OP0727. AÏDA, Live Performance, 3 March, 1962, w.Schick Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Gabriella Tucci, Franco Corelli, Irene Dalis, Cornell MacNeil, Giorgio Tozzi, etc. (E.U.) 2-Walhall 0382, featuring Milton Cross' commentaries. [This superb performance beautifully captures the warm acoustic of the Old House - a great broadcast!] Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 4035122653823
“Because Tucci sang [Aïda] more frequently than any other role she attempted at the Met (thirty-nine performances), management obviously considered her a worthy exponent….What compels the house audience to long applause is the lengthy, beautifully sustained final note of [‘O patria mia’] and, even more than that, her leisurely and secure ascent to the top C at the aria’s climax – she takes it at the prescribed piano dynamic and crescendos as marked in the score. It is a lovely effect, perhaps the truest rendering of this fearsome moment on the broadcasts….in the end, a Corelli performance remains most notable for its feast of plangent, richly colored tone.”
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.380-81
“Gabriella Tucci, an Italian soprano whose richly expressive voice and beguiling stage presence made her a mainstay at major international houses who, from the start of her career in the 1950s in Italy, was praised for her lustrous sound and the velvety smoothness and refinement of her singing. An unaffected and subtly compelling actress, she was best known for her interpretations of the spinto repertory, like her rendition of the title role of Verdi’s AIDA, which demanded both lyric soprano lightness and the vocal heft to lift soaring phrases over an orchestra. Yet Ms. Tucci displayed notable range during her career. She brought brightness and agility to coloratura soprano parts, like Elvira in Bellini’s I PURITANI, and fervor and carrying power to the title role of Puccini’s TOSCA. In a 2002 interview with OPERA NEWS, she attributed the confidence of her singing to good technique and common sense. ‘I saved my voice’, she said. ‘I never tried to push, to make the voice seem bigger or stronger that it was’. If one has the technique, she emphasized, ‘you can sing lightly, you can sing, you know, smiling, sorriso, and you can sing dark’. True to the Italian operatic heritage, she emphasized the importance of the text. ‘All the answers are there’, she said.
During her prime years, from the late 1950s into the early ’70s, Ms. Tucci earned consistent respect from critics and loyal fans but tended to be overshadowed by star sopranos who also sang her repertory, including Maria Callas (for a period), Renata Tebaldi and Leontyne Price. That she was held to comparison with the greats of her day was, if somewhat unfair, inevitable. When the Metropolitan Opera introduced a new production of Verdi’s OTELLO, conducted by Georg Solti, in March 1963, Ms. Tucci was called upon to take over the role of Desdemona from Tebaldi, who had withdrawn. ‘Stepping into the shoes of Renata Tebaldi’ had to be ‘a thankless task’, the critic Paul B. Affelder wrote in THE BROOKLYN EAGLE, but ‘the attractive young Italian carried it off with dignity and sensitivity, gaining considerable effect by slightly underplaying the part’. And, he added, ‘one could wish for no finer singing of the ‘Salce’ and ‘Ave Maria,’ her two big arias in the final act’
Her granddaughter Flaminia Filoni explained in an email, Ms. Tucci drew from her ‘own strength’ even as a child. She put great effort into her studies and throughout her career remained ‘very precise and stubborn’, Ms. Filoni said. Ms. Tucci continued her studies at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, the Rome conservatory, working with the vocal coach Leonardo Filoni. They married in 1955; he died in 1993.
She made her debut in a leading role as Leonora in Verdi’s LA FORZA DEL DESTINO at Spoleto in 1951, opposite the celebrated tenor Beniamino Gigli, then 61. ‘I had to learn the role, and I was a little bit afraid to face it’, she said in the OPERA NEWS interview. But she had six months to prepare. ‘It was really emotional for me to sing with this god’, she said. ‘But he was very kind. He said ‘Brava, brava’. Appearances followed in Florence, Venice and, in 1959, Milan, where she made her debut at La Scala as Mimì in Puccini’s LA BOHÈME. The next year she sang the title roles of AIDA and TOSCA at Covent Garden in London.
