OP2776. DON GIOVANNI, Live Performance, 19 Feb., 1962, w.Solti Cond. Royal Opera House Ensemble; Cesare Siepi, Leyla Gencer, Sena Jurinac, Mirella Freni, Richard Lewis, Geraint Evans, etc. (Slovenia) 3-Living Stage 1022. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 3830257410225
“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
“Mirella Freni, an exemplary Italian prima donna for nearly 50 years, whose voice was ideally suited to lighter lyric roles but maintained its bloom even as she took on weightier, more dramatic repertory in midcareer, was hailed as a last exponent of the great Italian operatic heritage. ‘That tradition is ending’, Plácido Domingo was quoted as saying in a 1997 NEW YORK TIMES article about Ms. Freni. ‘Mirella is the end of a chain. After that you cannot see who really follows her’. Many opera lovers acknowledged Ms. Freni’s special claim on this tradition, which valued bel canto principles of producing rich, unforced sound; of shaping even, lyrical lines across the range of a voice; and of sensitively matching sound to words.
With her beguiling stage presence, quiet charisma and the affecting vulnerability she could summon in her singing, Ms. Freni made Mimì in Puccini’s LA BOHÈME a signature part. She won international acclaim in the role in a landmark 1963 production at La Scala in Milan, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and conducted by Herbert von Karajan, who became one of her major champions. Though vocal beauty and proper technique were central to the Italian tradition, Ms. Freni placed a premium on expressivity and feeling. Commenting on the state of opera in a 1997 interview with The Times, she said there were many young artists who sing well and move well. ‘But that is all’, she added. ‘Finito! I want something deeper. It is important to have emotion, to live through the music onstage’, she continued. ‘Also, the Italian singers have a special feeling for the language. Even when we speak it is musical’. Yet she steadily expanded her repertory and, as the colorings of her voice grew darker with maturity, sang more dramatically intense and vocally heavy roles, like Desdemona in Verdi’s OTELLO, Verdi’s Aida and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. She was particularly urged on this course by Karajan, who brought her to the Salzburg Festival to sing Desdemona and the demanding role of Elisabetta in Verdi’s DON CARLO.
With the support of her second husband, the Bulgarian bass Nicolai Ghiaurov, she ventured into Russian repertory, singing Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s EUGENE ONEGIN and Lisa in Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME. Yet Ms. Freni never lost the warmth and richness of her lyric soprano origins. Reviewing her performance in MANON LESCAUT at the Met in 1990, THE TIMES’ Donal Henahan marveled at her longevity and excellence. ‘The wonder of Mirella Freni at this stage of her career’, he wrote, ‘is that she continues to sing Puccini with seemingly reckless ardor while preserving a surprisingly fresh and beautiful sound’. Still, Ms. Freni considered herself a judicious soprano. She could say no, even to the imposing Karajan, if she though a particular role was not right for her. She recorded Puccini’s Madama Butterfly twice, including a film version conducted by Karajan, but never performed the role complete in a staged production in an opera house.
‘I am generous in many ways, but not when I think it will destroy my voice’, she said in a 2013 OPERA NEWS interview. ‘Some singers think they are gods who can do everything’, she added. ‘But I have always been honest with myself and my possibilities’.
She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1965 as Mimì and returned regularly to sing, among various roles, Adina in Donizetti’s L’ELISIR D’AMORE, Liù in Puccini’s TURANDOT and a new 1967 production of Gounod’s ROMÉO ET JULIETTE opposite the star tenor Franco Corelli (with whom she recorded the opera splendidly the next year). But she had been absent from the Met for more than 14 years when she returned in 1983 as Elisabetta in DON CARLO, with James Levine conducting and Mr. Ghiaurov as Philip II. In 1996 the Met mounted a production of a rarity, Giordano’s FEDORA, for Ms. Freni and Mr. Domingo, garnering rave reviews for both. She sang more than 140 performances with the company in all.
Asked whether she thought of herself as the ‘last prima donna’, as she was sometimes called, Ms. Freni demurred. ‘You tell me why I am the last of a tradition’, she said. ‘I have done my job honestly. I have worked hard and with joy’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 9 Feb., 2020
“With the end of the war Solti was appointed musical director of the Bavarian State Opera in Munich in 1946. In normal circumstances this prestigious post would have been an unthinkable appointment for a young and inexperienced conductor, but the leading German conductors such as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Clemens Krauss and Herbert von Karajan were prohibited from conducting pending the conclusion of denazification proceedings against them. Under Solti's direction, the company rebuilt its repertoire and began to recover its pre-war eminence. He benefited from the encouragement of the elderly Richard Strauss, in whose presence he conducted DER ROSENKAVALIER. In 1961 he became musical director of the Covent Garden Opera Company, London. During his ten-year tenure, he introduced changes that raised standards to the highest international levels. Under his musical directorship the status of the company was recognised with the grant of the title ‘the Royal Opera’.”
