WAGNER: Die Meistersinger
MOZART: Abduction from the Seraglio
ROSSINI: The Barber of Seville
Eight historic opera performances of varying quality and price, some very much worth attention of opera lovers. First, two live performances by Maria Callas recorded during her prime. Medea is from the Royal Opera House June 30, 1959. Also available is another live performance of this opera recorded at La Scala in 1961 with Thomas Schippers conducting. This magnificent 1959 performance has been issued previously, but the Pristine remastering shows it in a new light. The extra $$$ are well spent here. The remarkable soprano also is in top form in the Trovatore from a La Scala February 23, 1953. Her performance is stumping, her technique totally in control—amazing indeed. This is the kind of interpretation that catapulted her career. The remainder of the cast is first-rate, doubtless inspired by Callas' intensity. . This is essential for Callas fans, and a budget reissue. No program notes or libretto. There are two other Callas recordings of Trovatore, one with Karajan from 1956, and a 1950 performance from Mexico.The other Trovatore is also an exciting affair, from Montevideo in 1964. Leonora is sung by American soprano, Anne McKnight who was born in Illinois in 1924 and later changed her name to Anna De Cavalieri. . She can be heard as Musetta in the special Toscanini commemorative broadcast of Bohème from February1946 (REVIEW).Acclaimed in Italy, t her career, unfortunately, never flourished internationally.. Judging from this dynamic singing in Trovatore, it should have! She is totally in control, takes chances, and her sound is exciting. The remainder of the cast is excellent. Ths is another memorable Trovatore, very well recorded for its age and budget-priced.
This Meistersinger is a treasure, a performance recorded by the Italian Radio in 1955. The monophonic sound is excellent, the performance idiomatic with some of the finest Wagnerian singers of the time directed by the great Hans Rosbaud. What a pleasure to hear Otto Edelmann, Elisabeh Schwarzkopf, Hans Hopf, and Erich Kunz! And the price is super-budget. No program notes or texts, but essential in any Wagner opera collection. Of equal interest is the Buenos Aires 1961 Abduction from the Seraglio with a dream cast including Fritz Wunderlich, Anneliese Rothenberer, Renata Holm and Kurt Böhm, with Heinz Wallburg on the podium. This budget issue has an extra double page with photos of Rothenberger and Böhm and limited program notes. This is an important addition to the Mozart catalog. Another fantastic bargain issue.
American soprano Anna Moffo (1932-2006) was a sensation during her prime. After great success in Italy, she made her Met debut in 1959 and performed there for 17 seasons, known particularly for her Donizetti heroines, French heroines, and her Violetta in La traviata, a role she recorded for RCA. A beautiful woman and a fine actress, she had a huge following and recorded profusely, operas of Puccini, Mozart and Donizetti along with a superb collection of Verdi arias. Her career, unfortunately, later diminished as her voice deteriorated, reflected in her ill-advised recording of Thaïs. We can hear her at her peak of performance in this outstanding Daughter of the Regiment recorded for the Italian Radio in 1960. Excellent sound. The considerable "bonus" features arias from Semiramide, Rigoletto, Suor Angelica and Lucia di Lammermoor also in studio RAI recordings from 1957. This is a wonderful set, and budget-priced.
The Fidelio disappoints. Martha Mödl (1922-2001) was a leading Wagnerian soprano of her era known for her participation in Wilhelm Furwängler's La Scala Ring, and Herbert von Karajan's Tristan at Bayreuth. By the time of this Fidelio from Athens in 1957, Mödl was at the end of her career, and it shows. The remainder of the cast is unexceptional. For many, the prime interest here is Jascha Horenstein as conductor, but he has to deal with an inferior orchestra. Even at budget-price, skip this one.
Least attractive of this set of historic recordings is a Naples 1958 performance of The Barber of Seville. Renata Scotto is a shrill, uneven Rosina, even back then. There is the luxury of Alfredo Krauss, in fine voice, as the Count. Audio is poor; it sounds as if the microphones are on stage with a lot of thumps and clumps, and throughout we clearly can ear the prompter. And this recording is full-price(!!) Don't even think of acquiring it!
R.E.B. (May 2015)