OP3344. CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, w.Santi Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Eileen Farrell, Richard Tucker, Lili Chookasian, Cesare Bardelli, etc.; PAGLIACCI, w.Santi Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Franco Corelli, Anselmo Colzani, Franco Ghitti, Calvin Marsh & Lucine Amara, both Live Performances, 11 April, 1964. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-962.
“I am not certain what motivated St. Laurent Studio to issue these performances of CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA and PAGLIACCI. Sony already released them as part of their affiliation with Met broadcasts. They were reviewed in FANFARE 35:6 by James Miller, who was generally positive but not unreservedly enthusiastic. My own reaction is similar, though a bit more enthusiastic than his. The first point that must be made is that if you own the Sony issue, there is no need to replace it, as the recorded sound is similar on both sets, which is to say very good 1960s monaural broadcast sound. (The Met was inexplicably behind the times and did not switch to stereo for their weekly broadcasts until 1973.)
This new release does serve to call attention to two very worth performances of this standard double bill. Perhaps the most noteworthy feature is Eileen Farrell’s Santuzza. Farrell had a strained relationship with Rudolf Bing, the Met’s iron-fisted general manager, and she never achieved the degree of stardom she merited. She was a true dramatic soprano, with a huge sound that was free of strain at the top and rich and warm at the bottom. There were no seams or register breaks to speak of, and while the sound in the house could pin you back in your seat, it was never harsh.
It was the perfect voice for Santuzza, but Farrell, one suspects, was happier as a concert singer. She doesn’t fully inhabit roles as much as just sing them gloriously. In the long stretch of Santuzza’s presence from the hymn ‘Innegiamo’ through the following aria and two duets, she is singing solidly for almost half the opera’s length. By the end of the duet with Alfio, Farrell sounds as if she could start all over again afresh. But only in her curse at the end of the duet with Turiddu does she really let loose. Except for that moment, the pleasure one takes from her is vocal rather than theatrical. However, one should never take such vocalism lightly. If you were to try to imagine a soprano voice that was perfect for Mascagni’s music, it is quite probable that you would conjure up something that sounded like Farrell.
Richard Tucker was still in superb vocal condition in his early 50s and despite a tendency to over-enunciate consonants, giving the music a more explosive line than was ideal, he provided a ringing tenor voice that was thrilling to hear. He and Farrell are a wonderful vocal match in their big duet, and his singing of the final farewell to his mother is stunning. Only in the ‘Siciliana’ that opens the opera might one wish for a smoother cantabile. Mildred Miller gives us a beautifully sung Lola, though it lacks the needed insouciance. Cesare Bardelli is a blustery Alfio, and Lili Chookasian is superb as Mamma Lucia.
Franco Corelli’s Canio is the centerpiece of the PAGLIACCI performance, and he is magnificent, except for excessive sobbing at the end of ‘Vesti la giubba’. Still, as with Farrell’s Santuzza, if you were to imagine the ideal sound for Canio, you would come up with something like Corelli’s. He could modulate his tone and sing with warmth and beauty. This performance shows us a good deal of that side of his art, too. Corelli is the main reason for the success of EMI’s studio recording of PAGLIACCI conducted by Lovro von Matačić, although the conducting is also brilliant. As here, the Nedda is Lucine Amara. But there is an added aura of freedom and spontaneity heard in the Met performance, most apparent in Canio’s opening warning to the town’s menfolk to stay away from Nedda, and in the final scene where Corelli veers convincingly from playing the character in the play to losing control.
Amara’s attractive singing is supported by excellent characterization, which would have been welcome on the EMI studio recording. She sounds particularly threatening fending off Tonio, and genuinely frightened as she sees Canio losing control in the opera’s finale. Anselmo Colzani became a leading Met baritone following the death of Leonard Warren in 1960. Bing engaged him immediately after that tragedy, and Colzani remained a fixture in the house until 1978. His Tonio is richly characterized and very well sung, but one has to admit that the voice itself is generic, lacking richness or any unique color. Calvin Marsh, who sang over 900 performances in secondary roles at the Met between 1954 and 1967, is a richer-sounding Silvio than we usually hear. The role has no aria and thus often attracts second-rate singers, the best baritones preferring to sing Tonio. Marsh shapes the long phrases of his big duet with Nedda firmly, and together he and Amara make this scene the highlight it should be. Franco Ghitti is an excellent Beppe.
James Levine is often credited, quite properly, with the huge improvement he made in the Met’s orchestra. Rarely is he given credit for making a similar impact on the chorus. Hearing the rough-and-ready choral singing in these performances, particularly in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA, one is surprised that an opera company of this stature couldn’t do better. The orchestra is actually the better of the two ensembles, though not without raggedness. Nello Santi’s conducting demonstrates a total familiarity and comfort with the idiom, but he leaves no special imprint on either performance.
