OP3171. DER ROSENKAVALIER, Live Performance, 26 Dec., 1959, (replete with Milton Cross' commentary), w.Leinsdorf Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Christa Ludwig, Lisa Della Casa, Elisabeth Söderström, Oskar Czerwenka, Eugenio Fernandi, etc.; DER ROSENKAVALIER - Scenes, w.Basile Cond. Los Angeles Phil., Live Performance, 12 March, 1959; Lisa Della Casa, Mildred Miller & Dorothy Warenskjold; DOROTHY WARENSKJOLD, w.Pierre Monteux Cond. San Francisco Opera Orchestra: Arias by Debussy, Charpentier & Alfano from Standard Hour Concerts, 1949-49. (Canada) 4-Immortal Performances IPCD 1050. Transfers by Richard Caniell. Elaborate Edition features numerous lovely photos & booklet. Specially priced at 4 CDs for the price of 3. - 748252292445
“Although Lisa Della Casa lacks the stature of reputation of the two most famous Marschallins, Lotte Lehmann and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, there is no question that she merits mention in the same breath, and in her own way offers rewards in this role as thoroughly as those two great ladies. Any doubts about that are erased by this excellent restoration of a 1959 Met broadcast, a performance given a few years after she first sang the role at the Met.
One can find certain subtleties and specificity of inflection in Lehmann and Schwarzkopf that make each of their portrayals unique. Both sing beautifully, and both bring the character to life. The same can be said for Della Casa, beginning with the ‘sing beautifully’ part. Reaction to voices is singularly personal, and one must recognize that when writing about singers - but having stipulated that, I am comfortable saying that Della Casa displays a gleaming, silvery beauty of tone that is uniquely hers. She consistently brings the listener into Strauss’ music with the radiance of her voice. To that gorgeous vocalism she adds the assets of an intelligent singing-actor. We don’t have to (and should not) rank artists as if they were sports teams, with one having a better win-loss record than another. Lehmann, Schwarzkopf, Della Casa, and probably a few others like Reining and Crespin, offer uniquely beautiful and effective portrayals that we can enjoy on their own terms without having to evaluate them against each other. We would be poorer without any of them, and that surely includes this one.
There are, in fact, many wonderful specifics in Della Casa’s performance. In the big monologue in Act I, for example, she manages a tone of resignation at ’s ist doch der Lauf der Welt’ ‘It’s just the way of the world’), a bitter hardness at ‘Die alte Frau’, and then a painful poignancy, accomplished with both vocal color and subtle phrasing, in the moments after. And always there is that glorious sound. You can sense the audience in the house breathless with concentration, and you find it happening to you as well. And she continues in this vein throughout. In the final trio the tone is almost too beautiful to describe, and the singing of the three ladies is close to perfection.
Christa Ludwig brings many of the same vocal and dramatic assets to Octavian: a luscious tone, evenly produced from top to bottom, matched to impeccable dramatic skills. It is difficult to believe that the same singer is impersonating the impetuous Octavian and the girl Mariandel flirting in disguise with Ochs. In her scenes with Della Casa Ludwig is persuasively ardent and vocally resplendent. With both singers, every word sounds, clearly articulated and integral to the dramatic action.
The Swedish soprano Elisabeth Söderström manages to make certain that we don’t overlook Sophie because of the strength of Della Casa and Ludwig, without unduly calling attention to herself. She does it with secure vocalism throughout her range, and the kind of inflection that manages to convey both innocence and flirtatiousness in the same character, reflecting actual human complexity rather than cardboard simplicity. Her Sophie is playful, naïve at first but ultimately quite wise.
Irving Kolodin, in his book THE METROPOLITAN OPERA 1883-1966 is rather hard on Czerwenka’s Ochs, implying that his voice was too small for the house and that he overplayed the comedy to compensate. One cannot tell about the size of voice from the broadcast recording, but other contemporary reviews do not echo this complaint, nor do I find his comedy overdone or coarse. Ochs is a difficult role to bring off, and Czerwenka seems quite convincingly boorish without becoming a caricature, and he also sings well.
Eugenio Fernandi, an important tenor of the second rank in those days (today he would be of the first rank) does a fine job with ‘Di rigori armato’, and the rest of the cast is superb (Thelma Votipka’s Marianne particularly so).
Erich Leinsdorf had taken over the German wing of the Met after Bodanzky’s death in 1939, and one of his achievements was opening up a number of the excessive cuts Bodanzky imposed on Wagner and Strauss. Although this performance is not completely uncut, the cuts are minimal and do not significantly disfigure the work; Leinsdorf’s performance is about twenty minutes longer than Bodanzky’s 1939 broadcast. Sometimes capable of routine time-beating, Leinsdorf could be inspired, particularly if he was pleased with his cast. He must have been on this occasion, because the conducting is animated, witty, impassioned and, perhaps most surprising, loving and tender where the music wants it. He is wonderfully flexible in the final trio, letting his singers have the time they need to weave their magic without letting the line sag.
