V2651. NICOLAI GEDDA, w.Gabriella Tucci, Phyllis Curtin, Robert Merrill; Molinari-Pradelli Cond. Met Opera Ensemble: LA TRAVIATA - Excerpts. (Canada) St Laurent Studio YSL T-439, Live Performances, 7 & 16 Feb., 1970.
"Widely admired for his sensitive musicianship, masterly tonal control and impeccable diction in a spate of European languages, Mr. Gedda possessed a lyric tenor voice that shimmered like silver but was no less warm for that. He was one of the most versatile, and professionally long-lived, tenors of his era, with many dozens of roles to his name in a career that lasted until he was well into his 70s - a good two decades past a classical singer's customary retirement age. Over a quarter-century, he sang 367 performances with the Metropolitan Opera, from his debut in the title role of Gounod's FAUST in 1957 to his final performance, as Alfredo in Verdi's LA TRAVIATA, in 1983. But the role for which Mr. Gedda was very likely most famous was Russian: Lensky, the young poet in Tchaikovsky's EUGENE ONEGIN. Reviewing Mr. Gedda in a concert performance of ONEGIN with the Boston Symphony in 1976, Richard Dyer wrote in THE BOSTON GLOBE: 'The tenor's voicing of Lensky's aria - an ideal union of responsiveness to word and musical line, a demonstration of vocal and technical mastery and varied and beautiful tone, and an expression of wise and generous human feeling - was a classic demonstration of why, for some of us at least, operatic singing is the highest achievement of human art'.
Mr. Gedda made his United States debut in 1957, singing Faust with the Pittsburgh Opera. Reviewing his Met debut, in the same role later that year, under the baton of Jean Morel, Howard Taubman wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES: 'His carriage is tall and straight and his movement buoyant. It is credible that he will attract Marguerite. Even more impressive than his appearance is the intelligence of his singing'.
With the Met, he also sang Anatol in the world premiere of Samuel Barber's VANESSA, conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos in 1958, and Kodanda in the United States premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's THE LAST SAVAGE, under Thomas Schippers, in 1964."
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 10 Feb., 2017
"Of all the important tenors active during the latter half of the twentieth century, Nicolai Gedda was by far the most versatile and industrious, a questing musical spirit who left few areas of the operatic and song repertories unexplored. During a career that spanned nearly fifty years, Gedda was in demand the world over for the warm, sweet, silvery beauty of his voice, his patrician command of style, and an unshowy but dazzling technical virtuosity that was invariably in the service of the music.
Rudolf Bing snapped up Gedda early on (an unusual move by this canny impresario, who usually liked to keep Metropolitan Opera audiences expectantly waiting, even for the most sensational new discoveries), and Gedda made his Met debut on 1 November, 1957, as Faust. Thereafter the tenor, like so many important singers of his generation, tended to base himself in New York, while reserving plenty of time to fulfill engagements in Europe and make hundreds of recordings.
Gedda wound down his career slowly during the 1990s, giving concerts, teaching and taking on occasional character roles, such as the ancient Abdisu, Patriarch of Assyria, in Covent Garden's 1997 production of Pfitzner's PALESTRINA. He also finally found marital contentment in 1997 with Aino Sellermark, who collaborated with Gedda on his memoirs, MY LIFE AND MY ART. The couple settled in what appeared to be an idyllic retirement in Tolochenaz, a Swiss villa, where Gedda could take pride in recalling an extraordinarily productive career that had made him one of the most admired and widely heard tenors of his generation. Gedda died 8 January, 2017, aged 91."
- Peter G. Davis, OPERA NEWS, 9 Feb., 2017
“Gabriella Tucci, an Italian soprano whose richly expressive voice and beguiling stage presence made her a mainstay at major international houses who, from the start of her career in the 1950s in Italy, was praised for her lustrous sound and the velvety smoothness and refinement of her singing. An unaffected and subtly compelling actress, she was best known for her interpretations of the spinto repertory, like her rendition of the title role of Verdi’s AIDA, which demanded both lyric soprano lightness and the vocal heft to lift soaring phrases over an orchestra. Yet Ms. Tucci displayed notable range during her career. She brought brightness and agility to coloratura soprano parts, like Elvira in Bellini’s I PURITANI, and fervor and carrying power to the title role of Puccini’s TOSCA. In a 2002 interview with OPERA NEWS, she attributed the confidence of her singing to good technique and common sense. ‘I saved my voice’, she said. ‘I never tried to push, to make the voice seem bigger or stronger that it was’. If one has the technique, she emphasized, ‘you can sing lightly, you can sing, you know, smiling, sorriso, and you can sing dark’. True to the Italian operatic heritage, she emphasized the importance of the text. ‘All the answers are there’, she said.
