V1438. ANNA MOFFO, w.di Stefano, Labò, Valletti, Bergonzi, Tucker, etc.; Leibowitz, Prêtre, Previtali & Leinsdorf Cond.: Manon, Manon Lescaut, La Traviata, Madama Butterfly, Lucia & La Boheme, - Excerpts. (England) 2-Testament Stereo SBT2 1420, recorded 1957-65. Final copy! - 749677142025
"This re-release brings together a mélange of performances starring the late Anna Moffo recorded between 1958 and 1966, when her voice was at its loveliest. Moffo's soprano was a good-sized, creamy lyric with terrific agility and an upper extension including a high E-flat. It was expressive enough to cover many emotions, but while she was a conscientious vocal actress, she came short of plumbing any great depths. She was absolutely beautiful and both her Violetta and Lucia benefited from her stunning stage presence; indeed, they were probably her best roles. Her Violetta lacked only some gravitas for the outbursts in the second and third acts. Similarly her Butterfly, as recorded complete (from which the lengthy Love Duet is presented here), benefits from having a light-voiced (and ravishing) Cesare Valletti as her Pinkerton and Erich Leinsdorf leading a small-scaled reading. I don't believe she ever sang Puccini's Manon Lescaut on stage; it would have been too large for her, and I think Butterfly was a role she only sang in the studio as well.
But this is a very fine collection, with two hours and 25 minutes of music to enjoy, and it is a good testament (no pun intended) to Moffo's charm and art. Her French Manon is just the right combination of insinuating and innocent, and she pulls out the on-the-nose high notes for the Cours de la Reine scene; she's also very moving and convincing in her seduction of Des Grieux in the Church. Giuseppe di Stefano is her partner in these excerpts, recorded late in his career (1964), and while his ardency and passion are most welcome, the voice whitens and strains at the top at forte, and his pianissimo singing is a crooning falsetto. But if you love him you overlook such things. In the Puccini Manon, Moffo is best early on: she exudes charm in Act 1, she gets the sadness of "In quelle trine morbide", and she's wonderful in the love duet. By Act 3 the music is heavier (though it's nice to hear such clean, clear high Cs) and she sounds a bit pressed from there on--but overall, it's a nice portrayal. Here the Des Grieux is the underrated and under-recorded Flaviano Labo, sounding virile and singing with absolute security, a slight yelp on the high B-flat at the close of the duet notwithstanding. Baritone Robert Kerns is a good Lescaut. René Liebowitz is better at leading the French Manon than the Italian--the latter is too soft-edged.
The Alfredo/Violetta duet from Traviata's last act is warmly sung by both Moffo and an unusually sensitive Richard Tucker, and the aforementioned Cesare Valletti partners Moffo beautifully in the Butterfly Love Duet under Leinsdorf. It's good to hear Carlo Bergonzi in the Lucia duet, and a nice surprise comes near its close when Moffo takes a high E-flat and Bergonzi a high C (it's written the other way around, but let's not push our luck). The program closes with Tucker joining Moffo, again quite insightfully, in the closing moments from the first act of Bohème, in which he (happily) lets her take the high C alone and does the correct, harmonic thing. The sonics vary, with the Bohème sounding as if recorded in a tile bathroom. In short, Moffo fans need not be convinced; others will be won over by her naturalness and the sheer beauty of her tone."
-Robert Levine, Classics Today.com, October, 2008
“Anna Moffo, an American soprano who was beloved for her rosy voice, dramatic vulnerability and exceptional beauty, was drawn early on into television and film, playing host of her own variety show on Italian television for many years. She might not have fulfilled her promise, but for a good dozen years Ms. Moffo enjoyed enormous success and won a devoted following at a time when her competition for roles like Verdi's Violetta, Puccini's Mimi and Donizetti's Lucia included Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi and Joan Sutherland. Though Ms. Moffo's voice was not large, it was warm and rich, with soft pastel colorings and a velvety lower range. Agile coloratura technique allowed her to sing high soprano bel canto repertory impressively, especially LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. She was a thoroughly trained musician, having studied the piano and viola when she was a voice major on scholarship at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.
Her RCA recording of LA TRAVIATA, with Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill, is still prized for the subtlety and pathos she brings to her portrayal of Violetta. Still, her career could be seen as a cautionary tale about doing too much too soon. In 1954 she entered and won the Philadelphia Orchestra Young Artists Auditions. Awarded a Fulbright fellowship, she went to Rome to study voice, master the Italian language and train for opera.
Ms. Moffo made her stage opera debut in 1955 as Norina in Donizetti's DON PASQUALE in Spoleto. Her big breakthrough came the next year, when she starred in a television production of Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY, directed by Mario Lanfranchi, a producer for RCA Victor and RAI. She and Mr. Lanfranchi married in 1957. Sensing her star potential, he pushed her too hard. Recalling this period in a 1977 interview, Ms. Moffo lamented that she sang an average of 12 new roles a year for the first four years of her career, all star parts. ‘I was working too hard and traveling too much’, she said. ‘I got mixed up in TV, films, things like that. Psychologically, I was miserable, always away, always alone’.
Her Met debut in 1959 was as Violetta in LA TRAVIATA. The reviews, though encouraging, were cautious. Ms. Moffo soon became a favorite at the Met, and remained so well into the 1960s. She appeared some 200 times with the Company, including her portrayal of Liù in the legendary production of Puccini's TURANDOT in 1961 that starred Birgit Nilsson and Franco Corelli. By the late 1960s, her voice was often unreliable. In his book THE AMERICAN OPERA SINGER, the critic Peter G. Davis writes of a now infamous 1969 Saturday afternoon broadcast performance of LUCIA at the Met. Rudolf Bing, the general manager, was so dismayed by her singing that he considered stopping the performance before Lucia's daunting ‘mad scene’ was broadcast to millions. That same year, Ms. Moffo caused a scandal in Italy when she appeared to be nude in a scene in the film UNA STORIA D'AMORE. In later years she insisted that she had not been totally unclothed.
In 1972 she and Mr. Lanfranchi divorced. Two years later she married Robert W. Sarnoff, the chairman of RCA, who was enthralled with his glamorous wife. Under Mr. Sarnoff, RCA built a promotional campaign around her, including an ill-advised recording of Massenet's THAÏS, with Ms. Moffo in the title role. The reviews, predictably, were very poor. For a brief time, though, Ms. Moffo was a lovely singer and appealing artist who broke out of the traditional career mode to reach the larger public. ‘You may not like what I do’, she said in a 1972 interview, ‘but you can't say I'm dull’."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 11 March, 2006