Aida   /   Carmen  (Mehta / Pretre;  Vickers, Zeani, Bumbry, Merrill)    (4-Immortal Performances IPCD 1056)
Item# OP3177
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Product Description

Aida   /   Carmen  (Mehta / Pretre;  Vickers, Zeani, Bumbry, Merrill)    (4-Immortal Performances IPCD 1056)
OP3177. JON VICKERS MEMORIAL . . . includes:

AIDA, Live Performance, 11 Oct., 1965, w. Zubin Mehta Cond. Opéra de Montréal Ensemble; Virginia Zeani, Jon Vickers, Lili Chookasian, Victor Braun, Thomas Paul, etc. [recorded by this production's stage manager, Irving Guttman, the sound is clear but rather shallow due to the lack of upstage mikes];

CARMEN, Live Performance, 5 July, 1968, w.Georges Pretre Cond. Teatro Colon Ensemble; Grace Bumbry, Jon Vickers, Robert Merrill, Joan Carlyle, etc.; [well recorded by the Teatro Colon for broadcast];

JON VICKERS & GIULIETTA SIMIONATO: AIDA - Judgment Scene (Act IV), Bell Telephone Hour, 5 May, 1964. (Canada) 4-Immortal Performances IPCD 1056, accompanied by elaborate 46pp. booklet. Transfers by Richard Caniell. Notes by Stanley Henig & Richard Caniell. This Jon Vickers Memorial Set is specially priced at 4 CDs for the price of 3. - 01996243463


The Canadian tenor Jon Vickers brought a colossal voice and raw dramatic intensity to everything he sang, including legendary portrayals of Wagners TRISTAN, Verdis OTELLO, Beethovens Florestan and Brittens Peter Grimes, had few rivals. Yet, even in subdued passages, whether posing questions as the clueless title character of Wagners PARSIFAL or singing tender phrases of a Schubert song, Mr. Vickers voice had penetrating body and depth. For all his power, he was a master at singing high pianissimo phrases with ethereal beauty. Making every word he sang matter was another hallmark of his artistry. Mr. Vickers was incapable of fudging a text for the sake of vocal effect, a priority he traced to his Christian upbringing, in which hymns and prayers were revered. Still, Mr. Vickers had his share of detractors, who found his singing burly and gruff.

He identified intensely with the characters he portrayed, especially misfits, like Peter Grimes, and misunderstood heroes, like Verdis Otello, who are outwardly strong but struggling against brutal destinies. Yet he readily admitted that in taking risks and giving his all, his singing could be inconsistent and uncontrolled. That Mr. Vickers lost himself in his roles did not surprise those who knew him. He was a volatile and enigmatic person, in many ways decent and principled, but hot-tempered and quick to jump on any perceived slight.

The soprano Birgit Nilsson, the great Isolde to his Tristan, said that Mr. Vickers was almost always unhappy, and that his nerves were outside the skin, not inside the skin, as she told Jeannie Williams, the author of JON VICKERS: A HEROS LIFE. In her book, Ms. Williams recounts stories of Mr. Vickers bullying underlings and dressing down colleagues. When a 1986 Metropolitan Opera production of Handels SAMSON traveled to the Lyric Opera of Chicago, Mr. Vickers insulted the conductor, Julius Rudel, during a rehearsal in front of the entire cast and orchestra, shaking Mr. Rudel so much that he offered to quit. Yet in interviews he often spoke of how his rural roots and Christian convictions had shaped his life philosophy, as he explained in a 1974 documentary for the Canadian Broadcast Company: The understanding, which slowly and surely developed in me, of the necessity of human contact and an understanding of the needs of others and their problems has probably, more than anything else, given me the ability to analyze my roles, to come to grips with a score, to study a drama, to project my feelings into the life of someone Ive never met except on a piece of paper.

Encouraged to pursue singing seriously, he auditioned for George Lambert, a voice teacher who recruited students for the Royal Conservatory in Toronto, and was offered a scholarship, beginning with the 1950-51 academic year. While at the conservatory, Mr. Vickers met Henrietta Elsie Outerbridge, a child of missionaries who had worked in China. Hetti, as she was called, had studied medicine for several semesters and taught English and art. They married in July 1953. A devoted couple, they were one of the great love stories of our time, in the words of the soprano Teresa Stratas.

Mr. Vickers considered his professional stage dbut to be a performance in 1954 as the Duke of Mantua in Verdis RIGOLETTO at the Toronto Opera Festival, which in 1959 became the Canadian Opera Company. Over the next two years with the festival he sang Alfredo in LA TRAVIATA, Don Jos in CARMEN and other roles but preferred singing for radio and television because the work paid better.

