FOP3315. DON CARLOS, Live Performance, 5 March, 1955, w. Adler Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Eleanor Steber, Richard Tucker, Ettore Bastianini, Jerome Hines, Blanche Thebom, Nicola Moscona, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-688. Transfers by Yves St Laurent.
“This is the four-act Italian version of DON CARLO that was standard at the Met in the 1950s. There is much to recommend the present performance to collectors, not as a basic recording (one should have the complete five-act version) but as a wonderfully sung supplement. In the title role of the doomed Spanish prince, Richard Tucker sings with abandon and thrilling voice. At times his delivery could be overly emphatic or explosive, but Tucker also had the ability to sing with an evenly produced legato, and he frequently does so here. The voice itself was an instrument that you just had to pay attention to: it conveyed a sound of importance with a highly distinctive sound and was immediately identifiable.
The rarity here is soprano Eleanor Steber in a major Verdi role. She was equally at home in Mozart, Strauss, Barber, Puccini, and Wagner but was not cast in Verdi roles very often by the Met’s powerful, at times dictatorial, manager, Rudolf Bing. In fact, this is the second performance in the run of DON CARLO in the 1954-55 season, the opening night having been given to Delia Rigal, who is much less remembered than Steber. But Steber got the Saturday afternoon broadcast, and we should be grateful for that.
She sings in the grand manner, with dramatic specificity in coloring and inflection, while pouring out steady, gleaming dramatic-soprano tone. This is one of three releases by St. Laurent Studio featuring Steber and the result is a reappraisal of my own views about her. I have always been an admirer, but I realize now how uniquely glorious her singing was. Received wisdom would dictate that a singer who performs the range of composers that Steber mastered is unlikely to be truly great in any of them. These three performances including OTELLO & ARABELLA prove that received wisdom is not always actual wisdom. Steber sounds here like a natural Verdian. Her ability to float long lines is particularly suited to Elisabetta’s great climactic aria, ‘Tu che la vanita’. Her soaring high notes, produced without seeming effort, fill out Verdi’s phrases magnificently.
The Met’s casting in this production was lavish. DON CARLO had been Bing’s first important statement as the company’s new general manager in 1950, and he opened it with Jussi Björling in the title role. Bing continued to cast from strength where he could. Here in 1955 Jerome Hines’ King Philip II (Cesare Siepi in 1950) movingly sings the king’s aria lamenting the loss of his wife’s love, and he and Nicola Moscona thunder menacingly in the scene with Philip and the blind Grand Inquisitor. Blanche Thebom is more than adequate as Eboli, though the voice lacks distinctiveness. Ettore Bastianini, on the other hands, displays the burnished, ringing baritone that made him a star in Europe and America until cancer tragically shortened his career. It would be difficult to point to any dramatic subtlety in Bastianini’s Rodrigo, but one might spend a lifetime hoping to hear the role sung this thrillingly again. All the smaller roles are very well sung, but the chorus is a bit raw. Kurt Adler leads with a sure sense of the idiom and more energy than I associate with his conducting. The orchestra plays well enough, although without the degree of excellence and refinement that would have to await the Levine years.
Whatever its drawbacks which are not major, this is a vivid, engaging, and thrillingly sung performance of DON CARLO. As a document of the significance and talent of Eleanor Steber it is a very welcome release. A prior CD version on the Andromeda label has circulated, but the sound quality here is significantly cleaner and richer. There are no notes but a complete cast and track listing.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“[Eleanor] had an innate feeling for Mozart and Strauss, and had a loveliness of tone that recalled the voice of a great predecessor, Edith Mason.”
- Rosa Ponselle, A SINGER’S LIFE, p.203
"...for some thirty years, until his sudden death in 1975, Tucker's vocal security, boundless energy, unceasing enthusiasm, and thorough professionalism ensured a level of popularity that necessitated comparisons to some of his greatest predecessors....Tucker sang thrillingly and delivered the goods, communicating his own joy in singing to all who would listen...."
- Marc Mandel, FANFARE, May/June, 1997
“While Ettore Bastianini's career was quite short, it was also distinguished. He was regarded as having one of the finest Verdi and verismo voices of his day, though his vocal gifts were not always matched by an equal musicianship.
Bastianini studied privately with Gaetano Vanni, and sang in the local choir. His professional solo debut was in a concert in Siena early in 1945, and his operatic debut was at the Ravenna opera as Colline in Puccini's LA BOHEME later that year. He sang at the smaller houses throughout Italy and even went abroad to Cairo with a touring company, still singing the bass repertoire, including Mephistopheles in Gounod's FAUST. His La Scala debut was in 1948 as Tirésias in Stravinsky's OEDIPUS REX. During these years, he began to wonder if he was truly a bass, and in 1951, he made his debut as a baritone early in 1951 at the Bologna Opera as Germont in LA TRAVIATA. However, the performance was not especially successful, and he resumed intense studies over the next few months, giving special attention to developing his upper register. When he returned to the stage that summer, he had achieved just that goal, and his high notes were now considered his vocal glory. In 1953 Bastianini performed opposite Maria Callas for the first of many times, as Enrico Asthon in LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR at the Teatro Comunale Florence. That same year he sang the role of Carlo Gérard in Giordano's ANDREA CHÉNIER for the first time at the Teatro Regio di Torino. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Germont on 5 December, 1953, opposite Licia Albanese as Violetta and Richard Tucker as Alfredo. The following January he sang Enrico to Lily Pons' Lucia and Jan Peerce's Edgardo at the Met. On 10 May, 1954, he made his debut as a baritone at La Scala, in the title role of Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN with Renata Tebaldi as Tatyana.
In the Fall of 1954, Bastianini joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera where he sang regularly through May 1957. His roles at the Met during this time included Amonasro, Carlo Gérard, Count di Luna, Enrico, Germont, Marcello in LA BOHEME, Rodrigo in Don Carlo, and the title role in RIGOLETTO. He later returned to the Met in the Spring of 1960 to portray several roles including Don Carlo in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO. He returned to the Met again in January 1965 where he spent most of that year singing in several of his prior roles with the company, as well as performing Scarpia in TOSCA. His 87th and final performance at the Met was as Rodrigo on 11 December, 1965. It was also coincidentally the last performance of his career.
In 1956, he made his Chicago debut as Riccardo in Bellini's I PURITANI. In 1962, he made his Covent Garden debut as Renato in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA. Early in 1963, he left the stage for a few months, letting it be understood that he was resting, but in fact, he was undergoing treatment for throat cancer. His return performances and subsequent performances were poorly received, often with booing from the audience, as he was often hoarse, off-pitch, and under-powered. While he was deeply dismayed at this, he still did not speak of his illness; for all except family and close friends, it came as a complete surprise until after the announcement of his death. His last performance was in 1965 at the Metropolitan Opera.”
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com