STRAUSS: Elektra
Gerda Lammers (Elektra); Hedwig Müller-Bütow (Chrysothemis); Georgine von Milinkovic (Klytämnestra); Otakar Kraus (Orest); Edgar Evans (Aegisth); Coven Garden Opera Chorus and Orch/Rudolf Kempe, cond.
ROYAL OPERA HOUSE ROHS004 (2 CDs) TT: 54:21 & 61:46
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VERDI: Don Carlo
Boris Christoff (Filippo II); Jon Vickers (Don Carlo); Tito Gobbi (Rodrigo);Michael Langdon (Il Grande Inquisitore); Joseph Rouleau (Un frate); Gré Brouwenstijn (Elisabetta di Valois);Fedora Barbieri (La Principessa Eboli); Jeannette Sinclair (Tebaldo); Ava June (Una voce dal cielo); Covent Garden Opera Chorus and Orch/Carlo Maria Giulini, cond.
ROYAL OPERA HOUSE ROHS003 (3 CDs) TT: 73:11 / 70:20 / 58:17
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VERDI: Otello
Julia Varady (Desdemona); Carlo Cossutta (Otello); Piero Cappuccilli (Iago); Benito Maresca (Cassio); Norbert Orth (Roderigo); Gundrun Wewezow (Emilia); Nikolaus Hillebrand (Lodovico); Hans Wilbrink (Montano); Bavarian State Opera Chorus and Orch/Carlos Kleiber, cond.
GOLDEN MELODRAM GM 5.0061 (2 CDs)
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Arias from La finta Semplice, La Betulia Liberta, La Clemenza di Tito; Il trovatore, Don Carlo, Mignon, Carmen, Samson and Delilah, Das Rheingold, and Siegfried; other music of Mozart and Verdi
Maria Von Ilosvay, mezzo-soprano; various orch/Barnhard Paumgartner, Wilhelm Loibner, Clemens Krauss and Paul van Kempen, cond.
PREISER 89670 TT: 77:27
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Arias from Fidelio, Don Giovanni, Hans Heiling, Die Meistersinger, Nabucco, Don Carlos, Aida, Faust, Boris Godunov, Tiefland, and Mona Lisa; songs of Rachmaninoff, Gretchaninov and Mussorgsky
Alexander Welitsch, baritone; various orch/Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt, Wilhelm Schüchter, Leo Blech, Erwin Baltzer, Hans Müller-Kray and Rudolf Albert, cond.; pianist Christoph Altmüller
PREISER 89669 TT: 75:59

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Here are three major historic opera issues. Elektra, recorded live in London's Royal Opera House May 29, 1958, receives a remarkable performance. German soprano Gerda Lammers stepped in a week before the performance to replace Christel Goltz and scored a huge triumph. She has total command of this demanding role, and it's surprising her career didn't develop further. The entire cast is outstanding, but there's no question that a major factor is the magnificent conducting of Rudolf Kempe, already recognized as a Strauss specialist, some years before he would record all of the composer's orchestral music for EMI. This is a monophonic recording, but the sound is well-balanced and satisfying. A complete libretto in German and English is included. The 14-minute "Lord Harewood in Conversation" is a dubious bonus. Covent Garden's Don Carlo recorded live May 12, 1956 is perhaps the finest recording of the work with an almost unbelievable cast including Christoff, Vickers, Gobbi, Brouwenstijn and Barbieri, and Carlo Maria Giulini on the podium. A complete German/English text is provided, and the mono sound adequately conveys this definitive performance.

Any recording conducted by Carlos Kleiber is intriguing and this live Otello from Bavaria on a date not identified features a strong cast headed by Carlo Cossutta in the title role, Piero Cappuccilli as Iago and Julia Varady as Desdemona. There are two other live Otellos with Kleiber, both with Plácido Domingo, 1976 from La Scala, and 1978 from Covent Garden. Domingo said of Kleiber, "he has assimilated the score to such a degree that he can read through the notes to uncover all the drama and feeling of the music, everything the composer imagined. It seems so natural and simple, yet even with all the preparation it sounds spontaneous." The stereo sound is adequate. There's a track listing, with no timings.

Hungarian alto Maria Von Ilosvay (1913-1987) had a distinguished career at the Hamburg Opera, also singing in other major European opera houses. Her repertory included many unusual works including Klebe's Jacobowsky and the Colonel, Kelemen's The State of Siege, Martin's Le vin herbé, and she also sang in the premiere of Orff's Antigonae in 1949. From 1953 to 1958 she appeared at Bayreuth, and can be heard in live recordings of The Ring conducted by Clemens Krauss and Hans Knappertsbusch. Ilosvay made few recordings, most of them apparently are on this Preiser CD that offers music of Mozart, Verdi, Thomas, Bizet, Saint-Saëns, Verdi, and two excerpts from The Ring conducted by Krauss at the 1953 Bayreuth Festival.

Baritone Alexander Welitsch (1906-1991) was leading baritone at the Stuttgart Opera, often appearing in other important opera houses. Best-known for his Scarpia, Escamillo, and Golaud (Pelléas et Mélisande), he also sang Danton in Von Einem's Dantons Tod, and Don Juan in Reutter's Don Juan und Faust. Married to soprano Inge Borkh, on occasion he sang Jochanaan to her Salome. Apparently he made only one official recording, the great scene with Philip II from Don Carlo, which is included on Preiser's CD, as well as an unissued recording of an excerpt from Don Giovanni; other works on this disk are radio recordings. As usual with Preiser, transfers are excellent.

R.E.B. (April 2007)