OP3028. DON GIOVANNI, Live Performance, 21 Feb., 1966, w.Sarah Caldwell Cond. Opera Company of Boston Ensemble; William Dooley, Donald Gramm, Michel Sénéchal, McHenry Boatwright, Beverly Sills, Brenda Lewis, Laurel Hurley, Robert Trehy & Ernest Triplett. (Canada) 3–St Laurent Studio YSL T-270. [A professional, brilliant stereo recording of this celebrated performance which far outweighs the Internet download of Sills’ Donna Anna from the following year! Recorded at the peak of Sills’ vocal career, this Boston performance is not to be missed!] Professionally-made stereo recording, Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“Yves St-Laurent’s and Jean de la Durantaye’s expert restoration of a 1966 Opera Company of Boston performance gives the listener a gift of a DON GIOVANNI sung with brawn and beauty by a cast including some of America’s most significant artists.
A heartening aspect of this DON GIOVANNI, dating from 21 February 1966, is…. the generally excellent sound achieved by St-Laurent and de la Durantaye places the choral singing, orchestral playing, and Caldwell’s conducting in a flattering acoustic in which the felicities of their collaboration are audible. On the whole, Caldwell’s tempi are satisfying, conveying the opera’s dramatic propulsion without trampling the singers.
William Dooley débuted at the MET in 1964 as Tchaikovsky's Onégin opposite the Tatyana of Leontyne Price, and his Mozartean credentials at the MET encompassed a number of turns as Conte d'Almaviva in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, both in New York and on national tours. A member of the generation of gifted American baritones who furthered the legacy of Lawrence Tibbett and Leonard Warren, Dooley was in Boston a Don Giovanni of technical solidity and vocal excellence. In many ways, his concept of the rôle combines elements of the much-appreciated interpretations of fellow Americans Sherrill Milnes and Samuel Ramey, amalgamating lecherous appetite with good-natured machismo. His Giovanni seems a reluctant murderer, but there is no doubt of the voracity of his amorous audacity. Dooley’s Giovanni sounds embarrassed by the near-hysterical Elvira’s sudden appearance, but his 'concern' for her, feigned to convince Zerlina of his nobility of spirit, is almost as sincere as the saccharine verse on a greeting card. The suavity of Dooley’s line in ‘Là ci darem la mano’ could charm a leopard out of its stripes—or a Zerlina out of her determined resistance. There is little menace in this Giovanni’s seducing, but Dooley’s performance of ‘Finch’han dal vino’ simmers with testosterone-fueled fervor. He duets with Leporello arrestingly, and joins Leporello and Elvira in their trio with disquieting charisma. Dooley’s Giovanni meets his end unflinchingly. In the course of the performance, Dooley encounters a few phrases that test his resources, but he clears every obstacle with the freedom of an Olympic pole vaulter.
Bass-baritone Donald Gramm sang Leporello, one of his most admired portrayals, twenty-four times at the MET between 1966 and 1981 and recorded the part for Decca with colleagues including Dame Joan Sutherland, Pilar Lorengar, Marilyn Horne, and Gabriel Bacquier. From the first bar of his jocular ‘Notte e giorno faticar’, Gramm provides a stream of comedic immediacy that flows through the performance. He interacts with Giovanni with the annoyance of a man tired of being ignored and abused. He seems legitimately horrified by the death of the Commendatore, and his broadly droll ‘Madamina’ is not devoid of humanity and subtle empathy for Elvira. In the duet with Giovanni at the beginning of Act Two, ‘Eh via, buffone, non mi seccar’, Gramm sings artfully, and he makes Leporello’s aria ‘Ah, pietà, signori miei’ far more memorable than many singers have done. His work in ‘O statua gentilissima’ and the Epilogue is treasurable: here, for once, is a Leporello who manages to be funny without compromising the quality of his singing.
