OP3355. IRIS (Mascagni), Live Performance, 10 March, 1966, Palermo, w.Oliviero de Fabritiis Cond. Teatro Massimo Ensemble; Magda Olivero, Giuseppe Gismondo, Mario Basiola, Jr., Enrico Campi, etc.; MAGDA OLIVERO, w.Napoleone Annovazzi Cond.: Louise – Depuis le jour (in Italian), 1957; MAGDA OLIVERO, w.Maria Balduicci (Pf.): Arias from Adriana Lecouvreur, Tosca, La traviata & Otello, from 1959 Vatican Radio Recital; MAGDA OLIVERO, w.Franco Mannino Cond.: Arias from Suor Angelica, Loreley, Xerxes & Tristan und Isolde, from 1958; MAGDA OLIVERO & Ferruccio Tagliavini; Magda Olivero & Claudio Villa: L’Amico Fritz - Cherry Duet, 1939 & 1958, resp. (Canada) 3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1133, w.Elaborate 26pp Booklet. Transfers by Richard Caniell. Notes by Stephen Hastings & Richard Caniell. Specially priced at Three discs for the price of Two. – 787790470106
“This is the second release by Immortal Performances devoted to the artistry of the legendary Italian soprano Magda Olivero (1910-2014). …This new issue comprises a 1966 Palermo IRIS (receiving its CD premiere in complete form), along with excerpts from Olivero opera performances and recitals….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 title role in Cilea’s opera ADRIANA LECOUVREUR. Olivero acceded to Cilea’s wish, marking the beginning of the second phase of her career. On April 3, 1975, at the age of 65, Olivero made her Met debut in Puccini’s TOSCA. Even after her retirement at the age of 71, Olivero continued to sing beautifully….The word ‘genius’ is often too liberally applied when it comes to artistic expression, but I believe it is a fitting description of Magda Olivero. Her basic vocal gifts were, truth be told, rather unremarkable. Olivero’s voice did not approach the natural beauty of Milanov, Tebaldi, or Caballé, the power of Nilsson, or the individual timbre of Callas. But Olivero deployed her instrument with breathtaking technical mastery and artistic insight. As a result, Olivero was able to create the impression of a voice of arresting beauty, a rich and varied palette of colors, and impressive dynamic range, power, and breath control. Olivero’s patrician diction was crystal-clear. A beautiful and elegant woman, Olivero’s stage presence was both regal and entirely convincing from a dramatic perspective. And among verismo sopranos, it was Magda Olivero who best displayed the unerring sense of how to push the emotional stakes to their absolute limit, without descending into poor taste or bombast. When Magda Olivero performed a death scene, the audience could easily be persuaded it was witnessing the real thing. Sad to say, Olivero’s studio recordings are few. There are only two such documents of complete operas; Olivero’s Liù in the 1938 Cetra TURANDOT, and Decca’s 1969 FEDORA. Those interested in exploring the legacy of Magda Olivero have searched for her in-performance recordings, of which, thank goodness, there are many.
The centerpiece of the new Immortal Performances three-disc set is a broadcast of a March 10, 1966 Teatro Massimo de Palermo staging of IRIS. The September 12, 1956 Turin Radio broadcast, included in the previous IP Olivero set, is excellent on many counts, not the least of which, of course, is Olivero’s stunning performance as the innocent and wronged Iris. But Olivero fans will want to have this Iris as well. The IP release is the first of the performance in complete form, and is taken from the RAI master tapes. Ten years have elapsed since the 1956 Turn Iris [OP3323], and Olivero is just two weeks shy of her 56th birthday. But on this occasion, Olivero is, if anything, in more fresh and youthful voice than in the Turin broadcast. Olivero is therefore able to portray in even more convincing fashion the childish innocence of Iris. In addition, the level of vocal security is breathtaking, with Olivero easily able to surmount the dramatic, climactic moments. As a result of these components, Iris’ abduction to a brothel, imprecation by her father, and transformative death are all the more affecting. It’s a brilliant performance, and a wonderful document of this incomparable verismo soprano.
Sad to say, many of Olivero’s performances preserved on recordings find her paired with tenors who, to put it charitably, may be characterized as ‘provincial’. That is the case with the Osaka of this performance, Giuseppe Gismondo….Gismondo shows little interest in variety of dynamics, or suppleness of phrasing. Gismondo certainly doesn’t lack for volume, or power in the upper register, but he really has no place alongside an artist of Olivero’s stature. The remainder of the cast is much better. Mario Basiola, Jr. brings a warm, lyric baritone and keen dramatic instincts to the role of the scheming Kyoto. Bass Enrico Campi has an appropriately sonorous voice for the role of Iris’ blind father, and is willing to throw himself into the drama….The smaller parts are well performed, with special mention kudos to the wonderful comprimario tenor Florindo Andreolli, who sings beautifully in the final act in the brief role of the Ragpicker. The veteran Oliviero de Fabritiis, an esteemed conductor of Italian opera, leads a compelling performance, one that is deferential to the principle artists, Olivero especially, without sacrificing the work’s overall momentum. The Orchestra and Chorus of Palermo’s Teatro Massimo perhaps deliver the score with more enthusiasm than polish, but the overall effect is still powerful and satisfying. The recorded sound, while not equivalent to mid-60s studio recordings, or even the finest broadcasts of the era, is still perfectly respectable. Although the dynamic range is somewhat limited, the singers are heard with clarity, and a fair representation of their vocal colors. You will certainly be able to enjoy in full the strengths of this performance, and in particular, Olivero’s genius. A spoken introduction, in Italian, precedes the broadcast.
