BLANCHE THEBOM, mezzo-soprano
Arias from Don Carlo, La Gioconda, Tristan und Isolde, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, G–tterd”mmerung and Samson et Dalila; songs of Hugo Wolf and Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer
PREISER 89559 (F) (ADD) TT: 

Arias from I Pagliacci, Rigoletto, Faust and Hamlet; songs of Tosti, Denza, Brogi, De Crescenzio, Billi and Leoncavallo
PREISER 89555 (F) (ADD) TT: 73:35

These are welcome compilations of recordings by two important singers of the mid-20th Century. Mezzo-soprano Blanche Thebom was born in Pennsylvania Sept. 9, 1918. It was at the suggestion of Kosti Vehanen, Marian Anderson's accompanist, that she began studying voice, working with, among others, Margarete Matzenauer.  hebom made her concert debut in 1941 and her first Met appearance in 1944, as Brang”ne. Remaining with the company for more than two decades, she sang 26 roles including Azucena, Eboli, Adalgisa, Ortrud and Fricka, and appeared in American premieres of Arabella, The Rake's Progress and Dialogue of the Carmelites. Also was a favorite in Chicago and San Francisco, Thebom made her European debut in Stockholm in 1950. In 1957 she sang Dido in the Covent Garden premiere of The Trojans, and was the first American to sing at the Bolshoi Theatre. A consummate artist, she also was known as an interpreter of contemporary music. After retiring from the stage, Thebom was General Manager of the Southern Regional Opera Company in Atlanta in 1967/68, then founded the Opera Arts Training Program in San Francisco where she now lives and teaches.

This CD features Thebom in some of her finest roles as well as lieder of Hugo Wolf and Gustav Mahler. Her recording of Songs of a Wayfarer has long been a favorite of mine (although the tempo for the opening song is rather overly-brisk) and it would be intriguing to have more information about the unidentified orchestra which is conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.  I once owned this recording on two RCA 45 rpm disks, replete with scratches, static and ticks; what a pleasure to hear it now minus those distractions. You also may wish to investigate Thebom's participation in the historic 1952 Tristan conducted by Wilhelm Furtw”ngler in which she sings Brangane; she also can be heard as Dorabella in the 1952 Met Così fan tutte.

Italian baritone Giuseppe Valdengo (b. 1913), after initially studying cello, oboe and English horn, began studying voice and in 1936 made his debut in Parma as Figaro in The Barber of Seville. Three years later he appeared at La Scala for the first time and, after a period of service in the army, returned there where he appeared frequently thereafter. In 1946 he toured the United States and made his debut at the Met in 1947 as Tonio in I Pagliacci. In 1947 Arturo Toscanini, after a series of dissatisfying auditions, finally chose Valdengo for Iago in his Otello recording, also for the role of Amonasro in his 1949 broadcast of Aida, and in the leading role for his Falstaff in 1950 much to the chagrin of Leonard Warren who had much influence at the Met—it is rumored Warren made certain that Valdengo was not "too comfortable at the Met." (Warren did sing in Toscanini's electrifying 1944 broadcast of the final act of Rigoletto).  Toscanini and Valdengo became close friends which actually didn't help the baritone in his relationships with other conductors:  Fritz Busch one said, "Dear Valdengo, every time you sing one feels the claws of Toscanini."  In spite of problems at the Met, Valdengo appeared frequently in leading opera houses, later turning to buffo roles, then to teaching. He also appeared in the movies, playing Antonio Scotti in the 1951 film The Great Caruso.  On this welcome CD we hear Valdengo in some of his better-known roles as well as a group of Italian songs all recorded in 1949 with orchestras conducted by Alberto Erede.

R.E.B. (January 2003)