Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Verdi at the Met: Legendary Performances from the Metropolitan Opera

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

Verdi at the Met: Legendary Performances from the Metropolitan Opera

Article excerpt

Verdi at the Met: Legendary Performances from the Metropolitan Opera. The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra & Chorus with various artists and conductors. Sony Classical 88883721202-1-88883721202-10 (20 CD Box Set).

There is much to enjoy in this "limited-edition, deluxe" set, one of the Met's contributions last year to the international celebration--Verdi 200--marking the anniversary of the birth of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). It comprises ten complete operas, each of which was heard in the long-running Metropolitan Opera Saturday matinee radio broadcasts. Collectively, they capture the great theatre that was to be enjoyed over a 45-year period in what are some of the Italian composer's most popular operatic works, beginning with a celebrated performance of La traviata (1935) and concluding with a magnificent Aida (1967). The set is described in the accompanying booklet as the first "commercial" release. Many have long been available, however, on a variety of offshore or private labels, albeit with mixed results, sonically speaking that is.

Showcased are American singers or singers whose artistic home was the Met. In particular, it serves as a vivid reminder of the rich legacy of Leonard Warren (19111960), who died 4 March 1960 onstage from a massive cerebral haemorrhage during a performance of La forza del destino. The American baritone appears in five of the ten operas (not four as stated in the accompanying booklet). He is to be heard in some of his most memorable roles--as Rigoletto, Falstaff, Simon Boccanegra, La forza del destino's Don Carlo, and Macbeth. Warren recorded commercially three of the operas in this set: Rigoletto (RCA's first recording of a complete opera, 1950), La forza del destino (Decca, 1958), and Macbeth (RCA, 1959), the last mentioned based on the Met performance of that year, and with the same casting and conductor. Dramatically speaking, Warren's studio recordings pale somewhat in comparison.

That Rosa Ponselle (1897-1981), Elisabeth Rethberg (1894-1976), Giovanni Martinelli (1885-1969) and Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960) did not commercially record a complete opera adds another layer of interest and value.

Principal and guest conductors in this set are truly echoes of past glories: Erich Leinsdorf (1912-1993), Fritz Reiner (1888-1963), Thomas Schippers (1930-1977), Cesare Sodero (1886-1947), and Fritz Stiedry (1883-1968). Of particular importance is the "presence" of Ettore Panizza (1875-1967), conducting three of the earliest operas in the set. For all his mastery, particularly in the Italian repertoire, as is evidenced here, the Argentine-born maestro's recorded legacy is sparse. In Italy (he was born of Italian parents), Panizza enjoyed an impressive career as both a composer and a conductor before joining La Scala as Arturo Toscaninis assistant (1921-1931). He went on to succeed Tullio Serafin (1878-1968) in 1933 in charge of the Met's Italian wing, remaining with the company until 1941.

Missing is one voice that for more than four decades was synonymous with the Met's broadcast series and which belonged to a man who was very much a part of the opera scene in New York--Milton Cross (1897-1975). Cross is to be heard on some of the "unofficial" issues of these and other Met performances. The veteran broadcaster is heard, for example, "setting the stage" on the NAXOS releases of a 1935 La traviata and a 1938 Otello. He hosted the Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts for an unprecedented 43 years, from the time of their inception in 1931 until his death in 1975. In all that time he missed only two broadcasts, due to the death of his wife, Lillian. Cross never retired, but died suddenly from a heart attack during the season of 1974-1975. Cross' distinctive voice--he repeatedly won an annual national award for clarity of speech--conveyed the excitement of live performance "from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City for generations of radio listeners, a far cry from the rather slick, choreographed approach of today. …

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