FOP3315. DON CARLOS, Live Performance, 5 March, 1955, w. Adler Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Eleanor Steber, Richard Tucker, Ettore Bastianini, Jerome Hines, Blanche Thebom, Nicola Moscona, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-688. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“This is the four-act Italian version of DON CARLO that was standard at the Met in the 1950s. There is much to recommend the present performance to collectors, not as a basic recording (one should have the complete five-act version) but as a wonderfully sung supplement. In the title role of the doomed Spanish prince, Richard Tucker sings with abandon and thrilling voice. At times his delivery could be overly emphatic or explosive, but Tucker also had the ability to sing with an evenly produced legato, and he frequently does so here. The voice itself was an instrument that you just had to pay attention to: it conveyed a sound of importance with a highly distinctive sound and was immediately identifiable.
The rarity here is soprano Eleanor Steber in a major Verdi role. She was equally at home in Mozart, Strauss, Barber, Puccini, and Wagner but was not cast in Verdi roles very often by the Met’s powerful, at times dictatorial, manager, Rudolf Bing. In fact, this is the second performance in the run of DON CARLO in the 1954-55 season, the opening night having been given to Delia Rigal, who is much less remembered than Steber. But Steber got the Saturday afternoon broadcast, and we should be grateful for that.
She sings in the grand manner, with dramatic specificity in coloring and inflection, while pouring out steady, gleaming dramatic-soprano tone. This is one of three releases by St. Laurent Studio featuring Steber and the result is a reappraisal of my own views about her. I have always been an admirer, but I realize now how uniquely glorious her singing was. Received wisdom would dictate that a singer who performs the range of composers that Steber mastered is unlikely to be truly great in any of them. These three performances including OTELLO & ARABELLA prove that received wisdom is not always actual wisdom. Steber sounds here like a natural Verdian. Her ability to float long lines is particularly suited to Elisabetta’s great climactic aria, ‘Tu che la vanita’. Her soaring high notes, produced without seeming effort, fill out Verdi’s phrases magnificently.
The Met’s casting in this production was lavish. DON CARLO had been Bing’s first important statement as the company’s new general manager in 1950, and he opened it with Jussi Björling in the title role. Bing continued to cast from strength where he could. Here in 1955 Jerome Hines’ King Philip II (Cesare Siepi in 1950) movingly sings the king’s aria lamenting the loss of his wife’s love, and he and Nicola Moscona thunder menacingly in the scene with Philip and the blind Grand Inquisitor. Blanche Thebom is more than adequate as Eboli, though the voice lacks distinctiveness. Ettore Bastianini, on the other hands, displays the burnished, ringing baritone that made him a star in Europe and America until cancer tragically shortened his career. It would be difficult to point to any dramatic subtlety in Bastianini’s Rodrigo, but one might spend a lifetime hoping to hear the role sung this thrillingly again. All the smaller roles are very well sung, but the chorus is a bit raw. Kurt Adler leads with a sure sense of the idiom and more energy than I associate with his conducting. The orchestra plays well enough, although without the degree of excellence and refinement that would have to await the Levine years.
Whatever its drawbacks which are not major, this is a vivid, engaging, and thrillingly sung performance of DON CARLO. As a document of the significance and talent of Eleanor Steber it is a very welcome release. A prior CD version on the Andromeda label has circulated, but the sound quality here is significantly cleaner and richer. There are no notes but a complete cast and track listing.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE