OP0327. LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Live Performance, 4 Feb., 1954, w.von Karajan Cond. La Scala Ensemble;
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Irmgard Seefried, Sena Jurinac, Rolando Panerai, Mario Petri, etc. (Italy) 2-Myto 041.H082. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 8014399500821
“Rolando Panerai, an Italian baritone who sang more than 150 roles at leading international opera houses, made many classic recordings and appeared frequently with the celebrated soprano Maria Callas in her prime, was widely admired throughout a 65-year operatic career for his full-bodied sound and the elegance of his singing. Steeped in the Italian vocal heritage, he sang with supple phrasing and evenness throughout his entire vocal range. If not the most charismatic presence onstage, he readily conveyed authority and dramatic depth and brought a light comedic touch to the title roles of Puccini’s GIANNI SCHICCHI and Rossini’s THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, among many other characters. Though his repertory was extensive, Mr. Panerai focused closely on Italian opera. Earlier in his career, he sang several German roles in Italian translation, like Amfortas in Wagner’s PARSIFAL.
Outlining the requisite qualities of a true ‘Verdi baritone’ in an interview earlier this year with Classical Singer magazine, Mr. Panerai essentially described his own voice: ‘a dark brownish tint like bronze’ coupled with ‘the quality of the metal, which reminds us of the power and strength’. In a 1996 interview with Bruce Duffie for WNIB, a former classical music radio station in Chicago, Mr. Panerai cautioned younger singers about being ‘dragged into’ the characters they portray. ‘I am used to acting with a certain detachment or coldness’, he said. By acting that way ‘you can act better’, he asserted, and more effectively convey ‘what the composer has to say’.
Famous from his recordings and busy in Europe, Mr. Panerai had a lower profile on American opera stages. Mr. Panerai singing Figaro in a production of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO at the San Francisco Opera in 1958. Famous from his recordings and busy in Europe, Mr. Panerai had a lower profile on American opera stages.
His performances sounded anything but detached. On a 1955 live recording of Donizetti’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, a production at the Berlin State Opera conducted by Herbert von Karajan starring Callas, Mr. Panerai holds his own in every gripping moment of the confrontation between his character, Enrico, the head of a Scottish estate in severe decline, and Callas’ Lucia, Enrico’s tormented sister, whom he is trying to force into an advantageous marriage to save the family from ruin. Callas sounds frantic and dazed by her brother’s bullying. Yet below the surface bluster of Mr. Panerai’s Enrico, you hear the panic of a prideful young man who needs his fragile sister to rescue him. Mr. Panerai sang often with Callas during the 1950s, the most important decade of her career, and made several treasured opera recordings with her, including versions of Bellini’s I PURITANI, Verdi’s IL TROVATORE and Puccini’s LA BOHÈME. He called Callas ‘the greatest singer I ever listened to or worked with’ in the 1996 interview.
In 1972, 16 years after the BOHÈME with Callas, Mr. Panerai recorded the role of Marcello, this time with Mirella Freni as Mimì, Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo and Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. It is the BOHÈME of choice for many Puccini-lovers.
He sang one of his signature roles, Ford in FALSTAFF, on three acclaimed recordings: with Karajan conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra of London in 1956; with Leonard Bernstein leading the Vienna Philharmonic in 1966; and again with Karajan, in 1980, also leading the Vienna Philharmonic. The critic Peter G. Davis, reviewing the last version for THE NEW YORK TIMES, wrote that Mr. Panerai’s ‘dark, vibrant, firm, slightly dry tone has changed remarkably little with age, nor has his characteristic nobility of expression, incisive diction and elegant feeling for Verdian phrases deserted him’.
Rolando Panerai was born the youngest of three brothers on Oct. 17, 1924, in Campi Bisenzio, near Florence. His father, Oreste, ran a shoe factory. His mother was Ada (Paoli) Panerai. Rolando was drawn to music early. He studied at the academy in Florence, continued his training in Milan and made his stage debut in 1946 as Enrico in “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the theater in his hometown.
He never appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, though he was offered some engagements early in his career. But by then he had a family and wanted to stay closer to home. He continued to sing, as well as coach and, in later years, direct operas, through his 70s. In 2011, at 87, he sang the title role of GIANNI SCHICCHI in Genoa. Mr. Panerai attributed his longevity to sensible work habits, giving up smoking in his 20s and eating a Mediterranean diet. He advised younger singers to focus on their artistry and not obsess about a career. ‘It is best to sing well and not become bigheaded’, he said in 1996. ‘The rest comes all by itself’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 30 Oct., 2019
“Unwittingly [Karajan] had filled the void left by the death of Hitler in that part of the German psyche which craves for a leader. He was unpredictable, ruthless and outspoken. Nobody - at any rate nobody in Austria - ever questioned Karajan's right to do exactly what he wanted. He moved everywhere with a circle of sycophants, who tried to justify their existence by speaking for him whenever possible, and I had to make it clear right away that I could not function at one remove from the conductor. As always, the direct approach worked. I don't think Karajan ever understood how much of his troubles were due to the people he allowed to surround him. Such petty issues often distorted one's view of Karajan the musician.”