….The wonderful 1939 Cetra recording of the ‘Cherry Duet’ from Mascagni’s L’AMICO FRITZ [follows the IRIS]. Fritz was another Fernando de Lucia role. His successor in the 1939 Cetra recording is tenor Ferruccio Tagliavini, in his finest, sweetest voice, performing with sensitivity, and in response to Olivero’s lovely Suzel, growing ardor. I also think that IP’s restoration of this excerpt betters the official Cetra version, here offering a more focused and multicolored document of the singers. Another ‘Cherry Duet’, this time a 1958 RAI telecast (with piano accompaniment), pairs Olivero with Claudio Villa. Despite the fact that Villa was what we might call a tenorino, and one who specialized in popular repertoire, he acquits himself beautifully here, and Olivero makes sure to match her vocal color and weight to the boundaries of her partner’s abilities. Yet another marvelous tenor, Flaviano Labò, partners Olivero in excerpts from a 1964 Rio de Janeiro performance of Boito’s MEFISTOFELE, with the magnificent bass Cesare Siepi in the title role. All of these artists are in top form. Olivero brings down the house with a hair-raisingly intense rendition of Margherita’s ‘L’altra notte’. Richard Caniell and IP have done their best with the source material. And while it is far from ideal, IP gives us this performance in its most listenable sound to date. The remainder of the set, presenting Olivero in recital performing various operatic excerpts, provides one treasure after another. Olivero, perhaps as convincingly as any soprano I’ve heard (and this includes Callas), was able to embody fully a three-dimensional character in the few-minute span of an isolated aria. All of the verismo excerpts are sung with an intensity of purpose and mastery of style and that are in a class of their own. Of special interest will be the two concluding excerpts on the final disc, taken from a 1958 RAI Milano recital. I doubt anyone would pick ‘Ombra mai fu’ from Handel’s XERXES as a natural fit for Olivero’s voice and talents. It is true that the lower tessitura poses some problems, and the rendition is shorn of the ornamentation we would expect today. But the nobility of declamation and sustained vocal line, and the intense feeling Olivero invests in the music make this a treasure. Even better is the concluding ‘Liebestod’ from Wagner’s TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, sung in Italian. Olivero adopts a trance-like, inward state at the start, inexorably blossoming to the height of unbridled, ecstatic passion. It may be that Olivero did not possess an ideal, or even appropriate voice, for this music, but I defy anyone to listen to this performance and in its wake, maintain that belief.
The accompanying booklet includes yet another superb essay from Stephen Hastings, as elegantly written and argued as it is informative, Richard Caniell’s plot synopsis for IRIS, as well as his Recording Notes, artist bios, along with some beautiful photos and paintings. It’s clear that Richard Caniell harbors a profound admiration and affection for Magda Olivero and her extraordinary legacy. And in releases like this, he pays the finest tribute possible. Of supreme importance to Olivero fans, and to those who want to explore the legacy of a unique and magnificent artist.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, March / April, 2020
“Immortal Performances has already issued a 1956 Italian radio broadcast of Pietro Mascagni’s IRIS starring Magda Olivero, and with a far better tenor than we have here….So why has the label chosen to put out a different performance with the same soprano? Once you listen, the answer is clear. As fine as Olivero was in that 1956 performance [OP3323], she is absolutely on fire here. This was a staged performance, the other an RAI studio broadcast. Perhaps this explains the difference. Also, in Olivero di Fabritiis she had one of the finest conductors of his generation in the verismo repertoire. The two work together to give an astonishingly vivid performance.
Those who are passionate about opera would be making a mistake to skip this release. Olivero is riveting. As Stephen Hastings observes in his superb essay accompanying this edition, ‘She projects the character much more boldly’ when compared to the RAI broadcast. One of Olivero’s many strengths is her ability to sing consistently through the passaggio, the area where so many singers have difficulty maintaining consistency of sound in the bridge between middle and upper registers. Mascagni wrote a great many notes for Iris situated in the passaggio, but Olivero seems to have no difficulty at all with it. Not only does she manage vocally, but she also does so with such technical prowess that she is still able to color her voice for dramatic impact with no audible evidence of whatever technique she might be using. This performance, along with the famed ARIANA LECOUVREUR from Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1959 with Franco Corelli, Ettore Bastianini, and Giulietta Simionato (also transferred brilliantly by Immortal Performances) represents the best example of Olivero’s vocal and dramatic artistry….
Also included are a number of scenes from various RAI broadcasts [plus] four arias from a 1959 Vatican Radio recital include a deeply touching rendition of ‘Addio del passato’ from the last act of LA TRAVIATA, where Olivero holds on to the final sustained soft note as Violetta might be trying to hold on to a life that is fading away.
This group is followed by four selections from a 1958 RAI Milan recital, each a gem, particularly an aria from Catalani’s LORELEY that is gorgeously sung and the ‘Liebestod’ from TRISTAN UND ISOLDE. I doubt that Olivero had the vocal heft for a complete TRISTAN…but as a recital performance this excerpt, even in Italian, is magnificent.
All of the felicities that are common with Immortal Performances’ releases are present here, including a lavish booklet with very insightful commentary by Stephen Hastings, artists’ bios, notes by Richard Caniell on the recordings themselves, and lovely photographs. The three generously filled discs are being sold for the price of two. This set is a truly magnificent tribute to a great soprano. Very few singers imprint themselves in the memory with the force of Olivero.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, March / April, 2020