DVORÁK: Biblical Songs. RAVEL: Shéhérazade. MAHLER: Rückert-Lieder
Magdalena Kozena, mezzo-soprano; Berlin Philharmonic Orch/Simon Rattle, cond.
DGGH B0016761 TT: 64:13

HANDEL: Excerpts from Acis and Galatea, The Messiah, Alcina, and Samson. VERDI: Excerpts from Otello, La traviata, and Rigoletto. BELLINI: Arias from Norma, I Puritani, and La Sonnambula. Arias from Romeo et Juliet, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Lakmé, Les Huguenots, Semirade, Faust, and Arne: The Soldier Tir'd
Joan Sutherland, soprano/ various orch/conductors
REGIS RRC 3013 (3 disks) TT: 172:31

STRAUSS: Die Frau Ohne Schatten
Ben Heppner (The Emperor). Deborah Voight (The Empress). Hanna Schwarz (The Nurse). Franz Grundheber (Barak). Sabine Hass (The Dyer's Wife). Hans-Joachimn Ketelsen (Spirit Messenger). Dresden State Opera Chorus and Orch/Giuseppe Sinopoli, cond.
TELDEC 2564 66215 (3 disks) TT: 67:58 / 57:04 / 59:27

Arias from Aida, I vespri Siciliani, Norma, Agnese di Hohenstaufen, Nabucco, Ernani, Tosca, La forza del destino, La Gioconda, Oberon, La Wally, Andrea Chenier, and Guglielmo Tell
Anita Cerquetti, soprano; various orch/Gianandrea Gavazzeni, Mario Rossi, and Vittorio Gui
PREISER 93479 TT: 74:00

WAGNER: Excerpts from Rienzi, Tristan und Isolde, Die Walküre and Götterdämmerung. Wesendoonck-Lieder. STRAUSS: Excerpt from Elektra. REIMANN: Excerpt from Melusina. TCHAIKOVSKY: Excerpt from Pique Dame. BEETHOVEN: Sechs Lieder von Gellert, Op. 48.
Martha Mödl, soprano; Orchestras conducted by Joseph Keilberth, Georges Sebastian, Otmar Suitner, Ferdinand Leitner, Reinhard Peters and Niksa Barez/Michael Raucheisen, piano
PROFIL DCD PH12006 (2 disks) TT: 79:04 & 79:13

DGG has a winner in this exquisite CD of performances recorded live in Berlin's Philharmonie this past January. Mezzo Magdalena Kozena is in top form vocally and interpretively for the seldom-heard Dvorak Biblical Songs, Ravel's exotic song cycle, and Rückert Lieder. Kozena is fortunate to have the perfect accompaniment of the Berlin Philharmonic directed by her husband, and superb recorded sound as well. Complete texts are provided. It just doesn't get better than this. Don't miss this one!

Admirers of Joan Sutherland already will have all performances in this new Regis 3-disk set, all recorded for Decca 1959-1960 at the beginning of her fantastic career. The singing is spectacular of course as she tosses off these coloratura showpieces with the greatest of ease. No texts and very limited CD notes, but the price is very reasonable.

Die Frau ohne Schatten can be a magnificent experience with the right cast and conductor. This site has mentioned a number of recordings including excerpts from an historic 1953 performance conducted by Karl Böhm, and the first recording ever made, in 1955 with a terrific cast again with Böhm on the podium (REVIEW). Also there is a fine DVD of Frau, a 1992 performance conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch when the Bavarian Opera was on tour in Japan (REVIEW). This Teldec CD set of a live performance recorded in 1996 at the Dresden Opera was issued previously on Warner Classics and still is available on that label (at a much lower price). It has many plusses, with Deborah Voight in top form, but unfortunately there are many cuts that disfigure Strauss's wondrous score. If you love this opera, look for the 1974 Salzburg Festival performance with the perfect cast: Leonie Rysanek, Christa Ludwig, James King and Walter Berry with Böhm on the podium. And let us hope that Sony will reissue in their Met series the incandescent performance from 1966, one of the greatest productions of the Met's first season in their new home.

Italian dramatic soprano Anita Cerquetti (b. 1931) was a sensation during her all-too-brief career. After only a year of study, she made her debut in grand style singing Aida in 1951 in Spoleto. Soon she became a favorite of leading conductors including Carlo Maria Giulini and Dimitri Mitropoulos. Her huge voice was perfect for challenging roles including Norma, which she sang at the Rome Opera House in 1958 substituting for Maria Callas—at the same time performing the opera in Naples at the San Carlo Opera. alternating between the two opera houses, quite an achievement indeed. It was during this period that her singing became inconsistent, she felt stressed (for good reason!), and shortly thereafter retired from performances after only a decade in the spotlight—much to the disappointment of her many fans. Cerquetti made only two commercial recordings, for Decca, a group of Italian arias and a complete La Gioconda. This valuable Preiser issue offers the aria collection, two excerpts from Gioconda, and arias from RAI broadcasts 1955-1956. Glorious singing here, from a soprano who is very much missed.

German soprano Martha Mödl (1912-2001) was considered to be a legendary singer of her era. She began as a mezzo then turned to dramatic soprano roles, and for her final performing years returned to mezzo roles. She was a favorite of many famous conductors including Wilhelm Furtwängler and Herbert von Karajan, and Wieland Wagner who invited her to sing Kundry at Bayreuth in 1951. One of her best recordings is the live 1951 performance of the Ring from La Scala with Furtwängler, recently reissued in superb sound on Pristine Audio (REVIEW). These two well-filled Profil disks offer live performances as listed above. Although most of these recordings were made 1950-1971, during the soprano's prime, hearing these, one might wonder why the acclaim. Much of the singing is hardly what one would expect of a famous Wagnerian soprano with suspect pitch, higher notes often slid into. She can be heard at her best in the Preiser collection mentioned on this site (REVIEW).

R.E.B. (May 2012)