Beverly Sills

Giuseppe di Stefano

Hermann Prey

George London

Renata Tebaldi


Luciano Pavarotti

Gundula Janowitz

Maggie Teyte

Nicolai Ghiaurov

Joan Sutherland


Leontyne Price

Mario del Monaco

Birgit Nilsson

Jennie Tourel

Frida Leider


Franco Corelli

Suzanne Danco

Teresa Berganza

Martti Talvela


Erna Berger


'THE SINGERS"

BEVERLY SILLS Music of Mozart, Meyerbeer, Thomas, Charpentier, Adam, Bishop and Richard Strauss
DECCA 467 906 TT: 74:57
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GIUSEPPE DI STEFANO Music of Verdi, Boito, Meyerbeer, Ponchielli, Puccini, Cilea, Leoncavallo, Giordano, Pietri, Pizzeti and traditional songs
DECCA 467 908 TT: 79:06
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HERMANN PREY Music of Rossini, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Richard Strauss
DECCA 467 901 TT: 64:05
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GEORGE LONDON Music of Wagner, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Loewe and Weill
DECCA 467 904 TT: 74:32
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RENATA TEBALDI Music of Gounod, Puccini, Gluck, Catalani, Verdi, Cilea, Handel, Paisiello, Pergolesi, Martini, Adam and Rodgers
DECCA 467 915 TT: 73:04
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LUCIANO PAVAROTTI Music of Gluck, Beethoven, Bellini, Donizetti, Tosti, Leoncavallo, Donizetti, Verdi, Yon, Bach/Gounod, Adam and Puccini
DECCA 467 920 TT: 72:14
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GUNDULA JANOWITZ Music of Weber, Wagner, Schubert and Richard Strauss
DECCA 467 910 TT: 73:02
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NICOLAI GHIAUROV Music of Mozart, Gounod, Massenet, Meyerbeer, Bizet, Glinka, Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff
DECCA 467 902 TT: 73:28
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JOAN SUTHERLAND Music of Donizetti, Mozart, Wagner, Rossini, David, Gounod, Massenet, Hahn, La Forge, Del Riego, Coward and Adam
DECCA 467 914 TT: 69:05
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LEONTYNE PRIC
E Music of Verdi, Handel, Franck, Murray and Wade
DECCA 467 913 TT: 73:41
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MARIO DEL MONACO Music of Giordano, Puccini, Halevy, Bellini, Verdi, Wagner, Bizet, Franck, Gastaldon, Bernstein and Brodszky
DECCA 467 919 TT: 72:38
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BIRGIT NILSSON Music of Beethoven, Weber, Verdi, Wagner, Adam, Franck and Gruber
DECCA 467 912 TT: 70:15
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JENNIE TOUREL Music of Rossini, Gluck, Vivaldi, Bizet, Liszt, Ravel, Poulenc, Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Grechaninov, Rachmaninoff, Balakirev, Dargomizhsky and Rimsky-Korsakov
DECCA 467 907 TT: 73:03
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FRIDA LEIDER Music of Beethoven, Mozart, Weber and Wagner
DECCA 467 907 TT: 68:56
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FRANCO CORELLI Music of Verdi, Ponchielli, Puccini, Zandonai and Gounod
DECCA 467 918 TT: 74 min.
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MARTTI TALVELA Music of Schumann, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff
DECCA 467 903 TT: 72:22
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SUZANNE DANCO Music of Purcell, Gluck, Mozart, Verdi, Massenet, Bizet, Charpentier, Richard Strauss and Debussy
DECCA 467 909 TT: 68:29
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MAGGIE TEYTE Music of Offenbach, Messager, Fauré, Hahn, Dvorak, Gibson, Romberg, Cuvillier, Coward, Schumann, Brahms, Quilter, Delius, Gibbs, Bridge, Webber and Peel.
DECCA 467 916 TT: 63:42
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TERESA BERGANZA Music of Mozart, Granados and Rossini
DECCA 467 905 TT: 68:41
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ERNA BERGER Music of Bizet, Brahms, Reger, Donizetti, Mozart, Grieg, Johann Strauss, Richard Strauss, Puccini, Flotow, Flies and Auber
DECCA 467 917 TT: 69 min.
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This new series (20 releases thus far) devoted to famous singers of the past century has much of interest for the computer-focused collector. These are multimedia CD Roms that will play on a regular CD player but are really intended to be played on your computer so you can experience the added features which are bios of the singers (surprisingly brief), a photo gallery of each, a discography of all recordings made for Universal labels (Decca/London/Phillips/DGG), links to homepages for the singers (when they exist), and on screen texts for music performed. All or most of this information usually is supplied in a booklet with a regular CD, within space limitations. Each of these CD Roms contains a small booklet with track listings and a brief article about the artist, but if you wish more information (texts for example) you'll have to be in front your monitor to read it on the screen, and if you wish you could print it for reference while listening. The photo galleries are pleasant enough, with many informal photos, usually about 20: clicking on the thumbnail takes you to a somewhat larger picture—although it's still not very big. Good value in playing time as most of the disks contain more than 70 minutes. There is much information on each multimedia CD that many find valuable, and the tariff is reasonable (upper-mid-price).

