V2646. LAURITZ MELCHIOR: A Tribute, incl. DIE WALKÜRE - Act 2, w.Edwin McArthur Cond. San Francisco Opera Ensemble; Kirsten Flagstad (Brünnhilde); Marjorie Lawrence (Sieglinde); Herta Glaz (Fricka); Lauritz Melchior (Siegmund); Fred Destal (Wotan), San Francisco War Memorial Opera House 10/24/1939; DIE WALKÜRE - Act 1; Act 2, Scene 3, w.Fritz Stiedry Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Rose Bampton (Sieglinde); Helen Traubel (Brünnhilde); Lauritz Melchior (Siegmund); Mihály Székely (Hunding), Metropolitan Opera, 1/24/1948; TRISTAN - Act 2, w. Fritz Busch Cond.Met Opera Ensemble; Helen Traubel (Isolde); Blanche Thebom (Brangäne); Lauritz Melchior (Tristan); Mihály Székely (King Marke), Metropolitan Opera, 1/3/1948; Aida - Judgment Scene (with Margarethe Arndt-Ober); Otello - Esultate! Dio mi potevi (2 recordings); Niun mi tema; Tosca: Recondita armonia; Mattinata (Leoncavallo); Pagliacci - Vesti la giubba (2 recordings); Zueignung; Heimliche Aufforderung (both Strauss); Ständchen (Schubert); Hrorer du! (Severre Jordan); Ich liebe dich (Grieg); Der fliegende Holländer - Mit Gewitter und Sturm; Die Meistersinger: Preislied. (2 recordings); Die Walküre - Winterstürme; Lohengrin - In fernem Land; Mein lieber Schwan; Parsifal - Nur eine Waffe taugt! (2 recordings); Siegfried - Nothung!; Wesendonck-Lieder – Träume; Interview with Melchior. (Canada) 4-Immortal Performances IPCD 1139. Restoration and Transfers by Richard Caniell. Notes by Richard Caniell & Dewey Faulkner. This remarkable set features two elaborate 48pp and 56pp brochures. - 787790581888
"The Immortal Performances label is justly acclaimed for its superb (and sometimes miraculous) sonic restorations of vintage recordings originally, both in-performance, and studio. But an aspect of their work that perhaps receives less attention and appreciation is the care they take to present an in-depth and rounded portrait of featured artists. A new 4-disc tribute to the iconic Danish tenor Lauritz Melchior (1890-1973) is a case in point. There are many outstanding aspects of Melchior’s artistic legacy. First and foremost, he was the greatest Wagnerian tenor of his era, and perhaps of any era. For three decades, Melchior triumphed in the fiercely demanding Wagner Heldentenor roles, lavishing upon them a voice unrivalled for its combination of power, beauty, freedom in the upper register, and marathon-worthy stamina. Such a voice would by itself have assured Melchior’s unrivaled status. But Melchior was also a probing and insightful vocal actor, one who constantly sought to portray the essence of his characters, and to improve upon his interpretations. In that quest, Melchior proved himself a master of phrasing, legato, precise diction, and a wide range of dynamics. Melchior was also able to maintain his voice and artistry over an extraordinary span of years, especially in light of the punishing repertoire he sang. Melchior was a month shy of his 60th birthday when, on February 2, 1950 at the Metropolitan Opera, he sang his final staged opera performance, in the title role of Wagner’s LOHENGRIN. But for several more years, Melchior continued to vocalize in splendid fashion, in stage and radio concerts, and in feature films. For all of Melchior’s triumphs, there were frustrations as well. Although Melchior excelled in such non-Wagnerian roles as Verdi’s Otello, and Radames in the Italian composer’s AIDA, the Met’s Edward Johnson never allowed Melchior to sing such operas on NY’s premiere lyric stage. Recorded excerpts by Melchior from such works are a bittersweet reminder of what a loss this was both to Met audiences, and to the tenor as well. In this IP four-disc tribute, all of these aspects of Melchior’s craft and artistry are masterfully woven throughout, resulting in a set that is of priceless value.
Of primary interest to Melchior collectors will be portions of three performances of Wagner operas, all available for the first time via this IP release. Each of these performances finds Melchior in superb vocal and dramatic form, and in the company of colleagues with whom he had tremendous chemistry….The sound for all three broadcasts is quite fine…. Of particular interest are excerpts from Italian operas that Melchior never performed at the Met, including AIDA, PAGLIACCI and OTELLO….Another treasure is the inclusion of 20-plus minutes of an interview with Melchior. The tenor is charming, self-effacing, and immensely appreciative of his colleagues. That said, Melchior makes no secret of how shabbily Met’s Rudolf Bing treated him while precipitating the tenor’s departure from the Met, after a career of a quarter century and 500 performances. This travesty, along with the missteps of Bing’s predecessor, Edward Johnson, are meticulously documented and ruthlessly (but appropriately) excoriated by Richard Caniell in an extensive article included in one of the set’s booklets. Dewey Faulkner’s liner notes on Melchior’s career and the featured performances make for lively and thought-provoking reading. Artist bios and photos, and plot synopses, round out the printed material. This is a masterful tribute that excels on all counts. I certainly can’t think of a more worthy recipient than Lauritz Melchior. Highest recommendation.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, Nov. / Dec., 2020
“There are a number of opera singers who deserve the adjective ‘great’. Each of them brings to their public something unique. I can think of only one, however, whose level of performance is so far above and beyond his colleagues that he occupies his own level in the vocal hierarchy: Lauritz Melchior could sing tenderly, with a melting legato line that could spin off into a haunting pianissimo as in the second act TRISTAN duet. His consonants were crisp, and every word he sang is clear. Year after year he sang the heaviest of Wagnerian roles with little diminution of authority’….