It is not for her performances of Mozart rôles that Beverly Sills is most remembered, but she was no stranger to DON GIOVANNI. As early as 1953, she sang Donna Elvira at San Francisco Opera under Tullio Serafin's baton. Later, in addition to the Opera Company of Boston performances that produced this recording, she sang Donna Anna for New York City Opera both in New York and on tour, including a 1966 revival in which her Ottavio was the young Plácido Domingo, with Baltimore Civic Opera, at Mexico City's Palacio de Bellas Artes, in Lausanne opposite Gérard Souzay's Giovanni, and in a 1966 concert performance in Manhattan's Lewisohn Stadium that was her first appearance with the Metropolitan Opera. At the start of this Boston performance, Sills’ singing imparts the full spectrum of Anna’s terror, grief, and indignation. Her voice stands out in every ensemble in Act One, her performance gaining momentum until she unleashes a furious gale of histrionic intensity but aptly Mozartean singing in ‘Don Ottavio, son morta!’ and ‘Or sai chi l’onore’. The luster of her top As is stunning, but the most sensational trait of her performance is the towering dramatic profile that she creates without overstretching the voice. The ascending lines of the masquers’ trio in the Act One finale are sung with tremendous poise. Sills is utterly in her element in ‘Non mi dir’, singing the roulades better than almost any other soprano on records, the voice smaller than those of many Annas but the characterization no less imposing. In the aria and in the opera’s final scene, Sills succeeds in making Anna the moral spine of the performance rather than an indecisive harridan who toys with Ottavio’s affections for her own amusement. That Sills sings well in this performance is hardly surprising: that she sings this well is phenomenal.
McHenry Boatwright was never a member of the MET roster. Unfairly neglecting his superb singing in an extensive repertory, it is for his standard-setting Crown in Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS that he is now best remembered.
It was not until 1982, when he impersonated the servants in Offenbach's LES CONTES D'HOFFMANN, that French tenor Michel Sénéchal enlivened the MET stage, where he was heard as recently as the opening night of the 2005 – 2006 Season as Don Basilio in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO. Principally known beyond the borders of his native country as a character tenor par excellence, Sénéchal was acclaimed in France as an accomplished exponent of high-flying parts such as Rameau's Platée, Rossini's Comte Ory, and Nicias in Massenet's THAÏS. In Boston's DON GIOVANNI, Sénéchal…sings with aristocratic grace, unerring stylishness, and a voice that sounds tailor-made for the music. Comforting Donna Anna and swearing to partner her in her quest for vengeance for her father’s death, the tenor summons his trademark honeyed tones followed by more robust vocal mettle than might have been expected from him. His and his Donna Anna's voices blend unusually well, and Sénéchal is among the few recorded Ottavios who actually sounds as though he is so hopelessly in love with Anna as to be willing to suffer any impediment to their union….the ease with which he scales the heights of Ottavio’s lines in ensembles is marvelous. In Sénéchal’s performance of Ottavio’s ‘Il mio tesoro’, his breath control completely conquering music that defeats many tenors. Vocally, Sénéchal is not the most opulent Ottavio on records, but he is among the most stylish and theatrically effective.
Brenda Lewis’ sole MET Donna Elvira was sung in a 1953 non-broadcast performance, so this recording of her Boston Donna Elvira is an especially welcome souvenir of an outing in the Mozart repertory in which she made her professional début and enjoyed notable successes at her artistic home, New York City Opera. Lewis charges into the performance like a hungry tigress on the trail of meat, her incendiary ‘Ah, chi mi dice mai quel barbaro dov’è?’ exploding like fireworks. The voice is shrill and the coloratura not entirely comfortable, but the impact of the aria is like that of a lightning strike. No less dynamic is her voicing of ‘Ah! fuggi il traditor!’. In the Act Two trio with Giovanni and Leporello, her articulation of ‘Ah taci, ingiusto core!’ is surprisingly touching. Lewis’s vocalism in the opera’s penultimate scene and Epilogue is feisty. There are enough moments of stress and untidiness in Lewis’s singing to remind the listener of the difficulty of Elvira’s music, but this intelligent singer puts every exertion to use in her depiction of a woman scarred to the bone by love.
