La Gioconda (Cleva;  Eileen Farrell, Corelli, Merrill, Rankin, Tozzi, Dunn);  L'Enfant Prodigue;  Wagner   (3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1130)
Item# OP3352
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Product Description

La Gioconda (Cleva;  Eileen Farrell, Corelli, Merrill, Rankin, Tozzi, Dunn);  L'Enfant Prodigue;  Wagner   (3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1130)
OP3352. LA GIOCONDA, Live Performance, 31 March, 1962, w. Cleva Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Eileen Farrell, Franco Corelli, Robert Merrill, Nell Rankin, Giorgio Tozzi, Mignon Dunn, etc.; EILEEN FARRELL, w. William Hess & Chester Watson; Bernard Herrmann Cond. CBS S.O.: L'ENFANT PRODIGUE (Debussy), Broadcast Performance, 5 Oct., 1947; EILEEN FARRELL, w. Thomas Schippers Cond. Los Angeles Philharmonic: Tannhäuser - Dich teure halle; Tristan und Isolde - Prelude and Liebestod; Götterdämmerung - Brünnhilde's Immolation Scene, Live Performance, 1959, Hollywood Bowl. (Canada) 3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1130, w.Elaborate 46pp Booklet. Transfers by Richard Caniell. Notes by William Russell & Richard Caniell. - 787790470007



CRITIC REVIEWS:

"American dramatic soprano Eileen Farrell was an extraordinary singer, one whose career did not ultimately match her greatness. She had a reputation, for instance, as a supreme Wagnerian soprano, yet she never sang one complete Wagner opera in performance. She was equally comfortable in Verdi and the verismo Italian repertoire, but the public got to experience this only in a limited way, since Farrell sang at the Met for just six years between 1960 and 1966 in six leading roles. She made very few complete opera recordings, and she was almost as well known for her pop music recordings and radio broadcasts. - Richard Caniell's Immortal Performances label has done a great service by making this live Met broadcast of LA GIOCONDA significantly better in sound quality than it has been in the past, and by including some rare Farrell material as a bonus. I have owned the Ponchielli for years on the Grand Tier label, and the clarity and richness of the sound here is in a different league. The performance has more than Farrell to recommend it. That this level of casting was fairly typical of what the Met put on in its Italian wing in the 1950s and '60s makes opera lovers ache for those days. - There is a grandness to the Farrell sound, a sense of immense power and richness, that impresses from the moment she enters. One expects a voice like this to be unwieldy, but in fact Farrell exhibits flexibility and ease with all the vocal demands of the role. To this she adds dramatic intensity, convincingly depicting Gioconda's transformation from anger to empathy when she realizes that Laura has become her mother La Cieca's protector. In the culminating 'Suicidio' aria we feel for her plight because she comes across as a real character, not just a singer performing a role. What stands out in the whole performance is a rare combination of vocal power and beauty in one singer. Yes, the voice is clearly huge, but it embraces you rather than knocking you over. - Surprisingly, Franco Corelli was never commercially recorded in LA GIOCONDA. EMI would have been smart if they had partnered him with Callas in their 1959 recording instead of an inferior tenor, Pier Miranda Ferrarro. Corelli's vocal splendor here would be reason enough to purchase this set even if the soprano were less than great. The voice had a richness of color unmatched by any of his contemporaries, and he had the ability to scale it down and sing softly, not to mention that the shape of this music was in his DNA. 'Cielo e mar' brings the house down, as well it should have. Corelli's tendency to scoop into notes is not as prevalent here as it sometimes was, and the sheer beauty of the sound he produced was virtually unique. A final point is that he employs a full dynamic range sensitively and musically. - A big surprise for me is Robert Merrill's Barnaba. No one disputes the fact that Merrill had one of the most naturally beautiful baritone voices on record, but he could be a dramatic cipher, often being satisfied to produce lovely sounds rather than digging into his character. This lack was particularly common in his studio recordings and even in some of his Met broadcasts. Not here. In his producer’s essay Caniell goes into insightful specifics about Merrill's singing of 'O monumento'. Let me just say that there is a degree of colorization, specificity of inflection, and dramatic playing with rhythm that defines what turns good singing into true operatic characterization. This is true not only in Barnaba's big aria but in all of his scenes. To have two male leads of this quality alongside Farrell makes this a performance to treasure. Overall this is in many ways as thrilling a recorded performance of LA GIOCONDA as you will find, and the monaural Met broadcast sound has been very well transferred. - The bonus material is equally valuable. The Debussy cantata L'ENFANT PRODIGUE, described by the composer as a scène lyrique, is something of a rarity. It is young Debussy, with a whiff of Massenet present, but still a lovely work in which he displays a more lush and romantic style than we associate with Debussy. Despite the infrequency of complete performances, a number of sopranos have included Lia’s opening aria, 'L’année, en vain chasse l’année', on recital programs and recordings. This CBS radio broadcast is from 1947 (can you imagine the like in today's world?) and is far more engrossing than the all-star recording made by Jessye Norman, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and José Carreras under Gary Bertini. That effort sounds as if everyone had simply learned the score for the recording; there