V2650. LUCREZIA BORI: A Tribute, incl. LA RONDINE - Act 2, with Mario Chamlee, Live Performance, 8 Oct., 1934 St. Louis Opera, Live Performance, (not Chicago nor San Francisco [as erroneously assumed in the past]); LA BOHÈME - Act 4, final scene, w.Carlo Sabajno, Cond. La Scala Ensemble; Tito Schipa, Ernesto Badini, Luigi Manfrini, Aristide Baracchi & Thea Vitulli, recorded 1925; Act 1, final scene, w.Otto Klemperer, Cond. Los Angeles Phil., & Joseph Bentonelli – Live Performance, 6 June, 1937; MANON – Act 3, scene 2, w.Louis Hasselmans Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Richard Crooks & Léon Rothier – Live Performance, 29 March, 1936 (Bori's Met Farewell), including Lucrezia Bori’s speech; L’ENFANT PRODIGUE - Azaël! Azaël! Pourquoi m'as-tu quittée?, w.Goossens Cond. Met Opera Orch., Live Performance, 30 Dec., 1934; Arias from La Bohème, Madama Butterfly, Louise, La Fille du Régiment, Pagliacci, Mignon & La Rondine – recorded 1925-35. (Canada) 2-Immortal Performances IPCD 1136. Restoration and Transfers by Richard Caniell. Notes by Richard Caniell & William Russell. With elaborate 46pp booklet. - 787790582083
“The Spanish soprano Lucrezia Bori (1887–1960) is an extremely interesting artist, in that she achieved stardom without a truly spectacular aspect to her singing. Her voice was apparently not large, her top was somewhat limited, and when you first hear it, your reaction might very well be something along the lines of ‘well, that’s pretty’. The more one listens, however, the more one appreciates Bori’s greatness as an artist. Immortal Performances’ two-disc tribute affords that opportunity.
What we observe as we listen is a pure, bright lyric soprano that that she used with great expressivity and musical imagination, along with a technique that allowed her to maintain a consistency of quality at all dynamic levels. For example, in Mimì’s farewell aria in LA BOHÈME, Bori spins two extraordinary diminuendi, making evident the character’s regret at having to say goodbye (which, of course, by the end of the act she reverses). Those are the kinds of moments that make the listener catch his breath. Bori’s talent was perfectly suited to opera’s fragile female characters, and to that she added a wit that registered perfectly in comic roles. It is unfortunate that although she was a very important artist at the Met and a favorite of Met audiences, for some reason Bori was not assigned many broadcasts, the result being that we do not have as many examples of her art as we should.
Throughout the fairly wide range of repertoire on this set, one is repeatedly impressed by Bori’s ability to convey tenderness and fragility as well as strength and even power, and she does it all through classically fine singing. Her intonation is flawless, her legato perfectly even, and her singing a consistent model of lyrical grace and elegance while never short-changing the dramatic moment.
The set begins with a live second act from Puccini’s LA RONDINE. The source of this performance has been questioned, but Immortal Performances documents it clearly as being a St. Louis Opera broadcast from October 8, 1934. The Ruggero is the fine American lyric tenor Mario Chamlee. Bori, like most singers, was more dramatically expressive when on stage, and this is a particularly vivid example. One regrets that Magda’s great aria, ‘Chi il bel sogno di Doretta’, is in the first act rather than the second, so we don’t get to hear that. But what we do hear is a passionate and beautifully sung act from a Puccini opera that is rarely treated to this level of singing.
Producer Richard Caniell has successfully worked to improve the flawed original sound, and he gives a brief example by including a brief sample of the bad mike placement with an overly prominent bassoon. This is not the first release of the RONDINE act, but it is far superior to the earlier one with which I am familiar. This set also includes Bori’s 1937 RCA recording of ‘Ore dolce e divine’, which is very lovely.
The other major extract is the excerpt from the Metropolitan Opera Gala Farewell for Bori on March 29, 1936. Because NBC would not permit enough time for the entire concert to be broadcast, only the MANON scene and the speeches were aired. Richard Crooks is a very elegant Des Grieux, and Bori’s Manon balances all of the elements of Massenet’s complex character: delicacy, elegance, tenderness, and strength. This must have been an extraordinarily moving event for her, and her touching speech makes that clear, yet her singing is flawless. Following is an RCA recordings from 1937 that Bori made of three excerpts from MANON, which demonstrate that same balance of vocal, musical, and dramatic virtues. ‘Adieu, notre petite table’ is particularly touching, with her characteristic attention to text and shading.
