"The Art of Leontyne Price"
VERDI: Act III of Aida (with tenor William McGrath and baritone Napoléon Bisson/Canadian Radio Orch/Jaques Beaudry, cond.). Arias of Mozart, Verdi, Puccini and Gershwin (with Montreal Symphony Orch/Charles Dutoit, cond.)
VAI VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL 4268 (MONO) TT: 109 min.
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PUCCINI: Tosca (Magda Olivero (Tosca); Alvinio Misciano (Cavaradossi); Giulio Fioravanti (Scarpia); RAI Radio and TV Orch/Fulvio Vernizzi). Interviews with Magda Olivero plus music of Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni, Cilea, Alfano, Franck, Gounod and Handel)
HARDY CLASSIC VIDEO HCD 4011 (2 CDs) (MONO) TT: 208 min.
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MENOTTI: The Medium
Maria Powers (Madame Flora); Anna Maria Alberghetti (Monica), Beverly Dame (Mrs. Gobineau), Belva Kibler (Mrs. Nolan), Donald Morgan (Mr. Golbineau); Rome Radio Orch/Thomas Schippers, cond.
VAI VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL 4218 (MONO) TT: 80 min.
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"Great Stars of Opera, Volume III"
Performances by Victoria de los Angeles, Brian Sullivan, James McCracken, Robert Merrill, Birgit Nilsson, Phyllis Curtin, Nicolai Gedda, Jerome Hines, Roberta Peters, Gabriella Tucci, Richard Tucker, Anna Moffo, Sandor Konya, Regine Crespin, Patrice Munsel, Jan Peerce, and Gianna d'Angelo/Bell Telephone Hour Chorus and Orch/Donald Voorhees, cond.
VAI VIDEO ARTISTS INTERNATIONAL 4280 (MONO) TT: 122 min.
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Leontyne Price's legion of admirers will welcome this video featuring two Canadian Radio/TV presentations, the first a staged performance of Act III of Aida dating from 1958 recorded shortly after her Vienna State Opera debut in the role earlier that year, and about three years prior to her Met debut in 1961 (Il trovatore). She is fearless in her approach to that infamous high "C" in "O patria mia," as she was throughout her career. The second production, in color, is a televised concert of March 30, 1982, with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony. Price seems a bit edgy, and her voice is thicker in the lower register than two decades earlier. To make the DVD more attractive in playing time, producers have included Price's arias from Il trovatore, Aida and La forza del destino as presented on the Bell Telephone Hour 1963-1967.

Another extraordinary diva is Magda Olivero, a true grand legend. Born in Turin in 1912, she made her debut in 1935 as Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi. Olivero had enormous success on Italian stages until 1941 when she married and gave up her career; in 1950, at the request of Cilea, she returned to the operatic stage to sing the title role in his Adriana Lecouvreur, the beginning of a second and even more lustrous career. Olivero was particularly recognized for her intense acting as well as extraordinary interpretations of operas by Giordano, Mascagni and Cilea. Fortunately for collectors, some of her live performances have been issued including Alfano's Resurrection, Iris by Mascagni, Puccini's Il Tabarro and Manon Lescaut, Poulenc's La Voix Humaine, Cherubini's Medea, and Giordano's Fedora (although her Decca recording of this opera with Mario del Monaco and Tito Gobbi, London 433 033, is no longer available). Thanks to Hardy Classic Video we have this complete performance of Tosca filmed in black and white by Italian Television in 1960. She is superb, the consummate actress totally in control vocally. The remainder of the cast is good enough, the production adequate. CD 2 is an appreciation of Olivero including two interviews, a lengthy one recorded in 2001 when she was 89, the other, quite short, after a performance many years earlier.It's fascinating to hear her reminiscence about famous tenors with whom she has performed, including Gigli, Lauri-Volpi, Del Monaco, Di Stefano, Kraus, Domingo and Corelli. Interspersed with the interviews we have 1964 performances arias from La traviata, Iris and Resurrection, as well as the Largo from Handel's Xerses and Gounod's Ave Maria both recorded in a church in 1991, and Franck's Panis Angelicus recorded in 2002 in a church during a concert to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the death of Maria Callas. Olivero was 90 at the time! We also have informal concert performances of arias of Puccini and Cilea recorded in 1993. Of course the voice is a shadow of its past glory, but Olivero's musicianship remains—and she is always on pitch. Packaging and documentation leave much to be desired: there aren't enough tracks, no list of the ones there are, and no playing times information. DVDs should always provide complete documentation—particularly premium-priced ones such as this.

