OP3215. L'ELISIR D'AMORE, Live Performance, 20 Feb., 1988, w.Weikert Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Dawn Upshaw, Vinson Cole, Giuseppe Taddei, Brian Schexnayder, Dawn Kotoski, etc. [An exceptional and little-known latter-day broadcast from the Met featuring two young singers in the prime, plus the veteran Taddei at his most compelling! Of further note, Ralf Weikert appeared at the Met only briefly in a departure from the Salzburg Festival and the Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg.] (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio stereo YSL T-516. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
"There are some things about a live operatic performance that a studio-made recording just can't duplicate. All the possibilities - inspiration, subtlety, revelation of a composer's work, seizure of a great moment, athleticism with its risk of disaster, simple music-making - are in play before an audience of flesh and blood, in one particular moment. The stakes are high and immediate."
- Will Crutchfield, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 15 July, 1990
"Dawn Upshaw was 28 when she was called upon at the last minute to substitute for Kathleen Battle for a performance a few days prior to this broadcast. The broadcast was the second in the run. She apparently went on without the benefit of a full rehearsal. We tend to think of Upshaw as a specialist in contemporary music, and also perhaps Bach and Mozart. Her name does not come readily to mind in the comic bel canto repertoire, but she is a complete success here. Her sense of the Donizetti style is remarkable for the natural shape of the line. Her evenness of tone as well as its bright glow, along with her charm and natural flair for comedic timing, make this a performance to treasure. In the duets and ensembles Upshaw sounds as if she had been singing Donizetti her whole life. There is a warmth to her portrayal that brings a smile every time she opens her mouth, and coupled with her lovely timbre, the result is stunning.
Vinson Cole has a very attractive lyric tenor - in 1988 it was a warm, sweet voice that caressed the music attractively. Here Cole also sings with real flair and specificity of inflection. In the duets with Upshaw, whether comic or tender, they sound as if they had been singing the opera together for years. 'Adina credemi' is delicious in its lyrical warmth. I don't envy any tenor singing 'Una furtive lagrima' in an opera house where many have memories of recordings by some of history's greatest tenors (Tito Schipa, Jussi Bjorling, Josef Schmidt & Carlo Bergonzi) in their ears. But Cole makes his own mark with a sweet tone and delicate shadings, very clean passagework, and a lovely floated piano. The ovation he gets is well deserved.
Giuseppe Taddei was one of the finest Italian baritones of his generation, although he made his belated Met debut when he was 69. By the time of this broadcast he was almost 72, and focusing no longer on Scarpia or Amonasro but on basso buffo roles. One cannot pretend that Taddei's voice is in great shape here, but he surely knows the idiom and has a great deal of fun as the quack who peddles his love potion. He makes a real success of the role with fabulous diction and a very strong rhythmic pulse. One doesn't look to Dulcamara for rich vocalism.
Brian Schexnayder is an adequate Belcore, no more, no less. He sings the music accurately but is less of a vocal presence than the other three lead singers. Dawn Kotoski (uncredited in St. Laurent's documentation) is the excellent Giannetta. Rolf Weikert is clearly an experienced opera conductor who keeps things moving at a nice pace, but also conveying the grace and elegance in this score.
There are many reasons to welcome this release, not the least of which is that it broadens our knowledge of one of America's most talented sopranos. This is available from Norbeck, Peters & Ford (www.norpete.com)."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“In her novel THE SONG OF THE LARK, written in 1914, Willa Cather tells of a singer, Thea Kronborg (modeled on the soprano Olive Fremstad), as she progresses from a sturdy childhood in Moonstone, Colo., to triumphs in her early 30s at the Metropolitan Opera. ‘Thea's scale of values will always be the Moonstone scale’, she writes. ‘And, with an artist, that is an advantage....It keeps them from getting affected...keeps them from getting off the track generally’.