is precious little characterization in the singing. - Debussy set the New Testament parable of the prodigal son, here given the name Azael, focusing mainly on the son's return and his reunion with his father. The score begins with the exquisite aria mentioned above for the mother, Lia, lamenting the loss of her younger son. There is also a lovely operatic duet on his return. William Hess, a tenor I have never encountered before, sings the role of Azael sweetly with a focused tone. Baritone Chester Watson is also effective in the smaller role of Siméon, the father. A significant asset of the performance is the conducting of Bernard Herrmann who keeps the score moving forward. Farrell is in splendid voice (she was 27 at the time) singing with delicacy and a lightened tone appropriate to the score. This is more than just a nice Farrell highlight; it is a fine representation of Debussy's score. - Finally, we get the vocal portion (plus the TRISTAN Act I Prelude) of an all-Wagner concert at the Hollywood Bowl in 1959 with Farrell and Thomas Schippers. If you find it hard to believe that a soprano could gain a reputation as a great Wagnerian without ever singing a complete Wagner opera, these excerpts will answer any questions you might have. Her voice is, as I said earlier, a large one (I heard her in performances a few times, and the sound was enormous) and at the same time always beautiful. There is a warmth and even sweetness to the sound that few Wagnerian sopranos can produce, allowing her to portray the humanity that is central to Brunnhilde's character and the transcendent radiance of Isolde's Liebestod. - The thrilling conducting of Schippers adds to the occasion, reminding us of the tragedy of his early death from cancer. I believe that the Immolation Scene heard here rivals the classic recordings by Nilsson and Flagstad, both for the thrilling vocalism and variety of characterization. Farrell gave us exciting Wagner excerpts under Victor De Sabata, Charles Munch, and Leonard Bernstein. This, however, may be the most thrilling. She clearly benefited from the setting of a live performance in front of thousands of people at the Hollywood Bowl and may well have been inspired by the huge space. All three Wagner items she sings are likely to create goosebumps for you as they did for me. - It remains only to add that Immortal Performances has done its usual remarkable job of accompanying the recording with fascinating printed material. The 46-page booklet contains insightful essays by Caniell and on Farrell by William Russell, artist bios, plot synopses, and wonderful historic photographs (my favorite shows a young Farrell as a radio singer in front of a CBS microphone). Parts of Milton Cross' commentary for the GIOCONDA broadcast are also included but tracked separately in case you want to skip it. (In terms of quantity for the money, it should be noted that each of the three CDs is longer than 79 minutes.) This is a truly important and thrilling historical release." - - Henry Fogel, FANFARE, March/April 2020 - - - - - - - - “If LA GIOCONDA is rarely performed these days, it’s not because of the problematic story line; it’s due to a paucity of singers who have the combination of vocal resources and temperament to bring this wonderful score to life. The March 31, 1962 Met broadcast is a souvenir of a time when such singers were plentiful and, on this occasion, gathered together for a marvelous performance. - - The American soprano Eileen Farrell sings the title role. Her voice was a force of nature, aligned with a musicality that allowed her to sing a wide range of repertoire (including jazz) idiomatically and to great effect. Farrell is in superb voice for this GIOCONDA broadcast. GIOCONDA aficionados always hold their collective breath for the moment in Act I when the heroine delivers the line: ‘Enzo adorato! Ah! come t’amo!' (My beloved Enzo! Ah! How I love you!) with its ethereal, floated high B-flat. Farrell sings this passage with security, but not quite the hushed magic Zinka Milanov or Montserrat Caballé could, at their best, provide. Still, it is a credible effort, and Farrell has much, much more to sing. And throughout, she is marvelous. The voice is rich from top to bottom, and Farrell sings with considerable feeling and intensity. ‘Suicidio!' is delivered in blazing fashion, and the final seduction/suicide episode with Barnaba is masterfully delivered. In his wonderful liner notes, Richard Caniell points to Callas' mastery of the role as evidenced in her two commercial recordings. Callas does remain the touchstone as the soprano most fully realizing the musical/dramatic potential of this role. But for this Met broadcast, Farrell is a first-rate Gioconda, in a marvelous souvenir of a great and unique American artist. The brilliant Italian tenor Franco Corelli is Gioconda’s beloved Enzo. On occasion, Corelli could take some time in performance to warm up fully. That is not the case here, as Corelli makes his Act I entrance, ‘Assassini!', with both guns blazing. Corelli remains in prime form throughout, and that form was the most thrilling of any Italian tenor of his time. Corelli is masterful in Enzo’s great showpiece aria, ‘Cielo e mar!' Cleva shapes the aria at a broad pace, allowing Corelli the opportunity to lavish his glorious voice upon the music, and to caress each phrase. The conclusion of the first verse, ‘o sogni d’ôr', is capped by an extended and ravishing diminuendo. In the second verse, Cleva and Corelli increase the pace (together!) to portray Enzo’s ever-mounting excitement at Laura’s imminent arrival. This leads to Enzo’s cry of ‘Ah, vien' and an almost superhuman high B-flat, sending the audience into rapturous cheers. Corelli is a most affecting and credible actor during the scenes in which he believes Laura to be dead