OP0232. FAUST, Live Performance, 19 Dec., 1959, w.Morel Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Jussi Björling, Elisabeth Söderström, Cesare Siepi, Robert Merrill, Mildred Miller, etc. (Italy) 2-Myto 906.33. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 8014399000338
"Now the Björling era at the Metropolitan comes to a close. Nine months later, the great tenor succumbed after a heart attack in Stockholm at age forty-nine. He had been before the public for four decades - his instrument owned a shining beauty and thrusting brilliance, a combination which ensured a unique rank among tenors of modern times."
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, p.350
“Jussi Björling was a great Faust. I have friends who maintain that he was at his very best in French repertoire. Unfortunately he retained only two French roles when he embarked upon his international career - and neither FAUST nor ROMÉO ET JULIETTE was recorded commercially. We are lucky to have both in good live recordings from the Met. When I reviewed the 1950 FAUST some years ago the first paragraph read ‘This 3 CD set contains some of the most glorious tenor singing ever recorded. Buy it!!!’. Here, nine years later, almost to the day, he is still in tremendous shape. He was an extraordinary singer with remarkable stamina. From the age of 19, when he made his debut at the Stockholm opera and until his untimely death in September 1960 when he was only 49, he sang another two thousand opera performances and recitals. His heart problems had increased during the 1950s and when this performance took place he had less than nine months to live. Even so, there is very little in his singing that reveals weakening health or diminishing vocal ability. Once or twice the voice seems marginally heavier but it is, by and large, the same Björling as ever. Those who doubt my judgement need only lend an ear to ‘Salut, demeure’. Whether it surpasses the 1950 recording is open to debate. Maybe the high C is not as free this time, but it is still a reading that must be counted among the best on record. The garden scene is further evidence that here is a singer still in his prime.
In this scene there is also a magical rapport between Björling and his Marguerite. She is the young Elisabeth Söderström, who had made her Met debut a couple of months earlier as Susanna in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO - she was later to become the Contessa. A couple of weeks before the broadcast she sang her first ever Marguerite. She had been Manon Lescaut opposite Björling in Stockholm but this was something much bigger. In her memoirs she recalls the situation: ‘It was with terror in my heart and on trembling legs that I walked to the theatre that evening: we had had only one run-through with orchestra and sets, I wasn’t sufficiently prepared. I bewailed my distress to Jussi, who looked at me with compassion and answered: ‘Little friend, you have nothing to be afraid of, there aren’t many who demand much of you yet. It is much worse for me; everybody expects to find out whether I am finished or whether I can live up to my reputation’. I haven’t been able to find a review of her FAUST debut but the reception of her house debut some weeks earlier should have strengthened her self-confidence : ‘Elisabeth Söderström was a delightful Susanna in every respect. Her bright, flexible voice was always dependable and she proved to be a resourceful actress. One of the most impressive indications of her artistry was the fact that her singing in the ensembles was just as finished as it was in her solo arias’ - (Robert Sabin, MUSICAL AMERICA). LE NOZZE DI FIGARO was a new production and there had been adequate rehearsal time, while FAUST had been in the repertoire for ages and guest singers just popped in and out. Listening to this recording one can conclude that everything worked exactly as it should. Ms Söderström shows her credentials with aplomb in a gloriously sung Jewel aria. All through the performance she is in radiant voice and draws a vivid portrait of a character that can seem one-dimensional when sung prettily without proper characterization. I have admired Söderström ever since I first heard her. I have enjoyed her on so many recordings and in the flesh in opera and recital. Vocally she has never sounded better than here. It should be mentioned that she had a long career and sang her last performances at the Met as the Countess in QUEEN OF SPADES in April 1999, almost forty years after her debut there.
There is even more vocal splendour on offer in this performance. Cesare Siepi repeats his Méphistophélès from the 1950 recording and is as magnificent here. The intervening nine years gave him even more authority and the voice is still in fine fettle. Another stalwart at the Met, Robert Merrill, pours out golden tone that surpasses most of his baritone colleagues. Not the most charismatic of actors, he still manages to invest his portrait of Valentin with power and energy. Mildred Miller is a very fine Siebel and Thelma Votipka is a Marthe to reckon with.
This issue is a ‘must’ for Jussi Björling’s many admirers and it is a real bonus to get world class performances from Söderström, Merrill and Siepi in the bargain.”
- Göran Forsling, Musicweb-International
"Elisabeth Söderström, the Swedish soprano acclaimed for the plangent richness and intelligence of her singing and for her wide-ranging repertory, including influential portrayals of leading roles in the operas of Janácek, was admired by opera lovers around the world, notably in Sweden and England, where she performed most often, within the field she was revered. With her radiant, creamy voice, thorough musicianship and keen dramatic instincts, she was a model for singers. In roles like the Countess in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO the Marschallin in Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER, Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s EUGEN ONÉGIN and more, she combined insightful acting with nuanced singing and a lovely stage presence to create alluring and memorable performances. An element of Scandinavian reserve in her dramatic and vocal artistry enhanced her work, lending an elusive quality to her portrayals. Reviewing a song recital that Ms Söderström gave at the Frick Collection in New York in 1975, the NEW YORKER critic Andrew Porter perceptively summed up her artistry. Her ‘quick musical intelligence, her vivid and engaging temperament, and a protean voice not exceptionally powerful but well able to compass soubrette mirth and tragic passion have brought her triumphs in a wide variety of roles’.
