OP3329. LA SONNAMBULA, Live Performance, 30 March, 1963, w. Varviso Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Joan Sutherland, Nicolai Gedda, Ezio Flagello, Jeanette Scovotti, Lili Chookasian, Andrea Velis, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-945.
“The Met revived LA SONNAMBULA in 1963 specifically for Joan Sutherland. The opera had not been performed there for some 30 years, last sung by Lily Pons. That it was a good idea is vividly demonstrated by this recording of the Met broadcast. Sutherland was surrounded with a strong cast, and she had not yet gotten to the point in her career where she could insist on her husband Richard Bonynge, to conduct her performances. Silvio Varviso brings more shape and momentum to the score than Bonynge did later on. The result is a thrilling two hours of vocal exhibition.
LA SONNAMBULA is not Bellini’s strongest work. The music is more one-dimensional (that dimension being ‘limpid’) than NORMA, I PURITANI, and even IL PIRATA. But what SONNAMBULA does offer is a string of long-breathed melodies of almost unimaginable beauty, melodies that require extraordinary breath control and vocal elegance to bring to life. At this early stage of her career (she was 37 and only four years past her breakthrough Lucia at Covent Garden) Sutherland’s voice is pure glory. Her trills and passagework are superb, the high E’s ring out with no sense of strain, and she sculpts phrases with firmness of line and evenness of legato. One can justifiably complain about the mushiness of her diction, due to a softening of consonants, but everything else is so remarkable that diction becomes a minor side issue. She embellishes second verses, as she should, while never losing her richness of timbre no matter how rapid the pyrotechnics or how high the tessitura. She also sings with a spontaneity and fire that were not always present in later years.
In Nicolai Gedda the Met partnered Sutherland with perhaps the ideal tenor available at the time. In the duet ‘Prendi, l’anel ti dono’ the two singers match each other run for run and trill for trill, blending their voices seamlessly and seeming to have fun doing it all. Gedda’s voice may lack the unique beauty of tone that one heard in Giuseppe di Stefano (earlier) or Luciano Pavarotti (just a bit later), but his bright tenor is used with such musicality and intelligence that his Elvino is ultimately very satisfying. There is a nobility to Gedda’s phrasing that is perfect for the music.
Ezio Flagello’s dark, rich bass is another pleasure in this performance (he replaced Giorgio Tozzi, who began the run), with a vibrant and ringing tone matched by a natural feel for Bellini’s style. The rest of the cast consists of Met regulars, all of whom deliver strong performances. The monaural broadcast sound is dimmer than studio recordings from the early 1960s, but it is more than adequate.
This release gives the listener an opportunity to bathe in gorgeous bel canto singing, wrapped around the music of one of opera’s most gifted melodists.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“It was a gala audience that witnessed this benefit performance of LA SONNAMBULA by Vincenzo Bellini, not given at the Met since the '34-'35 season, when the leading soprano role of Amina was sung by Lily Pons. If this opera was a success - and in its extrovert way, it was - it is only because the singing was of high quality. We can assume that the sold-out house came to hear Sutherland and not because they were anticipating a moving musical experience. Well, they got their money's worth - she was in excellent form. Her coloratura was flexible and brilliant, her high notes superb. We counted at least three high E-flats. And there were more fiorature and high notes than even the score called for. Miss Sutherland took the very legitimate liberty of ‘doctoring’ her part to increase its brilliance.
Although Miss Sutherland was the unequivocal center of interest - even the raison d'ętre of this performance - it was by no means a one man (or one woman) show. Besides the star part of the sleepwalking Amina, there are two important male roles. Elvino was Nicolai Gedda, who contributed his share of high notes and-more important - beautifully phrased bel canto melodies.
Conductor Silvio Varviso held things together admirably and kept them moving. In short, it was an evening to please that special kind of opera buff who is more interested in singing and singers than in what is being sung.”
- Everett Helm, MUSICAL AMERICA, 1 March, 1963
“Amina is LA SONNAMBULA's justification for being given at the Metropolitan (or elsewhere), and when Miss Sutherland frames Bellini's arching melodies and limpid phrases with the even flow of sound at her command, the justification is self-evident. This time, indeed, it was appreciably more self-evident than previously, for Miss Sutherland seems to have settled into a relationship with her surroundings where she was giving a performance rather than proving a point. She was warmly welcomed, as she has been before; but it was now less an encouragement for things to come than an acknowledgement of heights already scaled.”
- Irving Kolodin, SATURDAY REVIEW, 21 December, 1963
"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. 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.
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'.
Gedda never generated the hysterical fan response of, say, Franco Corelli, but few left his finely nuanced, vocally secure, emotionally generous performances feeling cheated."
- Peter G. Davis, OPERA NEWS, 9 Feb., 2017
"Ezio Flagello, a bass with a rich voice and wide range who sang 528 performances at the Metropolitan Opera as part of an international career, a son of Italian immigrants in New York City, sang at major opera houses like La Scala in Milan, the Vienna State Opera, the San Francisco Opera and the Houston Grand Opera. But it was the Met that he made perhaps his most distinguished mark. His wide-ranging career there included basso cantante roles like Rodolfo in LA SONNAMBULA, Wagnerian characters like Pogner in DIE MEISTERSINGER, comic roles in Mozart and Rossini operas and major Verdi roles like King Philip in DON CARLO.
Mr. Flagello was born in New York City on Jan. 28, 1931, [and] received a bachelor's degree from the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied with the bass-baritone Friedrich Schorr and the baritone John Brownlee. In 1955, Mr. Flagello won a Fulbright Scholarship and studied with Luigi Ricci at the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia in Rome."
- Vivien Schweitzer, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 24 March, 2009
"There is nothing in the least old-fashioned about [the young Swiss Italian Silvio Varviso's] treatment of the score, except a virtuous attention to detail, a well-discriminated distribution of emphasis between pit and stage. “
- Irving Kolodin, THE SATURDAY REVIEW