and, later, discovers that she is in fact still alive. All in all, this is one of Corelli’s great performances (and there were many), and a fine example of why he held a singular place in the opera world during his prime. Robert Merrill possessed one of the most beautiful baritone voices of the 20th century. Often, Merrill was content to please his audiences via a combination of vocal splendor and rather generalized acting (many of us would kill for that precise experience today). Merrill’s villains were often reduced to general bluster, occasional snarls, and pummeling of penultimate syllables. But here as the evil Inquisition spy Barnaba, Merrill delivers a performance of considerable subtlety, variety, and dramatic impact. In both the Act I duet with Enzo and succeeding monologue ‘O monumento', Merrill’s Barnaba is ever the conniving, mercurial, and decidedly villainous character. And yes, Merrill is in sterling voice. Bass Giorgio Tozzi, another singer with a voice of considerable power and beauty, is an imposing Alvise. Nell Rankin is excellent as Laura, her warm mezzo and suggestion of vulnerability both effective as foils to Gioconda. And the young Mignon Dunn makes the most out of the relatively brief role of Gioconda’s mother, La Cieca. Dunn’s opulent vocalism and heartfelt delivery make Act I’s ‘Voce di donna' the musical and dramatic centerpiece it should be. Throughout, Fausto Cleva leads a performance of considerable energy, but one that is ever attentive to the great soloists and their musical/dramatic opportunities. - - In his Recording Notes, Richard Caniell informs us the source of the Met broadcast derives, we are informed, from the ABC transmission tape. My previous copy of the broadcast was a CD release on the Grand Tier label. The sound on that issue is certainly fine enough to enjoy the performance, but it is marred by an obtrusive LP rumble/hum. In the new Immortal Performances release, based upon the transmission tape, turntable noise is of course not an issue. But the voices also emerge in a much more attractive and natural fashion on the IP restoration. The sound is, in short, an excellent reproduction of a good mono broadcast of the period, allowing you to enjoy fully this grand performance in all its glory. IP’s release also has the advantage of portions of host Milton Cross' spoken commentary. - - As a very generous and rewarding appendix to the complete GIOCONDA broadcast, IP gives us a disc comprising a 1947 broadcast of Debussy’s early ‘scène lyrique' L’ENFANT PRODIGUE, and a 1959 Wagner concert from the Hollywood Bowl. The Debussy, billed as a World Premiere on Disc, is an October 5, 1947 CBS broadcast, led by composer and conductor Bernard Herrmann. The 1884 cantata, based upon the biblical tale of THE PRODIGAL SON, earned the 22-year-old Debussy the Prix de Rome. The work, very much in the spirit of Massenet, both in terms of its vocal and orchestral writing, is attractive in its own right, if not representative of the Impressionist composer who so impacted the music world. Farrell as the mother Lia, is in radiant voice, and sings with beautiful style, elegant French diction, and compelling feeling. As her son Azael and husband Siméon, tenor William Hess and bass Chester Watson are worthy partners, also committed and stylish, if a bit pressed in their upper registers. Herrmann leads a compelling performance. It’s probably not surprising that the composer of so many brilliant film scores relishes Debussy’s early orchestral writing. The sound for this broadcast is excellent: clear, warm, detailed, and with an admirable dynamic range. The disc concludes with Farrell in concert with Thomas Schippers and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in excerpts from Wagner’s TANNHÄUSER, TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, and GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG (there is some broadcast commentary as well). The concert begins with a brisk and rapt account of Elisabeth’s entrance aria from TANNHÄUSER, thrillingly and radiantly sung, save for a pinched top note at the aria’s conclusion. A notably passionate and propulsive account of the TRISTAN Act I Prelude leads to Farrell’s masterful rendition of the Liebestod. I adore the way Farrell shapes her hushed, almost parlando delivery of the opening measures to the radiant climax, as one long and inexorable crescendo. This is the work of a thoughtful, imaginative artist who has the vocal resources to communicate fully her vision to the audience. And Schippers proves a marvelous partner in the journey. The same is true for the concluding Immolation Scene from GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG. Farrell sings this extraordinarily challenging music with remarkable vocal security and ease, and Farrell’s vocal acting is marvelous. This Brünnhilde is not just a warrior; she is a woman very much in love. Schippers' conducting, by turns tender and propulsive, is of a piece with Farrell’s interpretation. The recorded sound is quite good. My preference among in-performance Farrell recordings of this scene remains a 1951 New York Philharmonic concert, led by Victor de Sabata, perhaps the most thrilling rendition of the music I’ve ever heard. But the 1959 Hollywood Bowl rendition holds its own. - - Richard Caniell’s superb liner notes provide informative, compelling, and entertaining reading. William Russell offers insightful comments on the Debussy and Wagner works and performances. There is also a plot synopsis for GIOCONDA, artist photos and bios, and Caniell’s Recording Notes. The GIOCONDA broadcast alone justifies purchase of this set. But with a generous helping of Debussy and Wagner treasures as well, it is downright irresistible. Highly recommended."

- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, March / April 2020