DER ROSENKAVALIER fits on three discs, and the fourth is the bonus material noted above, and is provided without extra cost. Producer Richard Caniell points out in his notes that the mike placement for the Los Angeles Philharmonic broadcast is much more favorable than the Met’s, and indeed the sound is quite a bit fuller, allowing us to bask in the voices. Nothing in my knowledge of Arturo Basile’s routine conducting of Italian operas would have led me to expect a revelatory approach to these excerpts from DER ROSENKAVALIER, and my low expectations were met but not exceeded. The conducting lacks shape and momentum. It is not a matter of tempo, but a matter of sustaining intensity through a phrase and binding lines together. The music, even the magnificent final trio, sags under his baton. But it is wonderful to have these examples of the rarely heard Warenskjold’s Sophie and Miller’s knowing Octavian.
The second bonus, three arias beautifully sung in STANDARD HOUR broadcasts by Dorothy Warenskjold benefits from the sensitive shaping on the podium of Pierre Monteux. Warenskjold was a fine lyric soprano who deserved a bigger career than she had. There are so many factors that go into a career in addition to talent: luck, drive, ambition, and politics all play their part. Warenskold was born in 1921, sang until the early 1960s then retired from the stage and spent the remainder of her life teaching; she died in 2010. Her stage career focused largely on the San Francisco Opera (she hailed from that area) but her biggest successes were probably on radio, on THE VOICE OF FIRESTONE and THE STANDARD HOUR. To have Warenskjold and Monteux give us a rarely heard aria from Alfano’s RISURREZIONE is a real gift from Immortal Performances, revealing a little known gem. Warenskold’s singing of Debussy’s ‘Air de Lia’ and ‘Depuis le jour’ from LOUISE is exquisite, as are Monteux’s finely shaded accompaniments.
Immortal Performances’ usual high production standards apply. Richard Caniell has supplied thoughtful and knowledgeable notes on the performances (liberally quoting a fine MUSICAL AMERICA review of the broadcast performance by Robert Sabin and more insights by John Steane), as well as the recording production. Lovely photos are an added attraction. The basic sound of the DER ROSENKAVALIER broadcast is more than listenable for anyone used to historic broadcasts, and Caniell has done good work overcoming the dynamic compression of the original, but it doesn’t equal the best monaural sound of that era. For anyone who enjoys this opera, this is close to essential. It is a performance that has the smell of the theater about it - the spark of an actual drama instead of a vocal display, no matter how good, that one almost always gets in a studio recording. And with the glorious singing of the three leading ladies, it is hard to imagine a listener who would not succumb to what is offered here”.
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, Sept. / October, 2016
"The radio audience needs only revel in [Ludwig's] warm, vividly colored, passionate voicing of the young cavalier's feelings. The Berlin-born Ludwig's solid vocal and musical grounding were the natural result of her upbringing in a musical family.The cutting edge of her upper tones, the warmth of her middle and low voice, the overall evenness of scale allow her to challenge effectively not only Ochs, but Strauss' orchestral mass. Della Casa's interpretive touches, in the monologues as well as in the dialogue are far more convincing than was the case in her initial (1956) broadcast of the role. In the playful scenes with Quinquin, Della Casa's utterance is often delightfully nuanced and charming in its vocal appeal and this time fine legato braces many a phrase. As expected, Della Casa, Ludwig and Söderström make something very special of the trio. Each owns a secure technique and has the vocal means to project in any range. Ludwig's firm lower tones are a splendid anchor and Della Casa not only contributes a magical opening but rivets attention with a lengthy crescendo and strikingly colored top tone.
[Söderström's] versatility was apparent early. Prior to her Met debut she had performed all three ROSENKAVALIER heroines.[Her] role can point variously from the innocence of Conner, the shimmering purity of the young Steber, or the knowing suggestiveness of Güden. Söderström manages to bundle together into a speaking entity the attributes of all three predecessors. In Fernandi's brief but critical turn at the levée, his brightly focused tones provide a laser tracing of the heady Italian aria; his line is so firmly etched, his only voicing of the role during eight Met seasons [this] broadcast is the opera's seasonal premiere which may explain the primo tenore casting. When [Cerwenka's house debut] Ochs lumbers into the Marschallin's elegant boudoir, the smell of manure on his boots almost penetrates the airwaves; his boorish vocal manner reeks of it. He is very much a country nobleman, a vivid contrast to the more restrained Edelmann."
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.303-306
"My regard for the performance released here centers on the remarkable trio of singers it assembles: beginning with Lisa Della Casa as the Marschallin, singing with elegance and exquisite tone, yet capable of an enriching characterization which was not yet her's to give in her first Met broadcast in the role (1956 - Kempe). She has Christa Ludwig, the best of the Octavians after Risë Stevens. In the Strauss commemorative issue of OPERA QUARTERLY (Summer 1999), Robert Baxter assesses all the recorded ROSENKAVALIERs and states as to Ludwig's Octavian, that she embodied an ideal. Her ample, creamy voice - neither Jurinac nor Fassbänder can match Ludwig's opulence - makes her a vocal paragon. No other Octavian sings with such unfailing beauty and ease. Joined to these two in laudable casting was Elisabeth Söderström as Sophie, the soprano to whom Stephen Hastings refers, in his remarkable book THE BJÖRLING SOUND, as 'the finest Swedish singing actress of her generation'."