In 1957, for his first season at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden in London, he sang Don Jos, Riccardo in BALLO IN MASCHERA and Ene (Aeneas) in Berliozs epic opera LES TROYENS. Mr. Vickers would later sing Ene in a new production of the opera at Covent Garden in 1969, the centennial of the composers death. The conductor was Colin Davis, an inspired Berlioz interpreter. During the run, the Covent Garden forces recorded the opera in a London studio, and the sessions were tense. The cast, especially Mr. Vickers, complained of the strain of recording the work while also performing it on stage. Some rough patches in Mr. Vickerss singing come through. Still, he brought a heroic cast to the music, and the recording remains a classic.

Mr. Vickers first performances at the Metropolitan Opera came in early 1960, singing Canio in Leoncavallos PAGLIACCI, Florestan in Beethovens FIDELIO and Siegmund in Wagners WALKRE, all within two months. It was on the Met stage in 1967 that Mr. Vickers introduced what many consider his greatest achievement, the title role of Brittens PETER GRIMES, conducted by Mr. Davis and directed by Tyrone Guthrie. Working with a libretto by Montagu Slater, Britten conceived the title role of the loner fisherman in an English village for his lifelong partner, the tenor Peter Pears, who gave the first performance in London in 1945. With his ethereal voice, Pears portrayed the fisherman as an alienated dreamer, a misfit in a narrow-minded town. While yearning to be accepted, Grimes takes out his thwarted anger on homeless boys who are drafted into work as his apprentices. Britten described the opera as depicting the struggle of an individual against the masses. But many see Grimes persecution as a metaphor for the oppression of homosexuals. Mr. Vickers, who was, as many of his colleagues recounted, quite homophobic, could not abide such an interpretation. For him [the role of] Peter Grimes was a study in the psychology of human rejection, a view shared by Mr. Davis and Guthrie. With his powerful heldentenor voice, Mr. Vickers revealed the danger within the twisted psyche of the ostracized fisherman. His Grimes was one moment lost in reverie, the next exploding with brutality. His bleakly poignant portrayal and fearsome singing altered the public perception of the role. Though they did not like to voice their attitudes publicly, Britten and Pears were dismayed by Mr. Vickers Grimes. But they could not argue with success. Companies around the world mounted productions of PETER GRIMES for Mr. Vickers.

He sang more than 280 total performances at the Met, including the company premiere of LES TROYENS in 1973, and the title roles of Verdis OTELLO and Wagners PARSIFAL. For years Mr. Vickers resisted the role of Wagners Tristan, to the frustration of Birgit Nilsson, the great Isolde of her day, who had been searching for a powerhouse tenor who could match her in the opera. Mr. Vickers finally came through in Buenos Aires in 1971, singing Tristan to Ms. Nilssons Isolde. It was a triumph. They went on to sing it many times, though not as often as Ms. Nilsson had hoped. I told him at the time that I waited and waited for my Tristan for 14 years, Ms. Nilsson told THE NEW YORK TIMES, as long as Jacob waited for Rachel in the Bible. He sang the role just twice at the Met, and only one of those was with Ms. Nilsson, on 30 Jan., 1974.

Mr. Vickers lived in Toronto at the start of his career and then settled in London before returning to Canada and buying a farm about an hours drive from Toronto. After his retirement in 1988 he gave occasional master classes but mostly kept a low profile. He once touched on the impetus of his artistry in a graduation address in 1969 at the Royal Academy of Music in Toronto. I sang because I had to, he said. Singing, he explained, was an absolute necessity, fulfilling some kind of emotional and even perhaps physical need in me.

- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 July, 2015

"[Virgini Zeani], a Romanian opera star, was just one of a group of outstanding sopranos condemned to pursue their careers in the shadow of Callas, Tebaldi and Sutherland. Zeani is revealed as a totally dependable singer. The voice is lovely, if slightly of occluded quality and the scale even and well balanced through a wide range. Her interpretations are finely judged and often quite individual. Definitely an enjoyable experience."

- Vivian A. Liff, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 2009

"Dame Joan Sutherland wrote that both she and her husband, the conductor Richard Bonynge, regarded Zeani's voice as the finest natural instrument they heard during their storied careers in opera. Aside from a few indifferently-engineered titles recorded in her native Romania and recordings of widely-varying quality of live performances, in many of which she partnered her husband, bass Nicola Rossi Lemeni, Zeani's is a voice scarcely documented on recordings."

- Joseph Newsome, Voix des Arts

�Lili Chookasian was a principal singer with the Metropolitan Opera for a quarter-century, appearing there 290 times from 1962 to 1986. She also sang in recital and was a soloist with many of the world�s leading orchestras. Critics and operagoers hailed Ms. Chookasian as a �real contralto�. Where many contraltos are endowed with the lightish, dusky equivalent of a viola, her voice - immense, deep, velvety and burnished - put a cello at her command. She was also praised for her sensitive musicianship, powerful dramatic characterizations and impeccable diction.

