OP1960. LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Live Performance, 1 March, 1952, w.Reiner Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Victoria de los Angeles, Nadine Conner, Mildred Miller, Cesare Siepi, Giuseppe Valdengo, Salvatore Baccaloni, Alessio de Paolis, Jean Madeira, Roberta Peters, etc. (E.U.) 2-Myto 00216. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 0801439902169
“Fritz Reiner was a legend among conductors. Universally admired for his music-making, widely disliked for his aggressive and exacting temperament, and survived by a legacy of definitive recorded performances, he was largely responsible for the artistic ascendancy of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and exerted considerable influence on generations of musicians.
Born in Budapest in 1888, he studied piano with his mother and, at the age of 15, entered the Franz Liszt Academy -- an institution that also boasts Bela Bartók, Zoltan Kodály, Ernst von Dohnányi, George Szell, Eugene Ormandy, Georg Solti and Antal Dorati as graduates. Reiner gained conducting experience at a number of regional opera houses before eventually returning to Budapest in 1911 to serve at the city's Volksoper, where his reputation as a conductor of special abilities finally emerged. In 1914 Reiner accepted a position at the Dresden Court Opera, where he formed a fortuitous relationship with both the conductor Arthur Nikisch and the composer Richard Strauss; Reiner would eventually give the German premier of Strauss' DIE FRAU OHNE SCHATTEN, and would remain a devoted interpreter of the composer's works throughout his career. The economic chaos and emergent anti-Semitism that followed the First World War made Reiner anxious to leave Europe, and an invitation (in 1921) to become the music director of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra provided just the right opportunity. From that point onward, Reiner's career was firmly rooted in the United States, where he became a citizen in 1928.
After resigning his post at Cincinnati Reiner became a professor of conducting at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where his students included both the young Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss; Bernstein, in particular, credited Reiner with a great deal of influence in his development. In 1938 he became the director of the Pittsburgh Symphony -- one of several positions that established Reiner as a fine builder of orchestras, with a talent for steering ensembles toward new levels of quality and success. A number of Reiner's well-known recordings stem from his tenure there. Guest appearances during his Pittsburgh years include those at Covent Garden and the San Francisco Symphony. From Pittsburgh he moved to the Metropolitan opera, where he remained on the conductor roster until 1953; his advocacy of Strauss' operas was especially strong there, and his performances of SALOME and ELEKTRA number among the most memorable evenings in the Met's history.
1953 was a watershed year for Reiner, since it was then that he assumed the directorship of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. This was to become his signature partnership, and the position that would establish his lasting legacy. His relationship with the orchestra was never a smooth one - he was known for hostility and impatience in rehearsal, and for firing musicians for mistakes in concerts - but he undeniably raised the ensemble from its status as a good American orchestra to that of one of the finest in the world. Unlike a number of other prominent conductors who excelled in narrow corners of the musical canon, Reiner maintained his excellent standards and clarifying precision throughout an especially broad repertory that crossed boundaries of nationality and style. He was as renowned for his performances of new works, such as Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra -- a piece that Reiner himself commissioned from the dying composer -- and Alan Hovhaness' MYSTERIOUS MOUNTAIN as he was for his Mahler, Strauss and Haydn. His tenure in Chicago also resulted in what was then an unprecedented volume of fine recordings, some of which still remain as favorites, despite the [purported] improved fidelity of modern competitors. Reiner resigned from Chicago in 1962 (after only nine seasons), and died the following year of heart failure.”
- Allen Schrott, allmusic.com
“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
“The real Countess is portrayed by one of the loveliest vocal artists ever to inhabit the Met stage, Victoria de los Angeles….Unlike many a Countess, she can come on cold and offer a full-toned ‘Porgi amor’ without a hint of tremulousness….The great recitative and aria of the third act better reveal her merit. Light and shade finally invade the dramatic phrases of recitative, and the aria's opening phrases are very lovely….Siepi, having launched his Met career as King Philip, moves closer to his métier as the servant Figaro. Still under thirty, he leaves no doubt of his artistic maturity on this afternoon.”
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.50-51
“After studying in Turin, Valdengo made his début in 1936 at Parma as Rossini 's Figaro, then sang Sharpless at Alessandria. Though engaged at La Scala in 1939, he did not sing there (because of military service) until 1941 , when he made his début as Baron Douphol. In 1946 he performed at the New York City Opera, then in 1947 made his San Francisco début as Valentin, returning as Escamillo, Sharpless, Iago, Amonasro and Rigoletto. At the Metropolitan (1947–54) he sang Tonio, Marcello, Germont, Count Almaviva, Belcore, Ford, Paolo (SIMON BOCCANEGRA) and Giacomo Puccini 's Lescaut. In 1955 he sang Don Giovanni and Raimbaud (LE COMTE ORY) at Glyndebourne, and in 1961 he created the Lawyer in Renzo Rossellini's UNO SGUARDO DAL PONTE in Rome. His recordings of Iago, Amonasro and Falstaff, deriving from NBC broadcasts (1947–50) conducted by Arturo Toscanini , are vividly and firmly sung, with an even, flexible line.”
- Alan Blyth
“Roberta Peters, who would sing with the Met 515 times over 35 vigorous years, was internationally renowned for her high, silvery voice; her clarion diction in a flurry of languages; [and] her attractive stage presence. In addition to the Met, with which she appeared regularly from 1950 to 1985 - one of the longest associations of any singer with a major opera company - Ms. Peters was heard at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Cincinnati Opera, the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden and elsewhere. Known for taking meticulous care of her voice, she continued to sing in recital until well into her 70s, a good two decades past the de facto retirement age in her line of work.
On 23 Jan., 1950, the 19-year-old Ms. Peters stood on the stage of the old Metropolitan Opera House on Broadway and 39th Street in Manhattan. There, in the darkened hall, she sang ‘Der Hölle Rache’ from THE MAGIC FLUTE, which, with its fiendish series of high F’s, is among the canonical texts of the coloratura repertory. Somewhere out in the darkness was Mr. Bing. ‘It was the first audition I had done for anyone, and I was so scared’, Ms. Peters told The Chicago Tribune in 1993. ‘When it was over he asked if I would sing it again. Then he asked me to do it again. Well, I sang it four times, not knowing that he had silently brought in conductors Fritz Reiner, Fausto Cleva and Fritz Stiedry to hear me’. Peters made her impromptu Met début 17 Nov., 1951, substituting for Nadine Conner. ‘The delightful surprise of last night’s performance of DON GIOVANNI at the Metropolitan was the emergency début of little Roberta Peters in the part of Zerlina’, The New York World-Telegram’s review the next day said. ‘The voice came through the big house as clear as a bell, the notes equally bright and focused and the phrasing that of a true musician’.
Ms. Peters was by all accounts one of opera’s least diva-like divas.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 19 JAN., 2017