OP3213. LA BOHEME (in Russian), recorded 1955, w.Samosud Cond. Moscow Radio Ensemble; Ivan Kozlovsky, Elizaveta Shumskaya, Ivan Burlak, Alexandra Yakovenko, Alxei Korolev, etc.; LA BOHEME (Excerpts, in Russian), recorded 1950, w.Samosud Cond. Moscow Radio Ensemble; Ivan Kozlovsky, Elizaveta Shumskaya, Andrei Ivanov, etc. (Russia) 2-Aquarius AQVR 405. [Kozlovsky's pianissimi are breathtakingly beautiful. We'll certainly never hear a poetic Rodolfo like this ever again!] - 4607123631867
“In FANFARE 16:1, James Kammer reviewed a recital of French arias sung by Ivan Kozlovsky. He began ‘Ivan Kozlovsky represents the last of a tradition - the singer as the center of the opera universe. There is no doubt when we are listening to him that he is in charge and the conductor is dutifully following along’. He concludes: ‘So, let the purists scream; in this writer’s opinion, Kozlovsky, with his magnificent voice, imagination and artistry, carries all before him’.
Put me firmly in the Kammer camp. I have admired this tenor for many years and have been collecting his recordings avidly. I own this LA BOHÈME on Melodiya LPs issued some years ago and this Aquarius transfer actually improves the sound, removing some of the LP's edge. If you are more than a casual opera lover this would enhance your operatic collection considerably. Yes, it is sung in Russian, as was the custom in those days. What a pleasure to hear a singer reveling in the act of singing.
Actually, everyone in this performance is fully engaged. Samuil Samosud was one of Russia’s most important operatic conductors and he has a deep feel for the Puccini idiom. Part of the genius of LA BOHÈME is Puccini’s stark contrasts between the comic, the tender, and the tragic. It is critical that the conductor make these contrasts dramatically effective while maintaining overall momentum and structure, and Samosud manages that as well as the most respected Italian maestri.
While every one of the principals is quite good, and the overall ensemble and dramatic involvement is well above the average for studio recordings, it is Kozlovsky that raises this recording from being a very intriguing curiosity to being something worthy of real attention. You need make no allowances whatsoever for his age. The high C in the aria is ringing, and held onto with pride. There are touches of individuality throughout - little grace notes, suddenly applied diminuendi, notes held because of their dramatic and/or vocal effect. This is singing the way it was when LA BOHÈME was composed. The most apt stylistic comparison to Kozlovsky on disc might be Fernando de Lucia, who took similar liberties with the printed score. It is important to note that Puccini wanted him to be the first Rodolfo (it did not happen, but he did sing it shortly after the premiere), and whose singing Puccini adored. Kozlovsky may be a throwback, but it may just be a throwback to the way this music was meant to be sung, with individuality and a real vocal ‘face’. He has a way of bringing the listener in close whenever he sings. In his third act encounter with Marcello, he will break your heart. Hearing his Rodolfo is a unique experience, and a privilege.
Elizaveta Shumskaya was a leading lyric soprano at the Bolshoi during the 1950s and early ‘60s, and she has a lovely sound and characterizes the music very well. It is not unique singing in the way Kozlovsky’s is, but it would be unfair to expect that of anyone. Her third act scene with Marcello is particularly affecting. Ivan Burlak’s Marcello is sensitively sung, though the voice itself is somewhat ordinary. Alexandra Yakovenko is a bright, pert and feisty Musetta, and the other bohemians clearly have a ball with their roles. Alexi Korolev’s farewell to Colline’s coat is quite touching, and sung with a typical dark, rich Russian basso voice.
The bonus tracks provide the first act finale, starting with Mimì’s entrance, and the Rodolfo-Marcello duet from the fourth act, of a Bolshoi broadcast from 5 years earlier than the recording. There is a bit more juice in the voices of Shumskaya and Kozlovsky, and Andrei Ivanov is a richer voiced Marcello than Ivan Burlak. The performance is a bit bigger in scale, geared to an opera house rather than a recording studio, but Kozlovsky still manages many of his individualistic shadings.
Aquarius’ booklet provides track listings and a cast in the alphabet that we can understand, but all the notes are in Cyrillic. Two pages of photos of all the principals are a nice addition. Aquarius, which is doing wonderful work with important Russian recordings, is available through Norbeck, Peters & Ford.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“Elisaveta Shumsyaya made a relatively late début on the leading stage of her home-town, but her success there was of all the greater duration. In the one and a half decades after the Second World War she developed into one of the most indispensable singers at the Bolshoi Theatre and also at the studios of the Russian record company Melodiya. With her light, easy but substantial soprano voice she participated in around a dozen complete opera recordings, mostly in works by Western European composers.”
- Kurt Malisch, VOICES BEHIND THE IRON CURTAIN
“Ivan Burlak was a verismo-style artist with a light, bright baritone voice featuring an explosive high range, a member of the Bolshoi ensemble beginning in 1921.”
- Ned Ludd
“Samuil Abramovich Samosud was the Principal Conductor of the Maly Opera Theatre from 1919 to 1936. He conducted three world premières here: Shostakovich’s THE NOSE (1930) and LADY MACBETH OF THE MTSENSK DISTRICT (1935) - both interpretations were acknowledged as exemplary by the composer - and Prokofiev’s WAR AND PEACE (1946, 1955). Samosud also collaborated with director Vsevolod Meyerhold on a new version of Tchaikovsky’s opera THE QUEEN OF SPADES (1935).
Samosud was also not afraid to tackle works by contemporary Western composers. He conducted the Russian premières of the operas DER SPRUNG ÜBER DEN SCHATTEN (1927) and JONNY SPIELT AUF by Austrian composer Ernst Krenek. ‘It would be worth travelling from Germany for DER SPRUNG ÜBER DEN SCHATTEN alone. It is an astounding, stunning production’, enthused composer Paul Hindemith. Ernest Ansermet, at that time Principal Conductor of the Geneva Symphony Orchestra, was fully in agreement: ‘I would be so bold as to say that the former Mikhailovsky Theatre is the best opera house in Russia; only La Scala in Milan can compete with it as regards performance. The production is simply brilliant. Samosud has no rivals in the West’. Thanks to Samuil Samosud, the mastery of the Maly Opera Theatre’s opera company and orchestra reached such a high level that almost every première was a sensation, attracting the cream of the country’s creative intelligentsia. The Mikhailovsky Theatre continues to follow the artistic principles laid down by Samuil Samosud: attention to and interest in the classics, coupled with experimentation and a search for new stars.”
- Mikhailovsky Theatre