- Richard Caniell, Program Notes
“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 1940's. 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
"Elisabeth Söderström, the Swedish soprano acclaimed for the plangent richness and intelligence of her singing and for her wide-ranging repertory, including influential portrayals of leading roles in the operas of Janácek, was admired by opera lovers around the world, notably in Sweden and England, where she performed most often, within the field she was revered. With her radiant, creamy voice, thorough musicianship and keen dramatic instincts, she was a model for singers. In roles like the Countess in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO the Marschallin in Strauss’ DER ROSENKAVALIER, Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s EUGEN ONÉGIN and more, she combined insightful acting with nuanced singing and a lovely stage presence to create alluring and memorable performances. An element of Scandinavian reserve in her dramatic and vocal artistry enhanced her work, lending an elusive quality to her portrayals. Reviewing a song recital that Ms Söderström gave at the Frick Collection in New York in 1975, the NEW YORKER critic Andrew Porter perceptively summed up her artistry. Her ‘quick musical intelligence, her vivid and engaging temperament, and a protean voice not exceptionally powerful but well able to compass soubrette mirth and tragic passion have brought her triumphs in a wide variety of roles’.
Anna Elisabeth Söderström made her début as Mozart’s Bastienne when she was just 20 at the Drottningholm Court Theater, on the outskirts of the city, a company she would direct in the mid-1990s. Shortly after her début, she joined the Swedish Royal Opera. She remained a member of that company until her retirement. In her early years she focused on soubrette roles, including Mozart heroines. Soon she was branching out dramatically. Her début at the prestigious Glyndebourne Festival in England came in 1957 as the Composer in Strauss’ ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, and for years she remained a favorite with the festival. Among Strauss singers, she was one of the few to have sung all three lead roles in DER ROSENKAVALIER: the Marschallin, Octavian and Sophie. A milestone in her career came in the 1969-70 season with the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, when she sang Mélisande in an acclaimed production of Debussy’s PELLÉAS ET MÉLISANDE conducted by Pierre Boulez, subsequently recorded. That Sony Classical recording, with George Shirley as Pelléas, is considered by many to be definitive.
Another series of landmark performances and recordings involved the Australian conductor Charles Mackerras, an informed champion of the Janácek operas. Ms Söderström became Mr Mackerras’ soprano of choice for his Decca label recordings of complete Janácek operas, including JENUFA and KATYA KABANOVA, with Ms Söderström singing the title roles, and THE MAKROPULOS CASE, a mysterious, haunting work in which Ms Söderström portrayed, unforgettably, the 300-year-old Emilia Marty.
Among the many contemporary roles she sang were Elisabeth Zimmer in Hans Werner Henze’s ELEGY FOR YOUNG LOVERS and Juliana Bordereau in Dominick Argento’s ASPERN PAPERS for the premiere production in Dallas in 1988. She was also an active song recitalist.
Ms Söderström made her Metropolitan Opera début in 1959 as Susanna in Mozart’s NOZZE DI FIGARO. For the next five years, she made regular appearances at the Met, but then drifted mostly to Europe, returning in the 1980s for performances as the Marschallin in DER ROSENKAVALIER and the Countess in NOZZE DI FIGARO. For her last Met performances, she came out of retirement, essentially, to sing the Countess in Tchaikovsky’s PIQUE DAME, a dramatically complex and crucial role with scant vocal demands. She received an enormous ovation."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 Nov., 2009
"Eugenio Fernandi was born in Pisa and raised in Turin, where he began his vocal studies with Aureliano Pertile. He later entered the opera school at La Scala in Milan, and began appearing there in small roles. His first major role was as Giovanni Battista in Virgilio Mortari's LA FIGLIA DI DIAVOLO in 1954, followed by the Duke in RIGOLETTO and Pinkerton in MADAMA BUTTERFLY. He also sang with success at La Fenice in Venice, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence, and the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. In 1957, he made his debut at the Vienna State Opera as Cavaradossi in TOSCA, later singing Alfredo Germont, Rodolfo, Riccardo, and Radames. He appeared as Don Carlos at the Salzburg Festival, in 1958 and 1960. He sang at all the major Italian houses and made many guest appearances abroad, especially in France, Switzerland, South America and the United States. His principal roles included Pinkerton, Cavaradossi, Calaf, Rodolfo, Alfredo Germont, Don Carlos, Radames, Gounod's Faust and Saint-Saens' Samson. He joined the Metropolitan Opera as a leading tenor on 19 February, 1958, debuting there as Pinkerton. Of that performance, a 3 March, 1958, TIME MAGAZINE review noted that Fernandi 'belted out thundering, on-target salvos of sound that rocked the house', further praising that 'physically and vocally it is surely the handsomest BUTTERFLY ever mounted on a U.S. stage'. From 1958 to 1971, Fernandi sang eight seasons with the Met in thirteen roles, including Mario Cavaradossi, Edgardo, Enzo, Ismaele, Arrigo, etc."
- Echoes-Sentinel, 15 August, 1991