WAGNER: Dich, teure Halle from Tannhäuser. Senta's Ballad / Wie aus der Ferne from Der fliegende Holländer. Elsa's Dream from Lohengrin. Excerpts from Act III of Die Walküre. Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde.
Birgit Nilsson, soprano; Hans Hotter, baritone; Philharmonia Orch/Leopold Ludwig, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 090703 (2 disks) (M) TT: 74:29 & 7:41

Arias from Un Ballo in Maschera, Il trovatore, Simon Boccanegra, La Forza del Destino, Otello, Falstaff. Sea Chanties. "Songs of Kipling." "Songs for Everyone."
Leonard Warren, baritone; Robert Shaw Chorale (Sea Shanties); RCA Victor Orch/Renato Cellini and Frank Black, cond.
NIMBUS 7939/40 (2 disks) (M) TT: 76:22 & 76:31

Arias from Pagliacci, Carmen, Tosca, Un Ballo en Maschera, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Faust, Tannhäuser, Die Walküre, Rigoletto, Otello, and Simon Boccanegra.
Lawrence Tibbett, baritone; Orch. cond. by Rosario Bourdon, Giulio Setti, Nathaniel Shilkret, Leopold Stokowski, Alexander Smallens and Wilfried Pelletier
NIMBUS 7825 (M) TT: 77:14

Arias from La traviata, I puritani, Maria Stuarda, Rigoletto, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, and Lucia di Lammermoor. + bonus: DVD of Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor from the Metropolitan Opera Sept. 24, 2007
Europaisher Kammerchor; Concerto Köln/Evelino Pidò, cond.
VIRGIN CLASSICS 436520 (CD & DVD) (F) TT: 73:25 & 21:00

EMI's Great Recordings of the Century issue of Wagner featuring soprano Birgit Nilsson and baritone Hans Hotter is, indeed, just that. All recordings were made in May 1957 in London's Kingsway Hall except for the Liebestod recorded in October of the same year in Abbey Road studio. Nilsson was just at the beginning of her spectacular career and is in stunning vocal condition. Hans Hotter, already established as a Wagner specialist, also was at his best. This is Wagner the way it shoiuld be sung. All of these performances excepting the Liebestod were released in 2000 on a premium-priced Testament CD which is still in the catalog. EMI's new release is on two disks, the second containing only the Liebestod, which was not on the Testament issue (it would't fit). Total playing time for CD 2 is but 7.41, just about the shortest CD ever. It seems strange EMI didn't elect to include some of Nilsson's other EMI recordings to fill out the second disk , but the two sell for the price of one and costs less than the Testament issue.

American baritone, Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960) sang for the first time at the Met in 1924, for the last time in 1950. A fine actor as well as a superb singer, he appeared in a wide variety of roles including the American premiere of Verdi's Simon Boccanegra in 1932. He also premiered two operas by Deems Taylor (The King's Henchman and Peter Ibbetson), and Louis Gruenberg's The Emperor Jones. All recordings on the new Nimbus issue have been issued before, many on the same label, as well as on Preiser (see REVIEW). Fortunately, Tibbett's 1934 recording of Wotan's Farewell with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra is included. The Nimbus transfers are first-rate. There are no texts, but Nimbus has provided a synopsis of each track.

Nimbus also offers a twin-CD set featuring another American baritone, Leonard Warren, who sang at the Met for the first time in 1939 and eventually replaced Tibbett as the Met's prime baritone. Warren sang 610 performances at the Met, mostly Verdi. Warren can be heard on the new Nimbus CD singing a group of Verdi arias, all specialties of his, sung with astonishing vocal command and beauty. What an incredible voice he had! His death onstage at the Met in 1960 when he was only 48 was a major loss to the operatic world. A VAI Audio 2-disk issue contains much of the music included in this Nimbus set (see REVIEW) which also includes a collection of Sea Shanties and many other lighter works. Every collector should own one of these sets.

Soprano Natalie Dessay, the rage of New York's opera scene this season, because of her highly publicized Lucia di Lammermoor at the Met, has a superb new CD/DVD release. Dessay is a consummate actress with a spectacular technique. The CD offers studio recordings made in Köln in the summer of 2007, music of Verdi, Bellini and Donizetti, repertory not usually associated with her, and throughout she shows her vocal and dramatic expertise. The considerable bonus on this Virgin Classics issue is a DVD of Dessay's performance of the Lucia Mad Scene taped on the opening night of the Met September 24, 2007. It is an incredible performance in every way. She insisted the glass harmonica be used and the eerie sound of this instrument (also heard in the Beverly Sills recording) adds much to this stunning interpretation. The artistry of Natalie Dessay also can be seen on a splendid DVD that offers her in a variety of live performances, essential viewing for fans of the art of coloratura.(see REVIEW).


R.E.B. (March 2008)