"OPERA PROIBITA" - Arias by George Frideric Handel, Alessandro Scarlatti and Antonio Caldara
Cecilia Bartoli, mezzo-soprano; Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble/Marc Minkowski, cond.
DECCA B0005151 (F) (DDD) TT: 72:05

MARIA CALLAS - "Lyric and Coloratura Arias" Arias from Adriana Lecouvreur, Andrea Chénier, La Wally, Mefistofele, Il barbieri di Siviglia, Dinorah, Lakmé, I vespri siciliani, Medea and La vestale
EMI CLASSICS 76843 (M) (ADD) TT: 71:02

LEHÁR: Das Land des Lächelns. Excerpts from Lehár operettas sung by legendary singers.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (Lisa); Nicolai Gedda (Prince Sou-Chong); Erich Kunz (Gustl); Emmy Loose (Tschang); Philharmonia Chorus and Orch/Otto Ackermann, cond.
NAXOS 8.111016/17 (2 CDs) (M) TT: 2:32:24

FEDORA BARBIERI - Arias from La Favorita, Il trovatore, Un Ballo en Maschera, Don Carlo, Carmen, La Gioconda and Werther; songs by Vivaldi, Charissimi, Handel, Cavalli, Pergolesi, Paisiello, Monteverdi, Caldara, Cherubini, Scarlatti, and Marcello
Fedora Barbieri, mezzo-soprano; Orch. conducted by Argeo Quadri, Fausto Cleva, and Giuseppe Morelli
PREISER 89618 (F) (ADD) TT: 79:56

RAMON VINAY - Arias from Carmen, Otello, Tosca and Die Walküre
Ramon Vinay, tenor; Orch. conducted by Jean Paul Morel, Fausto Cleva and Clemens Krauss
PREISER 89619 (F) (ADD) TT: 74:53

ITALO TAJO - Arias from La Nozze di Figaro, Il Barbieri di Siviglia, Macbeth, Simon Boccanega, Faust, La Bohème, Don Giovanni, and Rigoletto
Italo Tajo, bass; Orch. conducted by Fritz Busch, Alberto Erede, Fernando Previali and Renato Cellini
PREISER 89621 (F) (ADD) TT: 76:32

"Opera Proibita" is a wonderful collection of music banned by the Vatican during the first decade of the 18th century. Public entertainment was prohibited during the solemn celebration of the holy years—and in 1703 two violent earthquakes occurred in Rome and, although no one was killed, as a sign of thanksgiving it was decreed that for the next five years all forms of theatrical performance would be outlawed. This brilliant CD contains arias from works composed during that time, including seven premiere recordings. The cover photo of Bartoli is rather ridiculous and inappropriate—but the singing is extraordinary in every way—Bartoli at her finest, with remarkable vocal control, agility and tonal beauty. Minkowski and his forces provide rich support, and the sound is all it should be. Complete texts are provided.

Some collectors may welcome the umpteenth reissue of Maria Callas's recordings of lyric and coloratura arias from operas identified above. This is now mid-price and a generous (71:02) compilation. Although Callas's voice was not a particularly beautiful one, her keen intellect and understanding of the music she sang made her a vibrant stage personage. A live Callas performance was always an exciting event, and her fans are legion as evidenced by the fact that all of her recordings sell repeatedly both to old and new collectors. Callas was particularly effective in dramatic roles, i.e. the Cilea, Giordano, Catalani and Boito works on this disk. She also provided insight and drama in the famous coloratura roles presented on this CD, although sometimes her singing is flawed, even though they were recorded when Callas was in her prime. Don't expect vocal fireworks and accuracy heard in recordings of this music by Sutherland, Sills and many other sopranos. Complete texts are provided.

Now we return to superb singing with three Preiser issues. Mezzo-soprano Fedora Barbieri (1919-2003) was considered to be the successor of Ebe Stignani. Her dramatic voice was powerful, dark and flexible, exhibited here in opera recordings made 1948-1949, songs in 1952, her best vocal period. For two decades Ramon Vinay (1911-1996) was the tenor of choice for Otello which he sang for the first time in 1944 and would perform 250 times during his career. Toscanini considered Vinay to be the finest singer of the role and chose him for his 1947 recording. Recordings on this CD were made for RCA in 1946/47, and Columbia in 1951; also included is a thrilling account of his Siegmund from a 1953 Bayreuth Festival performance conducted by Clemens Krauss . Vinay was one of the greatest tenors, evidenced throughout this CD. Bass Italo Tajo (1915-1993) made his operatic debut in Turin in1935 as Fafner in Das Rheingold. His international career included many performances at La Scala, Rome Opera, Covent Garden, the Paris Opera as well as leading German opera houses. He appeared for four years with the Chicago Lyric Opera, for two years with the San Francisco Opera. Tajo's first period with the Met was from 1948-1950; he returned after 1976 for buffo and character parts. He was particularly recognized for his Mozart, generously represented on Preiser's CD. As usual with Preiser, CD notes are limited, but the transfers are excellent.

For copyright reasons, Naxos issues many of their fine historic transfers only in Europe; such is the case with this superb remastering by Mark Obert-Thorn of EMI's 1953 all-star production of Lehár's The Land of Smiles: Schwarzkopf, Gedda, Kunz, Loose, and Kraus—there could be no better cast. Of major interest here is inclusion of sixteen recordings, some very rare, of excerpts from nine Lehár operettas (other than The Land of Smiles) performed by Dusolina Giannini, Richard Tauber, Ester Rethy, Leonardo Aramesco, Lotte Lehmann, Marcel Wittrisch, Irene Eisinger, Helge Rosvaenge and Jarmila Novotna, in excellent transfers by Ward Marston. Those interested in this repertory must have this set—it's easy to get outside the U.S.

R.E.B. (November 2005)