Arias of Gluck, Verdi, Gounod, Bizet, Saint-Saëns, Massenet,
Godard and Debussy; songs of Schumann, Hahn and Chaminade
Arias of Bellini, Rossini, Halévy, Meyerbeer, Gounod,
Verdi, Bizet, Ponchielli, Leoncavallo, Giordano, Puccini and R. Strauss
Arias of Verdi, Puccini, Giordano; songs of Falvo-Fusco, De Curtis,
Tosti and others
Arias of Bellini, Halévy, Meyerbeer, Gounod, Bizet, Wagner,
Verdi, Ponchielli, and Leoncavallo
Songs of Cole Porter/Romantic Songs
French contralto Jeanne Gerville-Réache (b. March 28, 1882) enjoyed an extraordinary, if brief, career. For two years she sang at the Opéra-Comique, appearing in two premieres: Erlanger's Le Juif polonais, and the role of Geneviève in Debussy's Pelléas and Mélisande, and was also famous for her Dalila. Gerville-Réache came to the United States in 1907 quickly becoming a favorite with American opera companies (but not the Met). She sang in the American premiere of Pelléas as well as the first performance of Elektra (sung in French) in 1910, a role (Klytaemnestra) she sang only once (she called it a "hellish" part). Tragically in 1915 at the height of her career she died from food poisoning. These few recordings are of some of her greatest roles, made for Victor 1909-1913. Mme. Charles Cahier is an American contralto (b. Nashville, Tennessee January 6, 1870) who studied in Paris with Jean de Reszke. She was hired by Gustav Mahler for the Vienna Court Opera and became known for her Carmen as well as an interpreter of Mahler's music (she sang in the premiere of Das Lied von der Erde in 1911 in Munich with Bruno Walter on the podium). Towards the end of her successful career, she became renowned as a teacher, her students including Marian Anderson, Göta Ljungberg and Rosette Anday. She died in Manhattan Beach April 15, 1951. Apparently she made few recordings—here we have arias from La Favorite, Le Prophète and Carmen, plus three songs ending with Swing low, sweet Chariot, all recorded September 20-21, 1928 for HMV. We are fortunate to have this opportunity to hear these performances by two of the great contraltos of the past.
Czech-born tenor Kurt Baum (1908) was a sportsman and amateur heavyweight boxing champion of his native country. Originally he studied medicine, but friends suggested he turn to music. His progress was rapid and after three years he won a major competition and was hired by the Zurich Opera, making de his debut in Zemlinsky's Der Kreidekreis. Baum soon attracted attention of other opera companies, and made his first appeared in American with the Chicago Opera as Radames in November 1939. In 1941 his Met debut was as the Italian Singer in Rosenkavalier, and he remained there for 25 years in a wide range of roles, mostly Italian. Baum was known for his high register but not for his artistry. He made relatively few recordings, but here we have a group of arias recorded during his prime for the Allegro Royale and Remington labels. Baum also can be heard in a number of live recordings, particularly Aida from Mexico City in 1950 in which he partnered Maria Callas with whom he clashed, although he did sing the opera with her at the Royal Opera three years later.
Italian tenor Gianni Poggi (1921-1989) could not compete with his contemporaries which included Bergonzi, Bjöerling, Corelli, del Monaco, di Stefano and Gedda. Poggi performed often at leading European and American opera houses, but never became a favorite with audiences. It is surprising that he was chosen to participate in several major complete opera recordings: La traviata with Renata Tebaldi, La Gioconda with Maria Callas, La favorite with Giulietta Simionato, and Ballo, La Bohème and Tosca with Antonietta Stella. This is Preiser's second disk devoted to Poggi, 7 arias, a group of songs and a "bonus" excerpt from a 1952 performance of Mefistofele in Milan. Limited interest here.
American tenor Albert da Costa (1927-1967) had a respectable if unexceptional career. He studied at Juilliard and began as a baritone and later switching to dramatic tenor roles. He first sang at the Met in 1955 as the sailor in Tristan, and until 1962 appeared in a variety of roles including Siegmund, Radames and Manrico. He then appeared many times in Europe, particularly with the Zurich Opera. In December 1959 he was one of three tenors to sing Tristan to Birgit Nilsson's Isolde at the Met (the other two were Ramon Vinay and Karl Liebl). His voice was strong and confident in the upper register and it is surprising that he made only one commercial recording, Beethoven's Ninth in 1959 with Bruno Walter conducting. Costa was a reliable singer whose career tragically ended in a car accident in Denmark in November 1967. On Preiser's CD we hear a group of arias recorded for Allegro Royale and Concord. There's not much finesse here, but his bold singing has much to offer.
Italian bass Cesare Siepi (1923-2010) had it all. He was handsome, his voice was powerful and beautiful, and he had a commanding stage presence. He was one of the great true basses of the century, in demand in all major opera houses. His most famous role was Don Giovanni which he recorded with Wilhelm Furtwängler, Josef Krips and Erich Leinsdorf. His many honors include being chosen by Arturo Toscanini for Mefistophele. For 25 years he was a favorite at the Met in a wide variety of roles. Siepi already is fairly well represented in the catalog including two previous issues on Preiser. With this new release we turn to the last phase of the bass's career. In 1962, Siepi made his Broadway debut starring in the ill-fated Bravo Giovanni (which had 76 performances), and, in 1979, Carmelina (which lasted but 17 performances). Preiser's new disk is called The Lighter Side of Cesare Siepi and offers 12 songs by Cole Porter recorded for Decca in 1958 with the Roland Shaw Orchestra, and 8 "Famous Romances" recorded for Cetra in 1948. Beautifully sung, of course, should the repertory interest you.
R.E.B. (February 2010)