GOUNOD: Roméo et Juliette
ROSSINI: Il Barbiere di Siviglia
WAGNER: Die Walküre
WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nurenberg
Arias from The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, Tannhäuser,
Aida, Die toten Augen, Tiefland, Die tote Stadt, Ariadne auf Naxos, and Daphne.
Five Metropolitan Opera broadcast reissues, from the sublime to the ridiculous. All are monophonic recordings issued at mid-price, libretti are not provided, but basic information is there along with detailed track listings. Gounod's Romeo and Juliet is from a broadcast February 1, 1947, essential for those who love this opera, a superb performance and the only way to hear Bjoerling's perfect singing as Romeo in French, with Bidú Sayao/s touching Juliette. There is another complete recording of this opera sung in Swedish, reviewed on this site in 2001 by K.M. (REVIEW). Sound on the Met recording is quite dated, but sufficient to convey this important performance. The ridiculous in this group is the enthusiastic but misguided performance of The Barber of Seville broadcast December 16, 1950. Everyone seems to be having a great time, and the audience responds happily to everything that goes on, no matter how inappropriate. The French-American soprano Lily Pons was an audience favorite for several decades and sang 300 times at the Met including 33 as Rosina. Judging from what is heard here, even though she was far from the end of her career, her technique left much to be desired, her pitch often wavered— however, no matter what sounds she made, the audience roared approval. A welcome plus is the opportunity to hear a very young Giuseppe Di Stefano as Almaviva, a role he apparently wisely never returned to.
The other three Met operas are intriguing indeed. The opportunity to hear Die Walküre in this performance from February 24, 1968 with Jon Vickers, Birgit Nilsson, Leonie Rysanek and Thomas Stewart should not be missed . This is the Met at its best—a perfect dream cast directed by Croatian conductor Berislav Klobucar who keeps things moving in an exciting way. Vickers was the Siegmund of the era, Rysanek supplies her exalted scream as Siegmund pulls the sword from the tree, and Nilsson's security and power as Brünnhilde are not to be heard on opera stages today. Fidelio, from February 13, 1960, gives us Nilsson in another of her signature roles, and the sterling Vickers is Floristan. Unfortunately, the performance is marred by the inept Met orchestra, with a frustrated Karl Böhm on the podium. It is hard to believe that this is the same orchestra Böhm conducted two years earlier in the Met premiere of Die Frau ohne Schatten. The Met Orchestra, because of James Levine's tenure, is now among the world's best. This Fidelio broadcast was, indeed, an orchestral off-day. Die Meistersinger, from January 15, 1972, is a routine performance of no particular distinction except perhaps for James Morris singing the small role of Schwarz; in 2001 Morris sang the first of eight Met performances as Hans Sachs.
Polish-born soprano Annelies Kupper (1906-1987) had a long, successful career. Beginning in 1940 she sang at the Hamburg State Opera, and in 1946 became a member of the Munich Opera where she remained for two decades singing all of the Puccini heroines, lighter Wagner roles, and six operas by Strauss including the official premiere of Danae at the 1952 Salzburg Festival. It is surprising that Kupper recorded relatively little. Preiser's welcome disk includes some of the music in which she specialized; there is a Lotte Lehmann quality to her singing of arias from Die toten Augen and Die tote Stadt, and we do have a major scene from Daphne as well.
R.E.B. (May 2011)