V1392. GIUSEPPE di STEFANO, CARLA MARTINIS, MARTHA MÖDL & WOLFGANG WINDGASSEN, w.Schüchter Cond. Vienna S.O.: The Vienna Début, incl. Arias from Madama Butterfly, La Boheme, La Gioconda, Don Carlos, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser & Tristan. (E.U.) Myto 00168, Live Performance, 8 June, 1953. - 8014399501682
“Giuseppe di Stefano, a flamboyant, sometimes erratic opera star who in his prime after World War II was lauded as the most thrilling Italian tenor in a generation and was renowned for his superb voice, Mr. di Stefano had only brief years at the top, with a repertory that focused on lyric roles like the Duke in RIGOLETTO, the title role in FAUST and WERTHER. Rudolf Bing, the longtime general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, asserted that Mr. di Stefano could have been as great as Enrico Caruso if he had demonstrated more restraint in his personal and professional conduct. Mr. di Stefano conceded that he could be reckless. He reveled in his image as a bon vivant and bragged of his affairs, including a long romance with Maria Callas, his favorite onstage partner.
‘I wanted to enjoy life — not just the opera’, he said in an interview for OPERA NEWS in 1999, which took place at his villa north of Milan, on the edge of the lake district. ‘Yes, I smoked a lot. And it’s true I used to gamble, and I would stay up late and sometimes drive around all night. So of course the critics wrote: ‘He was not in shape to go on stage'.’ But Mr. di Stefano insisted that it was severe allergies that permanently damaged his voice.
With the onset of World War II, he served in the Italian army, assigned to an infirmary. But he was saved from duty on the Russian front by his regimental commander, an opera-loving doctor, who gave him a medical dispensation because he felt that the young man had a promising career ahead. Mr. di Stefano spent some of the war years as a pop singer, entertaining audiences at movie theaters between feature films. Then, in 1943, he fled to Switzerland, where he began his operatic career with recitals on a classical radio station in Zürich.
After the war, Mr. di Stefano made his opera début in Italy in 1946 at the Teatro Municipale, in the city of Reggio Emilia, as Des Grieux in Massenet’s MANON. He was quickly recognized as a rising star, praised for the rich, velvety texture of his voice and his great emphasis on diction. He was invited to sing at the major Italian opera houses. In 1948, Mr. di Stefano crossed the Atlantic to make his Metropolitan Opera début as the Duke in RIGOLETTO. But he received his greatest accolades for his performances as FAUST. Mr. Bing was awestruck by Mr. di Stefano’s interpretation of the role in the 1949-50 season. ‘The most spectacular single moment’, Mr. Bing wrote in his 1972 memoir, 5,000 NIGHTS AT THE OPERA, was ‘when I heard his diminuendo on the high C in ‘Salut! Demeure’ in FAUST. ‘I shall never as long as I live forget the beauty of that sound’.
But Mr. di Stefano’s behavior soon caused Mr. Bing to sour on him. When a new production of LA BOHÈME went into rehearsal at the Met in the 1952-53 season, Mr. di Stefano failed to show up in time, contending that illness had prevented him from traveling from Italy to New York. Mr. Bing learned that Mr. di Stefano had in fact been healthy enough to perform at La Scala in Milan, and banned him from the Met for three years.
On his return to New York, Mr. di Stefano expanded his repertory to include Don José in CARMEN and Cavaradossi in TOSCA. But Mr. Bing, in his memoir, complained that the tenor persisted in his erratic behavior. ‘We never knew from day to day whether he would show up’, he wrote, adding that ‘his lack of self-discipline soon harmed what might have been a career men would remember with Caruso’s’. By the late 1950s, Mr. di Stefano’s career was in decline, with his failing voice often forcing him to cancel appearances. He insisted that an allergy to synthetic fibers had inflamed his larynx. But the opera world remained skeptical. After a miserable 1966 performance as Otello in Pasadena, CA, Mr. di Stefano’s stage appearances dwindled. In 1973-74, he and Maria Callas made a disastrous tour of North America, Asia and Europe, with critics panning their performances. Mr. di Stefano, who first sang with Ms. Callas in the early 1950s and later became her lover, rated her as the best diva with whom he ever sang. ‘Even when Callas’ voice wasn’t perfect, she had so much interpretation’, he said. ‘Opera is storytelling. Feelings must be conveyed. Acting must be moving. And Callas had it all’.
Even in old age, Mr. di Stefano insisted that he had no regrets about his short career at opera’s summit, and that he did not begrudge the success of peers like Luciano Pavarotti or Plácido Domingo. ‘I was never jealous of anybody’, he said. ‘I don’t have to go around insisting that I had one of the great voices. Fortunately, I made enough recordings to let people judge for themselves’.”
