Magda Olivero - Adriana Lecouvreur (Cilea) / Iris (Mascagni)  (5-Immortal Performances IPCD 1111)
Item# OP3323
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Magda Olivero - Adriana Lecouvreur (Cilea) / Iris (Mascagni)  (5-Immortal Performances IPCD 1111)
OP3323. MAGDA OLIVERO, w.Fulvio Vernizzi Cond. Arias & Scenes from Manon Lescaut, Risurrezione, La Rondine, Tosca, Loreley, Madama Butterfly, La Boheme & La Traviata (the latter with Doro Antonioli & Aldo Protti), recorded 1953-73; ADRIANA LECOUVREUR (Cilea), Live Performance, 28 November, 1959, Napoli (Opening Night), replete with broadcast announcements in Italian, w.Mario Rossi Cond. Teatro San Carlo Ensemble; Magda Olivero, Giulietta Simionato, Franco Corelli, Ettore Bastianini, etc.; IRIS (Mascagni), Live Performance, 12 Sept., 1956, Torino, w.Angelo Questa Cond. RAI Ensemble; Magda Olivero, Salvatore Puma, Saturno Meletti, Giulio Neri, etc. (Canada) 5-Immortal Performances IPCD 1111, w. Two Elaborate 44pp Booklets, w.Notes by Magda Olivero, Richard Caniell & Stephen Hastings. Audio restoration by Richard Caniell. Specially priced at Five discs for the price of Four. - 644216896950


“A new release by Immortal Performances (five discs, priced as four) celebrates the artistry of the legendary Italian soprano, Magda Olivero (1910-2014). In the 1930s, Olivero established herself an important artist. Then, in the early 1940s, at what seemed to be the height of her career, Magda Olivero retired from the stage to devote herself to her family. In 1950, Olivero received a letter from Franceso Cilea. The composer, in failing health and what proved to be the final year of his life, implored Olivero to return to the stage to perform one of her most celebrated heroines, the role in Cilea’s opera ADRIANA LECOUVREUR.

One of the cornerstones of any Magda Olivero collection is a November 28, 1959 ADRIANA LECOUVREUR broadcast from the stage of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. The scheduled Adriana, Renata Tebaldi, became ill. Olivero, who was herself recuperating from surgery, stepped in at the very last moment to save the performance. And it is the performance of a lifetime. A mesmerizing account of Adriana’s entrance aria, ‘Io son l’umile ancella’, inspires a prolonged, ecstatic outburst from the Naples audience. And from there Olivero moves from strength to strength, providing a master class in the art of verismo opera performance. Even if the remaining principals were only acceptable, this 1959 Naples ADRIANA LECOUVREUR would be essential listening. But on this occasion, Olivero was joined by three of the greatest performers of the era, all at the height of their powers. Mezzo Giulietta Simionato is a force of nature as Adriana’s rival, the Princess Bouillon. Adriana’s lover, Maurizio, is Franco Corelli in prime voice, which is to say one of the most sumptuous and brilliant tenors documented on recordings. In addition to his bronze vocal quality and ringing high notes, Corelli’s remarkable breath control allowed him to create magical effects with extended crescendos and diminuendos, both in evidence here. And while Corelli was not in Olivero’s league as an actor (few were), he throws himself wholeheartedly into the role of Maurizio. Michonnet, the stage manager who secretly pines for Adriana, is more of a character baritone role than a heroic one. Ettore Bastianini was famous for his assumptions of the latter type of part, but he brings admirable sensitivity to the role, along with his characteristic rich, dark, and vibrant tone. Mario Rossi, a first-rate conductor of Italian operatic repertoire, leads a performance that both crackles with energy and savors Cilea’s rich orchestral palette. The Immortal Performances restoration is derived from the RAI master. It has the immediate advantage over the [earlier] release of including the pre-performance announcements and curtain calls, intensifying the sense of the historic occasion. Here, the voices also emerge with greater focus and color than in [an earlier] release. While the difference is not as dramatic as with some other releases by this company, the Immortal Performances restoration now becomes my preferred version.