Following her American debut with the San Francisco Opera, Ms. Tucci made her Metropolitan Opera debut in October 1960 as Cio-Cio-San in MADAMA BUTTERFLY, winning strong reviews. She went on to sing 259 performances with the Met in 20 roles, mostly in works by Verdi and Puccini. She appeared in four new productions, including Verdi’s FALSTAFF in 1964, which was also the Met debut of both the director Franco Zeffirelli and the conductor Leonard Bernstein. That Rudolf Bing, the Met’s general manager at the time, valued Ms. Tucci was clear from the double-duty assignment he gave her on April 16, 1966, the company’s last day at its old house: She sang Mimì at the Saturday matinee and took part in the gala farewell to the house that night, ending the program in a performance of the final trio from Gounod’s FAUST (with the tenor Nicolai Gedda and the bass Jerome Hines).
She fared equally well in the new house. Reviewing her as Liù in Puccini’s TURANDOT in 1968, Harold C. Schonberg of THE NEW YORK TIMES wrote: ‘Has the first-act aria ‘Signore, ascolta’ been sung more touchingly, more artistically, more elegantly in recent years? One doubts it’.
Ms. Tucci sang Marguerite in FAUST in her final performance at the Met, in December 1972.
Though she can be heard on historic recordings of live performances and radio broadcasts, Ms. Tucci made only two studio recordings of complete operas, both early on: Leoncavallo’s PAGLIACCI in 1959 (starring the tenor Mario del Monaco) and Verdi’s IL TROVATORE in 1961 (with an exceptional cast that also included Franco Corelli). ‘I don’t live in my past’, she said in the 2002 interview. ‘Inside me, nothing has changed. I’m still Tosca. I’m still Aida. But now, above all, I’m Gabriella’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 July, 2020
"Franco Corelli had been singing for well over a decade when he made his Met debut in 1961 at the age of 40. The first attraction in any Corelli performance is the voice itself. Solid and evenly produced from bottom to top, with no audible seams between registers. The middle and lower parts of the voice are dark and richly colored. The top is stunningly brilliant, and never thins out or turns hard. It is a once-in-a-generation kind of voice if your generation is lucky, and in the four decades since his retirement in 1976 we have had nothing like it for visceral power. Some critics complained because Corelli would hold high notes well beyond their value in the score. But if we listen to singers from the past whose careers overlapped with the great Italian opera composers, and who often worked with them, we can easily conclude that the composers expected it. (A recording of an aria from Francesco Cilea's ADRIANA LECOUVREUR by tenor Fernando de Lucia, with the composer accompanying at the piano, exposes liberties that go far beyond anything Corelli ever did, and Cilea echoes those 'distortions' at the keyboard.)"
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"Irene Dalis, a versatile and fiery mezzo-soprano who starred at the Metropolitan Opera for two decades before building a second career as the director of Opera San Jose, an innovative company she founded in her California hometown, did not set out to be a singer or an impresario. She studied piano and music education at what was then San Jose State College before earning a master's degree at Columbia's Teachers College in Manhattan in the late 1940s. The plan was to go back home and teach. Yet her instructors in New York were struck by her voice and encouraged her to develop it. She began taking lessons with the mezzo-soprano Edyth Walker. Instead of returning to San Jose, she went to Italy to study voice on a Fulbright scholarship in 1951. Just two years later she made her operatic debut as Princess Eboli in Verdi's DON CARLO in Oldenburg, Germany. Four years after that, she performed the same role at the Met. Her debut at the Met, on 16 March, 1957, was 'one of the most exciting of the season', Howard Taubman wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES. 'By the time she reached the second-act trio she showed she could sing with temperament', Mr. Taubman said. 'And in the third-act, 'O don fatale', one of Verdi's greatest dramatic arias, she was like a veteran. Her voice, which has range, security and brilliant top notes, was now under full control. She sang and moved with a total absorption in the emotion of the character. Her singing had color and fire. In terms of sheer quality there may be more sumptuous voices at the Met in the mezzo-soprano division; Miss Dalis uses hers like an artist'.
For the next two decades, Ms. Dalis was among the Met's most admired performers, appearing more than 270 times and singing virtually every major mezzo-soprano part written by Verdi, Wagner, Richard Strauss and others. She was nurtured by Rudolf Bing, the Met's formidable general manager, and performed with Birgit Nilsson, Jussi Bjorling, Robert Merrill, Leontyne Price, Placido Domingo and Leonie Rysanek.
