OP2096. DON GIOVANNI, Live Performance, 6 Nov., 1955, w.Böhm Cond. Vienna Staatsoper Ensemble; George London, Erich Kunz, Ludwig Weber, Anton Dermota, Lisa della Casa, Sena Jurinac, Irmgard Seefried & Walter Berry. (E.U.) 3-Myto 00217. - 0801439902176
"[Böhm had a] natural, essential music-making….the magical ease and naturalness of transition from one tempo to another, the human warmth, the humor, restrained pathos, the aristocratic and refined taste in final ritardandos and the incredible energy of the man."
- Walter Legge, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 5 Feb., 1995
“With her graceful bearing and a voice both rich and penetrating, Sena Jurinac was a star of the first generation of European singers to emerge after World War II. She made her début in Vienna on 1 May, 1945 — in the company’s first performance in a liberated Austria — as Cherubino in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO, a rôle she sang 129 times there. Though she made her first mark in Vienna, which became her artistic home, her radiant Mozart performances at the Glyndebourne Festival in the 1950's catapulted her to international stardom. She also made lauded appearances at the Salzburg and Bayreuth Festivals, the Royal Opera House in London, the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, La Scala in Milan and the San Francisco Opera.”
- Zachary Woolfe, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Nov., 2011
“The Jurinac voice was capable of a gleaming fortissimo, but it also commanded a wide range of shadings of colour and dynamic. The top notes could be floated with an ethereal purity; the middle and lower registers had a very human warmth….The present release is particularly valuable in presenting her as a Lieder singer….Like such great Lieder singers as Rehkemper, Erb, Janssen, Lehmann or Schumann, Jurinac gives us unforgettable musical phrases….We owe her a great deal – and history has already judged her to be one of the immortal sopranos of the twentieth century.”
- Tully Potter
“In the 1940s and early 1950s, Irmgard Seefried was a paragon among German lyric sopranos, her voice fresh and crystalline, her stage presence vital and attractive. Although she was an intelligent and well-prepared artist, the impression she made was one of considerable spontaneity. Her Susanna in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO and Pamina in DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE were very different creations, the first piquant and cunning, the latter direct and innocent, though never the pallid personality others have imposed upon her. Her Composer in Strauss' ARIADNE AUF NAXOS was a defining interpretation, ardently sung and passionately acted. It was captured in live performance in 1944 and, again, in the studio a decade later when her voice was at its zenith.
She studied at Augsburg University, first with Albert Meyer and, later, with Paola Novikova (with whom she continued to work long after her career was established). Her stage début took place at Aachen in 1940 when she sang the Priestess in a production of AÏDA. After Nuri in d'Albert's TIEFLAND, she was shocked to find that the theater's music director, Herbert von Karajan, had scheduled her for Donna Anna in DON GIOVANNI. As she acknowledged later, she ‘got away’ with the role due to the theater's small size and a very lyric approach to the highly dramatic role.
After three years in Aachen, Seefried moved to Vienna where she joined that theater's ensemble of extraordinary Mozart singers. Her wartime performances were accomplished under circumstances of utter privation: little heat, little food, repeated trips to shelters during both rehearsals and performances. Seefried's Eva under Karl Böhm established her as an artist with an unlimited future and she quickly became a favorite with the Vienna public. She was honored by being chosen to appear as the Composer in ARIADNE to celebrate Richard Strauss' 80th birthday and in 1946 made her first appearance at Salzburg where her Pamina became legendary. London heard her in 1947 when she performed Susanna and Fiordiligi with the visiting Vienna Opera. Susanna served for her début role at La Scala in 1949.
Although her Susanna was well-received at the Metropolitan Opera in November 1953, Seefried did not return to that theater, but did make memorable appearances with Chicago's Lyric Opera beginning in 1961. Chicago heard her Zerlina and Marzelline in her début year and her still-wonderful Composer in 1964.
