OP1685. DON QUICHOTTE (in Italian) (Massenet), Broadcast Performance, 25 May, 1957, w.Simonetto Cond. RAI Ensemble, Milano; Teresa Berganza, Boris Christoff & Carlo Badioli. [Massenet identified personally with his comic-heroic protagonist as he was in love with Lucy Arbell who sang Dulcinée at the first performance. He was then 67 and died just two years later. The role of Don Quichotte was one of the most notable achievements of the Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, for whom the role was specifically conceived. This 1910 opera was one of six commissioned from Massenet by Raoul Gunsbourg for the Opéra de Monte-Carlo] (E.U.) 2-Myto 00157. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 8014399501576
“A dramatic figure with flashing dark eyes, Ms. Berganza was acclaimed as a coloratura mezzo and contralto, with a vocal register that was warm at its lower range and supple at its higher end. Her vast repertoire as a recitalist included German lieder, French and Italian art songs and, most notably, Spanish music — zarzuelas, arias and Gypsy ballads — which she consistently championed.
In addition to exuding charisma and sensuality, Ms. Berganza embraced a disciplined, analytical approach to her roles. ‘For the most part, she sings exactly what is written in perfect pitch and accurate rhythm’, Harold C. Schonberg of THE NEW YORK TIMES wrote in a review of Ms. Berganza’s performance in Rossini’s LA CENERENTOLA at the San Francisco Opera in 1969. He lauded her as ‘one of the most gifted of coloratura singers’.
Ms. Berganza viewed her growth as a diva as a deliberate progression from Rossini to Mozart and finally to Bizet. ‘Rossini for his technique, agility, and Mozart for his style, his soul’, she wrote in her autobiography, UN MONDE HABITÉ PAR LE CHANT (A World Inhabited by Song), written with Olivier Bellamy and published in 2013. Only after feeling confident about works by those composers did she attempt Carmen — with great success. The conductor Herbert von Karajan declared her ‘the Carmen of the century’.
Ms. Berganza made her operatic debut as Dorabella in Mozart’s COSÌ FAN TUTTE in 1957 at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in France. In 1958, she made her first appearance at Milan’s Teatro alla Scala as Isolier in Rossini’s LE COMTE ORY. The next year she debuted at Covent Garden in London as Rosina in Rossini’s IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, which would become one of her signature roles. Critics delighted in her rich, fluid contralto voice, which easily handled the complex embellishments demanded of Rossini heroines.
In 1967, Ms. Berganza made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Cherubino in Mozart’s LE NOZZE DI FIGARO. It would become yet another popular role for her.
For years, Ms. Berganza declined offers to perform the lead in CARMEN, saying that she found the complexity of the character too intimidating. She finally agreed to take it on in 1977, at the King’s Theater in Edinburgh. She spent weeks in southern Spain interviewing women living in the caves outside Granada to, as she put it, ‘better understand Gypsy life’. Rejecting the more traditional portrayal of Carmen as a prostitute, she chose to play her instead as a rebellious Gypsy. ‘She speaks with her heart, her body, her guts’, Ms. Berganza wrote in her autobiography.
Reviewing a Carnegie Hall recital in November 1982. the TIMES critic Donal Henahan wrote, ‘The Berganza voice, always a wonder of suppleness and dark polish, has now become, if anything, more excitingly robust and dramatic. Ms. Berganza’, he added, ‘had also become a superior actor. He praised her intense reading of Joseph Haydn’s ARIANNA AUF NAXOS, a cantata that demands frequent sudden changes in emotional expression, which she followed with a witty rendering of Modest Mussorgsky’s ‘Nursery’ cycle, in which she alternately portrayed the child and the nurse.
In the days leading up to a stage performance, Ms. Berganza would go to extremes to protect her voice. When her children were still young, she wore a scarf over her mouth to remind them she wasn’t supposed to speak. Instead, she wrote notes to answer their questions or give them instructions. At night, fearful of tobacco smoke, she avoided restaurants.
Fittingly, Ms. Berganza’s last opera performance, at age 57, was in CARMEN at the Teatro de la Maestranza in Seville, not far from the former tobacco factory that was the setting for the Carmen story. Plácido Domingo conducted and José Carreras played the role of Don José, the jilted lover who kills Carmen, in that 1992 production.
Ms. Berganza would continue to give recitals into her 70s. She insisted she had no regrets about not having been born a soprano, which would have given her the opportunity for many more leading stage roles. She preferred being a mezzo, she said, just as she favored the more mellow sound of a cello over a violin. ‘If I could not sing’, she wrote in her autobiography, ‘I would want to be a cellist’.”
Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 13 May, 2022
"...there is the beauty of the voice itself, black and majestic, but capable of melting to the warmest of velvet; a voice that can damn and bless within the same breath. Add to all this a magnificent sense of presence and in Boris Christoff we have a true mastersinger of our time."
- Michael Letchford, Liner Notes to HMV LP set