- Ned Ludd
“Leyla Gencer was the greatest Turkish opera singer of the 20th century and a singing actor of formidable power and individuality. Although she came from what she herself referred to as a ‘Muslim and oriental’ background, she had the good fortune, as a student in Istanbul, to study with the famous Italian dramatic soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi, so that when she went to Italy in 1953, she was thoroughly grounded in the traditions of Italian opera. Gencer was a very beautiful woman, with large dark eyes, a wide, generous mouth and a natural command of the stage. She made her début as Santuzza in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA at the open-air summer festival in Naples in 1953, and remained a particular favourite with the Neapolitans. Throughout her career, Gencer had a very wide repertoire, ranging from Monteverdi, Gluck and Mozart to Verdi, Ponchielli and Puccini. During her career she sang virtually every soprano rôle in Verdi's operas, but it was especially in the revival of bel-canto works by Bellini, Donizetti and Pacini that she made her mark. To some extent, Gencer shot to fame in the immediate aftermath of the end of Maria Callas' Italian career - Gencer followed Callas as Anna Bolena at La Scala, and in the rôle of Paolina in Donizetti's POLIUTO - the last new part Callas undertook. As Queen Elizabeth I of England, first in Donizetti's ROBERTO DEVEREUX, and then in Rossini's ELISABETTA, REGINA D'INGHILTERRA, Gencer preceded Montserrat Caballé and Beverly Sills, who later recorded the rôles. Although Gencer's career was mostly in Italy, she appeared in the United States, where she made her début in San Francisco as Lucia in 1957, returning there, as well as to Chicago and Dallas. John Ardoin described her voice in a memorable LUCREZIA BORGIA in 1974, as ‘poignant, compelling’ and mentioned the ‘strange colours and deep pathos of her art’. In England she was heard at Glyndebourne as the Countess in FIGARO, and as Anna Bolena. At Covent Garden she was Donna Anna in Zeffirelli's 1962 production of DON GIOVANNI, then Elisabeth de Valois in DON CARLOS. Gencer's most memorable UK appearances were undoubtedly in the title rôle of Donizetti's Maria Stuarda, at the Edinburgh Festival in 1969. The sparks that flew on stage in the confrontation - historically absurd but dramatically thrilling - when Gencer as Mary Stuart ripped off her glove and flung it in the face of Shirley Verrett as Elizabeth I at the words, ‘Vil bastarda’ will surely live in the memory of all who witnessed it. Gencer had no career whatsoever as a recording artist, but many of her broadcasts from Italian radio have now been issued on disc and are a fine memorial to her voice and dramatic ability.”
- Patrick O'Connor, The Guardian, 12 May, 2008
“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
“Richard Lewis, a tenor who excelled in Handel and who also sang in the first performances of several contemporary operas, [was] one of the first English singers to achieve world fame in concert and opera, [and] made his debuts at both Glyndebourne and Covent Garden in 1947, appearing regularly with both companies until 1979. His debut role at Glyndebourne was the Male Chorus in Britten's RAPE OF LUCRETIA. His other roles there included Tom Rakewell in the first English staging of Stravinsky's RAKE'S PROGRESS, but he was also highly regarded for his performances in works by Monteverdi, Gluck, Mozart and Strauss.
At Covent Garden, his portrayals included Hoffmann, Tamino and Don Jose, but he was particularly prized as a performer of 20th-century music. In 1954, he created the role of Troilus in William Walton's TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, the role in which he made his American debut in 1955 at the San Francisco Opera. Mr. Lewis's other premieres included central roles in Sir Michael Tippett's MIDSUMMER MARRIAGE (1955) and KING PRIAM (1962), both at Covent Garden, where he also sang Aron in the first British performance of Schoenberg's MOSES UND ARON in 1965. He was the tenor soloist in the first performance of Stravinsky's CANTICUM, at the Venice International Festival of Contemporary Music in 1956, and he sang Captain Vere in the American premiere of Britten's BILLY BUDD with the American Opera Society at Carnegie Hall in 1966.
Besides contemporary and standard repertory opera, Mr. Lewis appeared frequently in the United States as a soloist in concert works and oratorios, and he was considered to be particularly expert in Baroque music. He was a member of the New York-based Bach Aria Group in the 1960s. In the Baroque repertory, Handel was his specialty, and his recordings of Handel arias were widely admired. Mr. Lewis' last performance was a concert of Handel arias at the Kennedy Center in 1981.”
- Allan Kozinn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 14 Nov., 1990