She would perform for another decade, but in the mid-1970s she finally went home to California to teach voice, finding a position at San Jose State. Her work with students there led to her founding of Opera San Jose in 1984. It was modeled on a program in Oldenburg, which gave young performers like Ms. Dalis the chance to sing big roles early in their careers. 'In the old days, singers started singing major roles at a young age, and it didn't ruin their voices, did it?' she said in an interview with OPERA NEWS in 2007. The company, which performs at the California Theater, a restored 1927 movie palace, has its own costume and set shops, owns administrative buildings and provides apartments to some performers. Ms. Dalis ran it until this June. OPERA NEWS called Opera San Jose 'the only opera company in the U.S. entirely dedicated to developing the careers of emerging young artists'."
- William Yardley, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 18 Dec., 2014
"A pure baritone with power from low to high notes, Cornell MacNeil was considered the equal of Leonard Warren and Robert Merrill, the other stellar American Verdi baritones during the second half of the 20th century. From 1959 to 1987, he sang 26 roles in more than 600 appearances at the Metropolitan Opera alone. But he reached his peak in his Verdi performances. 'The larger and more complex the part, the better he was', James Levine, the Met's longtime conductor, said of Mr. MacNeil's Verdi roles in a 2007 interview with Opera News. 'Boccanegra, Rigoletto, Macbeth, Nabucco, Falstaff, Iago - a lot of these parts could be said to be the most challenging and varied. He sang lots of Amonasros and Scarpias marvelously well, but those more complex ones were where he was at his best'.
Though not known as a temperamental artist, Mr. MacNeil was remembered for a spectacular public outburst when he stormed off the Parma Opera stage in Italy on 26 Dec., 1964. It happened during UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, when the Parma audience, notorious for rude displays of disapproval, hissed at the soprano Luisa Maragliano just as Mr. MacNeil was about to sing the aria 'Eri tu'. 'I was getting more and more angry as the rumbling and noise got worse', he told THE NEW YORK TIMES the following day. 'I couldn't stand it any longer. 'Basta, cretini!' I shouted and walked off the stage'. The situation grew worse in his dressing room, where the stage director warned him to return to the performance because he had his family's safety to consider. Refusing to go back onstage, Mr. MacNeil sent his wife and children to their hotel. But when he made his way to the back entrance, he was assaulted by theater employees. 'During the scuffle, I got socked on the jaw', Mr. MacNeil said, displaying a bruised chin during his TIMES interview. The following day the MacNeils fled Parma.
Cornell MacNeil - on his mother's advice, studied with the retired baritone Friedrich Schorr at the Hartt School of Music in Hartford. Before WW II ended, Mr. MacNeil joined the Radio City Music Hall Glee Club and also did backstage announcements. It was his sonorous baritone that announced the news to Radio City audiences of both the German and Japanese surrenders.
Mr. MacNeil made his opera debut when, after a brief vocal audition, the composer and director Gian Carlo Menotti immediately decided to cast him as the male lead in THE CONSUL, which opened on 1 March, 1950, at the Shubert Theater in Philadelphia. THE CONSUL, the first full-length opera composed by Menotti, won the Pulitzer Prize in music that year. Still a raw talent, Mr. MacNeil took voice lessons over the next two years while working nights at the Bulova Watch factory in Queens. In 1953 Mr. MacNeil made his New York City Opera debut, as Germont in LA TRAVIATA. Though acclaimed for his sumptuous singing in that performance, he also committed a memorable faux pas that began the occasional carping by critics about his acting abilities. In a 2007 interview with Rudolph Rauch for OPERA NEWS, Mr. MacNeil recalled making hand gestures in the aria 'Di Provenza' that didn't agree with the music, and he acknowledged he had been unaware of the meaning of the words he was singing. 'It seemed like the hand was out there for about half an hour, and it began to shake', he said. 'I finally got it back in, and I decided then I was not going to sing any more Italian operas until I really knew the language'. His Italian improved, though his acting continued to draw sporadic barbs from critics. Commenting on his performance as the villain Scarpia, the villain in a 1985 performance of TOSCA at the Metropolitan Opera, Donal Henahan of The Times wrote, 'Cornell MacNeil, the Scarpia, sang mellifluously, but his wooden acting could fool nobody into believing him a sadistic tyrant'.
