VERDI: Un Ballo in Maschera
JOHANN STRAUSS, JR: Die Fledermaus
PUCCINI: Manon Lescaut
'PRIMA DONNA IN PARIS' - Régine Crespin
BERLIOZ: The Damnation of Faust. Le Mort de Cléopatre.
ALBÉNIZ: Pepita Jiménez
Arias from La Bohème, Roméo et Juliette, The Old Maid and
the Thief, Gianni Schicchi, Porgy and Bess, A Child of our Time,
Louise, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, La rondine, and Don Pasquale;
Les Filles de Cadiz (Delibes)
Here is an opera feast indeed. Decca has reissued some of their famous recordings of the past in high quality 96kHz.24-bit remasterings, sounding better than ever. These are mid-price luxury issues and contain complete libretti. This 1967 Elektra is justly famous with Birgit Nilsson in fabulous voice, Solti demonic at the helm of the Vienna Philharmonic. This was a sonic showcase by producer John Culshaw who used special effects to great effect. Un Ballo in Maschera was recorded in 1960 and 1961 in Rome, with an all-star cast all in their prime including, in addition to Nilsson, Carlo Bergonzi, Cornell MacNeil, Giulietta Simionato, and Sylvia Stahlmann (who had just recorded Mahler's Symphony No. 4 in Amsterdam with Solti conducting). Nilsson may not be the ideal Amelia, but she surely nails those high notes! Orchestral playing in both of these recordings is brilliantly precise, audio quality outstanding.
Karajan's Fledermaus was recorded in Vienna's Sofiensaal in June 1960. The all-star mostly Viennese cast is superb, and a major plus is the gala performance entertainment provided by Orlofsky for the pleasure of his gathered guests. This includes such gems as Birgit Nilsson singing I Could Have Danced All Night, Renata Tebaldi singing the Vilja-Lied, and Mario del Monaco's Passione, along with contributions by Joan Sutherland, Jussi Björling, Leontyne Price, Giulietta Simionato, Ettore Bastianini, Fernando Corena, Teresa Berganza and Ljuba Welitsch. This also is a John Culshaw production, a guarantee of exemplary sonics. DGG's 1983 recording of Manon Lescaut is one of the finest ever made, with Mirella Freni at her best, Domingo an ideal Des Grieux, and the late Giuseppe Sinopoli reveling in Puccini's lush orchestration.
The 2-CD set devoted to Régine Crespin contains many treasures, recordings mostly made in 1970 when she was in her prime, in repertory in which she excelled. Crespin, born in 1927, retired from the stage in 1989 but continues to teach. Her famous recordings of Berlioz, Debussy and Ravel with Ernest Ansermet and the Suisse Romande Orchestra are already available on a mid-price London/Decca issue (460973), an essential disk in any vocal collection. The new set supplements it perfectly. Texts are provided in French and English, and the album oddly contains brief biographies of 22 other sopranos who also specialized in this repertory, with no explanation of the purpose for this. The only possible debit of this set is playing time: 87:14 for two disks.
EMI Classics offers another major recording, Berlioz' The Damnation of Faust recorded in 1969 with a superb cast headed by Nicolai Gedda. The Paris Orchestra sounds a bit scrawny, but otherwise all is fine—and the two packed CDs also include Dame Janet Baker's famous recording made the same year of The Death of Cleopatra. No texts are provided but there is a detailed track-by-track synopsis .
A real curiosity is DGG's recording of Pepita Jiménez, a "comic" opera based on a novel by Juan Valera written in 1896 by one of the most famous Spanish composers. The rather nonsensical English text is by Francis Burdett Money-Coutts (well-named!), Albeniz's wealthy patron, who also collaborated with the composer on two previous operas: Merlin and Henry Clifford (the former available on DVD). You'll find it amusing to read Money-Coutts' text, provided in its entirety. Conductor José De Eusebio edited and reconstructed the long-lost score, and his interpretation emphasizes Albeniz's rich orchestral textures. The confused plot concerns a wealthy young widow who falls in love with a seminarian. In spite of its initial success, there's good reason why Pepita Jiménez has been forgotten. Those who collect recordings by Domingo (he has recorded well over forty complete operas, some in multiple versions) will wish to have it, in spite of the fact that playing time is rather short for this full-price issue. Profuse program notes are provided along with a synopsis, and the complete text in English, Spanish and French. Fine sonics in this recording made in Madrid in July 2004 and June 2005.
California-born (1977) Nicole Cabell has won some prestigious prizes. Here is her debut recording in which the young soprano sings a wide range of repertory in a pretty lyric voice that sounds just about the same in everything. Her voice often is unsteady, the trills approximated—it's rather difficult to understand why Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne speak of Cabell in such glowing terms. Close-up engineering does not flatter her voice, and one might speculate as to why there is only an hour of music on this disk.
R.E.B. (June 2007)