- John Culshaw, manager of classical recording for Decca, 1967-75
“No one would deny von Karajan’s position in the topmost ranks of 20th-century conductors. Inspired to conduct at the age of 20 when he heard Arturo Toscanini in Vienna, and Wilhelm Furtwängler's great rival from the early 1940s until the older maestro's death in 1954, Mr. Karajan once said that he had attempted to combine ‘Toscanini's precision with Furtwängler's fantasy’. But Mr. Karajan was always more than a mere conductor: he was a man of enormous energy and careerist determination, and he managed at his peak, in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, to tower over European musical life as no one had done before or is likely to do again. His nickname at the time was 'the general music director of Europe’,' leading the Berlin Philharmonic, La Scala in Milan, London's Philharmonia Orchestra, the Vienna State Opera and the Salzburg Festival.
Mr. Karajan's life was hardly untouched by controversy. His membership in the Nazi party from 1933, his lack of overt repentance for his thriving career during the Nazi years and his imperious personality made him many enemies. While he was always deeply respected as a conductor, some critics found his music-making increasingly slick and overrefined in his last decades. And his final years were clouded by a series of bitter battles with the Berlin Philharmonic, the West Berlin ensemble whose 'conductor for life' he became in 1955. He abruptly resigned his Berlin post in April, 1989, citing ill health.
Yet for all the tales of arrogance and self-indulgence, Mr. Karajan remained a masterly conductor, with a grasp of the standard orchestral and operatic repertory from Mozart through Schönberg that was unsurpassed among his peers. Always a champion of Mozart, Beethoven - whose symphony cycle he recorded three times - Wagner and Bruckner, he gradually extended his grasp to include Mahler and even Schönberg. He was also a lifelong admirer of Italian opera and, contrary to his domineering image, a champion of young talent, from the American soprano Leontyne Price to the Soviet pianist Yevgeny Kissin.
When critics complained that his performances in his later years had grown overrefined, he replied that 'if the details are right, the performance will work’. And to the very end, he drew playing of the utmost tonal beauty from his orchestras. The Berlin Philharmonic is widely regarded as the world's pre-eminent orchestra, if any one ensemble can stake that claim. And his performances at Carnegie Hall with the Vienna Philharmonic drew almost astonished enthusiasm from veteran observers for their sonic sumptuousness, even if not all the critics praised the musical results.
'The Karajan industry bears about the same relation to postwar European music that Krupp bore to prewar European steel production’, wrote Martin Mayer in The New York Times Magazine in 1967. The classic, if perhaps apocryphal, Karajan anecdote had the conductor leaping into a taxi and, when asked his destination, replying: 'No matter. I am in demand everywhere’. Yet the conductor also had a spiritual side, and was a 40-year student of yoga and Zen Buddhism. He believed in reincarnation, and once dreamed of being reborn as an eagle, soaring above his beloved Alps.
Fascinated by technical innovations, he once contemplated being frozen for 15 years so that he could re-record the standard repertory in the latest video and audio technology.”
- John Rockwell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 July, 1989
“A musical prodigy, appearing on the concert platform as a pianist at the age of five, Herbert von Karajan was appointed chief conductor of the Aachen Opera in 1935. There and later in Berlin his conducting was such a sensation that his reputation in Germany soon came to rival Furtwängler's. He joined the Nazi party in 1933 [and rejoined it in 1935], and in the following years each used the other - he to advance his career and the party to promote its cultural objectives. In 1945 he fled but was discovered in Italy and accused of having been a covert member of the secret police, charges eventually dropped for lack of proof. Karajan conquered every musical capital. He succeeded Furtwängler at the Berlin Philharmonic in 1955, replaced Böhm at the Vienna State Opera in 1956 and was appointed head of the Salzburg Festival in 1957.”
- Frederic Spotts, Great Conductors of the Third Reich
“With her graceful bearing and a voice both rich and penetrating, Sena Jurinac was a star of the first generation of European singers to emerge after World War II. She made her début in Vienna on 1 May, 1945 — in the company’s first performance in a liberated Austria — as Cherubino in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO, a role she sang 129 times there. Though she made her first mark in Vienna, which became her artistic home, her radiant Mozart performances at the Glyndebourne Festival in the 1950s catapulted her to international stardom. She also made lauded appearances at the Salzburg and Bayreuth Festivals, the Royal Opera House in London, the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, La Scala in Milan and the San Francisco Opera.”
- Zachary Woolfe, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Nov., 2011
“The Jurinac voice was capable of a gleaming fortissimo, but it also commanded a wide range of shadings of colour and dynamic. The top notes could be floated with an ethereal purity; the middle and lower registers had a very human warmth….The present release is particularly valuable in presenting her as a Lieder singer….Like such great Lieder singers as Rehkemper, Erb, Janssen, Lehmann or Schumann, Jurinac gives us unforgettable musical phrases….We owe her a great deal – and history has already judged her to be one of the immortal sopranos of the twentieth century.”
- Tully Potter