WAGNER: Wesendonck Lieder. Act III, Scene 3 of Siegfried.
Arias from Tosca, Gianni Schicchi, La Wally, Adriana Lecouvreus,
Pagliacci, Otello, Don Giovanni. The Marriage of Figaro, Manon, Louise,
and Eugene Onegin; VILLA-LOBOS: Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5
Arias from Mignon, Manon, L'arlesiana, La traviata, I Puritani,
Lucia di Lammermoor, Cavalleria rusticana, Tosca, Madama Butterfly,
La forza del destino, La fanciulla del West, Gianni Schicchi, Turandot,
Rigoletto, Il trovatore, Un ballo in maschera, La Bohème, Manon
Lescaut, The Pearl Fishers, Iris, Otello, Carmen, and Faust;
Sicilian folk songs.
WAGNER: Scenes from The Flying Dutchman, Parsifal, Tannhäuser,
Siegfried and Die Walküre.
Four of these five CD sets are of major importance to collectors. American soprano Eileen Farrell chose not to appear extensively on the opera stage, but fortunately she made a number of recordings, and many of her live performances have been issued as well. Leopold Stokowski heard Farrell on one of her weekly broadcasts and asked her to record the Wesendonck-Lieder with him. She worked with him over a period of four months, and this recording was made December 30, 1947. With Farrell's magnificent voice and Stokowski's impassioned accompaniment, this is among the finest ever made of this music. The final scene of Siegfried was recorded in Rochester May 9, 1949, one of Farrell's few commercial recordings of Wagner. She is a glorious Brunnhilde; it is unfortunate that Swedish tenor Set Svanholm (1904-1964) was towards the end of his career at the time of this recording. Earlier he was considered to be the finest Tristan and Siegfried and appeared regularly at major opera houses. On this recording he sounds rather strained, but through his participation we have the opportunity to hear Farrell in what would have been one of her greatest roles, should she have decided to sing it on stage. As usual, Testament's transfers are superb. There are no texts. Collectors should also investigate another Testament Farrell CD of operatic arias and songs (SBT 1073) (see REVIEW).
Another fine issue is the disk devoted to soprano Licia Albanese. Born in 1913 in Italy, she made her unofficial debut in 1934 in Madama Butterfly which became her signature role for years to follow. She gave 72 performances of it during her 26 seasons at the Met, as well as other roles for which she was famous including Mimì, Violetta and Manon Lescaut. Toscanini invited her to sing in his broadcasts of La Bohéme and La traviata. Known for her generosity as well as her artistry, Albanese was a major figure on the operatic scene for well over three decades. This new Testament issue contains recordings made from 1945 to 1951 for RCA and duplicates only five selections from RCA's CD devoted to her (RCA Gold Seal 60384, reissued by ArkivMusic). Although Albanese's voice was not particularly beautiful, her technique was secure, her musicianship solid. On this disk we hear her in a wide variety of roles. Of particular importance are Villa-Lobos' Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 and Tatyana's Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin recorded in 1951 with Leopold Stokowski, theVilla-Lobos currently not otherwise available on commercial recordings. In 1966 she directed performances of Madama Butterfly with the Baltimore Opera Company and when Teresa Stratas became indisposed, sang the role for the final performance, reportedly very well indeed. In 1974 she appeared on the operatic stage for the last time: Liu in a gala performance of Turandot with the New Jersey Opera. This new issue offers excellent transfers, no texts.
EMI has a new budget-priced reissue series called ICON that offers some incredible bargains for collectors. Two of them are listed above, a four-disk set devoted to soprano Mirella Freni, a three-disk set to tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano. All CDs are maximum capacity with complete track listings (no texts) and a short biography of the artist, in three languages. Freni's set is devoted mostly to excerpts from her complete opera recordings, including about 50 minutes of Aida, a role Karajan coaxed her into singing for this recording. Apparently she never sang it on stage, but on this recording she is excellent. Giuseppe Di Stefano (1921-2008) was another major singer of his era, and collectors will welcome this compilation of scenes and arias taken for the most part from complete opera recordings, many with Maria Callas. We also have six Italian songs. The ICON series offers new remasterings from original sources, and audio quality is excellent.
New Wagnerian singers are always welcome, and there is much interest in a young Finnish bass-baritone, Juha Uusitalo who in recent years has sung Wotan and The Dutchman with great success. This season (2008) he made his Met debut as Jochanaan in Salome, televised in theaters throughout the country. When I saw it (a stunning performance overall!), at the point where Salome looks down at the prone Baptist and exclaims, "How wasted he is," many viewers laughed; Uusitalo is anything but "wasted." However, he made a reasonably good impression in this Met performance, but his voice displayed the same qualities heard on this new recording---a wide vibrato and uneven vocal production. When this is heard in a young singer, it is cause for concern. Accompaniments by the Helsinki Philharmonic are superb under Leif Segarstam's dynamic direction. Ondine's engineers have done an excellent job.
R.E.B. (October 2008)