In addition to opera, Seefried was a first-rank interpreter of Lieder and a concert singer much in demand. In her prime years, her singing of the soprano solo portions of Bach's ST. MATTHEW PASSION, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, and, above all, Haydn's CREATION was unsurpassed. She performed all three of these works with Wilhelm Furtwängler, an influential guide and mentor. Seefried's recitals at Salzburg and elsewhere came to be treasured events. Many of her earlier Lieder recordings support the reputation she enjoyed among connoisseurs of beautiful and communicative singing.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com
“Lisa Della Casa, the Swiss soprano who combined an outstanding voice, stunning beauty and exceptional stage presence to become one of the foremost interpreters of Richard Strauss, was one of a generation of sopranos to emerge from war-shattered Europe in the 1940s. In her Strauss roles, like the title character of Arabella, which alternately calls for demure graciousness and soaring enthusiasm, Ms. Della Casa displayed ‘a wholly appealing kind of fragility, tender and unmannered’, the musicologist J. B. Steane wrote in his book THE GRAND TRADITION: 70 Years of Singing on Record. She was equally extolled for her roles in Mozart operas.
In Europe, where Ms. Della Casa performed at the major opera houses, her beauty and charisma could seduce even a great conductor like Herbert von Karajan into pursuing her for roles that were out of her vocal range. ‘Karajan saw me as the Marschallin and, if you can believe it, immediately asked me to sing TANNHÄUSER with him’, even though the role, Venus, called for a dramatic soprano or a mezzo with an upper register and thus was not at all appropriate for her voice, she said in an interview in Lanfranco Rasponi’s book THE LAST PRIMA DONNAS. ‘He told me I had just the right kind of sexiness to make a splendid goddess of love’. She turned down the role.
Her complaint was the opposite at the Metropolitan Opera, where, she said, the general manager Rudolf Bing typecast her. She sang four roles at the Met — Countess Almaviva, Donna Elvira, the Marschallin and Arabella — a total of 114 times in her 147 performances. ‘My 15 seasons at the Metropolitan were not happy ones’, Ms. Della Casa told Mr. Rasponi. ‘Mr. Bing would not have it any other way, for he kept repeating that I was indispensable for the Mozart and Strauss operas, and that he had a surplus of sopranos for the Italian and French ones’.
Yet Ms. Della Casa rarely bickered or engaged in offstage dramatics. In an opera world notorious for outsize egos and histrionic rivalries, her colleagues openly admired her. The Romanian soprano Maria Cebotari, famous for her portrayal of Arabella in the 1940s, lobbied for the young Ms. Della Casa to sing alongside her in the role of Zdenka. ‘I’ll put my hand in the fire for her’, Ms. Cebotari told a Vienna opera manager who was skeptical of this relatively unknown soprano’s talent.
Ms. Della Casa was also admired for her glamorous good looks. The German soprano Anneliese Rothenberger compared her to Elizabeth Taylor.
Still, at 55 and at the height of her career, she abruptly announced her retirement in 1974 after singing her last Arabella at the Vienna State Opera. She then retreated with her husband, Dragan Debeljevic, and their daughter, Vesna, who was often in poor health, to their castle near Lake Constance in Switzerland. She offered no public explanations, nor was she ever tempted into recitals or master classes.
Ms. Della Casa appeared first at the Salzburg Festival in 1947 as Zdenka in ARABELLA; after hearing her premiere performance, Richard Strauss himself asserted, ‘The little Della Casa will one day be Arabella!’ In the fall of 1947 she made her début as Gilda in Verdi’s RIGOLETTO at the Vienna State Opera, where she remained an ensemble member for 27 years.
In 1953 Ms. Della Casa made her début as the Countess Almaviva at the Metropolitan Opera, where she continued to perform until 1968. Her early Met performances as Donna Elvira and Madama Butterfly did not impress the New York critics. But she hit her stride with Arabella. ‘There was a youth in her movement and a beauty in her appearance that might well have driven Vienna’s gay blades wild', Howard Taubman of The New York Times wrote in 1957. ‘And her singing was unfailingly lovely — accurate, well focused and sensitively phrased’.
‘The strange thing about a singer’s destiny’, she told Mr. Rasponi, ‘is that you have to renounce everything for its sake, and then it’s all over in a flash.”
- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 Dec., 2012
“Anton Dermota was one of the most musical tenors singing at his time. In Vienna, the highly-esteemed tenor was a leading representative of the lyric category. He was an outstanding figure in Austria’s musical life. It is a delight to hear his smooth line, his gleaming tone and his ‘slavic-elegiac’ vocalism. His smooth, honeyed mezza voce was marvellous. He had an imaginative way with Italian and French music. Today, he is best remembered as a Mozartian tenor…whatever he sang was superbly chiselled and presented as precious musical gems!”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“In the many performances I have appeared in, there were many wonderful colleagues who had me in raptures. There were those with magnificent voices, or great musicians, wonderful actors or great personalities. But George London had it ALL. He was as impressive on stage as he was the wonderful colleague and friend in his private life.”
- Birgit Nilsson, as quoted in Leonardo A. Ciampa’s THE TWILIGHT OF BELCANTO, p.130
“George London was a dramatic and very expressive singer. In many roles he sang like a demonic panther with a sound of purple-black in color. London was a singer favoring the drama in a piece, varying color to suggest shifts of mood. His acting on stage was described as overwhelming. The special magnetism of this artist is documented on his great recordings. Every role he sang was sung with utmost expression and unbelievable commitment, truly a singing-actor!”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
“Thoroughly Viennese, bass-baritone Erich Kunz excelled in serious roles (although he sang rather few), comic parts and in operetta characterizations. An indispensable participant in recording producer Walter Legge's Champagne Operetta series in the early 1950s, Kunz, together with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, defined Viennese operetta style - its lightness, grace, and charm. With a rich, masculine voice, he was a definitive Figaro, Leporello, and Papageno in the tradition of Mozart performance that sprang from the Vienna Opera immediately after WWII. An incomparable Beckmesser, his interpretation was preserved on two live recordings, and he left a number of delightful recordings of Viennese café and university songs.
Kunz studied in his native Vienna, primarily with Theodore Lierhammer at the Vienna Academy. His début took place at Tropau in 1933 as Osmin (a part for deep bass) in Mozart's DIE ENTFÜHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL. Following that, he sang with a number of smaller German theaters before being engaged by the Breslau Opera for three years. Kunz made his first acquaintance with England when he was offered an opportunity to understudy at the Glyndebourne Festival in 1936. He was soon thereafter assigned several smaller roles.
In 1941, Kunz became a part of the company at the Vienna Staatsoper where he remained throughout his career; he was given the title of Kammersänger in 1948. During the war years, he sang throughout Austria and Germany, primarily in Mozart and Wagner . He made his début at the Salzburg Festival in 1942 as Guglielmo in COSÌ FAN TUTTE and in 1943 became the youngest artist ever to have appeared in a major role at the Bayreuth Festival when he sang Beckmesser in DIE MEISTERSINGER.
Once the hostilities ended, Kunz's career assumed a still more international flavor. Opera performances took him to Florence, Rome, Naples, Paris, Brussels, Budapest, and Buenos Aires. His role at the Salzburg Festival grew and he was a part of the Vienna Staatsoper troupe touring England and France in 1947. The following year brought his debut at the Edinburgh Festival.
A Metropolitan Opera début waited until 1952, but Kunz's appearance as Leporello on 26 November brought a warm response from the audience and positive reviews from the critics. Both local and national writers commented upon his handsome voice and subtle comic skills. Many could recall only a few comparable artists in a role frequently immersed in slapstick routine. The Metropolitan Opera enjoyed his presence for just two years. In addition to Leporello, Kunz appeared as Mozart's Figaro, Beckmesser, and Faninal in ROSENKAVALIER. Chicago heard his treasurable Harlequin in ARIADNE AUF NAXOS and Leporello, both in 1964 and, two seasons later, his wily, yet innocent Papageno in DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE.
While musical tastes had moved from the elegant Mozart style of post-war Vienna to an earthier, more robust Italianate approach by the 1960s, Kunz's inimitable stage persona lost nothing of its potency. Nor did his voice; he continued to sing well even in his sixties and continued to undertake small roles (unforgettable cameos, all) to the end of a long career. In addition to opera house appearances, Kunz graced the stage of the Vienna Volksoper from time to time, giving lessons to both audiences and fellow artists in operetta style and singing.”
- Erik Eriksson, allmusic.com