Ms. Chookasian made her Met d�but 9 March, 1962, at 40, in the role of La Cieca in LA GIOCONDA, with Zinka Milanov, Franco Corelli and Robert Merrill. As was widely reported, Ms. Chookasian sang so well that she received an immense ovation after her aria �Voce di Donna�.

She was perhaps most closely associated with the work of Gian Carlo Menotti. At the Met, she sang the Maharanee in the United States premiere of his opera THE LAST SAVAGE. On loan from the company, she made her New York City Opera d�but in 1963 as Madame Flora, the title character of his opera THE MEDIUM. Her other Met roles included Amneris in Verdi�s A�DA, Erda in Wagner�s RHEINGOLD and SIEGFRIED and Mamma Lucia in Mascagni�s CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA.

Ms. Chookasian began her career as a concert singer, making a notable appearance in 1955 as a soloist in Mahler�s �Resurrection� Symphony with the Chicago Symphony under Bruno Walter. She made her operatic d�but in 1959, as Adalgisa in Bellini�s NORMA with the Arkansas State Opera and later studied with the distinguished soprano Rosa Ponselle. Her last performance with the Met was on 17 May, 1986, as Gertrude in Gounod�s ROM�O ET JULIETTE.�

- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 12 APRIL, 2012

"In 1955 Grace Bumbry entered Northwestern University, where she studied voice with Lotte Lehman, and transferred with her to the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. In 1958 she was joint winner of the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, sharing first place with Martina Arroyo. She won some other prizes, and made her professional debut in a recital in London in 1959. Her first operatic appearance was at the Paris Opra, as Amneris in Verdi's AIDA. It was one of the most spectacular operatic debuts in history; Bumbry became an instant star and was invited to join the roster of the Basle Opera. She made operatic history in 1961 when she was engaged by Wieland Wagner to sing at the Bayreuth Festival and became the first black singer to perform in that shrine of Wagnerian opera. Furthermore, musical historian Nicolas Slomimsky has pointed out that she was the first African American to make a professional operatic as a goddess, for her debut at Bayreuth was as Venus in TANNHAUSER, 23 July, 1961. Bumbry embarked on a concert tour of the United States and was invited by Jacqueline Kennedy to sing at the White House, on 20 February, 1962. She also followed up her success at Bayreuth with appearances as Venus at the Chicago Lyric Opera and at Lyons, France.

Bumbry's 1963 London debut came in the role of Princess Eboli in Verdi's DON CARLOS, and she gave her first Metropolitan Opera performance in the same role in 1965. During the 1960s Bumbry worked on extending her vocal range. In 1970 at the Vienna Staatsoper, she sang the part of Santuzza, making her debut as a soprano. She sang Richard Strauss' SALOME at Covent Garden the same year, and her first appearance in Puccini's TOSCA at the Metropolitan Opera came in 1971. She has a very warm voice with rich tone quality throughout the mezzo range, although it loses some of its distinctiveness in the very upper part of her soprano register. She is among the few sopranos who have sung both the roles of Aida and Amneris in AIDA and both Venus and Elisabeth in Wagner's TANNHAUSER."

- Joseph Stevenson,

"Robert Merrill made his Metropolitan debut as Germont on 15 Dec., 1945, and celebrated his 500th performance there on 5 March, 1973. He remained on the Met roster until 1976. During his tenure with the Met, Mr. Merrill sang leading roles in much of the standard repertory, including the title role in RIGOLETTO, Germont in LA TRAVIATA, Figaro in IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA, Escamillo in CARMEN and Tonio in PAGLIACCI; he appeared in most of these many times. Regarded as one of the greatest Verdi baritones of his generation, he was known for the security and strength of his sound, as well as for the precision and clarity with which he could hit pitches across his two-octave range.

Although he occasionally appeared in Europe and South America, he preferred to base his career at the Metropolitan Opera, where he sang all the major baritone roles of the Italian and French repertories, Peter G. Davis wrote of Mr. Merrill in THE NEW GROVE DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN MUSIC. ' In terms of vocal endowment, technical security and longevity, he was unequaled among baritones of his generation at the Metropolitan'. 'After Leonard Warren's tragic death onstage at the Metropolitan in 1960, Merrill became more or less indisputably America's principal baritone and perhaps the best lyricist since Giuseppe de Luca', the critic J. B. Steane wrote in his book THE GRAND TRADITION. The easy and even production of a beautifully well-rounded tone is not common, especially when the voice is also a powerful one; yet this is, after all, the basis of operatic singing, and Merrill's records will always commend themselves in these terms. Mr. Merrill made many recordings for RCA. He sang in two complete opera broadcasts on radio under Toscanini - LA TRAVIATA in 1946 and UN BALLO IN MASCHERA in 1953 - both of which were later issued on CD. He wrote two autobiographies, ONCE MORE FROM THE BEGINNING (1965) and BETWEEN ACTS (1976), as well as a novel, THE DIVAS (1978). He received a number of honorary doctorates and awards."

- THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 Oct., 2004