OP1701. LA TRAVIATA, Live Performance, 27 March, 1958, Lisbon, w.Ghione Cond. Teatro National de San Carlos; Maria Callas, Alfredo Kraus, Mario Sereni, etc. (E.U.) 2–Myto 00147. - 8014399501477
“This Lisbon presentation has acquired a legendary reputation. Although Callas’ vocal powers were already on the wane by 1958, her dramatic involvement and depth of interpretation were at a peak. And she was joined by the young Alfredo Kraus, already exhibiting the artistic and musical sensibilities that were to take him into the ranks of the finest tenors of his day. Sereni was a sympathetic and generally sensitive Germont….Numerous pirated copies have circulated. Possibly the worst of all was the one issued by EMI, in sound that was, at best, a travesty. It was hardly to be wondered if those of us forced to rely on that evidence tended to doubt the praise showered on the Lisbon performances….we now have this splendid Lisbon performance as a worthy memorial of a truly great artist, almost at the peak of her powers, in one of her finest roles.”
- Vivian A. Liff, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Nov./Dec., 2005
“Alfredo Kraus, a lyric tenor who was revered for the refinement of his phrasing and the artistry he brought to bel canto roles, never received the kind of popular acclaim accorded Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, but had a tremendous following among opera connoisseurs. In particular he was admired for his bright, trim timbre, his distinctive phrasing and an assured, self-possessed acting style. Mr. Kraus avoided empty display, preferring to use a composers' demand for virtuosity as an emotional element, intrinsic to the character he was creating.
Mr. Kraus' career was also an object lesson in how a singer might preserve his voice, despite the temptations to sing too often and too loud or to take on unsuitable roles. He learned those roles, and he said that he gave single performances of them early in his career. But he decided that his voice would last longer and remain fresher if he confined himself to the lyric roles of the bel canto repertory. Indeed, he was able to produce his high D, at full power and with a lovely ring, well into his 60s.
‘It's a matter of knowing what kind of voice you have from the very beginning and learning to use that voice onstage, with the right technique’ he told THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1988. ‘It is not so easy, because we are using an instrument that is immaterial. We can't touch it, it's only air. We don't even hear it properly, because we hear a combination of inside and outside sound. You cannot go by what you hear, you must learn to be very sensitive to how it feels, and you can only speak of it in a very figurative language’.
Mr. Kraus also enjoyed running the business side of his career. He did not employ a personal manager during his most active years, preferring to make his own decisions, which were often based on instinct. He would not, for example, work with conductors who he felt tried to sublimate performers' personalities, no matter how auspicious the engagement. He limited his schedule to about 60 appearances a year, and although these usually included performances at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, the Vienna State Opera, La Scala and the Teatro Colon, in Buenos Aires, he also made a point of appearing in small Spanish and Italian opera houses normally outside the limelight.
He owned and personally supervised a small Spanish record label, Carillon Records. Carillon was the first Spanish company to release a complete opera set, a recording of PEARLFISHERS, with Mr. Kraus in the cast.
In 1955 Mr. Kraus won the silver medal in a vocal competition in Geneva. He had appeared onstage in zarzuela performances in Madrid, in 1954, but he always gave the date of his formal operatic debut as 1956, when he sang the Duke in a Cairo performance of RIGOLETTO. The Cairo engagement also included Mr. Kraus's only performance as Cavaradossi.
The same year as his Cairo debut, Mr. Kraus was engaged by the Teatro La Fenice for performances of LA TRAVIATA with Renata Scotto. In 1958 he sang with Maria Callas in the Lisbon performances of LA TRAVIATA, which quickly became legendary among collectors of pirated recordings of live opera performances.
Mr. Kraus' first appearance in the United States was as Nemorino at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1962, and in 1966 he made his Met debut as the Duke. Other roles he has sung at the Met include Don Ottavio in DON GIOVANNI, Ernesto in DON PASQUALE and the title role in FAUST, as well as Werther, Alfredo, the Duke and Nemorino. Aside from his fine sense of the musical nuance and phrasing, his portrayal of the mentally unstable, morbid, masochistic, and manipulative character of Werther has been acclaimed as one of the most effective and insightful readings ever.”
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11 Sept., 1999
“Although he never achieved the star status of his some of his baritone contemporaries in the Italian repertory, Mario Sereni was an unfailingly sincere, intelligent artist of great commitment….Sereni, was a valuable member of the Metropolitan Opera’s roster for more than 27 seasons, beginning with his company debut, as Carlo Gerard in Andrea Chenier, in 1957. Sereni enjoyed a long and steady career at the Metropolitan Opera. In twenty-seven seasons, he sang most of the important baritone roles of the Italian repertory in opera such as Ernani, Luisa Miller, Il Trovatore, La Traviata, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Forza del Destino, Don Carlo, and Aida. He also sang in La Gioconda, Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Manon Lescaut, La Boheme, and Madama Butterfly, as well as L'Elisir d'Amore and Lucia di Lammermoor. In 1964, Sereni was a memorable Ford in the first performances of Franco Zeffirelli’s beloved Met staging of Falstaff, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. He also appeared in the 1972 Met gala saluting Rudolf Bing. Sereni made his last appearance with the Met in 1984, as Schaunard in La Boheme.
Sereni was also a regular guest at the opera houses of Chicago, San Francisco and Dallas. He also enjoyed a successful international career appearing frequently at the Vienna State Opera, La Scala in Milan and the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires.
Despite his success, Sereni always remained in the shadow of the more charismatic baritones of his time, principally Leonard Warren, Robert Merrill, Ettore Bastianini, Rolando Panerai and Piero Cappuccilli, yet Sereni’s many recordings reveal a singer and musician of considerable distinction, with a handsome voice, a solid technique, and a fine sense of style.”
- OPERA NEWS, 1 Aug., 2015