The singing on this set is extraordinary for its consistency of quality over a span of time beginning in 1923 (the acoustical AIDA Judgment Scene) and concluding in 1960 (an ‘Esultate’ from OTELLO recorded at the age of 70). Throughout, what we hear is a voice with a shining beauty at all dynamic levels, a scrupulous legato, and a consistent sensitivity to text and the dramatic situation….The ‘Todesverkündigung’ scene between Flagstad and Melchior is notable for the range of moods it captures. Siegmund’s refusal to accept Brünnhilde’s announcement of his imminent death is sung with gleaming tone and total vocal authority, and the chemistry between the two is palpable. Add in Marjorie Lawrence’s shining and rich soprano and her skill at shading, and this act receives the kind of vocal performance Wagner lovers today can only dream about….The sound is surprisingly good for a 1939 radio broadcast - clean and natural.
With so many DIE WALKÜRE performances with Melchior already on the market, you might think this one [at the Met on January 24, 1948] is superfluous. I would, however, hate to have missed the opportunity to hear this example of the tenor in his final season performing Siegmund at the Met. It is incomprehensible for a singer who is a few months shy of 58, and who has been singing Wagnerian roles for a quarter century, to still be performing at this level. What we hear is still the evenly produced voice of the young hero, along with a knowing inflection of every phrase. It is also wonderful to have another example of the important American soprano Rose Bampton as Sieglinde. Her voice has a glowing ring, and it retains its fullness of sound all the way up to the top of her range. Her Sieglinde is somewhat less docile than some, but it does not lack femininity. Mihály Székely’s dark, black bass is perfect for Hunding. In the third scene of the second act we add the gloriously rich soprano of Helen Traubel, here displaying a freer top than she sometimes did. If you listen to the ‘Todesverkündigung’ scene here and in the San Francisco performance, you can appreciate how Melchior did not fall into routines. He is very specific in his interactions with each soprano; in both cases the dramatic tension of the scene is almost unbearable….
The final major part of this set is the complete second act of TRISTAN from the Met in 1948. I have never seen this anywhere else and in fact had only heard about it as a ‘lost’ broadcast….
Fritz Busch’s conducting is splendid in its balancing of freedom and discipline….Here Szekely gives a deeply moving performance. He manages to convey the complicated mix of anger and disappointment that is integral to Marke’s long monologue. Busch also creates a more sensuous and even erotic atmosphere in the love duet than most conductors did through the application of subtle rubato throughout the scene. This act alone should serve as a rebuke to those who claimed that Melchior lacked a strong internal rhythm; Busch’s supple flexibility is matched inflection for inflection by the tenor. Traubel is splendid also, with a big, warm, feminine sound. The top of her range is tight, but it is heard in only a brief passing moment. On the whole she and Melchior blend their two rich voices perfectly.
In assessing the bonus material, it is probably the OTELLO excerpts that one should address first. Caniell has chosen a wonderful cross-section of extracts that demonstrate the degree of loss suffered by Met audiences due to the management’s limitation of Melchior to Wagner. Between 1926 and 1950 the Danish tenor sang 519 performances of operas by Wagner at the Met. While he did occasionally sing arias or scenes from operas by other composers at Met galas, he was never cast in a complete opera by any other composer!....In case you thought it was Melchior’s wish to limit himself to Wagner, the interview included in this set makes clear his disappointment in being pigeonholed.
His case is clinched by the recordings here. The two of Otello’s monologue from act 3 (‘Dio! mi potevi’) are masterful. The 1927 recording (in German) encompasses all of the qualities one looks for in that scene. The opening sequence on one repeated note requires intelligence and imagination if the tenor is honoring Verdi’s purpose in dwelling on the same note. Vickers met this requirement, and in a different way so did Mario del Monaco and Martinelli. But Melchior may surpass them all in the way he varies the color of phrase after phrase, reflecting Otello’s inner agony. ….Another demonstration of the consistency he maintained over time is ‘Vesti la giubba’ from PAGLIACCI. We get his 1929 studio recording with Barbirolli conducting and a 1950 Voice of Firestone broadcast. The later version was sung when he was 60 years old, and yet there is virtually no degradation of tone or vocal technique.
All of the Italian excerpts show a total comfort with the Italian line, even when sung in German. I was particularly taken with Cavaradossi’s ‘Recondita armonia’ from TOSCA, a performance (in Italian) marked by ardor and a broad arching line. One of the wonderful aspects of Immortal Performances releases is the wisdom of Richard Caniell’s choices from old radio broadcasts and all kinds of sources. The 23 minutes of interview material is fascinating. Melchior’s warmth and humor come across, along with his frustration at the way the Met typecast him.
Now we come to the two booklets that are integral to this set. Immortal Performances’ booklets are always important components of their products. In this case they have outdone themselves. One 48-page booklet contains an intelligent and thoughtful analysis of Melchior’s art and career, ‘The Irreplaceable Lauritz Melchior’, by Dewey Faulkner, along with plot synopses and recording notes by Caniell. The second booklet is 56 pages, and its two main articles are by Caniell. They make for extremely provocative reading….Taken together, the two articles make the case that many of us have long believed, which is that both of those Met general managers were more interested in their own egos than the art that they supposedly served. Caniell has done his research and backs up his points with facts…along with brief but informative bios of all the major artists heard in the set….The three major Wagner performances are all released for the first time, giving the set major importance. The transfers are at the high level of quality we have come to expect from this label.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, Nov. / Dec., 2020