Anna Elisabeth Söderström made her début as Mozart’s Bastienne when she was just 20 at the Drottningholm Court Theater, on the outskirts of the city, a company she would direct in the mid-1990s. Shortly after her début, she joined the Swedish Royal Opera. She remained a member of that company until her retirement. In her early years she focused on soubrette roles, including Mozart heroines. Soon she was branching out dramatically. Her début at the prestigious Glyndebourne Festival in England came in 1957 as the Composer in Strauss’ ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, and for years she remained a favorite with the festival. Among Strauss singers, she was one of the few to have sung all three lead rôles in DER ROSENKAVALIER: the Marschallin, Octavian and Sophie. A milestone in her career came in the 1969-70 season with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, when she sang Mélisande in an acclaimed production of Debussy’s PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE conducted by Pierre Boulez, subsequently recorded. That Sony Classical recording, with George Shirley as Pelléas, is considered by many to be definitive.
Another series of landmark performances and recordings involved the Australian conductor Charles Mackerras, an informed champion of the Janácek operas. Ms Söderström became Mr Mackerras’ soprano of choice for his Decca label recordings of complete Janácek operas, including JENUFA and KATYA KABANOVA, with Ms Söderström singing the title roles, and THE MAKROPULOS CASE, a mysterious, haunting work in which Ms Söderström portrayed, unforgettably, the 300-year-old Emilia Marty.
Among the many contemporary roles she sang were Elisabeth Zimmer in Hans Werner Henze’s ELEGY FOR YOUNG LOVERS and Juliana Bordereau in Dominick Argento’s ASPERN PAPERS for the premiere production in Dallas in 1988. She was also an active song recitalist.
Ms Söderström made her Metropolitan Opera début in 1959 as Susanna in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO. For the next five years, she made regular appearances at the Met, but then drifted mostly to Europe, returning in the 1980s for performances as the Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER and the Countess in NOZZE DI FIGARO. For her last Met performances, she came out of retirement, essentially, to sing the Countess in Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME, a dramatically complex and crucial role with scant vocal demands. She received an enormous ovation."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 Nov., 2009
"Robert Merrill made his Metropolitan debut as Germont on 15 Dec., 1945, and celebrated his 500th performance there on 5 March, 1973. He remained on the Met roster until 1976. During his tenure with the Met, Mr. Merrill sang leading roles in much of the standard repertory, including the title role in RIGOLETTO, Germont in LA TRAVIATA, Figaro in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, Escamillo in CARMEN and Tonio in PAGLIACCI; he appeared in most of these many times. Regarded as one of the greatest Verdi baritones of his generation, he was known for the security and strength of his sound, as well as for the precision and clarity with which he could hit pitches across his two-octave range.
Although he occasionally appeared in Europe and South America, he preferred to base his career at the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang all the major baritone roles of the Italian and French repertories, Peter G. Davis wrote of Mr. Merrill in THE NEW GROVE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN MUSIC. ' In terms of vocal endowment, technical security and longevity, he was unequaled among baritones of his generation at the Metropolitan'. 'After Leonard Warren's tragic death onstage at the Metropolitan in 1960, Merrill became more or less indisputably America's principal baritone and perhaps the best lyricist since Giuseppe de Luca', the critic J. B. Steane wrote in his book THE GRAND TRADITION. The easy and even production of a beautifully well-rounded tone is not common, especially when the voice is also a powerful one; yet this is, after all, the basis of operatic singing, and Merrill's records will always commend themselves in these terms. Mr. Merrill made many recordings for RCA. He sang in two complete opera broadcasts on radio under Toscanini - LA TRAVIATA in 1946 and UN BALLO IN MASCHERA in 1953 - both of which were later issued on CD. He wrote two autobiographies, ONCE MORE FROM THE BEGINNING (1965) and BETWEEN ACTS (1976), as well as a novel, THE DIVAS (1978). He received a number of honorary doctorates and awards."
- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Oct., 2004
“Mr. Siepi was a classic Italian basso cantante, or ‘singing bass’, with a warm, slightly dark voice that was ideally suited to Mozart. Yet his voice was so robust that he could easily summon the power for King Philip II in DON CARLO, Gurnemanz in PARSIFAL and the title role in BORIS GODUNOV. In his prime, the tall, handsome Mr. Siepi, a natural onstage, was a favorite at the Metropolitan Opera, where he gave nearly 500 performances, singing 17 roles during a 23-year association. Bing wrote in his 1972 memoir, 5,000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA, [that Siepi] ‘made an overpowering debut and a well-deserved great career at the Metropolitan’. After his first Don Giovanni at the Met in 1952, Mr. Siepi became the Giovanni of choice in houses around the world, bringing a sly blend of vocal refinement and animal magnetism to his portrayal. Critics and audiences embraced him for a wide range of roles. Assessing an impressive Gurnemanz in a 1970 PARSIFAL at the Met, the critic Herbert Weinstock wrote in the British magazine OPERA that Mr. Siepi ‘really sang the role rather than growling it and acted with touching conviction’, articulating Wagner’s words ‘as if born to them’. He also excelled in broadly comic roles, like Don Basilio in Rossini’s BARBIERE.
At 18, urged on by friends, he entered a voice competition in Florence and won first prize. A manager in the audience quickly engaged him to sing the role of the hired assassin Sparafucile in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO for a production in Schio, near Vicenza. With the outbreak of war he moved to neutral Switzerland, returning to Italy when hostilities ended. He appeared in Verdi’s NABUCCO at La Scala in Milan in the first postwar production at the reconstructed theater, which had been damaged by bombs.
After his breakthrough Met debut, Mr. Siepi was in demand internationally. He scored triumphs at the Salzburg Festival during the 1950s and made several live recordings there, including a 1954 DON GIOVANNI conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler, with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Erna Berger among the cast.
In his day Mr. Siepi was considered a natural successor to Ezio Pinza. Like Pinza, who had starred in SOUTH PACIFIC, Mr. Siepi appeared in a stage musical, BRAVO GIOVANNI. The critic Howard Taubman, writing in THE NEW YORK TIMES, praised Mr. Siepi for bringing ‘the richest and best cultivated vocal instrument to Broadway’ since Pinza. The show, however, unlike Pinza’s SOUTH PACIFIC, was a flop. Still, Taubman gave the famous bass credit for trying. ‘Happily’, he concluded, ‘Mr. Siepi is at ease in his new surroundings and his voice glorifies them’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 8 July, 2010
"Regarded by many as second only to Pierre Monteux among conductors of the French repertory, Jean Paul Morel became another of those important musical figures lost to Europe because of WWII. After biding his time in South America, he joined the New York Opera and later, the Metropolitan Opera. As a teacher, however, his effect on America's musical culture was even stronger as he guided a number of gifted students to maturity. Exceedingly well-trained, Morel had the benefit of studies with several exceptional musical specialists. In particular, his work in Paris with Noel Gallon who taught him theory; with Gabriel Pierné who instructed him in composition; and with famous composer, conductor, and singer Reynaldo Hahn, who worked with him on the song and opera literature, afforded him a grounding that made him a subtle and reliable leader of orchestras and an excellent teacher.
Indeed, he began as an instructor at the American Conservatory at Fountainebleau where, at age 18, he was as young as some of his students. He remained at the conservatory from 1921 to 1936, a period in which he also built a reputation as a conductor with a number of prominent French orchestras and with the Opéra-Comique. After the connection ended, he conducted at the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro and at Mexico City's Palacio de Bella Artes. Morel's American career opened with an instructorship at Brooklyn College from 1940 to 1943. On 12 November, 1944, he made his debut with the New York City Centre Opera (as the company was known then), conducting a performance of LA TRAVIATA with Dorothy Kirsten as Violetta. Subsequent works under his leadership included CARMEN, MIGNON, LOUISE, AND LA BOHME. Morel remained a respected member of the company until 1951, when he resigned in protest over the company's dismissal of its first general director (and conductor) Lazlo Halasz. The board had actually approached Morel about taking on the directorship and had been met with not only his refusal, but with his wish to resign over the treatment accorded Halasz. The board declined to accept the resignation, claiming that Morel was obligated to remain for another year. When Joseph Rosenstock was hired as general director, Morel again sought his release and was refused. Citing a clause that no member of the musical staff would have pre-eminence over Morel other than Halasz, Morel persisted. Facing the threat of a breach of contract action, the board finally accepted Morel's resignation. In 1949, meanwhile, Morel had joined the Juilliard School of Music staff and began building an enviable reputation for turning out brilliant conductors, James Levine and Leonard Slatkin among them. Five years after his departure from the New York City Opera, Morel joined the conducting staff at the Metropolitan Opera, making his debut with a 21 November, 1956, performance of Offenbach's LA PERICHOLE premiering in a new English-language production. In a total of nine seasons stretching to 1971, Morel conducted five works from the French repertory, as well as Gluck's ORFEO ED EURIDICE and MADAMA BUTTERFLY. His final season at the Metropolitan Opera coincided with his last year at Juilliard. During his more than two decades at the New York school, his instruction and leadership of the Juilliard Orchestra had brought a high level of distinction to its conducting program."
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com