OP3025. FEDORA (Giordano), Live Performance, 16 Sept., 1969, w. Annovazzi Cond.Lucca Ensemble; Magda Olivero, Giuseppe di Stefano, Giovanna di Rocco, Guido Mazzini, Carla Mari, Augusto Pedroni, Plinio Clabassi, Edgardo di Stasio, Andrea Mineo, Luciano Pecchia, etc.; GIUSEPPE DI STEFANO, w.Onelia Fineschi, etc.: Andrea Chénier – Excerpts, 1 April. 1962, Firenze. (Italy) 2-GDS 109, w.full libretto. Very long out-of-print, final ever-so-slightly used copy.
“Often referred to as ‘the last verismo soprano’, Magda Olivero was an artist whose total immersion in her roles combined with astounding vocal longevity to earn her legendary status among lovers of expressive singing. Young Magda studied piano, harmony, counterpoint and then voice, auditioning at Turin’s EIAR radio for conductor Ugo Tansini, whose appraisal has become part of the Olivero legend: ‘She possesses neither voice, musicality nor personality!... She should look for another profession’. A second audition produced the same response, but also aroused the interest of voice teacher Luigi Gerussi, who offered to train her. After a period of arduous vocal study, Olivero made her major-role stage début in Turin as Lauretta in GIANNI SCHICCHI in 1933, the same year bowing at La Scala as Anna in NABUCCO. Her easy high notes and impeccable coloratura led to roles such as Gilda, Manon and Sophie, and she was encouraged by Tullio Serafin to specialize in bel canto repertoire. But Olivero’s heart was in verismo, and she had the opportunity to work closely with a number of composers, including Giordano, Alfano, Mascagni and Cilèa, sometimes creating roles for them, always gaining their admiration. (Thirty-one of the forty-four composers whose operas Olivero sang during her career were still alive when she began to study.) In 1938, Olivero sang Liù in the world-premiere recording of TURANDOT, one of her few commercial recordings, and in 1939 she sang her first Adriana Lecouvreur, the role with which she became most identified. Olivero married industrialist Aldo Busch in 1941, abandoning her career for a decade, singing only occasional concerts to aid charities during the war.
Francesco Cilèa, who considered Olivero the greatest interpreter of his Adriana, finally persuaded the soprano to return to the stage. Writing to her, Cilèa insisted it was Olivero’s duty ‘toward her public and her art’. The elderly composer was dying and wanted to hear Olivero as Adriana one last time. When she worked on the role with him, Cilèa declared Olivero had ‘gone beyond the notes’ to what he felt when he created Adriana. Two weeks after returning to the stage as Mimì, on 20 January, 1951, Olivero sang Adriana; sadly, Cilèa had died months earlier, but he was the catalyst for an astounding second Olivero career phase, lasting four more decades.
Although Olivero kept singing Manon and Violetta, this second career focused mainly on verismo heroines — Suor Angelica, Butterfly, Fedora, Manon Lescaut, Margherita (MEFISTOFELE), Iris, Minnie, Giorgetta (IL TABARRO) and Tosca. She also continued to participate in premieres of new works, by Renzo Rossellini, Ottorino Gentilucci, Flavio Testi and Gian Francesco Malipiero. Olivero won acclaim in Menotti’s MEDIUM and Poulenc’s DIALOGUES DES CARMÉLITES (Mother Marie) and LA VOIX HUMAINE, and as a hair-raising Kostelnicka in JENUFA at La Scala.
Her career expanded beyond Italy, and a U.S. début took place in Dallas in 1967, where, she was persuaded, after some hesitation, to sing Cherubini’s Medea. Her reticence, based on the success of Maria Callas in the role in that city, proved unfounded; the performances were a sensation. New York area performances began in 1969, in Hartford Connecticut, with her legendary Adriana. The enterprising Maestro Alfredo Silipigni then brought Olivero to his New Jersey State Opera; local opera lovers journeyed to Newark for unforgettable Olivero evenings of TOSCA, FEDORA and MEFISTOFELE. In the meanwhile, a Philharmonic Hall début in 1971 featured the soprano in a recital coupled with LA VOIX HUMAINE in the same evening.
But it was not until 1975, at the instigation of her great admirer Marilyn Horne, that the Met finally invited Magda Olivero for three performances as Tosca. She made her début soon after her sixty-fifth birthday. Although the audience was wildly demonstrative, this was no mere nostalgia event. After a few minutes to warm up and conquer nerves, Olivero’s voice was astonishingly fresh, shedding decades by Act II. At the second performance, this listener was treated to the most touching, spectacularly sung ‘Vissi d’arte’ of his experience. During Act III, Olivero’s ascent to a spectacular, lengthy high C and plunge down two octaves into chest voice on the line ‘Io quella lama’ earned her a spontaneous ovation. This old-school audience response was inspired by the artist’s old-school stage deportment; it was an evening that, in the best sense, turned back the clock whenever she was onstage. Olivero’s total belief in the reality of the drama prevented her performances from ever being reduced to shtick. And her prodigious technique and breath control spoke of a bygone era, but one in which she was unique among veristas, none of whom matched her vocal capabilities.
