V0074. MATTIWILDA DOBBS, w.Gerald Moore (Pf.): Songs by Schubert, Brahms, Wolf, Fauré, Hahn & Chausson; w.Galliera Cond. Philharmonia Orch.: Arias from Le Coq d’Or, Sonnambula, Manon, Lakmé & Rigoletto (the latter incl. Duet w.ROLANDO PANERAI). (Austria) Testament SBT 1137, all recorded 1953. Very long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! - 749677113728
“Mattiwilda Dobbs, a coloratura soprano who was the third African-American to appear as a principal singer with the Metropolitan Opera, [had a] voice [which] was not immense, [and] was routinely praised by critics for its crystalline purity and supple agility, and for her impeccable intonation, sensitive musicianship and captivating stage presence. She also had a highly regarded international career as a recitalist, singing at Town Hall in New York and on other celebrated stages, and was especially renowned as an interpreter of Schubert lieder.
When Ms. Dobbs made her Met début, as Gilda in RIGOLETTO on 9 Nov., 1956, she had already sung to great acclaim at La Scala in Milan, where she was the first black principal singer; Covent Garden in London; and the San Francisco Opera, where she had made her United States operatic début, as the Queen of Shemakha in Rimsky-Korsakov’s LE COQ D’OR, in 1955. At the Met, she was preceded by two black singers: the contralto Marian Anderson, who made her début in January 1955, and the baritone Robert McFerrin, who made his a few weeks later. (Mr. McFerrin was the father of the jazz singer Bobby McFerrin.) Reviewing Ms. Dobbs’s Met début, opposite the baritone Leonard Warren, Howard Taubman wrote in The New York Times: ‘The young soprano has a voice of substance and quality, well placed and expertly controlled. Her singing is true, flexible at the top in coloratura passages and glowing in texture throughout the scale’. The first black woman to be offered a long-term contract by the Met, Ms. Dobbs appeared with the company 29 times through 1964. Her roles there included Oscar in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA; Zerlina in DON GIOVANNI; and the title part in Donizetti’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, for which, The Daily News reported in 1957, the audience summoned her back for nine curtain calls after she had sung her mad scene.
If Ms. Dobbs is less well remembered today than some singers of her era, that is partly because she made relatively few recordings. It is also because her début fell between the historic advent of Ms. Anderson and the blazing ascendance of Leontyne Price, widely considered the first black operatic superstar, who made her Met début in 1961. What was more, Ms. Dobbs happened to have joined the Met as part of the incoming class of 1956-57 - a group of newly hired principal singers that included the titanic sopranos Antonietta Stella and Maria Callas.
Named for a grandmother, Mattie Wilda Sykes, Mattiwilda Dobbs was born in Atlanta on 11 July, 1925, the fifth of six daughters of John Wesley Dobbs and the former Irene Ophelia Thompson. Hers was a distinguished family: Ms. Dobbs’ father, a mail-train clerk, was long active in civic affairs, helping to register black voters as early as the 1930s. In the late 1940s he helped found the Atlanta Negro Voters League. Mr. Dobbs insisted on a college education, along with seven years’ study of the piano, for each of his daughters, and he prevailed in every instance. As a girl, Mattiwilda also sang in her church choir but, retiring and bashful, did not envision a performing career. She began voice lessons in earnest only as an undergraduate at Spelman College in Atlanta. After earning her bachelor’s degree - she graduated first in her class with majors in Spanish and music - the young Ms. Dobbs moved North at her father’s insistence for advanced vocal training. ‘I would never have been a singer if it were not for my father’, she told Look magazine in 1969. ‘I was too shy’.
In New York, Ms. Dobbs became a pupil of the German soprano Lotte Leonard; she also studied at Tanglewood. At the same time, as a hedge against the uncertainties of a career in music, she earned a master’s degree in Spanish from Columbia University Teachers College. Ms. Dobbs was a winner of the Marian Anderson Scholarship Fund in 1948, and received a scholarship from the John Hay Whitney Foundation not long afterward. On the strength of her awards, she moved to Paris, where she studied with the art-song specialist Pierre Bernac. In 1951, she came to wide international attention by winning a first prize in the Geneva International Music Competition. Over the years, Ms. Dobbs also sang at the Glyndebourne Festival in England and with the Royal Swedish Opera, the Hamburg State Opera and the Israel Philharmonic. In 1959, she was one of four Americans - the others were Gary Cooper, Edward G. Robinson and the producer Harold Hecht - sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to establish a cultural exchange program with the Soviet Union.
Ms. Dobbs’ first husband, Luis Rodriguez Garcia de la Piedra, a Spanish journalist whom she married in 1953, died the next year. (Only days after his death, she honored a commitment to sing at Covent Garden before the new monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.) In 1957 Ms. Dobbs married Bengt Janzon, a Swedish journalist, and she was known afterward in private life as Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon. Mr. Janzon died in 1997.
Ms. Dobbs’ recordings include Mozart’s THE ABDUCTION FROM THE SERAGLIO, Bizet’s THE PEARL FISHERS and Offenbach’s TALES OF HOFFMANN.
