Waltzes and Arias by Johann Strauss, Josef Strauss, Saint-Saëns, Verdi, Godard, Arditi, Suppé, Dvorák, Meyerbeer, Alyabyev, Delibes, Czernik, Marchesi, Flotow, and Dell'Acquae
Rita Streich, soprano; Berlin Orch/Kurt Gaebel, cond.
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802069 TT: 74:33
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BRAHMS: Alto Rhapsody, Op. 53. WAGNER: Wesendonck Lieder. MAHLER: "Der Abschied" from Das Lied von der Erde.
Stephanie Blythe, contralto; Ensemble "a Sei Voci," Paris Orchestral Ens/John Nelson. cond.
EMI CLASSICS 16981 TT: 60:08
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Arias from William Tell, Norma, Il trovatore, Un ballo in maschera, La forza del destino, Aida, La Gioconda, and Cavalleria rusticana
Giannina Arangi Lombardi, soprano
PREISER 89746 TT: 78:09
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Arias from Lohengrin, Otello, Andrea Chenier, Manon Lescaut, and Madama Butterfly; MOORE: The meeting of the Waters. HUGHES: The Lover's curse.
Margaret Sheridan, soprano; various orch. & cond/Gerald Moore, piano
PREISER 89745 TT: 75:05
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Arias from Don Giovanni, L'Elisir d'Amore, Faust, Romeo and Juliet, Manon, Werther, Le Roi d'Ys, I Pescatori di Perle, Sadko, Tosca, Fedora, and L'Arlesiana, excerpts from operettas and songs
Richard Crooks, tenor; Orchestra conducted byh Wilfred Pelletier; Nathaniel Shilkret, piano
PREISER 89744 TT: 78:48
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During her heyday, Rita Streich (1920-1987) was a sensational coloratura soprano known for her purity of sound, tonal beauty and technical expertise. In demand in major opera houses, she was chosen by Herbert von Karajan for his classic recordings of Der Rosenkavalier (Sophie), Ariadne auf Naxos (Zerbinetta) and Die Fledermaus (Adele). Streich also was a favorite of Böhm, Fricsay, Jochum and Furtwängler—high praise indeed for the petite Russian-born soprano. She made many records many of which are, fortunately, still available. DG's disk (000818602) contains some of the works on this Newton Classics issue. Another DG CD in their Originals Series also is available thanks to ArkivMusic (DG 457763), as well as a disk of Mozart arias (DG 431875). It is unfortunate that two major DG sets are no longer available: a 2 CD set of arias and waltzes (some of which are included on the Newton CD) (436 748), and another 2 CD set of Lieder of Mozart, Schubert, Richard Strauss, Schubert, Schumann and Wolf (DG 437680). Perhaps ArkiveMusik will consider reissuing these remarkable albums. In the meantime, collectors can enjoy the stunning performances on the Newton Classics mid-price disk which includes one of my favorite recordings, The Nightingale and the Rose by Saint-Saëns, surely one of the most perfect vocal recordings ever made. If you aren't familiar with the artistry of Rita Streich this is a great way to become acquainted.

Stephanie Blythe seems to be today's leading Wagnerian contralto at the Met. The purity and beauty of her sound are welcome on all opera stages as well as in concert halls. EMI Classics has now reissued at mid-price this Brahms/Wagner/Mahler disk that originally appeared in 2004 on Virgin Classics. Wesendonck Lieder is performed orchestrated by Hans Werner Henze, and "Abscheid" from Mahler's Song of the Earth in the version for chamber ensemble by Arnold Schoenberg. Glorious singing by any standards, and excellent sonics. No texts are provided.

Soprano Giannina Arangi Lombardi (1890-1951) made her operatic debut as a mezzo when she was 30 and for some years was successful in that vocal range. After more study, she became a soprano, and in 1924 sang Santuzza with Arturo Toscanini, and Leonora in Il trovatore with Panizza. Shortly after this, she sang Aida with Toscanini, sang in the first performance in Italy of Ariadne auf Naxos. Sometimes she has been compared with Rosa Ponselle. This Preiser CD contains recordings from a wide range of her career ranging from 1926-1931. She is joined by tenor Francesco Merli in duets from Aida and Cavalleria rusticana (although the dramatic ending of the duet in the latter is omitted). Ebe Stignani joins her in an exciting performance of a duet from La Gioconda. As usual with Preiser, transfers are perfect. This is an important issue for collectors.

Irish-born soprano Margaret Sheridan (1889-1958) had limited vocal training, but her natural talent made it possible for her to make her operatic debut in 1919 at Teatro Costanzi as Mimi, a role she had never sung before and, as she was replacing Lucrezia Bori, the audience would be hostile. However, she won them over and scored a great success, something she was able to do throughout her career when singing before disruptive audiences. Toscanini considered her perfect for La Wally, and she made her debut at La Scala in that role, and also sang in the world premieres of Respighi's Belfagor and Riccitetelli's I Compagnacci. She had a major confrontation with Toscanini during a rehearsal, and he refused to speak with her for five years, calling her "Empress of Ireland." Eventually they reconciled resulting in more hailed performances. Sheridan was selected by Puccini to sing Manon Lescaut in Cremona, and again she conquered a hostile audience. She also sang at Covent Garden, but never in America. Her career came to an end in 1930 when she was singing in Gianni Schicchi at a festive performance. Her voice cracked and she never sang in public again. Perhaps her voice did not well as on these recordings, made 1926-1929, she has a marked vibrato and harshness, but we do hear her in three of her most famous roles (Cio-cio San, Manon Lescaut and Maddalena), as well as two art songs.

American tenor Richard Crooks (1900-1972) was an icon on the American musical scene. After early studies in New York he began singing in oratorio and recitals, where his bright lyric tenor voice was acclaimed. Conductor Walter Damrosch was instrumental in developing Crooks' training. He was chosen by Willem Mengelberg for the American premiere of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde in New York. Crooks was chosen by Leopold Stokowski to sing Dimitri in his heralded Philadelphia presentation of the original version of Boris Godunov in 1929. In 1923, Crooks sang in Damrosch's New York presentation of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, a work he sang shortly thereafter with Arturo Toscanini. Crooks made his opera debut in 1927 in Hamburg as Cavaradossi, and soon appeared in other European opera houses. His Met debut was as Des Grieux in Manon, and for a decade sang primarily French repertory. In the late 1920's, Crooks began a series of popular radio programs as host of The Voice of Firestone. He recorded profusely both operatic and popular music. Preiser's CD is mostly operatic but also includes operetta and pop songs all recorded when he was in his prime, 1928-1939. He acquits himself admirably in the arias, and is particularly effective in the Song of India from Rimsky-Korsakov's Sadko. Another important issue from Preiser.

R.E.B. (July 2011)