The second complete opera on this set is Mascagni’s IRIS from a September 12, 1956 Turin Radio broadcast, performed before a studio audience that, aside from a few moments of applause, is unobtrusive. The broadcast sound quality is excellent as well, perhaps just a bit shy of the fidelity of studio recordings of the day. The broadcast is preceded by the announcer’s spoken introduction. Olivero, in wonderful voice, adopts a fresh, youthful tone, and delicate form of expression. The performance is notable for its sensitivity and restraint, making the euphoria of Iris’ death scene all the more powerful. As Osaka, the young man who pursues Iris, tenor Salvatore Puma sings robustly, securely, and with some style in a role first performed by one of the most poetic of tenors, Fernando de Lucia. Saturno Meletti and Giulio Neri bring secure, powerful voices and dramatic involvement to the roles of the brothel owner Kyoto, and Iris’ blind father, Il Cieco. Soprano Amalia Oliva is lovely in the role of Dhia, the heroine of a puppet show staged to entice Iris. And Mario Carlin, a fine comprimario tenor, sings beautifully in the brief role of a ragpicker who comes upon the mortally injured Iris. Conductor Angelo Questo draws fine performances from the RAI-Torino Orchestra and Chorus, the latter accorded an ovation for the glorious ‘Hymn to the Sun’ episodes that open and close the work.

ADRIANA LECOUVREUR occupies the first two discs of this release, with IRIS following on numbers three and four. The remainder of disc four and the totality of five comprise highlights from various operas, with performance dates spanning from the early 1940s through the early 1970s. First are several excerpts from verismo works, with Olivero demonstrating the same mastery of style and vocal resources evidenced in the complete Cilea and Mascagni operas. Of special note I think, are the selections from Alfano’s RISURREZIONE and Puccini’s LA RONDINE. Olivero was in her early 60s at the time of these recordings, and the soprano amazes with her ability to conjure the presence of youthful heroines. Also quite remarkable is a 1968 performance of ‘Un bel dì’ from MADAMA BUTTERFLY. It is vocalized to perfection, and with an attention to detail in each phrase, indeed each word, that gives this familiar aria a Shakespearean nobility, eloquence, and emotional impact. The bonus selections conclude with portions of Verdi’s LA TRAVIATA. At first glance, Verdi’s 1853 opera might seem out of place in the company of operas dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But in truth once past the first act, LA TRAVIATA, especially with regard to the heroine Violetta, anticipates the verismo movement, both in terms of plot and music. Violetta’s tragic plight (based upon a true story) embodies the ‘slice of life’ parameters embraced by many verismo works. And both the declamatory vocal writing and moments of the spoken word Verdi writes for Violetta reappear time and time again in the works of this composer’s verismo successors. It’s not surprising that Olivero’s Violetta is every bit as effective and convincing as her verismo heroines. A 1940 studio recording of Violetta’s concluding scene from Act I reveals that in the early stages of her career, brilliant coloratura and stratospheric high notes were very much a part of Olivero’s vocal arsenal. Violetta’s Act II farewell to Alfredo (‘Amami Alfredo’), from a 1953 recording, is heart-rending. The remaining TRAVIATA excerpts date from a May 6, 1967 Amsterdam performance. First is the elder Germont-Violetta confrontation. Olivero is magnificent, ever attentive to Violetta’s desperation against all hope to retain her new-found happiness. Any baritone singing Germont to Olivero’s Violetta would face a daunting foil. The Germont is Aldo Protti, a singer who parlayed a warm, Italianate voice and reliable technique into a long career.

The selections conclude with a complete performance of LA TRAVIATA’s final act, which is very much Violetta’s show. In the reading of the letter, ‘Teneste la promessa’, Olivero’s speaking voice - resigned, fatigued, and wracked with illness - chilled this reviewer to his very core. I mentioned before Olivero’s mastery in death scenes, and this final act is yet another spellbinding example. Tenor Doro Antonioli is more of an asset than Protti, offering some lovely hushed singing in ‘Parigi, o cara’. But in the end, one is left marveling at the artistry of Magda Olivero, and a performance filled with imaginative and dramatically spot-on touches that convince as entirely spontaneous. The Amsterdam TRAVIATA excerpts are in excellent sound, and the remaining bonus material is also quite fine from a sonic perspective.

The two booklets included with this release feature an appreciation of Olivero by Stephen Hastings, a superb analyst and writer on vocal music, Olivero’s own moving account of Cilea’s plea for her to return to the stage, Richard Caniell’s warm and insightful analysis of Olivero’s art, biographies of Cilea and Mascagni, synopses of the two complete operas, Caniell’s Recording Notes, and artist bios and photos. As I mentioned, we are fortunate that many Olivero performances were recorded. This release includes complete documents of two of Olivero’s finest roles, in excellent sonic restorations. The bonus material is also priceless. If you love verismo opera and don’t already own these recordings, you should make them a priority. And if you own the ADRIANA LECOUVREUR via a previous release, I still think you’ll want to give the Immortal Performances restoration strong consideration. A grand and worthy tribute to a unique and irreplaceable artist. Highly recommended.”

- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, March / April, 2019