OP3318. MANON, Live Performance, 21 Dec., 1963, w.Schippers Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Anna Moffo, Nicolai Gedda, Frank Guarrera, Giorgio Tozzi, Alessio de Paolis, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-866.
“Anna Moffo, an American soprano who was beloved for her rosy voice, dramatic vulnerability and exceptional beauty, was drawn early on into television and film, playing host of her own variety show on Italian television for many years. She might not have fulfilled her promise, but for a good dozen years Ms. Moffo enjoyed enormous success and won a devoted following at a time when her competition for roles like Verdi's Violetta, Puccini's Mimi and Donizetti's Lucia included Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi and Joan Sutherland. Though Ms. Moffo's voice was not large, it was warm and rich, with soft pastel colorings and a velvety lower range. Agile coloratura technique allowed her to sing high soprano bel canto repertory impressively, especially LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. She was a thoroughly trained musician, having studied the piano and viola when she was a voice major on scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Her RCA recording of LA TRAVIATA, with Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill, is still prized for the subtlety and pathos she brings to her portrayal of Violetta. Still, her career could be seen as a cautionary tale about doing too much too soon. In 1954 she entered and won the Philadelphia Orchestra Young Artists Auditions. Awarded a Fulbright fellowship, she went to Rome to study voice, master the Italian language and train for opera.
Ms. Moffo made her stage opera debut in 1955 as Norina in Donizetti's DON PASQUALE in Spoleto. Her big breakthrough came the next year, when she starred in a television production of Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY, directed by Mario Lanfranchi, a producer for RCA Victor and RAI. She and Mr. Lanfranchi married in 1957. Sensing her star potential, he pushed her too hard. Recalling this period in a 1977 interview, Ms. Moffo lamented that she sang an average of 12 new roles a year for the first four years of her career, all star parts. ‘I was working too hard and traveling too much’, she said. ‘I got mixed up in TV, films, things like that. Psychologically, I was miserable, always away, always alone’.
Her Met debut in 1959 was as Violetta in LA TRAVIATA. The reviews, though encouraging, were cautious. Ms. Moffo soon became a favorite at the Met, and remained so well into the 1960s. She appeared some 200 times with the Company, including her portrayal of Liù in the legendary production of Puccini's TURANDOT in 1961 that starred Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli. By the late 1960s, her voice was often unreliable. In his book THE AMERICAN OPERA SINGER, the critic Peter G. Davis writes of a now infamous 1969 Saturday afternoon broadcast performance of LUCIA at the Met. Rudolf Bing, the general manager, was so dismayed by her singing that he considered stopping the performance before Lucia's daunting ‘mad scene’ was broadcast to millions. That same year, Ms. Moffo caused a scandal in Italy when she appeared to be nude in a scene in the film UNA STORIA D'AMORE. In later years she insisted that she had not been totally unclothed.
In 1972 she and Mr. Lanfranchi divorced. Two years later she married Robert W. Sarnoff, the chairman of RCA, who was enthralled with his glamorous wife. Under Mr. Sarnoff, RCA built a promotional campaign around her, including an ill-advised recording of Massenet's THAÏS, with Ms. Moffo in the title role. The reviews, predictably, were very poor. For a brief time, though, Ms. Moffo was a lovely singer and appealing artist who broke out of the traditional career mode to reach the larger public. ‘You may not like what I do’, she said in a 1972 interview, ‘but you can't say I'm dull’."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11 March, 2006
"Widely admired for his sensitive musicianship, masterly tonal control and impeccable diction in a spate of European languages, Mr. Gedda possessed a lyric tenor voice that shimmered like silver but was no less warm for that. He was one of the most versatile, and professionally long-lived, tenors of his era, with many dozens of roles to his name in a career that lasted until he was well into his 70s - a good two decades past a classical singer's customary retirement age. Over a quarter-century, he sang 367 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, from his debut in the title role of Gounod's FAUST in 1957 to his final performance, as Alfredo in Verdi's LA TRAVIATA, in 1983. But the role for which Mr. Gedda was very likely most famous was Russian: Lensky, the young poet in Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN. Reviewing Mr. Gedda in a concert performance of ONEGIN with the Boston Symphony in 1976, Richard Dyer wrote in THE BOSTON GLOBE: 'The tenor's voicing of Lensky's aria - an ideal union of responsiveness to word and musical line, a demonstration of vocal and technical mastery and varied and beautiful tone, and an expression of wise and generous human feeling - was a classic demonstration of why, for some of us at least, operatic singing is the highest achievement of human art'.
Mr. Gedda made his United States debut in 1957, singing Faust with the Pittsburgh Opera. Reviewing his Met debut, in the same role later that year, under the baton of Jean Morel, Howard Taubman wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES: 'His carriage is tall and straight and his movement buoyant. It is credible that he will attract Marguerite. Even more impressive than his appearance is the intelligence of his singing'.
With the Met, he also sang Anatol in the world premiere of Samuel Barber's VANESSA, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1958, and Kodanda in the United States premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's THE LAST SAVAGE, under Thomas Schippers, in 1964."
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 10 Feb., 2017
"Of all the important tenors active during the latter half of the twentieth century, Nicolai Gedda was by far the most versatile and industrious, a questing musical spirit who left few areas of the operatic and song repertories unexplored. During a career that spanned nearly fifty years, Gedda was in demand the world over for the warm, sweet, silvery beauty of his voice, his patrician command of style, and an unshowy but dazzling technical virtuosity that was invariably in the service of the music.