- Jonathan Kandell, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 March, 2008
“Carla (Dragica) Martinis made her début at the Zagreb Opera House, singing the role of Mimi in LA BOHÈME. She then sang at the Prague National Theatre for a time. In 1949, she won the Geneva International Singing Competition. She sang at the New York City Opera from 1950 until 1953. The year 1950 also saw her début at the Vienna State Opera, where she would sing regularly until 1962 to considerable acclaim. In 1951, she appeared at the Salzburg Festival as Desdemona in OTELLO, under Wilhelm Furtwängler. The year 1952 saw her début at the Paris Opéra, the Aix-en-Provence Festival, the Deutsche Oper Berlin, at La Scala in Milan, and the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1953, and the San Francisco Opera in 1954.
Carla Martinis was particularly admired in Verdi roles such as Amelia, Leonora, Elisabetta, Aïda, Desdemona, and Puccini rôles: Manon Lescaut, Mimi, Tosca, Cio Cio San, Turandot. Other notable roles included, Gioconda, Maddalena, Donna Anna, Antonia. She was made Kammersängerin in 1955. Sadly, family reasons forced her to retire in the 1960s', while still at the height of her powers. She died in Vienna.”
“The incredibly lengthy career of Martha Mödl has been well documented. In that time she sang it all: beginning as a mezzo (Hänsel, Eboli, Carmen, Azucena), then soprano (Isolde, Brünnhilde, Kundry), then in the 1960s returning to mezzo and some great character rôles (Klytemnestra, Die Amme, Waltraute). In the 1970's she adapted to secondary character rôles (Widow Begbick, Grandmother Burya, the Old Countess in QUEEN OF SPADES), some of which were rechristened ‘Mödl-Rollen’ in her honor. She was often called the ‘German Maria Callas’ with her dramatic intensity, excitement, unique, colorful mezzo-tinted soprano voice.
She was one of the singers very important to the re-establishment of the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth in the 1950s. She appeared in several world premières, creating rôles in operas by Fortner, Cerha, and von Einem. There is a little-known video of an interview with Mödl, Astrid Varnay, and Birgit Nilsson—great Wagnerians all. Varnay and Nilsson defer to Mödl!”
- Charles H. Parsons, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, July/Aug., 2012
“Wilhelm Schüchter was one of those prodigiously talented German conductors who had the misfortune to live in a time filled with geniuses at the podium: Furtwängler, Walter, Abendroth, von Karajan, Krauss, Böhm, Knappertsbusch, Kempe, Schmidt-Isserstedt and Klemperer. In such company, he never had a chance to move into the forefront of his profession outside of Germany. Despite his lack of international success, however, Schüchter managed to leave behind one major recording of LOHENGRIN that deserves to be a part of any serious Wagner collection.
Schüchter studied with Hermann Abendroth. He made his début at the podium in Coburg in 1937, conducting CAVELLERIA RUSTICANA and PAGLIACCI. His first major appointment came that same year, as conductor in the opera house in Wurzburg, where he stayed for three years. In 1940, he took an appointed conductor at the opera house in Aachen, a post he held for two years, working under Herbert von Karajan. Two years later, he joined the Berlin State Opera.
Following the Allied victory and the reorganization of German cultural life, in 1947 Schüchter joined the North German Radio Orchestra as a conductor and deputy to Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. His major recording career began soon after, principally for EMI during the late 78 rpm and early LP era.
His major activities and his most significant legacy, however, were in the operatic field. In 1953, Schüchter conducted EMI's first recording of a complete version of Wagner's LOHENGRIN with his North German Radio Orchestra and Rudolf Schock in the title role, Gottlob Frick as King Henry, Maud Cunitz as Elsa, and Josef Metternich as Friedrich. This performance remains one of the most finely crafted recordings of the opera ever laid down and is competitive with all subsequent stereo and digital recordings. The singing has a warmth and power that resounds more than 40 years later and the playing is extraordinary, a match for any orchestra in the world. Moreover, the sound - despite being limited to mono - is extraordinary for its era, being both rich and close.
Unfortunately, Schüchter never got to record another complete opera, eclipsed as he was outside of Germany by figures such as Karajan and Klemperer. His career in the concert hall was more successful; in 1958, he took a three-year appointment as the chief conductor of the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Tokyo, and after his return to Germany in 1962, he was made music director of Dortmund. It was in this post, in just three years, that Schüchter achieved fame in Germany, raising the musical standards in Dortmund so high that he was promoted in 1965 to artistic director and general manager of the Dortmund State Opera. He remained in this position for the rest of his life and was acclaimed for the excellence of the productions mounted by the company and its overall rise to prominence within Germany. His Wagnerian performances in particular were singled out for praise by critics.
Schüchter was among the first generation of conductors in Germany who understood the use of the orchestra in the studio and this is reflected in his recordings. In contrast to Wilhelm Furtwängler or Hans Knappertsbusch, he saw the intrinsic value of recording and he paid special attention to the spaciousness and opulence of the sound he achieved. When working with sympathetic producers and engineers, as on his LOHENGRIN, the results were extraordinary.”
- Bruce Eder, allmusic.com