That DON GIOVANNI is one of the greatest operas not only of the Eighteenth Century but in the whole history of the genre is an assessment that is unlikely to prompt dissent, but how many performances of the opera in the past quarter-century have unreservedly affirmed this? Opera Company of Boston’s 1966 production of DON GIOVANNI assembled a cast whose individual and collective efforts gave Mozart’s score the kind of treatment that it deserves. That treatment is the foremost triumph of St-Laurent Studio’s recording of this performance. How refreshing it is to hear a performance of DON GIOVANNI in which impeccably-trained singers simply let Mozart dictate how their voices should be deployed.”
- Joseph Newsome, Voix des Arts, 6 Aug., 2015
“Donald Gramm, a distinguished, aristocratic American bass-baritone, was unusual for an American singer because [his career] was concentrated almost entirely in this country. His work was divided between opera and concert appearances. He sang…with the Metropolitan and New York City Operas, as well with opera companies, symphony orchestras and chamber series all over the country.
His voice ranged from the lowest bass notes into the upper baritone reaches. He had an unusually rich, noble tone, and although its volume may not have been large, it penetrated even the biggest theaters easily. Technically, he could handle bel-canto ornamentation fluently. But his real strengths lay in his aristocratic musicianship (impeccable phrasing that he polished by accompanying himself at the piano, and an easy command of five languages) and his instinctive acting.
Mr. Gramm's reviews were a litany of raves. In 1974, Harold C. Schonberg said in THE NEW YORK TIMES that Mr. Gramm 'could not be faulted’ as Sancho Panza in a Boston staging of Massenet's DON QUICHOTTE, and added that ‘he never gives a bad performance’. In 1977, Donal Henahan of THE TIMES called Mr. Gramm ‘the premiere American male singer of art songs, an important artist at his peak’.
Following his New York City Opera début as Colline in Puccini's LA BOHEME in 1952, Mr. Gramm sang with the City Opera nearly every season for more than 30 years. He made his début at the Met on 10 Jan., 1964, as Truffaldino in Richard Strauss' ARIADNE AUF NAXOS....His principal bases for major roles became Sarah Caldwell's Opera Company of Boston and John Crosby's Santa Fe Opera, where he often sang unusual or contemporary repertory. Eventually, he assumed major parts at the Met as well, including the Doctor in Berg's WOZZECK, Papageno and Leporello in Mozart's DON GIOVANNI, Alfonso in COSI and Waldner in Richard Strauss' ARABELLA. In Europe, he sang at festivals in Spoleto, Aix-en-Provence and Glyndebourne.
Miss Caldwell remained his most stalwart champion. ‘Donald's high level of musicianship and intelligence and his beautiful voice are attributes which make him the logical choice of a conductor’, she told The Times in 1975. ‘His remarkable ability for physical characterization and his deep interest in its development make him the logical choice of a stage director. This fusion of musical and dramatic abilities sets him apart as one of the most extraordinary singing actors of our time’."
- John Rockwell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 3 June, 1983
“On 8 July, 1966, Sills sang Donna Anna in DON GIOVANNI with the Metropolitan Opera, but her formal début with the Metropolitan Opera did not actually occur until 1975. Sills was able to rise to the top of her profession before touring Europe. She finally did so in 1967, a guest of the Vienna State Opera. She went on to sing in Buenos Aires, La Scala; and Covent Garden.
By 1969 Sills had become one of the most important coloratura sopranos in the United States. New Yorker critic Winthrop Sargeant wrote of her: ‘If I were recommending the wonders of New York to a tourist, I would place Beverly Sills at the top of the list - way ahead of such things as the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building’. Peter G. Davis commented that Sills’ performances in a number of operas in the late 1960s ‘are among my most cherished operatic experiences. I imagine they are also fondly remembered by many other New York operagoers who felt that something precious vanished soon after the birth of Supersills’.”
- Bridget Paolucci, BEVERLY SILLS
“Brenda Lewis, who sang for a decade with the Metropolitan Opera and for two decades with the New York City Opera, was known for interpreting the music of living American composers. She originated two signal roles in contemporary opera: the alcoholic Birdie Hubbard in REGINA, Marc Blitzstein’s adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s drama THE LITTLE FOXES, and the title role in LIZZIE BORDEN, by Jack Beeson.