Born to poor parents in Stockholm, Gedda was raised by his father's sister and her Russian husband, a Don Cossack singer and cantor in a Russian orthodox church. It was from his strict stepfather that Gedda picked up his facility with languages and reading music - as well as an innate shyness and a distaste for confrontation that did not serve him well in later dealings with opera managements, not to mention two unhappy early marriages. The vocal rudiments were there from the beginning, however, and while he was working at his first job, as a bank teller, one of his helpful customers recommended a teacher - Carl-Martin Oehman, a former lyric tenor at Stockholm Opera and mentor of Jussi Bjorling.
Oehman, Gedda once recalled in his typically modest way, 'taught me all the essentials, which I knew nothing about'. One can't help thinking that the perfect vocal placement, firm muscular support, smooth register management and sovereign musical instincts were already present, just waiting to be coaxed out. Additional studies at Stockholm Conservatory lasted just two years before Gedda - in 1952, at age twenty-six - was given the leading role in Adam's POSTILLON DE LONJUMEAU at the Royal Opera and created a sensation, especially with the brilliant high Ds that cap the coachman Chapelou's famous entrance aria. Walter Legge, EMI's legendary record impresario, and his wife, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, were in town and demanded to hear the new tenor everyone was raving about. After a short audition, Legge immediately fired off cables to conductor Herbert von Karajan and Antonio Ghiringhelli, the intendant of La Scala: 'Just heard the greatest Mozart singer in my life: his name is Nicolai Gedda'.
What happened next would probably leave any young singer breathless. Gedda was instantly cast as Dimitri in EMI's splashy new recording of BORIS GODUNOV, starring Boris Christoff ('that BORIS recording opened the doors of the world to me', Gedda once remarked), and he made a La Scala debut as Don Ottavio in DON GIOVANNI under Karajan's baton. Gedda suddenly had invitations to sing everywhere - Faust and Weber's Oberon in Paris, the Duke of Mantua at Covent Garden and dozens of other requests from Rome, Vienna, Salzburg, Berlin, Munich and Tokyo.
Meanwhile Legge kept Gedda busy in the recording studios after BORIS with Bach's b-minor Mass under Karajan, rarities such as Cornelius' BARBIER VON BAGHDAD and the French version of Gluck's ORPHEE, Strauss' CAPRICCIO, Pinkerton in MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Faust, as well as solo recitals covering a wide range of repertory. One of the most impressive examples I know of the young Gedda on disc, at age twenty-eight, is Lehar's LAND DES LACHELNS, in which he sings the mysterious yet passion-driven Prince Sou-Chong, a role made famous by Richard Tauber. It's a ravishing piece of singing, delicately shaded and exquisitely controlled until all the character's banked-up emotions come tumbling out in a glorious rendition of the Tauberlied, 'Dein ist mein ganzes Herz'. Even here, vocal connoisseurs will marvel at the singer's technical control when Gedda eases into the reprise of the big tune without so much as drawing a breath.
Rudolf Bing snapped up Gedda early on (an unusual move by this canny impresario, who usually liked to keep Metropolitan Opera audiences expectantly waiting, even for the most sensational new discoveries), and Gedda made his Met debut on 1 November, 1957, as Faust. Thereafter the tenor, like so many important singers of his generation, tended to base himself in New York, while reserving plenty of time to fulfill engagements in Europe and make hundreds of recordings. So New York heard Gedda display the full range of his vocal talents and language facility until he left the company in 1983 - classic roles (Don Ottavio, Adméto in ALCESTE), standard repertory (the Duke, Alfredo, Rodolfo, Pinkerton, Edgardo), French specialties (Hoffmann, Don José, des Grieux, Pelléas, Roméo), bel canto (LA SONNAMBULA, L'ELISIR D'AMORE, DON PASQUALE), Russian roles (Dmitri, Lenski, Gherman), new American opera (VANESSA and THE LAST SAVAGE) and even a touch of operetta (Johann Strauss' GYPSY BARON). Gedda never generated the hysterical fan response of, say, Franco Corelli, but few left his finely nuanced, vocally secure, emotionally generous performances feeling cheated.
Gedda wound down his career slowly during the 1990s, giving concerts, teaching and taking on occasional character roles, such as the ancient Abdisu, Patriarch of Assyria, in Covent Garden's 1997 production of Pfitzner's PALESTRINA. He also finally found marital contentment in 1997 with Aino Sellermark, who collaborated with Gedda on his memoirs, MY LIFE AND MY ART. The couple settled in what appeared to be an idyllic retirement in Tolochenaz, a Swiss villa, where Gedda could take pride in recalling an extraordinarily productive career that had made him one of the most admired and widely heard tenors of his generation. Gedda died 8 January, 2017, aged 91."
- Peter G. Davis, OPERA NEWS, 9 Feb., 2017
"With his slender but firm voice and winning stage presence, Frank Guarrera was a fixture at the Met in a number of roles: Escamillo in CARMEN (his debut role in 1948), Marcello in LA BOHEME, Valentin in FAUST. He also essayed larger, Verdian roles with honor, if not quite the vocal opulence of contemporaries like Robert Merrill, or Leonard Warren, whom he replaced as Simon Boccanegra a few days after Mr. Warren's death onstage in 1960.
In 1948, when the 24-year-old Mr. Guarrera was participating in the Metropolitan Opera's Auditions of the Air (a precursor of the current National Council Auditions), which he eventually won, Toscanini heard him on the radio singing Ford's monologue from FALSTAFF and arranged for an audition. The result was Mr. Guarrera's engagement at La Scala in Boito's NERONE on the 30th anniversary of Boito's death. It was the first of several performances under Toscanini; Mr. Guarrera sang Ford on the conductor's legendary 1950 FALSTAFF broadcasts, still available on CD.
His final role at the Met was Gianni Schicchi, which he last sang in 1976. After his retirement from the stage, he taught at the University of Washington in Seattle for 10 years."
- Anne Midgette, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 27 Nov., 2007