OP3246. ERNANI, Live Performance, 29 Dec., 1956, w.Mitropoulos Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Zinka Milanov, Mario Del Monaco, Leonard Warren, Cesare Siepi, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-687. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“This famed performance is admittedly not likely to be anyone’s first choice for a recording of ERNANI. It is afflicted with the usual stage cuts practiced at the time, and perhaps even more than the norm; but then, for compensation in a rather odd way, a ballet sequence is interpolated near the beginning of the normally very short act IV that is comprised of music drawn from ballet sequences from other early Verdi operas! The singing likewise is not flawless, though exciting. By this time Zinka Milanov was on the downward side of her long Met career, and her top has lost some of its luster (no trademark pianissimos here, and some difficulty in negotiating fioratura), but she knows her way around the part, and really comes into her own in the Act IV love duet. Her fans will get their money’s worth here. Mario Del Monaco to some degree fulfills the unfair stereotype of him as hectoring and brash; but then, Ernani is generally a pretty desperate character, so it fits the part, and he too scales back for some more tender singing in Act IV. More importantly, his is a voice of sovereign authority that is completely lacking on the operatic stage today, and he’s exciting!
Perhaps the most important reason to acquire this recording, however, is the Don Carlo of Leonard Warren. Arguably, no other baritone of the post-World War II era has had such a complete understanding and command of the true Verdian line and style, allied to such a rich and potent voice. Every time he opens his mouth he offers a masterclass in the true Verdi tradition, and no nuance of characterization escapes him. Cesare Siepi is similarly authoritative as the evil Don Silva, sable if sometimes slightly diffuse of voice. Among the three comprimario roles one notes a name destined for future greatness, tenor James McCracken as Don Riccardo. Finally, Mitropoulos conducts likes a house afire; it is hard for me to recall any other recording of a Verdi opera in which there is such a perfect maintenance and culmination of dramatic tension. The chorus sings with notably precise unanimity and clarity under his baton, and the orchestra plays with passion; the interpolated ballet sequence is electrifying and earns repeated applause.
The excellent recorded sound here is light-years ahead of the cloudy sound on the LPs I acquired many years ago. This performance competes with another excellent one (in quite decent sound) starring Del Monaco and Mitropoulos, from Florence in 1957, with Anita Cerquetti, Ettore Bastianini, and Boris Christoff. This one has better sound, del Monaco in better form, Mitropoulos at a higher peak of inspiration, and the incomparable Warren; the Florence performance has the superior Elvira and da Silva in Cerquetti and Christoff, and an estimable Don Carlo in Bastianini. Overall I’d take this one, but you can’t lose either way. What opera house could field a remotely comparable cast today? In those days there were vocal giants in the land. Firmly recommended to all devotees of historic opera performances.”
- James A. Altena, FANFARE
"Mario Del Monaco addressed [Milanov] respectfully on many occasions as 'Maestra di canta', especially as they came offstage together after singing the tomb scene of AIDA. During rehearsals for that scene and for the final scene of ERNANI, to name but two examples, he was observed frequently requesting her assistance in learning how to sing certain passages softly."
- Bruce Burroughs
"It was always a given that Del Monaco possessed a remarkably powerful, steady voice with unsurpassed brilliance and power. He was, however, often criticized for singing with little finesse, for using his power unrelentingly. That was never true (his many live broadcast recordings give even stronger evidence of his ability to sing with light and shade). I found myself thrilling to the sheer sound of the voice and to the commitment and passion with which he sang. What will surprise many is the variety of dynamics and color that the tenor did bring to his singing. It is easy for critics to comment on the method of a singer and to forget the most important element - the sound of the voice....His diction was a model of clarity and crispness, his intonation was almost always centered, and his rhythmic pulse was extremely strong. In many cases one listens to this kind of singing and longs for the days gone by when there were singers like this....old-timers...reminisce over one of the great operatic tenor voices to be heard in the 1950s and 60s, and younger listeners discover what a great 'tenore di forza' sounds like. We have nothing like him today."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"Mario del Monaco was one of the most widely recorded singers of the 1950s and 60s and divided his busy operatic career between Europe and America during those years. Sir Rudolf Bing, then manager of the Metropolitan Opera, heard Mr. del Monaco's debut as Radames in Verdi's AIDA at the San Francisco Opera in 1950 and asked the tenor to stop in New York for a guest appearance at the Met in Puccini's MANON LESCAUT on his way back to Europe. Mr. del Monaco's singing made a distinct impression and won him a long and prosperous relationship with the Met beginning the next year. At the New York company from 1951 to 1959, he sang 102 times, in 16 roles. He appeared on the Met's tour 38 times. His last performance at the Met was as Canio in Leoncavallo's PAGLIACCI in 1959. But he returned three years later to Carnegie Hall in a concert of arias and duets with Gabriella Tucci.
Indeed, when Mr. del Monaco was loved, it was for the brilliant, stentorian quality of his voice rather than for his subtlety of phrase or ability to act. And in a profession often peopled by overweight tenors, Mr. Del Monaco offered a classic profile and dark good looks that made him an attractive presence on stage.
Mario del Monaco was born in Florence in 1915 and grew up in nearby Pesaro where his father was employed in city government. His parents were both musically inclined and encouraged his singing. Although he had some lessons, he was largely self-taught. Mr. del Monaco made his professional debut in Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY in Milan in 1941. He spent the war years in the Italian Army. After the war, Mr. del Monaco's career blossomed and spread to Milan's La Scala and London's Covent Garden as well as opera houses in Rome, Naples, Barcelona, Lisbon and Stockholm. In 1946, he sang in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, moved northward to Mexico City and then on to San Francisco for his American debut. Mr. del Monaco's relationship with the Metropolitan Opera ended in 1959, reportedly by mutual consent, but he was recording until the end of the 1960s. In 1973, he joined a gathering of prominent tenors in Naples to honor Caruso's centenary and press reports spoke of his 'personal glamour and still thrilling dynamism'.
Mr. del Monaco retired to his villa near Venice later in 1973 and turned to teaching. Mr. del Monaco and his wife, Rina Fedora, a former singer, had two sons. One of them, Giancarlo, is now a stage director in Europe's opera world."
- Bernard Holland, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 19 Oct., 1982
"Leonard Warren emerged as the principal baritone of the Met's Italian wing in the early 1940s and remained so until his untimely death on the Met's stage, 4 March, 1960, at the peak of his career. His smooth, velvety, and beautiful voice was powerful and had an unusually large range in its high register. It was easily and evenly produced, whether he sang softly or roared like a lion.
Warren acted his roles primarily by vocal coloring, expressivity, and his excellent diction...his singing was unusually consistent. Warren's legacy should be of interest to all lovers of great singing."
- Kurt Moses, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Nov./Dec., 2006
“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