At the Met, Ms. Lewis sang in 38 regular performances from 1952 to 1965. At City Opera, where she appeared from 1945 onward, she sang parts including Santuzza in Mascagni’s CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and the title roles in Bizet’s CARMEN and Richard Strauss’ SALOME. Her Broadway credits include THE GIRL IN PINK TIGHTS (1954), by Jerome Chodorov, Joseph Fields and Leo Robin to the music of Sigmund Romberg, and CAFE CROWN (1964), opposite Theodore Bikel and Sam Levene. Ms. Lewis’s diverse career was made possible partly because she was able to learn a new role in a matter of days. Although she did not begin to take voice lessons until she was in college, she proved so adept that she made her professional début less than two years later.
But for all her success in the opera house, Ms. Lewis said, it was musical theater she loved best. ‘Broadway is what I really bide my time for’, she told THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1953. ‘I love acting just as much as I do singing’. It was on Broadway that she first played Birdie Hubbard, and, as Ms. Lewis liked to say, the role was foreordained: She was originally named Birdie. Before completing her studies, she took up a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. There, she embarked on serious vocal study for the first time, studying with Marion Freschl, who over the years also taught Marian Anderson and Shirley Verrett. In 1941, while still at Curtis, she landed her first major professional role, with the Philadelphia Opera. Under the stage name Brenda Lewis, she sang the Marschallin in Richard Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER. She had seen her first grand opera - by coincidence, DER ROSENKAVALIER, with Lotte Lehmann as the Marschallin - only two years before.
She sang as a guest artist with the San Francisco Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, the Vienna Volksoper, the Zürich Opera and other companies. After retiring from the stage, she taught at the Hartt School, the conservatory of the University of Hartford. She also produced and directed productions of the New Haven Opera Theater.
In an interview with OPERA NEWS in 1999, Ms. Lewis recalled her Met début, an occasion so auspicious that for the first time in her career she chose - briefly - to take the stage wearing her contact lenses. ‘I didn’t want to just walk into something’, she explained, though it was a decision she soon came to regret.”
‘At the end of the first act, I realized I couldn’t stand it’, Ms. Lewis continued. I was petrified when I walked out there and saw that hall - and those lights, and that orchestra, and that son of a bitch with the baton [Erede]! I knew I could not get through the rest of the night with my contacts in’. She removed them the moment she came offstage and never wore them in performance again.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 16 Sept., 2017
“McHenry Boatwright made numerous appearances as a recitalist, a soloist with orchestras and on the opera stage. He sang for several Presidents at the White House, including Jimmy Carter at his inauguration, and was the recipient of several music prizes, among them two Marian Anderson Awards and first place in the National Federation of Music Clubs competition.
Mr. Boatwright studied piano and voice at the New England Conservatory of Music. After a successful début at Tanglewood in 1953, he sang with the New England Opera Theater in Boston, where Leonard Bernstein heard him and invited him to sing with the New York Philharmonic.
In 1956 Mr. Boatwright sang the lead role in Clarence Cameron White's OUANGA, presented by the National Negro Opera Foundation at the Metropolitan Opera House. As a member of the Hamburg Opera in Germany, he sang the lead in the 1967 premiere of Gunther Schuller's VISITATION. He sang the role of Crown in the first complete stereo recording of Gershwin's PORGY AND BESS, with the Cleveland Orchestra under Lorin Maazel.”
- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 Nov., 1994
“[Sarah Caldwell] appeared on the cover of TIME magazine in 1975, not long before she led a historic program of music by female composers at the New York Philharmonic sponsored by MS. MAGAZINE. In 1976, she became the first woman to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera. On the night of Ms. Caldwell's conducting début at the Metropolitan Opera, a writer who had frequently written critically about her work went to her dressing room to get a quote. She pulled him aside to introduce her mother. ‘She wants to meet you; she thinks you're wonderful. I haven't gotten around to that myself’. In this period, she began to guest-conduct major US orchestras, including the BSO, and staged operas for Houston and the New York City Opera and in Beijing. Boston remained Ms. Caldwell's home and the center of her operatic universe.”
- Richard Dyer, THE BOSTON GLOBE, 25 March, 2006