There are so many recordings of this pairing that it would be a fool’s errand to try to label one as the best. Nonetheless, this release is surely in the top tier. The performances by Farrell, Tucker, and Corelli are magnificent in their own ways, and they merit preservation in recorded form. St. Laurent Studio’s transfer is fine, and they provide full cast and tracking list, but no synopsis or libretto.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
“Considered purely as vocalists, Farrell and Tucker, in their disparate ways, are both in good form. Admirers of vocal flagellation will appreciate Tucker’s fiery delivery of the final scene, while those put-upon souls who value beauty of tone and feel oppressed by sopranos of the verismo persuasion can enjoy a Santuzza who does not maul the music….[In PAGLIACCI] Tenor Franco Ghitti, owning a fast vibrato and sounding for all the world like a mini-Corelli, sings an idiomatic serenade, pungent rather than Schipa-suave, but highly effective….As Silvio, [Calvin Marsh] sings his portion of the love duet with complete aplomb, persuasive expression, and attractive tone of the de Luca type….Corelli had the requisite vocal goods and to spare….[Here] he makes one of his infrequent appearances as Canio….The vibrant timbre of his tenor has a built-in urgency which promotes believability in the verismo operas….In the closing moments of the final act…he invokes an Otello-like combination of despair and madness….his top tones seem more resplendent than ever….His hesitant ‘La commedia è finita’ seems a truthful utterance from a depleted spirit.”
- Paul Jackson, SIGN-OFF FOR THE OLD MET, pp.495-96
“Franco Corelli's Canio was, with one exception, sung and acted with an unrivalled vocal splendor and passionate involvement….Lucine Amara brought her best singing of the season to Nedda and, in addition, presented an extremely interesting and subtly executed character study of the part….Franco Ghitti made his debut as Beppe and tossed off his ‘Serenade’ most elegantly. Calvin Marsh completed the cast as a first-rate Silvio.”
- Peter G. Davis, MUSICAL AMERICA
“The possessor of one of the most magnificent soprano voices of the past 50 years, the American singer Eileen Farrell impressed conductors and audiences alike with her powerful and ebullient presence. Like a few of her contemporaries, she managed to straddle the classical and popular fields and be respected by both in a manner that predated crossover as we know it today. Indeed, she refused forcefully to be categorised.
Although she spent five successful, though often controversial, seasons at the Metropolitan in New York (1961-66), she gained most of her fame from performing in recitals and concerts, and on the radio, where she began her career with her own show, ‘Eileen Farrell Sings’, in 1940. It lasted seven years and brought her wide audiences, including Leopold Stokowski, with whom she recorded Wagner's ‘Wesendonck Lieder’, and made her New York Philharmonic concert debut in 1949. By that time, however, Farrell had outfaced sceptics, who thought she could not transfer her talent into the serious field. She began a recital tour in 1950 which had its climax in New York at Carnegie Hall. It caused a sensation, and more New York Philharmonic engagements followed - eventually she appeared with the Orchestra 61 times. Her mentor was the orchestra's then music director, Dimitri Mitropoulos; in 1951, she sang Marie in a celebrated Carnegie Hall performance of Berg's WOZZECK under him, which was recorded. Later, when Leonard Bernstein was the orchestra's chief, she essayed Brünnhilde and Isolde, roles that by rights she should have taken on stage. An American critic wrote: ‘Note for note her voice is perhaps the most flawless instrument as exists in the world today. Her glowing trumpet tone was a like a fiery angel claiming the millennium’."
- Alan Blyth, THE GUARDIAN, 26 March, 2002
“From the start, Eileen Farrell was determined to have a singing career on her own terms. Her attitude exasperated many opera buffs, particularly Wagner fans, who heard in her enormous voice the Isolde and Brünnhilde of the future. She sang those roles tantalizingly in excerpted concert performances of TRISTAN UND ISOLDE and GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG with the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein, but never sang them in the opera house. Ms. Farrell's belated debut in opera came in 1956, when she appeared as Santuzza in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA in Tampa, Florida. For her long-awaited Metropolitan Opera debut in 1960 she sang the title role of Gluck's ALCESTE in a new production. The ovation she received, with 22 curtain calls, created an ‘ear-splitting din’, said an account in THE SATURDAY REVIEW….The same year as her 1956 opera debut in Tampa, Ms. Farrell made her San Francisco Opera debut in IL TROVATORE with Jussi Bjorling, returning in 1958 as Cherubini's Medea, a landmark performance of a work then little-known. After her Met debut she returned in LA GIOCONDA, LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, CAVALLERIA and ANDREA CHÉNIER, the last with Mr. Corelli and Robert Merrill, one of Ms. Farrell's best pals at the Met, she used to say. But her association with the Met lasted only five years, and she was underutilized. The problems stemmed partly from her chilly relationship with Rudolf Bing, the Met's autocratic general manager. Bing, who was never comfortable with easygoing American personalities, found Ms. Farrell's irreverence hard to deal with. Down-to-earth and plain-spoken, she liked hanging out with the stagehands and was fond of trading off-color jokes.
Ms. Farrell was renowned for the sheer size of her voice. Harold C. Schonberg of THE NEW YORK TIMES once remarked that Ms. Farrell, singing in Carnegie Hall, could probably be heard in downtown Newark. In his book THE AMERICAN OPERA SINGER, the critic Peter G. Davis recounts a story of Ms. Farrell's first performances with the powerhouse tenor Franco Corelli in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO in Philadelphia. After one duet, Mr. Corelli raced offstage shouting in Italian: ‘Who is this woman? She has made me deaf!’ Though at full volume Ms. Farrell's voice could fill any opera house, her sound was never strident or forced. She could modulate her voice beautifully to float lovely pianissimos that still had a penetrating warmth and vibrancy.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 25 March, 2002