V1792. CLAUDIA MUZIO: Arias from La Sonnambula, Norma, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Forza, Mefistofele, Cavalleria, La Boheme, Tosca, L’Arlesiana, Andrea Chénier & Cecilia; w.Francesco Merli: Duets from Otello. (Austria) Preiser 89739, recorded 1934-35. - 717281897396
“Claudia Muzio was one of those exceptional singers for whom the possession of one of the most beautiful voices in the world was not enough. For her, every word, every note of music and every physical gesture had to contain an emotional motive and meaning. Muzio dedicated her career to the achievement of these artistic aims. By the time that Muzio recorded for Columbia in 1934/35 she had lost the youthful freshness of voice but had gained enormous qualities of colour and inflection. On these recordings we are treated to an experience in human terms almost unequalled in the history of recorded sound. The pathos of the dying Violetta in LA TRAVIATA, the heart- rending Marguerite in MEFISTOFELE and the tenderness of Mimì's ‘Addio’, are all vividly caught.”
- Norman White
“Opera, like any other art form, has its cult figures, typically singers who died young and enacted tragedies, on stage or sometimes in their own lives. While Maria Callas is probably the best known of these, Claudia Muzio has her own legion of devotées. Like Callas, her voice had a certain veiled tone, one making it near-perfect for tragic heroines; she was an excellent actress and a beautiful woman, and also had some major vocal troubles towards the end of her career, though was still able to thrill audiences by her vocal and physical communication. (There was something of a personal connection as well - Aristotle Onassis had been Muzio's lover earlier in his life, Callas' much later.) Muzio's vocal acting was poignantly subtle, based on colors and shading of her tone, rather than the harsh-toned, uncontrolled shrieks or melodramatic gulping sobs that too often passed (and still do) for dramatic high notes or powerful involvement, and she was known as ‘the Duse of song’, after Eleonora Duse, an actress famed for her intensity. During most of her life she was more or less a recluse, and avoided society.
She came from a background that combined music and drama; her father was an operatic stage director at both the Met and Covent Garden, and her mother an opera house chorister. She studied at an early age with Annetta Casaloni, the mezzo-soprano who created the role of Maddalena in Verdi's RIGOLETTO, in Turin, and made her own operatic début as Massenet's Manon in Arezzo in 1910; in 1911, she made her first recordings, an aria from LA BOHÈME and part of LA TRAVIATA. Her La Scala début was as Desdemona in 1913. This was so successful that a member of the Paris Opéra management immediately offered her the same part for the next season, and a representative of the Covent Garden management heard her in rehearsals, and immediately offered her the role of Manon for the next year. However, while she sang several roles during just ten weeks there, that was the only season she sang at Covent Garden; much of the remainder of her career was in Italy and North and South America, especially at the Teatro Colón, where she was known as ‘La unica’.
Her Met début was as Tosca, in 1916, singing with Enrico Caruso and Antonio Scotti, and she appeared in each season there for the next six years, singing a total of 15 roles and 152 performances, including, in 1918, the role of Georgetta in the world premiere of Puccini's IL TABARRO. Her Chicago début was in 1922 as Aïda, and she remained there for nine seasons, singing a combination of contemporary (such as Fevrier's MONNA VANNA and Ginevra in Giordano's LA CENA DELLE BEFFE), and nineteenth century works. She died in Rome, probably from either a rheumatic heart condition or Bright's Disease, though to this day, rumors of suicide persist, as her love life was never a happy one and the stock market crash had affected her finances deeply.”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com
“In Francesco Merli we have the near perfect tenore di forza: a large bright, intense, well-schooled, full and forward tonal emission….Merli’s voice contained a vibrato, which imparts an easy movement of tone….In assessing his recorded legacy, it is necessary to listen carefully to determine the reasons for some of the admiration and respect engendered in audiences….it is possible to hear how he places the tone and, in particular, how he deals with certain phrases that cause other tenors problems….With Pertile having been wooed away by Voce del Padrone, it seems obvious that the Columbia company considered Merli and Hipólito Lázaro…to be their star tenors representing the Italian repertoire….It would be fair to say that…Merli…displayed a solid technique combined with an honest and thrilling musical temperament that places him in the front rank of tenori di forza [in the 20th century].”
- Alan Bilgora, THE RECORD COLLECTOR, 1998