OP1979. ROMÉO ET JULIETTE, Live Performance, 1 Feb., 1947, w.Cooper Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Jussi Björling, Bidú Sayão, Thomas Hayward, Nicola Moscona, John Brownlee, etc.; ROMÉO ET JULIETTE – Act II (in Italian), Live Performance, 5 April, 1934, La Scala, w.Santini Cond. Beniamino Gigli & Mafalda Favero. (Canada) 2–Immortal Performances IPCD 1003. Restoration & transfers by Richard Caniell. - 625989626920
“[The performance] of Roméo, in its combination of an unparalleled richness of resource for every vocal demand and a surging, entirely unfeigned honesty of emotional expression, comes across as not just matchlessly magnificent but timeless. When all is said, Björling remains by miles the set’s principal attraction…. the performance has long been sought out, above all by Jussi Björling fans – not simply because it reveals him as a superlatively fine exponent of French opera otherwise unrepresented on records, but because in the entire Björling discography few more thrilling samples can be found of his vocal, technical and artistic prime.”
- Max Loppert, CLASSICAL RECORDINGS QUARTERLY, Summer, 2011
“This is a ‘must-have’ for anyone with an interest in this opera, or for that matter in opera in general. Although Bidu Sayão is superb, and Emil Cooper’s conducting is some of the most sensitive and well paced this opera has received on disc, it is Jussi Björling who makes the set indispensable. Where does one start with this tenor? I suppose with the sound of the voice itself—if the word ‘golden’ was ever apt as a descriptor for a voice, it is this voice. His scrupulous musicianship, his unerring pitch, his sensitivity to the style of the music, all of those play into his success as Roméo. But it is more than that. Here Björling sings with an abandon and passion that was not always present on his commercial studio recordings. Without ever going over the edge into excess, he holds some high notes longer than you might expect from him, and he adds just that extra bit of juice when it is appropriate. I cannot imagine the rôle ever sung better, and in fact I never expect to hear it sung as well. His ringing high C at the end of the third act is thrilling.
Sayão’s voice has just a slight hint of bite in it, while mostly retaining sweetness throughout all the registers. And she too shows complete mastery of the style. She and Björling blend beautifully in the four big duets that are the reason for this opera’s survival in the repertoire.
It is fascinating that this most stylish and successful recorded performance of this opera does not contain a native French speaker in the cast or on the podium. The Roméo is Swedish, the Juliet is Brazilian, and the conductor is Russian of English heritage! Cooper was a more important figure than history remembers; he conducted the world première of Rimsky-Korsakov’s LE COQ D’OR , and he was a mainstay at the Met for many years. His conducting reflects a deep knowledge of Gounod’s score, an understanding of the appropriate tempo relationships within each scene and act, and a sensitivity to the singers’ needs. The Met Orchestra was not in those days the refined jewel that it has become under James Levine’s leadership, but it plays well enough, and Cooper takes great care with matters of color and balance.
Fanfare readers who have come to know my writing are aware of my love for older so-called ‘historic’ recordings. But as much as I often find special qualities in performances from the first half of the 20th century, and believe that they have much to show us, there are very few cases where I would state that a live broadcast from the 1940's is the one recording of an opera to own if you were only going to own one. In this case, however, I have no hesitation in saying that. What Björling, Sayão, Cooper, and a fine supporting cast offer here is a performance that is truly memorable and thrilling.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, 4 Aug., 2011
“…the performance is electrifying; the singing of Jussi Björling and Bidú Sayão is magnificent….Björling, in 1947, was in glorious voice. His interpretation of Roméo is heroic as well as passionate; his vocal acting persuasive, committed, and wholly admirable. His high register, including the high Cs in this rôle, is exceptionally brilliant; there isn’t a tenor alive today (unfortunately) who is his equal. His French diction is excellent, and Bidú Sayão and he sing the four duets beautifully, matching each other phrase by phase….Her voice is always clear and beautifully lyrical, her top almost as brilliant as her partner’s….The finale of Act 2, ‘O nuit divine’, is sheer vocal magic….Emil Cooper, known primarily at the Met for his conducting of Russian opera, leads a performance that bristles with energy.”
- Kurt Moses, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, March/April, 2010
“This Roméo is altogether extraordinary, and most of the singing is superb enough to transcend any sonic limitations. Sayão sounds fresh and girlish and scoots easily through the coloratura. She maintains her sweetness and body in the upper register, and she creates a vivid, lovable character. Björling just pours out his voice so generously you never notice his slightly imperfect French. The gleaming tone, the perfect legato, the easy ascents to the top…the tremendous high C that ends Act 3…an object lesson in great singing. We have not heard a better Roméo in the past 60 years.”
- Ralph V. Lucano, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, May / June, 2011