Producers obviously intend for you to listen and watch at the same time, but this will not always result in a maximum visual/sonic experience. All of the recordings have been newly remastered using the latest digital technology. However, most listeners will be aware of these sonic improvements unless they have more than the usual computer amplifier/speaker system. Of course you could print out the texts to read while listening to these recordings on your high-quality sound system, which rather defeats a basic premise of The Singers series. There will be more—in upcoming months there will be thirty more releases in the series.

An attempt apparently was made to represent a general cross-section of each singer's repertory. Of course Universal had to select from what they had access to, and in some cases recordings chosen are not among the best of the artists concerned, and almost all of the recordings are already available on CD in other couplings. Here are brief comments on CDs in the initial batch.

Leontyne Price's Verdi was recorded in 1986 when she was past her prime (although still excellent), and the remainder of her disk contains Christmas-related music recorded in 1983 with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony; why they didn't include selections from her magnificent Christmas album recorded in 1961 with Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic is a mystery. Birgit Nilsson's disk features a truncated (7:21) version of the "Immolation Scene" from Gotterdämmerung recorded live at the 1966 Bayreuth Festival; nowhere, in track listing or text, does it indicate that this is incomplete. Other Wagner, along with Beethoven, Weber and Verdi, are included along with three Christmas songs recorded in 1963 with organ accompaniment. The Beverly Sills disk has plenty of coloratura fireworks but, recorded in 1964 and 1969, it reflects the soprano a bit after her prime although she still astounds the listener. It's unfortunate some of her earliest recordings weren't included.

Suzann Danco's CD is welcome and offers classic, rather cool (but perfect) singing of Purcell, Gluck and Mozart. As expected, the French arias are superb, but inclusion of five lieder of Strauss is rather odd—she did not have a reputation as a German lieder singer; why didn't the producers instead include Danco's exquisite, near-definitive 1948 recording with Ansermet of Ravel's Shéhérazade? Maggie Teyte is another legendary singer represented in a wide variety of works, but no music of Debussy, a composer with whom she worked closely.The Frida Leider disk is a treasure—this is the sound of a true Wagnerian soprano—unequalled today. Included is a brief recording with Lauritz Melchior from Die Walküre—the great old days of opera, indeed!

Jennie Tourel's CD doesn't contain anything included in the recent Preiser CD devoted to her (REVIEW). These are all recordings with piano accompaniment by Paul Ulanovsky and Brooks Smith, and of particular interest are songs of Ravel, Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakov. Teresa Berganza, one of London's operatic stars in the '60s and '70s, is heard in arias of Mozart and Rossini. Renata Tebaldi, an even more luminous London star, is heard in several of her most famous roles as well as the unlikely "If I Loved You" from Carousel. The Joan Sutherland collection is hardly representative of her art, rather odd as it contains one aria each by Donizetti and Mozart, and two Wagner arias (from Lohengrin and Tannhäuser) never associated with her. A group of songs includes two by Noel Coward—strange, indeed. Gundula Janowitz' CD is a perfect representation of her artistry, with arias of Weber, Wagner, two lieder of Schubert, and her superb recording, with Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic, of Strauss' Four Last Songs.

Decca/London hit the jackpot in signing up leading tenors of the time. Luciano Pavarotti's CD contains an appropriate selection of operatic arias and songs ending with his resounding "Nessun Dorma" from Turandot. Pre-Pavarotti, Mario del Monaco was a featured star on London's list, and is heard in a variety of operatic arias including music of Wagner, which played a very minor part in his career, several songs, and his belting out of "Tonight" from West Side Story and Be My love, in which he tries to outdo Mario Lanza. Many of Franco Corelli's finest recordings were made for EMI. Producers have selected Decca recordings of arias of Verdi, Ponchielli, Puccini, Zandonai and Gounod. Giuseppe di Stefan's disk contains 10 operatic arias plus six Sicilian songs, a fine representation of the singer who, even though recorded rather late in his career, is equal to most other tenors.

Aside from 6 arias from 3 operas of Rossini and Mozart, Hermann Prey's CD is devoted to lieder of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Strauss, while Martti Talvela is represented only by piano-accompanied leider of Schumann, Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff. The Finnish bass recorded a number of operas including Boris Godunov with Karajan conducting—but no excerpts from these are included. George London's disk is an odd compilation, four excerpts from Wagner operas, the remainder, Broadway songs. Nicolai Ghiaurov's CD consists entirely of arias in which he specialized.

In an ideal world each home would have a "media center" consisting of a large TV monitor, high quality audio equipment (including necessary amplifiers/speakers for surround sound), a computer with its own monitor, and audio/video components that would permit playback of all current formats: regular CDs, SACD (super audio compact disks), DVD audio and DVD video. Probably very few homes have elaborate systems to accommodate all this. The question arises: do classical music collectors really want to see something while listening? Of course they are interested if it is a live video production, but for recordings does one really want to see pictures of the artists or visual effects? If you do, you'll find these multimedia CDs highly worthy.

R.E.B. (May 2004)