Eugenia Mantelli,  Guerrina Fabbri,  Rita Fornia,  Marianne Brandt    (2-Marston 52053)
Item# V1220
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Eugenia Mantelli,  Guerrina Fabbri,  Rita Fornia,  Marianne Brandt    (2-Marston 52053)
V1220. EUGENIA MANTELLI: Songs by Lotti, Tosti, Braga, Mascagni, Rubinstein, Alvarez & d’Hardelot; Arias from El Barbero de Sevilla (Nieto & Giménez), Barbiere, La Cenerentola, Lucrezia Borgia, La Favorita, Don Giovanni, Les Huguenots, Mignon, Faust, Roméo, Carmen, Il Trovatore & La Gioconda – recorded 1905-07; GUERRINA FABBRI: Arias from I Capuleti ed i Montecchi, Lucrezia Borgia, L’Italiana in Algeri, Le Prophète, Semiramide & Barbiere - recorded 1903;  RITA FORNIA: Songs by Chopin, Godard, Chaminade, Meyer-Helmund, Becker, Lassen & Hildach;  Arias from Faust & Roméo; w.Riccardo Martin & Antonio Scotti:  Madama Butterfly – Lo so che alle sue pene – Fornia’s complete Victor recordings;  MARIANNE BRANDT:  Frühlingsnacht (Schumann);   Arias from Le Prophète & Lucrezia Borgia – recorded 11 Sept., 1905. 2-Marston 52053. Transfers by Ward Marston. Booklet features discographic information, photos & extensive notes by Michael Aspinall. - 638335205328


“It’s wearying to keep saying it but Marston has produced another twofer that will powerfully appeal to the vocal collector. Intrinsic disc rarity is one good reason, quality another. When the production standards are so high – of transfers, of booklet biographies, discographical information (no texts obviously) there is little or nothing at which to cavil.

And why should one want to? There are four contraltos here. Eugenia Mantelli bears the greatest weight. She was born in Florence c.1860 and graduated from Milan in 1877. She sang widely – Buenos Aires, the Bolshoi, made her Met début in 1894 and her Covent Garden entrance two years later. She sang Wagner as well as the more obvious French and Italian repertory and by the age of forty was sharing the stage with such as Melba, Nordica, de Reské, Plançon and Ancona. By 1905 she was touring with her own opera troupe but things seem to have fallen apart for her personally and professionally around 1910 – a Lisbon offer fell through, her second husband cut off contact, one son was mentally disabled and another died. Mantelli herself taught for a while but died in 1926.

The US. Zonophones date from 1905-07. Certainly they don’t reveal a transcendent technique and her coloratura is occasionally ear opening in its navigation through the passagio, but she does have a battery of devices to enliven her singing. She employs rubati, portamenti and a certain stentorian command in the aria antiche – Lotti would have been amazed. The evidence of these twenty-eight sides is somewhat equivocal as to her standing but it’s marvellous to have this corpus of discs hunter-gathered together in this way.

There are also the three rare Marianne Brandt Artistikal/Pathés – the former were two-minute cylinders, the latter being the same sides but transferred to disc form. The Viennese Brandt was a great singer, admired by Liszt, given lessons by Wagner and who created Waltraute in the 1877 world premiere of DIE GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG. She had sung at the Met in 1884 but she retired at forty-eight to teach in Vienna and died in 1921. The recordings were therefore made long after she’d given up concert and stage work. There may only be three sides, but what sides! We can hear her powerful chest register, commanding and technically intact, in the Meyerbeer. The piano is heard to better advantage in the Donizetti. It’s true that she rather rolls off the trill here and we can hear some limitations, but she was sixty-three and it was entirely understandable. Otherwise the tone is for the most part very steady, the training sounds Italianate as much as German, and stylistic matters are admirably attended to. The Schumann is a beautiful performance, subtle as to metrical matters, fluid and graceful.

Guerrina Fabbri (1866-1946) was born in Ferrera and had a far-flung career – South and North America as well as La Scala, Madrid, Lisbon, and other expected places. She did visit Russia, apparently successfully, but didn’t sustain a London career. She was sufficiently highly thought of for Verdi to consider her for a role in the premiere of OTELLO, but Boito, whom he sent to hear her, was only half way impressed. There are eight sides here. She has a very strong personality with a highly developed chest voice though we can hear how it is rather florid and overdone in ‘Brindisi’. The tone quality itself remains very much a question of preference but in the second attempt at Bellini’s ‘Ascolta…Se Romeo t’uccise’ she is certainly dramatic if not always technically precise.

The fourth and final contralto is Rita Fornia, born Regina Newman in San Francisco in 1878. She studied in Berlin, contracted to Hamburg opera, débuted in 1901, studied further in Paris with Jean de Reské and returned to America in 1903. She was at the Met by 1907-08 and singing in the premiere of Horatio Parker’s MONA the following season. But marriage put a break on her career and she faded from the limelight and died in 1922. She proves herself in these thirteen 1910-12 sides to have been a most expressive and impressive singer. The voice was quite light but fluid; the technique was excellent, and stylistically she shows Fabbri a turn of heels, though of course their repertoires were rather different. She shows a real affinity with the French style and her reserved charm can best be savoured in the Chopin/Viardot-Garcia arrangement – beautifully refined and eloquent. She used her voice with great taste and discretion.

So, four contraltos on two discs - the first time Marston has done such a thing. It’s a richly enjoyable set, with some real rarities, and even when the singing is not at the highest level, it’s nevertheless revealing of performance style and practice. Splendidly transferred as well.”

- Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International