et Juliette (Sung in Swedish)
Jussi Bjoerling, tenor (Roméo), Hjördis Schymberg, soprano (Juliette), Leon Björker, bass (Frère Laurent), Sigurd Björling, baritone (Le Comte Capulet), Sven Herdenberg, baritone (Mercutio). Royal Orchestra and Royal Opera Chorus, Stockholm, Nils Grevillius, cond.
Bluebell ABCD 088 (2 CDs) (F) (ADD) TT: 2:22:00
Rusticana (Sung in Swedish except for Bjoerling who sings in Italian)
Leoncavallo: I Pagliacci (Sung
Jussi Bjoerling -- New Orleans
All of the releases under consideration will be of great interest to fans of the immortal Swedish tenor, Jussi Bjoerling. Indeed, they should be of great interest to all devotees of superior vocalism. Despite some problematic aspects that will be discussed below, all are highly recommended.
The Bluebell release of Roméo et Juliette documents a 27 March 1940 performance at the Royal Opera, Stockholm. Excerpts from this performance are included on a previous single Bluebell compact disc (ABCD 013); this is the first time the entire performance has been released to the public. There is no question that Roméo was a role ideally suited to Jussi Bjoerling's considerable gifts. The Swedish tenor's silvery timbre, gleaming top notes, and passionate, yet elegant delivery created an unforgettable portrait of the youthful lover. Collectors have long prized a glorious 1 February 1947 Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Roméo, starring Bjoerling and Bid Sayão. What is the attraction, then, of this 1940 Stockholm performance, sung in Swedish, and with a cast that is generally inferior to the 1947 Met broadcast? As spectacular as Bjoerling is in the Met broadcast (it must count among the finest documents of tenor singing preserved on disc), he is even finer in the Stockholm performance. He was 29 at the time. His voice is in fresher, more beautiful estate, but still with all the power of the 1947 broadcast. Perhaps the fact that Bjoerling is singing in his native language also produces an interpretation of greater nuance and sensitivity.
The Juliette is one of Bjoerling's most beloved colleagues, Swedish soprano Hjördis Schymberg. While not the equal of Sayão's radiant Juliette, Schymberg sings quite beautifully and with great involvement. Her interaction with Bjoerling is quite touching and dramatically convincing throughout. The remainder of the cast is at least fine enough not to detract from the compelling work of the two principals. Conductor Nils Grevillius, another longtime Björling colleague, leads a performance that is both stylish and dynamic. There is some quite intrusive surface noise during the Balcony Scene, no doubt a defect in the original source material. Otherwise, the sound is generally quite clear, the voices accorded ample presence and definition.
Bjoerling made two studio recordings of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana (RCA and London) and one of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci (EMI). The tenor's contributions in each are quite impressive, particularly from the standpoint of pure vocal beauty. I have always found Bjoerling to be a far more involved and communicative singer in his 'live' performances. That is certainly the case in the 8 December 1954 Stockholm Cav/Pag released by Bluebell.
There are many reasons why this set will be of somewhat limited appeal. The Stockholm Cavalleria is a bi-lingual affair, with Bjoerling singing in the original Italian, the rest of the cast performing a Swedish translation. Everyone sings in Swedish in Pagliacci. The supporting casts in both the Cav and Pag have been far surpassed on many commercial and in-performance recordings. On the positive side, the recorded sound of this release, transferred from the original tapes, is excellent, with a wide dynamic range and fine definition. The contributions of the conductors, particularly Lamberto Gardelli in Pagliacci, are excellent.
And Bjoerling's Turiddu and Canio are both magnificent in just about every way. The Swedish tenor's vocal timbre, so ideal for Roméo, lacks the kind of darker hue that I would prefer for the verismo anti-heroes. That having been said, he is in splendid form on this occasion. He responds with performances of such power and commitment as to disarm virtually all criticism, especially the stereotype of Bjoerling as a cold, uninvolved singer. Excerpts of this Cav and Pag are included on another Bluebell disc (ABCD 028). Still, I would not want to be without a single note of Bjoerling's extraordinary performances. I am grateful that Bluebell has made them available, and in such glorious sound.
Finally, Premiere Opera Ltd. (www.premiereopera.com) has issued complete for the first time a Bjoerling New Orleans recital from 14 December 1955. I should say, 'almost complete,' because the opening verse of the first encore, La donna è mobile, is missing from the master tape. However, a previous issue of this recital (UORC 376), omitted the three encores entirely. In addition to the Verdi encore, Bjoerling also rewards his audience with E lucevan le stele and Because, the latter charmingly introduced by the artist.
A Jussi Bjoerling Phonography lists the source of this recital as a "privately made in-house recording." There is considerable tape hiss. Nevertheless, his voice is always clearly reproduced. Those who are familiar with his recital repertoire will find no surprises here. The disc is well worth having as it documents Bjoerling in excellent form (there are some downward transpositions), obviously enjoying his interaction with the audience.
K.M. (October 2001)