OP3314. RIGOLETTO, Live Performance, 28 March, 1959, w.Cleva Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Leonard Warren, Roberta Peters, Eugenio Fernandi, Margaret Roggero, William Wilderman, Norman Scott, etc. [This riveting performance was Warren's final Rigoletto at the Met, his very last one being two months afterward on the Met Tour in Toronto, 29 May] (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-864. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“There are at least four recordings of RIGOLETTO available with Leonard Warren in the title role, as well there should be since he virtually owned the part during his long Met career. That the career should have been even longer is demonstrated by this performance, given about a year before Warren’s horrifying on-stage death at the Met in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. The strong, vibrant baritone heard here demonstrates how well he was singing up to the end….By 1959 his middle range had loosened a bit in focus (but only a bit); on the other hand, his ability as a vocal actor had increased with the years. As much as I love [his] 1945 performance, I would not be without this one. There are elements of dramatic shading here, vividly conveying Rigoletto’s scorn and hatred of the courtiers and his tender love for his daughter, that make this portrayal much more than great singing. The decrescendo Warren manages before launching into ‘Sì vendetta’ does not come off like a vocal trick but convincingly depicts a man trying to control, for his daughter’s sake, an almost uncontrollable rage. The dramatic pauses the singer puts in his entrance in the third act, ‘La la, la la…’, are wonderful touches reflecting the internal conflict of a jester who is entertaining the courtiers while hating them. Throughout, Warren colors his voice with a specificity aimed at the particular dramatic moment. He did not always do this (the same quality is missing from his 1950 studio recording for RCA). Everything about this performance is the summing up of a professional lifetime with the role, both in vocal splendor and dramatic insight.
Roberta Peters sang 513 performances at the Met between 1950 and 1985, and such a career can be easily taken for granted. It is true that she lacks the kind of detailed vocal coloration and specificity of inflection that Maria Callas brought to the role of Gilda, but so does virtually everyone else. Peters, in addition to a pure, bright, evenly produced soprano, quite effective conveys Gilda’s naiveté and at the same time the steel-like determination that ultimately leads to her death as she tries to protect the Duke. The ‘Sì vendetta’ duet referred to above is explosive between daughter and father because both singers let their emotions pour out. And I have heard very few more beautiful performances of ‘Caro nome’ than the one captured here, with an exquisite high E at the end.
Tenor Eugenio Fernandi had the misfortune of singing at a time when there were always greater voices competing in the same fach. He sang at the Met in eight seasons between 1958 and 1971. Here is a list of some of the singers with whom Fernandi’s career overlapped: Jussi Björling, Carlo Bergonzi, Richard Tucker, Mario del Monaco, Nicolai Gedda, Cesare Valletti, and in his last years gentlemen named Domingo and Pavarotti. In the same second tier where Fernandi lived, the other tenants were Daniele Barioni, Barry Morell, Giuseppe Campora, and Flaviano Labo. Fernandi had a lovely spinto tenor voice that could be comfortable in lighter roles as well as heavier ones (his one complete opera on commercial disc was as Calaf to Maria Callas’ Turandot for EMI). He knew the style intimately and was a fine musician. His Duke reflects all of those virtues, though there is nothing about it that one would call unforgettable. His voice may be that of a generic Italian tenor; but he never detracts from the performance by emitting an ugly or inappropriate sound.
Small roles are well cast for the most part, and the performance employs the cuts that were standard at the time. Fausto Cleva was an uneven conductor who could be counted on, however, to know the idiom and support his singers well without being memorably dramatic or imaginative. He did rise above that level of competency on occasion (as in a 1954 Met broadcast of OTELLO with del Monaco and de los Angeles), but not so much here. In addition, there is an occasional moment of orchestral chaos (a scramble leading into Rigoletto’s ‘Cortigiani’ is one example) or a lack of cohesion between stage and pit. Still, Cleva does keep things moving along and gives the music shape.
In sum, this is a splendid example of the powers of one of America’s greatest operatic baritones still at the peak of his abilities, and with him we hear one of America’s most important and under-rated coloratura sopranos. St. Laurent Studio’s transfer is up to its usual superb quality, reflecting the Met’s generally fine monaural broadcast sound in the late 1950s. There are no notes but ample tracking information and documentation.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"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
"[Warren's] remarkable voice had a dramatic intensity which did not come naturally to him. As with everything else in his life, he worked at that until he got it right. Fortunately, his incomparable voice and dramatic power are still available to us on recordings of some of his most famous roles....[He] became one of the most famous and beloved operatic baritones in the world....Warren's flawless technique, seamless flow of sound, and brilliant top voice were his vocal trademarks and these qualities became the standard by which others would be measured, including me."
- Sherrill Milnes, AMERICAN ARIA, pp.76-77
“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 début 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-Saëns' Samson. He joined the Metropolitan Opera as a leading tenor on 19 February, 1958, débuting 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