After retiring from the concert stage, Ms. Dobbs taught voice at the University of Texas, Spelman College and, for many years, Howard University in Washington.
Throughout her career, Ms. Dobbs refused to sing in segregated concert halls. She did not perform in her hometown, Atlanta, for instance, until 1962, when she sang before an integrated audience at the Municipal Auditorium there. In January 1974 she performed at another epochal Atlanta event, singing the spiritual ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands’ at the inauguration of the city’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson. The choice of Ms. Dobbs to perform at Mr. Jackson’s inauguration seemed almost foreordained, and not merely because of their shared background as racial pioneers. Mr. Jackson, the great-great-grandson of a slave, was also Ms. Dobbs’s nephew.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 10 Dec., 2015
“Rolando Panerai, an Italian baritone who sang more than 150 roles at leading international opera houses, made many classic recordings and appeared frequently with the celebrated soprano Maria Callas in her prime, was widely admired throughout a 65-year operatic career for his full-bodied sound and the elegance of his singing. Steeped in the Italian vocal heritage, he sang with supple phrasing and evenness throughout his entire vocal range. If not the most charismatic presence onstage, he readily conveyed authority and dramatic depth and brought a light comedic touch to the title roles of Puccini’s GIANNI SCHICCHI and Rossini’s THE BARBER OF SEVILLE, among many other characters. Though his repertory was extensive, Mr. Panerai focused closely on Italian opera. Earlier in his career, he sang several German roles in Italian translation, like Amfortas in Wagner’s PARSIFAL.
Outlining the requisite qualities of a true ‘Verdi baritone’ in an interview earlier this year with Classical Singer magazine, Mr. Panerai essentially described his own voice: ‘a dark brownish tint like bronze’ coupled with ‘the quality of the metal, which reminds us of the power and strength’. In a 1996 interview with Bruce Duffie for WNIB, a former classical music radio station in Chicago, Mr. Panerai cautioned younger singers about being ‘dragged into’ the characters they portray. ‘I am used to acting with a certain detachment or coldness’, he said. By acting that way ‘you can act better’, he asserted, and more effectively convey ‘what the composer has to say’.
Famous from his recordings and busy in Europe, Mr. Panerai had a lower profile on American opera stages. Mr. Panerai singing Figaro in a production of THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO at the San Francisco Opera in 1958. Famous from his recordings and busy in Europe, Mr. Panerai had a lower profile on American opera stages.
His performances sounded anything but detached. On a 1955 live recording of Donizetti’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, a production at the Berlin State Opera conducted by Herbert von Karajan starring Callas, Mr. Panerai holds his own in every gripping moment of the confrontation between his character, Enrico, the head of a Scottish estate in severe decline, and Callas’ Lucia, Enrico’s tormented sister, whom he is trying to force into an advantageous marriage to save the family from ruin. Callas sounds frantic and dazed by her brother’s bullying. Yet below the surface bluster of Mr. Panerai’s Enrico, you hear the panic of a prideful young man who needs his fragile sister to rescue him. Mr. Panerai sang often with Callas during the 1950s, the most important decade of her career, and made several treasured opera recordings with her, including versions of Bellini’s I PURITANI, Verdi’s IL TROVATORE and Puccini’s LA BOHÈME. He called Callas ‘the greatest singer I ever listened to or worked with’ in the 1996 interview.
In 1972, 16 years after the BOHÈME with Callas, Mr. Panerai recorded the role of Marcello, this time with Mirella Freni as Mimì, Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo and Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. It is the BOHÈME of choice for many Puccini-lovers.
He sang one of his signature roles, Ford in FALSTAFF, on three acclaimed recordings: with Karajan conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra of London in 1956; with Leonard Bernstein leading the Vienna Philharmonic in 1966; and again with Karajan, in 1980, also leading the Vienna Philharmonic. The critic Peter G. Davis, reviewing the last version for THE NEW YORK TIMES, wrote that Mr. Panerai’s ‘dark, vibrant, firm, slightly dry tone has changed remarkably little with age, nor has his characteristic nobility of expression, incisive diction and elegant feeling for Verdian phrases deserted him’.
Rolando Panerai was born the youngest of three brothers on Oct. 17, 1924, in Campi Bisenzio, near Florence. His father, Oreste, ran a shoe factory. His mother was Ada (Paoli) Panerai. Rolando was drawn to music early. He studied at the academy in Florence, continued his training in Milan and made his stage debut in 1946 as Enrico in “Lucia di Lammermoor” at the theater in his hometown.
He never appeared at the Metropolitan Opera, though he was offered some engagements early in his career. But by then he had a family and wanted to stay closer to home. He continued to sing, as well as coach and, in later years, direct operas, through his 70s. In 2011, at 87, he sang the title role of GIANNI SCHICCHI in Genoa. Mr. Panerai attributed his longevity to sensible work habits, giving up smoking in his 20s and eating a Mediterranean diet. He advised younger singers to focus on their artistry and not obsess about a career. ‘It is best to sing well and not become bigheaded’, he said in 1996. ‘The rest comes all by itself’.”
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 30 Oct., 2019