Giuseppe di Stefano, Renat
a Tebaldi, Risë Stevens, Robert Merrill, Roberta Peters, Anna Moffo, Nicolai Gedda, Leontyne Price, Giulietta Simionato, Jon Vickers, Richard Tucker, George London, Régine Crespin, Franco Corelli, Victoria de los Angeles, Birgit Nilsson, Eileen Farrell, Joan Sutherland
VAI DVD 4201 (color) (mono) TT: 120 min.

Birgit Nilsson, George London, Franco Corelli, Lisa Della Casa, Renata Tebaldi, Giuseppe di Stefano, Teresa Stratas, Regina Resnik, Robert Merrill, Nicolai Gedda, Giorgio Tozzi, Phyllis Curtin, Theodor Uppman, Anna Moffo, Richard Tucker, Leontyne Price
VAI DVD 4232 (color) (mono) TT: 119 min.

What can one say? These DVDs preserve performances by major operatic stars of the '60s, and what a collection we have here! All of the singers were in their prime during the era of these telecasts and gave of their best—which is the best there is! All of these performances are at least semi-staged with usually modest sets, but the focus here is on the singers. The year of broadcast is indicated after each brief commentary. Giuseppe di Stefano sings Ah, fuyez, douce image from Massenet's Manon (1963), a rather odd choice for a singer who specialized in Italian repertory, but the famous Stefano sound is there in abundance. Another famous sound is that of the very young Leontyne Price from the same year singing D'amor sull'ali rosee from Il trovatore and another of her showpieces, Ritorna vincitor from Aida (1966). From 1964 we have an excerpt from Aida with Giuletta Simionato and Jon Vickers, and if anyone ever doubted that Richard Tucker was one of the finest tenors of his time all they have to do is watch this Vesti la giubba (1965). Two excerpts from Madama Butterfly (1969) feature Renata Tebaldi, and, from 1960, we have Victoria de los Angeles singing Mimi's first act aria from La Bohème. Franco Corelli is utterly magnificent in E lucevan le stelle from Tosca (1962) (although not as exhibitionistic as he has sometimes been in this aria), and he is joined by Régine Crespin in the big duet Teco io sto! from A Masked Ball (1964). Crespin is heard solo in Vissi d'arte (1965). Baritone Robert Merrill is outstanding in Largo al factotum, and he is joined by Roberta Peters (to whom he was once married) in the duet Dunque io son, also from Barber of Seville.(1962). Anna Moffo and Nicolai Gedda are seen in an extended scene from La traviata (1962), and Rise Stevens, in an unusual choice of repertory for a singer famous for her Carmen and Delilah, sings a 9-minute scene from Victor Herbert's Natoma (1959). Birgit Nilsson is expectedly superb in two 1963 performances: In questa reggia from Turandot and a 2:09 bit of the Immolation Scene. Eileen Farrell sings the Liebestod (1963), and the program comes to a stunning close with Joan Sutherland singing the complete Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor from a 1962 broadcast which took place shortly after her remarkable Met debut in the role. The only performance in Volume I that disappoints is George London's 1964 telecast of the death scene from Boris Godunov; the American bass-baritone seems ill-at-ease and insecure vocally.

The second volume is of equal merit opening with Birgit Nilsson in another performance of In questa reggia, this one from 1963, as well as 1964 and 1967 telecasts of arias from Tannhäuser and Macbeth. George London is back in form in a 1962 broadcast of Credo in un Dio crude! from Otello, and it is a pleasure to watch Franco Corelli and Lisa della Casa in the act III duet from Tosca (1962). Renata Tebaldi, obviously a favorite on the Bell Telephone Hour, is heard in arias from Tosca and Adriana Lecouveur (1961), and Cavalleria Rusticana and La Gioconda (1967). Anna Moffo sings Ah, fors' e lui and Sempre libera from La traviata (1962) a telecast six years before she filmed the entire opera in Italy. Physically she presents a stunning appearance, and her singing has no faults. Moffo also joins George London in Là ci darem la mano from Don Giovanni (1962). Giuseppe di Stefano and Teresa Stratas are seen in a magnificent performance of the St. Sulpice Duet from Massenet's Manon (1963), Nicolai Gedda and Giorgio Tozzi in a duet from Smetana's Bartered Bride sung in English (and how perfect their pronunciation is!)(1959). Richard Tucker and Robert Merrill are paired in a scene from Verdi's La forza del destino (1965), and Teresa Berganza gives a stunning performance of Naqui al'affanno from La Cenerentola (1964). Robert Merrill also is teamed with Regina Resnik in excerpts from Carmen (1965) in which Resnik has a bit of difficulty playing her own castanets in the Gypsy Dance. Merrill's Toreador Song is remarkbly virile—what a fine singer he was! Phyllis Curtin, Nicolai Gedda and Theodor Uppman are heard in a trio from the first act of Die Fledermaus (1961).

These are fascinating performances, historic video documents by any standards, the mono sound is just fine, and the camera work is all one could ask. These are pricey DVDs, but will provide the opera video collector many hours of viewing pleasure.

R.E.B. (February 2004)