In 1959 Mr. MacNeil made his debut at La Scala in Milan as Carlo in Verdi's ERNANI. 'His rich, flexible baritone soared and swelled with enormous power', TIME Magazine wrote. He impressed La Scala's manager, Antonio Ghiringhelli, enough that he offered him a contract. But Mr. MacNeil signed instead with the Met after making his debut there on 21 March, 1959 - barely two weeks after his La Scala debut - as the lead in Verdi's RIGOLETTO. He would go on to sing that role at the Met more than 100 times.
Mr. MacNeil scored numerous successes in other roles as well. Commenting on his first Met appearance as Renato in Verdi's UN BALLO IN MASCHERA on 7 March, 1962, Alan Rich wrote in THE TIMES, 'This superb American baritone may very possibly have had his finest hour'. He sang Scarpia more than 90 times at the Metropolitan following his debut in the role on 2 Nov., 1959. His final performance at the Met was in that role, on 5 Dec., 1987. He retired from the opera a year later after medical tests showed he had a possible blockage of the carotid artery.
A few years before leaving the stage, Mr. MacNeil gave a straightforward assessment of the opera world to his friend and Met colleague Jerome Hines, the well-known bass, who interviewed him for a 1982 book GREAT SINGERS ON GREAT SINGING. 'Opera is an excessive art form populated by excessive people', Mr. MacNeil said. 'We make it more excessive than necessary. Singing is really a very simple thing'."
- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 July, 2011
“Giorgio Tozzi, a distinguished bass who spent two decades with the Metropolitan Opera and also appeared on film, television and Broadway, was a distinguished professor emeritus at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where he had taught since 1991. He was previously on the Juilliard School faculty [originally having studied with Rosa Raisa, Giacomo Rimini and John Daggett Howell].
Esteemed for his warm, smooth voice; skillful acting; pinpoint diction; and authoritative stage presence - he was 6 foot 2 in his prime - Mr. Tozzi sang 528 performances with the Met. He was so ubiquitous there for so long that THE NEW YORK TIMES was later moved to describe him (admiringly) as ‘inescapable’. Mr. Tozzi made his Met début as Alvise in Ponchielli’s LA GIOCONDA in 1955. Reviewing the performance, The NEW YORK POST wrote that he ‘proved to have a voice of beautiful quality’, adding: ‘It was rich in texture and expertly handled both as to characterization and technique’. His most famous performances at the Met include the title roles in Mussorgsky’s BORIS GODUNOV and Mozart’s MARRIAGE OF FIGARO; Ramfis in Verdi’s AÏDA; Don Basilio in Rossini’s BARBER OF SEVILLE; Philip II in Verdi’s DON CARLO; and Hans Sachs in Wagner’s DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG. Mr. Tozzi began his vocal life as a baritone. He made his début (as George Tozzi) in 1948, singing Tarquinius in Benjamin Britten’s THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA. Staged at the Ziegfeld Theater on Broadway, the production also starred Kitty Carlisle.
He originated the role of the Doctor in Samuel Barber’s VANESSA, which had its world premiere at the Met in 1958. Conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos, the production also starred Eleanor Steber and Nicolai Gedda. Mr. Tozzi’s last performance with the Met was in 1975, as Colline in Puccini’s BOHÈME.
He also sang with the San Francisco Opera, La Scala and other companies and appeared as a soloist with major symphony orchestras throughout the United States and Europe. On film Mr. Tozzi dubbed the singing voice of the actor Rossano Brazzi in the role of Emile de Becque in SOUTH PACIFIC (1958), directed by Joshua Logan. (Mr. Tozzi had played the role himself, opposite Mary Martin, in a West Coast production of the musical the year before.) On the small screen he sang King Melchior in the 1978 television film of Gian Carlo Menotti’s AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS, also starring Teresa Stratas. On Broadway he received a Tony nomination for the role of the lonely California grape farmer Tony Esposito in the 1979 revival of Frank Loesser’s operatic musical comedy THE MOST HAPPY FELLA. (The award went to Jim Dale for BARNUM.)"
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 2 June, 2011