Olivero continued to sing, albeit with less frequency, until 1983, when the death of her husband caused her to retire with no fanfare or farewells. However, in 1993, at eighty-three, Olivero recorded excerpts from her beloved ADRIANA LECOUVREUR, making a final artistic statement on the role, still able to offer passages of ethereal beauty and expression. Her art is extensively documented in live-performance audio recordings and a handful of video documents — every one a lesson.”
Ira Siff, OPERA NEWS, 8 Sept., 2014
“Giuseppe di Stefano, a flamboyant, sometimes erratic opera star who in his prime after World War II was lauded as the most thrilling Italian tenor in a generation and was renowned for his superb voice, Mr. di Stefano had only brief years at the top, with a repertory that focused on lyric roles like the Duke in RIGOLETTO, the title role in FAUST and WERTHER. Rudolf Bing, the longtime general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, asserted that Mr. di Stefano could have been as great as Enrico Caruso if he had demonstrated more restraint in his personal and professional conduct. Mr. di Stefano conceded that he could be reckless. He reveled in his image as a bon vivant and bragged of his affairs, including a long romance with Maria Callas, his favorite onstage partner.
‘I wanted to enjoy life — not just the opera’, he said in an interview for OPERA NEWS in 1999, which took place at his villa north of Milan, on the edge of the lake district. ‘Yes, I smoked a lot. And it’s true I used to gamble, and I would stay up late and sometimes drive around all night. So of course the critics wrote: ‘He was not in shape to go on stage'.’ But Mr. di Stefano insisted that it was severe allergies that permanently damaged his voice.
With the onset of World War II, he served in the Italian army, assigned to an infirmary. But he was saved from duty on the Russian front by his regimental commander, an opera-loving doctor, who gave him a medical dispensation because he felt that the young man had a promising career ahead. Mr. di Stefano spent some of the war years as a pop singer, entertaining audiences at movie theaters between feature films. Then, in 1943, he fled to Switzerland, where he began his operatic career with recitals on a classical radio station in Zürich.
After the war, Mr. di Stefano made his opera début in Italy in 1946 at the Teatro Municipale, in the city of Reggio Emilia, as Des Grieux in Massenet’s MANON. He was quickly recognized as a rising star, praised for the rich, velvety texture of his voice and his great emphasis on diction. He was invited to sing at the major Italian opera houses. In 1948, Mr. di Stefano crossed the Atlantic to make his Metropolitan Opera début as the Duke in RIGOLETTO. But he received his greatest accolades for his performances as FAUST. Mr. Bing was awestruck by Mr. di Stefano’s interpretation of the role in the 1949-50 season. ‘The most spectacular single moment’, Mr. Bing wrote in his 1972 memoir, 5,000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA, was ‘when I heard his diminuendo on the high C in ‘Salut! Demeure’ in FAUST. ‘I shall never as long as I live forget the beauty of that sound’.
But Mr. di Stefano’s behavior soon caused Mr. Bing to sour on him. When a new production of LA BOHÈME went into rehearsal at the Met in the 1952-53 season, Mr. di Stefano failed to show up in time, contending that illness had prevented him from traveling from Italy to New York. Mr. Bing learned that Mr. di Stefano had in fact been healthy enough to perform at La Scala in Milan, and banned him from the Met for three years.
On his return to New York, Mr. di Stefano expanded his repertory to include Don José in CARMEN and Cavaradossi in TOSCA. But Mr. Bing, in his memoir, complained that the tenor persisted in his erratic behavior. ‘We never knew from day to day whether he would show up’, he wrote, adding that ‘his lack of self-discipline soon harmed what might have been a career men would remember with Caruso’s’. By the late 1950s, Mr. di Stefano’s career was in decline, with his failing voice often forcing him to cancel appearances. He insisted that an allergy to synthetic fibers had inflamed his larynx. But the opera world remained skeptical. After a miserable 1966 performance as Otello in Pasadena, CA, Mr. di Stefano’s stage appearances dwindled. In 1973-74, he and Maria Callas made a disastrous tour of North America, Asia and Europe, with critics panning their performances. Mr. di Stefano, who first sang with Ms. Callas in the early 1950s and later became her lover, rated her as the best diva with whom he ever sang. ‘Even when Callas’ voice wasn’t perfect, she had so much interpretation’, he said. ‘Opera is storytelling. Feelings must be conveyed. Acting must be moving. And Callas had it all’.
Even in old age, Mr. di Stefano insisted that he had no regrets about his short career at opera’s summit, and that he did not begrudge the success of peers like Luciano Pavarotti or Plácido Domingo. ‘I was never jealous of anybody’, he said. ‘I don’t have to go around insisting that I had one of the great voices. Fortunately, I made enough recordings to let people judge for themselves’.”
- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 March, 2008