Dawn Upshaw has established a distinctive place of her own as an opera singer and recitalist [and] has much in common with Cather's heroine: She found her vocation only in her late teens but was then drawn irresistibly to the expressive bonding of words and music. Her artistic development came quickly and was sustained by values acquired early in life.
In 1988, Ms. Upshaw's operatic career advanced unexpectedly when, on an hour's notice, she was called on to replace an indisposed Kathleen Battle as Adina in Donizetti's L’ELISIR D'AMORE. ‘I had never rehearsed the opera from beginning to end, and never with orchestra’, she said. ‘The greatest difficulty was gauging the amount of stamina I needed to get through the evening’. John Rockwell of THE TIMES called the result ‘a highly successful, charming performance, as might have been expected from one of the most critically admired singers of her generation’."
- David Blum, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 April, 1994
"Taddei sang eleven Met FALSTAFFs in the 1985-86 season and returned to the company in 1988 for ten performances as Dulcamara in L'ELISIR D'AMORE, another of his signature roles."
- F. Paul Driscoll, OPERA NEWS, 3 June, 2010
“Giuseppe Taddei was a distinguished Italian baritone who made his Metropolitan Opera début to glowing notices in 1985 at the astonishing age of 69. Born in Genoa on 26 June, 1916, Mr. Taddei made his operatic début in 1936, as the Herald in a production of Wagner’s LOHENGRIN in Rome. In the decades that followed he performed on many of the great opera stages of Europe, including those of the Vienna State Opera, La Scala and Covent Garden. In the 1950s, Mr. Taddei appeared in the United States with the San Francisco and Dallas Civic Operas; he was also long known to listeners here through his many recordings. In the 1960s, he sang in New York in concert performances. But until 25 Sept., 1985, when he stepped onto the stage at Lincoln Center in the title role of Verdi’s FALSTAFF, Mr. Taddei had never sung at the Met. At his curtain call, THE NEW YORK TIMES reported, Mr. Taddei received ‘a rafter-shaking ovation’.
Opera exacts a great toll on the voice. Singers often retire in their 50's, at least from weightier fare. Appearing at a major opera house in one’s late 60s is highly unusual; making a début at that age, breathtakingly so. To do so to the kind of rapturous reviews Mr. Taddei received is almost beyond contemplation. What apparently stood Mr. Taddei in good stead was the Italian bel canto tradition — the lighter, less forceful style of singing in which he had been trained — which can let its practitioners extend their careers beyond the usual retirement age. In all, Mr. Taddei performed with the Met 21 times. Besides Falstaff, which he sang in 1985 and 1986, he appeared as Dr. Dulcamara in L’ELISIR D’AMORE in 1988.
Reviewing Mr. Taddei’s Met début in The Times, Donal Henahan wrote: ‘His Falstaff, not only wittily acted and fully formed, was astonishingly well sung. The voice is not exactly plummy these days, but it retains a wonderfully liquid quality in lyric passages’.
If Mr. Taddei could sing like that at 69, then why had the Met not signed him in even plummier days? As Mr. Taddei explained in a 1985 interview with The Times, the reasons centered on diplomacy, or rather what he saw as the lack of it. In 1951, he said, Rudolf Bing, then the Met’s general manager, asked him to audition. That did not sit well with Mr. Taddei, who was already a star in Europe. He declined Mr. Bing’s request. In 1958, Mr. Taddei said the Met tried to engage him again, at $600 a week. That did not sit well with Mr. Taddei, who asked for more money. The Met declined his request. A quarter-century went by. Then, in the early 1980s, after Mr. Taddei sang a well-received Falstaff at the Salzburg Festival in Austria, Mr. Levine, the Met’s music director, approached him. He offered Mr. Taddei the part of Fra Melitone in Verdi’s FORZA DEL DESTINO — a role typically billed sixth from the top. That did not sit well with Mr. Taddei . As he told THE TIMES, ‘I said thank you, but coming for the very first time, I think I should come as protagonista’. And thus, as Falstaff, Mr. Taddei went onstage a world-renowned singer and came back a star.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 June, 2010