GHCD 2291/92 – I PAGLIACCI – Leoncavallo Vinay – Quartararo – Metropolitan Opera – 1948


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International Record Review – November 2004

Around 1971 I acquired a tape of this broadcast of Leoncavallo’s most famous opera. Its main attraction for me was the presence of American soprano Florence Quartararo (1922-94) as Nedda. I had heard her duets with Ramón Vinay on 78s and had been impressed by her voice. (Her other two 78s did not come my way till years later.)

Quartararo’s career was short, far too short. She had married the bass Italo Tajo, who then decided, on the birth of a daughter , that one singer in the family was enough. Thus a promising soprano, who had sung 37 performances of nine roles at the Met, vanished from the scene. (And the marriage?) Those four 78s would have formed Quartararo’s total discography had not Richard Caniell of the Immortal Performances Recorded Music Society met her in 1982 and subsequently issued private recordings on three cassettes. Some of those occupy the second disc in this set. Over 40 remain, but a further selection is promised.

I had resolved not to review any more Met broadcasts of the 1930s and 1940s, often with the same people in the same roles time after yawn-provoking time, but Quartararo’s and Vinay’s interpretations are encountered nowhere else, though Leonard Warren’s Tonio appears in other performances. Warren’s rich tones are well employed in Tonio’s frequent outbursts. He subjects them to diversity of colouring but sometimes distorts them too much. As Silvio, Hugh Thompson is an honest performer. with a voice focused but slender; Hungarian tenor Leslie Chabay contributes a well-sung Serenade. Giuseppe Antonicelli conducts supportively.

People who witnessed Vinay in performance ‘always’ said, ‘you should have seen him on stage.’ One hears intensity (the recitative to ‘Vesti la giubba’ is a case in point) and vocal power. The earliest date that I have traced for Vinay in opera is 1931 (Alfonso in La favorita in Mexico). He sang as a baritone for years, and that baritonal quality never left him: his upper notes lacked true ring and support. I suggest that he was never other than a baritone, but thrilling: undoubtedly thrilling.

I am not arrogating when I think that Quartararo’s career would probably have been extremely successful had it not been curtailed so soon. Her Nedda, Italianate in sound, has its own intensity , if one kept more in check than Vinay’s. At 25, she sings with a voice in full bloom. The opera’s final moments are here verismo at its most vivid and violent.

The second CD contains her four 78s, conducted by Jean Morel, plus ten items from broadcasts. The Victor 78 of ‘Care selve’, showing the richness of her sound, was included in Volume 4 of EMI’s ‘Record of Singing’.The earliest representation of Quartararo’s voice is ‘Vissi d’arte’, which she recorded in 1945 under the name Florence Alba on Bing Crosby’s radio programme. Anyone who heard that broadcast then should have been aware of the quality. The item from Landon Ronald’s cycle, conducted by Eugène Goossens (reduced to ‘Goosen’ in the booklet), is schmaltzy but it enables one to hear how the voice can soar. After a dramatic recitative to ‘Dove sono’, she moves smoothly through Mozart’s lovely melody, shaping her lush tone to the music’s contours. This and her Donna Elvira with Pinza and Baccaloni make me regret the absence of her assumptions in complete performances. Inclusion of an abridged Desdemona/Otello duet with Joseph Laderoute, who was Jacquino in Toscanini’s Fidelio, is scant recompense for the Met’s refusal to release her for that conductor’s Otello broadcast. Laderoute’s light voice is unsuitable for the Moor. Is the vivid, animated ‘O mon miroir’ one of the pieces sung for Mutual Opera in February 1951 or, as in the track listing, 1950?

The acetates bearing Pagliacci have hissy background, but the performance comes through. The individual items reproduce better.
John T. Huges

Quartararo – a voice to set alongside the giants of the 20th century. I suggest lovers of fine singing go out and buy while stocks last. Once the word gets out copies will surely fly off the shelves. …

MusicWeb International

I didn’t approach this reviewing project with any particular enthusiasm although the 1948 date for the Pagliacci promised at least reasonable sonics. The expectation regarding the sonics is fully realised with a good body of sound. What I didn’t expect was the vitality of the performance under the baton of Giuseppe Antonicelli or the strong open-toned singing of Leonard Warren as Tonio. Although he does force his tone on occasion, his singing and characterisation are better than on the EMI/Naxos re-masterings with Jussi Björling as Canio under Cellini. To balance matters out, Björling’s Canio on that studio recording is infinitely preferable to Ramon Vinay’s baritonal tenor with its squeezed climaxes. Also I did not expect, to be bowled over by the Nedda of Florence Quartararo. Had I been a little more observant of the cover, or read Richard Caniell’s usual comprehensive essay, I would have realised something was afoot. Quartararo’s well-coloured voice, fine legato and characterisation point new insights into the role of Nedda. Her singing reveals greater depths in the part than that of sadistic promiscuous bitch.

I didn’t venture to the second of the two discs, which is wholly devoted to Florence Quartararo, until I had read the essay. In it Mr Caniell reveals how, as a young boy in 1946, he had heard her at the Met as Micaëla. He met her again for a series of interviews in 1982 when she passed to him private recordings of various broadcast performances she had made. An American of Italian parentage, Quartararo had been discovered nearly by accident when singing as an untrained twenty-three year old. Two years later she was on the stage of the Met. She spent four years at the theatre singing nine roles of which this Pagliacci was the only performance broadcast. Having met and married the bass Ivo Vinco she left singing to bring up their daughter. She also left a studio legacy of four 78rpm discs the contents of which form the first tracks of the second disc (CD 2 trs. 1-5). These well-reproduced recordings include a beautifully coloured and expressive Care Selve from Handel’s Atlanta (tr. 1). Most notable, however, is her Tacea la notte from Il Trovatore (tr. 3). This is lyric soprano singing of the very highest order. The voice soars with clarity whilst words, expression, legato and colouration combine to give superb characterisation. These are words and descriptions that I do not use lightly about any singer. Why then is her name not on every opera enthusiast’s list of all-time greats? The answer can only be familiarity, or more likely lack of it. Florence Quartararo was invited by Toscanini to sing Desdemona in his broadcast Otello. Many critics believe the recording from that broadcast to be one of the monuments of recorded opera. Guild recently issued a new re-mastering from better sources than that used by the RCA issues of the performance which have long dominated the catalogue. (review) Unfortunately for opera lovers, the Met management refused to release Quartararo for the detailed rehearsals that Toscanini demanded and the great maestro turned to his favourite Herva Nelli for the role. I suggest that if Quartararo had sung the Desdemona on that recording she would not have been allowed to leave the stage forever when she did and the history of recorded opera on LP would have been very different than that which we now inherit on CD. I write that sentence in full realisation of its implications. On the evidence of the recordings on this second CD Quartararo’s is a voice to set alongside the giants of the 20th century. Colleagues and other contemporaries likened her voice and vocal skills to that of Ponselle. There can be no greater recommendation.

The remaining tracks of CD 2 lack the sonic immediacy of those derived from the 78s. They are, however, sufficient to further illustrate and support the claims I have outlined. The phrasing, tonal beauty and support for the voice in Dove Sono (tr. 11) and the colouring and expression in the Otello duet (tr. 14)are particularly fine. At that I will rest my case and suggest lovers of fine singing go out and buy while stocks last. Once the word gets out copies will surely fly off the shelves. Richard Caniell promises another issue derived from the singer’s private recordings but it seems that these sources do require quite a lot of work.
Robert J Farr