LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci
Preiser continues their fine historic vocal series with these issues of recordings by Russian bass Ivan Petrov (b. 1920) and Belarus-born mezzo-soprano Jennie Tourel (1900-1973). Petrov's career was extraordinary in every way. After his official operatic debut in 1943 he sang smaller roles but soon graduated to leading roles in Boris Godunov, Ivan Susanin and Ruslan and Lyudmilla. For years he was a leading bass at the Bolshoi; I had the privilege of seeing him as Boris when the Bolshoi Opera came to Expo '67—it was an unforgettable performance in every way. Petrov's voice is familiar to collectors. He's made complete recordings of Aida, Aleko, Ruslan and Lyudmila, The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, Eugene Onegin, Mazeppa, Prince Igor, Sadko, Aida, Romeo and Juliet and Boris Godunov. On Preiser's new CD we hear him in arias from a number of these operas as well as music from Nabucco, I Lombardi, Rusalka, Faust, La Gioconda, Lakmé and Rachmaninoff's Francesca da Rimini. While Preiser's documentation usually is very complete, apparently it was not possible to determine exact recording dates and catalog numbers for what is heard on this CD. Don't overlook the DVD Videos of The Great Singers of Russia (see REVIEW) in which he is co-host as well as performer.
Jennie Tourel's career was marked by artistic integrity and recognition from fellow musicians. Although she sang opera including Carmen, Mignon and The Barber of Seville, she was best known for her concerts which always featured a wide variety of music ranging from early Italian composers, Mozart, Rossini, modern French and Russian composers, along with music by contemporary North and South Americans. In 1942 Toscanini chose her for his NYP performances of Berlioz' Romeo and Juliet, she sang Debussy's La Demoiselle Élue with Serge Koussevitzky, and the American premiere of Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky under Leopold Stokowski. She created the character of Baba the Turk in the Venice premiere of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress, and also had a close association with Leonard Bernstein who wrote many works for her and with whom she recorded Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death and Ravel's Shéhérazade. Her gifts are well displayed on Preiser's CD, particularly in the delightful music by Offenbach. It's unfortunate Preiser doesn't provide separate bands for the separae sections of Rosenthal's compilation of Offenbach's music; it's more than 23' duration and it would have been convenient to be able to access individual parts.
The late Hans Hotter (1909-2003) whose career spanned almost six decades, was a major figure on opera stages of the world for his Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss, but he also gave numerous lieder concerts. Music & Arts CD is welcome in that it contains performances recorded for radio 1942-1945 when Hotter was just approaching his vocal prime, 19 of which have never been issued before. Complete texts/translations are provided. Surely admirers of the great bass-baritone will be interested in this fine set, although it has been issued at full-price, a rather hefty outlay.
RCA's I Pagliacci, recorded on five days in January 1953 in Manhattan Center, surely is one of the most perfect opera recordings ever made. The cast is sublime beginning with Leonard Warren's Prologue, which could not be bettered. Bjoerling's is not the rant & rave type of performance that Canio's music often is subjected to, Victoria de los Angeles is a classy Nedda, and the casting of Robert Merrill as Silvio is luxury indeed. This recording already is available on EMI at modest price, but Mark Obert-Thorn's new digital transfer is superior in every way. This CD is not sold in the U.S. but is readily available elsewhere. It's worth seeking out.
R.E.B. (April 2004)