WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde
Birgit Nilsson (Isolde); Wolfgang Windgassen (Tristan); Hilde Rössl-Majdan (Brangäene); Gustav Neidlinger (Kurwenal); Hans Hotter (King Marke); Claude Heater (Melot); Murray Dickie (Hirte); Anton Dermota (Younger Seemann); Constantino Ego (Steurmann); Chorus and Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Herbert von Karajan, cond.
GOLDEN MELODRAM GM 1.0080 (F) (3 CDs) TT: 75:34 / 62:57 / 64:29

Arias from Bellini's Il Pirata and Bianca e Fernando, Rossini's La donna del lago, Guglielmo Tell, Il Turco in Italia, and Elisabetta; and Donizetti's Marino Faliero
Juan Diego Flórez, tenor; Santa Cecilia Accademia Nazionale/ Roberto Abbado, cond.
DECCA B0010302 (F) TT: 71:41

Arias from Der Freischütz, Der Liebestrank, La Gioconda, André Chenier, Manon Lescaut, La Bohème, Tosca, Das Mädchen aus dem goldenen Westen, Turandot, Eugene Onegin, Prince Igor, Sadko, Der Kuss, Schwanda der Dudelsackpfeifer, and Tiefland
Waldemar Kmentt, tenor; Vienna Symphony Orch/Heinrich Hollreiser, Wilhelm Loibner and F. Charles Adler, cond.
PREISER 93451 (F) TT: 77:42

Arias from Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger, Manon, Carmen, Martha, Tosca and Madama Butterfly: and music of Godard, Mascagni, Franck, Fauré, Malotte, Bizet and Bach
James Melton, tenor; Orchestras conducted by Paul Breisach, Sylvan Levin, Jean Paul Morel, Frieder Weissmann and Frank Black
PREISER 896093 TT: 79:36

This Tristan recorded April 4, 1959 at La Scala, is magnificent in every way except for sound quality. There is overloading at times in orchestral passages, and occasional dreadful distortion. However, voices are quite clear if rather distant and the performance still amazes, particularly Birgit Nilsson who is spectacularly secure and thrilling. She had made her Scala debut the previous season in Die Walküre (also with Karajan), and within a few years would sing Turandot, Aida, Senta and Brünnhilde. Along with Windgassen, Rössl-Majdan and Hotter, she and Karajan give one of the truly outstanding performances of this remarkable work. The CD booklet gives a history of performances of Tristan at La Scala, but nothing else except for track listings. A pricey set indeed, but essential for those who love this opera.

Tenor Juan Diego Flórez offers stunning performances of a group of arias associated with Giovanni Battista Rubini, who lived from 1794-1854 and was considered to be perhaps the greatest tenor of all time. Donizetti, Bellini and Rossini wrote music with Rubini in mind, and probably not since that time has this music been sung with such total vocal mastery as heard on this magnificent new recording. It is astounding in every way—total ease on all of those stratospheric notes, no hesitation whatever on the rapid coloratura which is all sung with precision as well as vocal beauty. Complete texts and program notes are provided. This is a major vocal release indeed.

Austrian tenor Waldemar Kmentt had a distinguished career in Vienna, becoming a member of the State Opera in 1952. Born in 1929, he studied in Vienna and soon became a favorite choice for recordings; he was selected by both Von Karajan and Klemperer as tenor soloist in their recordings of Beethoven's Ninth, and by Solti for the role of Froh in the historic 1958 recording of Das Rheingold. Kmentt's voice was solid and reliable but hardly Italianate, as evidenced on Preiser's disk of some of the tenor's early recordings made from 1952-1956, all sung in German. Oddly for Preiser, CD notes are only in German.

American tenor James Melton (1904-1961) had a highly successful career as a pop singer early in his career—can you imagine, a pop singer who actually can sing! However, Melton wanted an operatic career, and after serious study made his debut as Pinkerton with the Cincinnati Opera in 1938, to great critical acclaim. The Met was reluctant to hire a singer who had a pop career, but finally, because of a shortage of tenors because of the war, hired him where he made his debut as Tamino, to enthusiastic reviews. For eight seasons he sang lyric roles at the Met including Don Giovanni, Lucia di Lammermoor, Madama Butterfly, Manon, La traviata and Mignon. He also appeared in several ill-fated and unsuccessful movies. From this point, all was downward. Rudolf Bing's arrival at the Met cut off Melton's opera performances and even his pop career, because of a new style of singing, failed. He turned to singing in nightclubs, and that didn't work either; he had to sell his huge collection of vintage cars and with a failing marriage, turned to drugs and alcohol. He died heavily in debut (as did Pavarotti!) April 21, 1961. Preiser's valuable disk offers recordings made for RCA 1945-1949, and show his remarkably pure, light, totally controlled sound, always point-on-pitch, and remarkable diction. He is not a robust, dramatic tenor in any way, but what is there is wonderfully sung. In the love duet from Butterfly he is joined by Licia Albanese. This is an important release in the era of American operatic singing.

R.E.B. (March 2008)