OP1999. FAUST, Live Performance, 19 Dec., 1959, w.Jean Morel Cond. Jussi Björling, Elisabeth Söderström, Cesare Siepi, Robert Merrill, Mildred Miller, etc. 2-Music & Arts 701. Very Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 017685070125
“Now the Björling era at the Metropolitan comes to a close….Nine months later, the great tenor succumbed after a heart attack in Stockholm at age forty-nine. He had been before the public for four decades….his instrument owned a shining beauty and thrusting brilliance, a combination which ensured a unique rank among tenors of modern times.”
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, p.350
“Jussi Björling was a great Faust. I have friends who maintain that he was at his very best in French repertoire. Unfortunately he retained only two French roles when he embarked upon his international career - and neither FAUST nor ROMÉO ET JULIETTE was recorded commercially. We are lucky to have both in good live recordings from the Met. When I reviewed the 1950 FAUST some years ago the first paragraph read ‘This 3 CD set contains some of the most glorious tenor singing ever recorded. Buy it!!!’. Here, nine years later, almost to the day, he is still in tremendous shape. He was an extraordinary singer with remarkable stamina. From the age of 19, when he made his debut at the Stockholm opera and until his untimely death in September 1960 when he was only 49, he sang another two thousand opera performances and recitals. His heart problems had increased during the 1950s and when this performance took place he had less than nine months to live. Even so, there is very little in his singing that reveals weakening health or diminishing vocal ability. Once or twice the voice seems marginally heavier but it is, by and large, the same Björling as ever. Those who doubt my judgement need only lend an ear to ‘Salut, demeure’. Whether it surpasses the 1950 recording is open to debate. Maybe the high C is not as free this time, but it is still a reading that must be counted among the best on record. The garden scene is further evidence that here is a singer still in his prime.
In this scene there is also a magical rapport between Björling and his Marguerite. She is the young Elisabeth Söderström, who had made her Met debut a couple of months earlier as Susanna in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO - she was later to become the Contessa. A couple of weeks before the broadcast she sang her first ever Marguerite. She had been Manon Lescaut opposite Björling in Stockholm but this was something much bigger. In her memoirs she recalls the situation: ‘It was with terror in my heart and on trembling legs that I walked to the theatre that evening: we had had only one run-through with orchestra and sets, I wasn’t sufficiently prepared. I bewailed my distress to Jussi, who looked at me with compassion and answered: ‘Little friend, you have nothing to be afraid of, there aren’t many who demand much of you yet. It is much worse for me; everybody expects to find out whether I am finished or whether I can live up to my reputation’. I haven’t been able to find a review of her FAUST debut but the reception of her house debut some weeks earlier should have strengthened her self-confidence : ‘Elisabeth Söderström was a delightful Susanna in every respect. Her bright, flexible voice was always dependable and she proved to be a resourceful actress. One of the most impressive indications of her artistry was the fact that her singing in the ensembles was just as finished as it was in her solo arias’ - (Robert Sabin, MUSICAL AMERICA). LE NOZZE DI FIGARO was a new production and there had been adequate rehearsal time, while FAUST had been in the repertoire for ages and guest singers just popped in and out. Listening to this recording one can conclude that everything worked exactly as it should. Ms Söderström shows her credentials with aplomb in a gloriously sung Jewel aria. All through the performance she is in radiant voice and draws a vivid portrait of a character that can seem one-dimensional when sung prettily without proper characterization. I have admired Söderström ever since I first heard her. I have enjoyed her on so many recordings and in the flesh in opera and recital. Vocally she has never sounded better than here. It should be mentioned that she had a long career and sang her last performances at the Met as the Countess in QUEEN OF SPADES in April 1999, almost forty years after her debut there.
There is even more vocal splendour on offer in this performance. Cesare Siepi repeats his Méphistophélès from the 1950 recording and is as magnificent here. The intervening nine years gave him even more authority and the voice is still in fine fettle. Another stalwart at the Met, Robert Merrill, pours out golden tone that surpasses most of his baritone colleagues. Not the most charismatic of actors, he still manages to invest his portrait of Valentin with power and energy. Mildred Miller is a very fine Siebel and Thelma Votipka is a Marthe to reckon with.
This issue is a ‘must’ for Jussi Björling’s many admirers and it is a real bonus to get world class performances from Söderström, Merrill and Siepi in the bargain.”
- Göran Forsling, Musicweb-International