OP3325. MACBETH, Live Performance, 21 Feb., 1959, w.Leinsdorf Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Leonard Warren, Leonie Rysanek, Jerome Hines, Carlo Bergonzi, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-927.
“This release of a famous Met production of MACBETH duplicates the cast and conductor of the official RCA recording issued shortly afterward, and one might wonder, why settle for a monaural Met broadcast when a professionally produced stereo studio recording exists with the same performers? The simple answer: because this is better.
Every one of the performers operates at a level of intensity very difficult to reproduce under studio conditions. That difference applies most strongly to Erich Leinsdorf. The conductor has written that you couldn’t take interpretive risks in studio recordings, because while they might sound exciting once, they would lose their effect and become tiresome on repeated listening. I have never believed this argument (unless you listen to the same recording once or twice a month, in which case I can see Leinsdorf’s point). Compare St. Laurent Studio’s release side by side with the RCA recording, and you will hear time and again a degree of spontaneity, flexibility, and intensity that favors the live performance. The singers take a bit more liberty, and Leinsdorf doesn’t rein them in but goes with them. Leonard Warren’s extra intensity on, and lengthening of, the high A-flat at the end of ‘Pieta, rispetto, amore’ is a perfect example of the kind of thrill you are more likely to encounter in a live performance.
I use that as an example, but the added impact is not just a matter of individual moments. Rather, it is a consistent extra touch of energy in the singing and of specificity in the inflection and vocal coloring applied by everyone. Leonie Rysanek managed a more perfect high D-flat at the end of the ‘Sleepwalking Scene’ on the RCA recording, no doubt because she had the ability to do re-takes. The note is cut a bit short in this performance. But the overall impact of the scene is far greater here; Rysanek manages to convey the inner torment of Lady Macbeth through a range of vocal coloration that exceeds what she achieved on the RCA set. The interactions between Rysanek and Warren have a spark here that also exceeds what is found in the studio version. Both singers bring to their respective roles big, warm voices and an ability to use them to dramatic as well as vocal ends. One of the high points of this performance is the banquet scene where Macbeth hallucinates the ghost of Banquo and Lady Macbeth gamely tries to keep up the mood of the guests, soothe her husband, and restore some semblance of sanity in him. Both singers and Leinsdorf manage to convey the changes of mood with absolute clarity.
The rest of the cast consists of some of the best the Met had to offer in the 1950s. Carlo Bergonzi is superb in the role of Macduff, a part that doesn’t offer the tenor much opportunity to shine. The role is often cast with lesser lights. Jerome Hines’ stentorian basso is imposing as Banquo, and even the smallest parts are very well done. Although the orchestra and chorus were not, in 1959, at the level they became under James Levine’s leadership, the playing and choral singing in this performance are at a better level than was often the case. St. Laurent Studio’s transfer is very clean sounding. As is usual with this label, there are no notes but only a full cast and track listings.
Sony included the same performance in a big box set of Met Verdi broadcasts; comparing the two editions, I found the voices to sound a bit more natural in the St. Laurent Studio version, and a wider palette of orchestral colors as well.
I know there have been any number of good recordings of MACBETH. I would certainly not want to be without the live Maria Callas performance from La Scala, despite sonic limitations and a less than ideal Macbeth (Enzo Mascherini), and there is also much to admire in various other sets. But if I had to pick one account to live with as an strong reproduction of the opera overall, it would be this one, because of the ideal Verdi baritone of Warren and the consistent excellence of every aspect of the performance.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"On this afternoon, Warren is at the peak of his form, offering a level of vocal quality which few singers attain, let alone sustain over so long a period. The incredible security and brilliance of his top voice was a guarantee of excitement whenever he was on stage."
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, p.252
"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
“Leonie Rysanek was both a great actress and a great singer – ‘the singer with a thousand faces’. For decades she sang some of the most difficult roles of the German and Italian repertories with dramatic intensity and a large vocal tone. She was beloved in New York and Vienna where she spent most of her professional time and in every city where there was a great opera house. Altogether, she gave 3000 performances and sang 50 roles. It is said that while Vienna was to Ms. Rysanek a very special place (over 500 performances at the Staatsoper from 1950 on) , the Metropolitan Opera in New York was her operatic home. It was here where on 5 February, 1959 she first fascinated New York audiences as Lady Macbeth, a role that was to have been sung by Maria Callas. By all accounts it was a legendary performance, marking the beginning of an enduring love affair with MET audiences.”
- Dr. Peter Dusek, FAREWELL TO A VIENNESE DIVA