Another live broadcast included here is the final scene from the first act of LA BOHÈME from a Hollywood Bowl concert of June 6, 1937. The tenor is Joseph Bentonelli (an American-born Joseph Benton), who sings Rodolfo’s aria very prosaically, followed by the completely involved, coquettish, and imaginative Bori in Mimì’s aria. Caniell makes the point in his notes that Bentonelli must have been paying attention, because he is more attentive to details of shading in the duet, even though his voice is still a generic one. Otto Klemperer, not a conductor we associate with Puccini, has a very good feel for the music. Bori’s singing is like a master class in how to phrase the aria and how to make every word mean something. The original recording has some static and compression problems, but Caniell has made it more than listenable. For those to whom this is important, I will note that the ending of the duet is transposed down a half-tone.
In the bonus material the RCA recordings of arias and scenes, mostly made in the late 1920s, demonstrate Bori’s gifts flawlessly. The label recorded Bori with Tito Schipa in the final scene of LA BOHÈME. With typical corporate thinking, however, RCA chose not to pay for a baritone and second soprano to sing Marcello and Musetta’s lines, leaving gaping holes in the music. Caniell has seamlessly spliced in the missing parts from RCA’s complete recording of the opera, also conducted by Carlo Sabajno. If In 1928, there had been an artistic vision functioning at RCA, they might have recorded the complete opera with Bori and Schipa, but that didn’t happen. This fragment is therefore treasurable. The way Bori holds on to the next-to-last note of ‘Sono andate’, as if she were trying to hold onto life itself, will break your heart. Schipa is wonderful in his brief turn as Rodolfo, and all we can do is think about the missed opportunity.
Butterfly’s ‘Un bel dì’ is sung with a less dramatic voice than we have become used to, thanks to the likes of Renata Tebaldi. Bori is more in the Toti dal Monte tradition, and we remember that this is a fragile, and very young, Japanese girl. Every word, every phrase, is articulated with meaning. The aria is not sung to the gallery but intimately to Suzuki, remonstrating her for her lack of faith.
All of these recordings have been correctly pitched and cleaned up to the fullest extent possible. In the two arias from Donizetti’s LA FILLE DU RÉGIMENT Bori shows her spunky comedic sense and a fluid coloratura. (These are live performances for which the source is unclear.) ‘Depuis le jour’ from Charpentier’s LOUISE has some lovely moments, but it strikes me as something not as comfortable for Bori compared with the rest of the material here. On the other hand, the aria from Debussy’s L’ENFANT PRODIGUE is absolutely masterful, and also surprisingly successful is ‘Connais-tu le pays’ from Thomas’ MIGNON, an aria usually sung by an alto. Nedda’s aria from PAGLIACCI, which I generally can take or leave, is absolutely riveting here, delivered with energy and élan perfectly depicting the free spirit that is Nedda.
The booklet included with the set is up to the usual high standards of Immortal Performances. William Russell, one of the label’s regular contributors, provides a very knowledgeable and well-written tribute to, and analysis of, Bori’s art. Caniell provides insightful commentary as well and his helpful recording notes. The photos that round out the booklet are one more attraction to an extremely satisfying package.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"Once again, IP has given us a glorious tribute to an important singer, a tribute that not only casts an appreciative light upon her artistry, but also upon her colleagues and their contributions to a glorious time in operatic history. Recommended with the utmost enthusiasm. 5 Stars: Immortal Performances’ superb tribute to the beloved soprano Lucrezia Bori"
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE
“One need only listen to a few moments of…Lucrezia Bori (who sang at the Met from the 1910s to the 1930s) to realize how she could put her relatively light voice repeatedly through a role like Nedda in PAGLIACCI and retain freshness. She was intensely dramatic and imaginative, but never at the expense of her superbly clear attack and lyrical poise. Her 1914 recording of Nedda's aria can be set beside her radio broadcast of it from the late '30s; the voice is nearly unchanged.”
- Will Crutchfield, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 21 Sept., 1986