During her prime years, from the late 1950s into the early ’70s, Ms. Tucci earned consistent respect from critics and loyal fans but tended to be overshadowed by star sopranos who also sang her repertory, including Maria Callas (for a period), Renata Tebaldi and Leontyne Price. That she was held to comparison with the greats of her day was, if somewhat unfair, inevitable. When the Metropolitan Opera introduced a new production of Verdi’s OTELLO, conducted by Georg Solti, in March 1963, Ms. Tucci was called upon to take over the role of Desdemona from Tebaldi, who had withdrawn. ‘Stepping into the shoes of Renata Tebaldi’ had to be ‘a thankless task’, the critic Paul B. Affelder wrote in THE BROOKLYN EAGLE, but ‘the attractive young Italian carried it off with dignity and sensitivity, gaining considerable effect by slightly underplaying the part’. And, he added, ‘one could wish for no finer singing of the ‘Salce’ and ‘Ave Maria,’ her two big arias in the final act’
She made her debut in a leading role as Leonora in Verdi’s LA FORZA DEL DESTINO at Spoleto in 1951, opposite the celebrated tenor Beniamino Gigli, then 61. ‘I had to learn the role, and I was a little bit afraid to face it’, she said in the OPERA NEWS interview. But she had six months to prepare. ‘It was really emotional for me to sing with this god’, she said. ‘But he was very kind. He said ‘Brava, brava’. Appearances followed in Florence, Venice and, in 1959, Milan, where she made her debut at La Scala as Mimì in Puccini’s LA BOHÈME. The next year she sang the title roles of AIDA and TOSCA at Covent Garden in London.
Following her American debut with the San Francisco Opera, Ms. Tucci made her Metropolitan Opera debut in October 1960 as Cio-Cio-San in MADAMA BUTTERFLY, winning strong reviews. She went on to sing 259 performances with the Met in 20 roles, mostly in works by Verdi and Puccini. She appeared in four new productions, including Verdi’s FALSTAFF in 1964, which was also the Met debut of both the director Franco Zeffirelli and the conductor Leonard Bernstein. That Rudolf Bing, the Met’s general manager at the time, valued Ms. Tucci was clear from the double-duty assignment he gave her on April 16, 1966, the company’s last day at its old house: She sang Mimì at the Saturday matinee and took part in the gala farewell to the house that night, ending the program in a performance of the final trio from Gounod’s FAUST (with the tenor Nicolai Gedda and the bass Jerome Hines).
She fared equally well in the new house. Reviewing her as Liù in Puccini’s TURANDOT in 1968, Harold C. Schonberg of THE NEW YORK TIMES wrote: ‘Has the first-act aria ‘Signore, ascolta’ been sung more touchingly, more artistically, more elegantly in recent years? One doubts it’."
- Anthony Tommasini, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 17 July, 2020
“Phyllis Curtin, an American soprano celebrated as a champion of new music, a mainstay of the New York City Opera in the 1950s and ’60s, was noted for the purity of her voice, the sensitivity of her musical phrasing and the crystalline perfection of her diction. On the opera stage and in recital, she gave the premieres of dozens of works by 20th-century composers – ‘more first, and last, performances than any singer in history’, as she was fond of saying, ruefully. But she sang many works with staying power, including music by Benjamin Britten, Ned Rorem and the American composer Carlisle Floyd, for whom she created the title role in SUSANNAH, his most famous opera, in a performance at Florida State University in Tallahassee in 1955.
In the standard repertoire, Ms. Curtin was widely praised for her Mozart - she sang all of his major heroines over time - and for the title role in Richard Strauss’ SALOME. Her other notable roles included Violetta in LA TRAVIATA and Alice Ford in FALSTAFF, Ellen Orford in Britten’s PETER GRIMES; the title role in Darius Milhaud’s MÉDÉE; and Cathy in Mr. Floyd’s WUTHERING HEIGHTS, a part she created at the Santa Fe Opera in 1958. Ms. Curtin also sang at the Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Vienna State Opera, Covent Garden and La Scala. She appeared in concert with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and other major ensembles. Writing in THE NEW YORK TIMES in 1998, Anthony Tommasini described Ms. Curtin as an ‘estimable American soprano, who has achieved notable success and respect throughout the field but never quite the recognition she deserves’. The reasons for this seem to reflect the difficulties faced by many American opera singers of Ms. Curtin’s era, when a European background was considered the sine qua non for landing contracts with major United States companies. What was more, as Ms. Curtin told it, her career was hindered by a set of backstage machinations as Machiavellian as anything in opera.
She envisioned herself as a recitalist – ‘a song-singer’, she liked to say - but fell into opera early. As a student at Tanglewood in 1946, she sang a small role in the United States premiere of PETER GRIMES, under Leonard Bernstein. Ms. Curtin gave her New York recital début at Town Hall in 1950 in a characteristically eclectic program that featured songs by Mozart, Fauré, Ravel, Mussorgsky and several Latin American composers. Reviewing the performance, THE NEW YORK TIMES said: ‘Miss Curtin’s voice is altogether lovely in quality, and is used with equal assurance throughout its entire range. But her concern was so exclusively with communication that one was conscious only of the music itself’.
Ms. Curtin made her Met début in 1961 as Fiordiligi in Mozart’s COSÌ FAN TUTTE. (‘Now Phyllis Curtin is at the Met, where she should have been a long time ago’, THE NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE wrote.) But after that, the company’s imperious general manager, Rudolf Bing, engaged her only occasionally. Ms. Curtin, who continued to perform well into her 60s [and] starting in the mid-1960s, she taught for 51 years at Tanglewood, where her students included the future opera stars Dawn Upshaw, Cheryl Studer and Simon Estes."
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 6 June, 2016