Menotti's The Medium is a 1950 black and white television production effectively directed by the composer. For this film production Menotti wrote about a half hour of additional music. Marie Powers was famous for her portrayal of Madame Flora, and her performance is a welcome addition to the video library. The remainder of the cast is unexceptional, unfortunately, particularly Anna Maria Alberghetti's quavery Monica. Thomas Schippers and the Rome Italian Radio Orchestra provide fine support for the singers, but this is not The Medium most people know. Famed engineer Robert Fine recorded the music, the film was made afterwards with the usual lip-sync problems—although not many. There are no subtitles; perhaps as the work is in English producers felt they would not be necessary. Documentation consists of a single sheet listing performers and tracks, but no timings. Those interested in this music would welcome reissue of the early Columbia stereo recording of the Washington Opera Society production starring Regina Resnik and Judith Blegen.

We've already covered the first two volumes in VAI VIDEO's Great Stars of the Opera (REVIEW).This third issue is a mixed bag. Of course there are many memorable performances. Birgit Nilsson sings arias from Forza del destino and Tosca (Jan. 1, 1967), plus repertory one wouldn't expect from her: "Come unto Him" from Messiah and "Inflammatus" from Rossini's Stabat Mater (March 31, 1961), and short works of Stolz and Sieczynski (April 11, 1963). Victoria de los Angeles is a matronly Mimi in the Act I finale of La Bohéme (Feb. 12, 1960). Unfortunately she is not matched vocally by tenor Brian Sullivan who also is heard in an excerpt from Girl of the Golden West with Patrice Munsel totally miscast as Minnie (Oct. 23, 1959). James McCracken was considered to be one of the finest Otellos of his time, and he is joined by Robert Merrill in excerpts from the opera (April 7, 1964). Richard Tucker impresses in the finale of Pagliacci with Lucine Amara (Jan. 5, 1965), and excerpts from act I of La Bohéme with Anna Moffo (Sept. 29, 1961). Roberta Peters chirps rather shrilly through "Una voce poco fa" (Sept. 24, 1962), Sandor Konya gives a rather strained performance of "E lucevan le stelle" from Tosca and is joined by regal-appearing Regine Crespin in part of the following duet (Feb. 16, 1965). Konya is more successful in the balcony scene from Gounod's Romeo and Juliet in which he is paired with Anna Moffo (Sept. 22, 1967). Richard Tucker and Gabriella Tucci are seen in a truncated love duet from Madama Butterfly (April 10, 1966); Jan Peerce, in fine voice, and Gianna d'Angelo, less so, perform music from Rigoletto (Oct. 13, 1961). There are two major ensembles: an abbreviated final scene from Gounod's Faust features Phyllis Curtin, Nicolai Gedda and Jerome Hines, and the three are joined by Mildred Miller and Charles Anthony for the quintet from Die Meistersinger (1968). As a "bonus" we have an excerpt from the prison scene from Gounod's Faust with Nicolai Gedda and Lisa Della Casa (Oct. 22, 1963); brief because the unidentified performer of the role of Mefistopheles would not give permission for his performance to be issued. A mixed bag, indeed, but the best is very, very good, valuable for the opera collector. Documentation is very limited, with no track playing times given.

R.E.B. (June 2004)