OP3379. ROMÉO ET JULIETTE (in Swedish), Live Performance, 27 March, 1940, w.Nils Grevillius Cond. Royal Opera Ensemble, Stockholm; Jussi Björling, Hjördis Schymberg, Sigurd Björling, Leon Björker, Göta Allard, etc.; ROMÉO ET JULIETTE (in French), Act III, conclusion, Live Performance, 1 Feb., 1947, w.Cooper Cond. Met Opera Ensemble & Jussi Björling; ROMÉO ET JULIETTE – Act II (in Swedish), Live Performance, 13 May, 1943, w.Nils Grevillius Cond. Royal Opera Ensemble, Stockholm, Jussi Björling, Hjördis Schymberg & Göta Allard; LA BOHEME, Act I Complete (in Swedish), Live Performance, 21 March, 1940, w.Nils Grevillius Cond. Royal Opera Ensemble, Stockholm; Jussi Björling, Hjördis Schymberg, Sven Herdenberg, Carl Richter, Leon Björker, Folke Cembraeus, etc.; JUSSI BJÖRLING: Adelaide (Beethoven); JUSSI BJÖRLING & HJÖRDIS SCHYMBERG: ROMÉO ET JULIETTE - Ange adorable; Va! Je t’ai pardonné…Nuit d’hyménée (in Swedish), Live Performance, 23 Aug., 1949, w.Izler Solomon Cond.L.A. Phil. (Canada) 3–Immortal Performances IPCD 1134. Notes by Stephan Johansson and Kristian Krogholm & Richard Caniell; Restoration & transfers by Richard Caniell. - 787790470304
“One of the treasures of the Metropolitan Opera’s broadcast legacy is a February 1, 1947 performance of Charles Gounod’s ROMÉO ET JULIETTE, starring Jussi Björling and Bidú Sayão in the title roles, both in superb form, and clearly relishing the opportunity to sing with each other. Immortal Performances has previously offered a superb restoration of this broadcast (IPCD 1003 [OP1979]). It’s a recording that should be a part of any opera collection. Now, as a potential supplement to that recording, IP issues yet another Björling Roméo, this time from the Royal Opera in Stockholm, performed on March 27, 1940. The performance is sung in Swedish, rather than the original French, and does not boast the more well-known and starry cast of the Met 1947 broadcast. And yet, the justifications for this set are many. First and foremost, it affords us the opportunity to hear Björling perform this role at a time when he was still in his 20s, and in his most youthful, fresh, and beautiful vocal estate. This is not to take anything away from his magnificent singing in the 1947 broadcast. But in the 1940 Stockholm performance, Björling’s voice is even sweeter, with an ease in the upper register that is absolutely breathtaking. Although Björling was hardly an imposing figure on stage, he was, especially in live performance, a resourceful and convincing vocal actor. And that was even more the case when Björling sang in his native Swedish. It’s difficult to imagine a more youthful, amorous, and impetuous Roméo than Björling’s 1940 Stockholm assumption. It is one of his finest complete performances, and is a ‘must’ for all fans of Björling and for great tenor singing. Even if the remainder of the cast was only adequate, I would recommend acquisition of this performance for Björling’s contribution alone. But here, Björling is joined by his longtime colleague, Swedish soprano Hjördis Schymberg. Schymberg, a fine artist, had a long career, and later recordings could sometimes find her in somewhat acidic and tremulous voice. In this 1940 broadcast Schymberg is in her early 30s, and in wonderful form. She is able to dispatch Juliet’s Waltz Song with aplomb, and the soprano is equally convincing in the succeeding lyrical and dramatic episodes. Björling and Schymberg had their own on-stage chemistry, and the two are marvelous in their series of duets. The remainder of the cast is quite strong, with Sigurd Björling, a singer who would have an important international career, a virile Mercutio, and Leon Björker a rich-voiced and sympathetic Friar Laurence. The smaller roles are well performed, too. Nils Grevillius, a frequent collaborator with Björling and Schymberg, leads a stylish and energetic performance, and one that has an admirable flexibility of phrasing, particularly in the scenes where Romeo and Juliet take center stage. This performance was previously released by Bluebell, and one has to be grateful the Swedish label made this treasurable document available. The IP restoration, however, offers far better sound, with more dynamic range, definition, and reproduction of the singers’ timbres. One drawback of the 1940 broadcast is that it uses a performing edition that cuts the arioso for Romeo, ‘Ah! jour de deuil, et d’horreur’, and succeeding grand ensemble leading to his banishment by the Duke of Verona. But as an appendix to the complete 1940 broadcast, IP includes the scene from the 1947 Met broadcast.
The complete 1940 ROMÉO ET JULIETTE occupies the first two discs of this three-disc set. Disc three brings more treasures. First is a May 13, 1943 charity concert performance of the complete Act II from Gounod’s opera (again in Swedish). It, too, stars Björling and Schymberg, again in wonderful voice. The presence of this duplication of music is justified by several factors. The recorded sound is even more impressive than the 1940 broadcast. In fact, it is quite remarkable for its vintage in terms of the fidelity, dynamic range, and reproduction of the voices. And here, with only one act to sing, Björling and Schymberg throw themselves into the music and drama in a manner that even eclipses the wonderful 1940 broadcast (and for Björling, the same portion of the 1947 Met performance). This is some of the most electrifying singing I’ve heard from Björling, and that is saying quite a bit. A Swedish-language complete Act I of Puccini’s LA BOHÈME from Stockholm (March 21, 1940) follows, and is billed as a ‘world premiere on disc’. It finds Björling and Schymberg in comparably impressive vocal and dramatic form. Also wonderful is the detailed chamber-opera approach all the singers bring to the conversational nature of the music that leads up to the great finale for Rodolfo and Mimì. Bluebell previously released a portion of this Act, beginning with Mimì’s entrance. But once again IP greatly improves upon Bluebell’s sound. Finally, excerpts from a 1949 Hollywood Bowl concert with Björling and his wife, soprano Anna-Lisa Björling. This, for me, was the least impressive of the selections (admittedly, the previous material set the bar very, very high). Björling is in fine voice, but sings in a more straightforward, generalized manner. The ROMÉO duets with his Anna-Lisa don’t have the kind of magic found in the same excerpts with Sayão and Schymberg. The recorded sound for these excerpts is fine
The booklet contains a wealth of information and wonderful writing. First are excerpts from Stephen Hasting’s superb book, THE BJÖRLING SOUND, offering an in-depth and fascinating analysis of the performances. Stephan Johansson and Kristian Krogholm provide historical and personal context to the featured music. There is a full plot synopsis for ROMÉO, as well as Richard Caniell’s Recording Notes, artist bios, some wonderful photos of the star singers, and reproductions of performance billboards. Granted, this release will have more specialty appeal than the IP restoration of the 1947 Met ROMÉO. But as it documents one of the greatest tenors of the 20th century at the height of his powers, in collaboration with longtime, beloved, and worthy colleagues, it is a specialty well worth the pursuit. And all presented in the best sound to date. For fans of Björling and great singing, highest recommendation.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE