Massard, etc. (Croatia) 3-Myto Stereo 031.275. Long out-of-print, final copies! - 608974502751
"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 debut 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 debut in 1957, singing Faust with the Pittsburgh Opera. Reviewing his Met debut, 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 Bjorling.
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 debut 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 ORPHEE, 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 Lehar's LAND DES LACHELNS, 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 debut 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, Adméto 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' 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 AND 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
“Heather Harper, a Northern Irish-born soprano who was beloved for decades for her radiant voice and musical sensitivity in repertory ranging from Baroque to contemporary music, and who was a notable interpreter of the music of Benjamin Britten, in 1962 substituted for Galina Vishnevskaya in the premiere of Britten’s WAR REQUIEM. The work was written to dedicate the new Coventry Cathedral in England, the original 14th-century structure having been bombed into ruin during World War II. Ms. Harper, just turned 32, took her place and triumphed.
Reviewing her performance of Strauss’ ‘Four Last Songs’ at Carnegie Hall in 1969 with Kempe conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, THE NEW YORK TIMES critic Donal Henahan wrote that Ms. Harper’s reading was ‘an ennobling one, suffused with dignity and serenity, touched with autumnal sadness’. Her voice, he added, ‘produced the Straussian outpourings effortlessly’.
Helena, the young Athenian lover in Britten’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, was the role of Ms. Harper’s debut at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, in 1962. Britten later chose her as Mrs. Coyle, the warm-hearted tutor’s wife, for the premiere of his opera OWEN WINGRAVE, written for television and first broadcast in 1971. She later recorded both operas with Britten conducting.
Her most notable Britten role was Ellen, the good-hearted schoolmistress in PETER GRIMES, in an acclaimed 1969 BBC production with Mr. Pears in the title role, which he had created 24 years earlier. It was conducted by Britten and staged by Joan Cross. Ms. Harper later performed and recorded the role with Jon Vickers, who brought smoldering intensity to his portrayal of Grimes, with Colin Davis conducting the orchestra and chorus of the Royal Opera.
Ellen was also one of two roles she sang at the Metropolitan Opera in 1977 during her only season with the company. Yet she also brought shimmering sound and tenderness to works like Handel’s MESSIAH, which she recorded in 1966 in a classic version with Mr. Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.
Ms. Harper’s stage debut in opera came in 1954 with the Oxford University Opera Club in an unlikely role: the fierce Lady Macbeth in Verdi’s MACBETH, a punishing part. From that point on her career progressed steadily, with appearances at Covent Garden, the Glyndebourne Festival and major houses in Amsterdam, Toronto, Buenos Aires and elsewhere.
Ms. Harper, a woman of good cheer and dedication, became a favorite of the tempestuous conductor George Solti, who brought her to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for several major performances during the late 1960s and 1970s, including Haydn’s THE CREATION and Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony.
She was a soloist in Solti’s milestone recording of Mahler’s epic Eighth Symphony, also with the Chicago Symphony, in Vienna; it won three Grammy Awards in 1972.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 April, 2019
“Nicolai Ghiaurov, the Bulgarian bass was one of the leading opera singers of his day whose warm, rich bass voice made him ideal for roles like King Philip in Verdi's DON CARLO or the title role in Moussorgsky's BORIS GODOUNOV, both of which were among his signature roles. His vocal power and striking stage presence helped gain him the kind of accolades opera usually reserves for its tenors and sopranos.
His Metropolitan Opera debut, in November 1965, as Mephistopheles in Gounod's FAUST, received rapturous reviews. ‘The man indeed is sensational’, Harold C. Schonberg wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES. ‘He not only has a remarkable voice, but he is also big in every way’. He added, ‘He has presence, the kind that Pinza and Chaliapin had, the kind that jumps over the footlights and seizes the listener in a palpable embrace’.
By then, Mr. Ghiaurov was already a star in Europe; his American debut, at the Chicago Lyric Opera, had taken place two years earlier. His Met debut would have come earlier, too, he told an interviewer in 1965, but a tenor accidentally got in the way. At a party in Milan, Rudolf Bing, the Met's general manager, made Mr. Ghiaurov an offer, which was overheard by Franco Corelli. According to Mr. Ghiaurov, Corelli ‘became very excited’ and said to Bing, ‘How dare you offer him so little? From then on, everything was ruined in that discussion’, Mr. Ghiaurov said.
As beloved as he was in New York, Mr. Ghiaurov never created a home base there of the kind he had in Europe; he sang 81 performances of 10 roles at the Met, including a gala in 1991 celebrating the 25th anniversaries his debut, Ms. Freni's and the tenor Alfredo Kraus's; he also appeared in the Met's centennial gala in 1983. His last performance there was in 1996, in RIGOLETTO.
He remained active in Europe, however. In 2001, he tried out a new role, Dosifey, the old believer, in Moussorgsky's KHOVANSHCHINA, in a new production in Zürich, having often sung Khovansky in the same opera. In December in Venice, he sang Basilio in Rossini's BARBER OF SEVILLE, the role in which he made his operatic debut in Sofia in 1955.
His remarkable vocal longevity was often attributed to his choice of roles suited to his voice and to his care in later years not to overextend himself with too many performances.
After his operatic debut, Mr. Ghiaurov's progress was rapid: Bologna in 1958, La Scala in 1959, Covent Garden in 1962. ‘It is not entirely good to move up with such speed’, he told an interviewer. ‘I do not have the long experience with the smaller roles first. Almost from the beginning it is the big roles’.”
- Anne Midgette, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 3 June, 2004
"Massard made his professional debut at the Paris Opéra in 1952, as the High Priest in SAMSON ET DALILA, shorthly followed by Valentin in FAUST. The same year, he also made his debut at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, as Thoas in IPHIGENIE EN TAURIDE. His career rapidly took an international dimension with debuts in 1955, at La Scala and the Glyndebourne Festival, both as Ramiro in L'HEURE ESPAGNOLE. Oreste in IPHIGENIE EN TAURIDE was his debut role at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the Royal Opera House in London, and the Edinburgh Festival. Massard also appeared in North and South America, notably at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, at Carnegie Hall and the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires. Henceforth considered one of the best French baritones of his generation, he was internationally acclaimed as Valentin in FAUST, Escamillo in CARMEN, Fieramosca in BENVENUTO CELLINI, and Golaud in PELLEAS ET MELISANDE."
- Ned Ludd