Reviews

GHCD 2230/31 – GIAN SCHICCHI – Puccini, SALOME – Strauss – 1949

Metropolitan Opera, Giuseppe Antonicelli – Conductor, Cloe Elmo

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International Record Review July/August 03

Operatic Reissues by John T. Hughes
A German interlude

This mainly German section begins with Puccini, contradictorily, for in 1949 the Met presented a double bill of Gianni Schiechi and Strauss’s Salome. The attraction of opposites? Except for Licia Albanese’s unsteady, elderly-sounding Lauretta and some strait-laced conducting from Giuseppe Antonicelli, the participants in Schicchi are a splendid bunch of rascals. ltalo Tajo was his own man on stage as much as Schicchi was in Florence. The ‘opposition’ is led by the formidable Cloe Elmo, with the youthful Giuseppe di Stefano in fresh voice as Rinuccio. Salome receives sizzling intensity under Fritz Reiner; Ljuba Welitsch gives a stunning performance in pliant, steady tone. Herbert Janssen’s fortitudinous Jochanaan contributes strongly, while Frederick Jagel truly sings Herod. Oddly coupled operas but highly successful (Guild GHCD2230/1, two discs, 2 hours 36 minutes).


New Classics Wednesday April 02 03

An excellent Metropolitan Opera double bill features recordings from 1949 of Puccini’s charming comedy Gianni Schicchi and the shocking tragedy, Salome, by Richard Strauss. These contrasting one-act operas make for a fascinating album. Gianni Schicchi features Italo Tajo, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Lucia Albanese and Cloe Elmo. Strauss’s Salome has the wonderful voices of Ljuba Wellitch, Herbert Janssen, Frederick Jagel and Kerstin Thorborg, and is conducted with great élan by Fritz Reiner. These are outstanding historic performances that will excite any opera lover, and the included booklet has informative articles about the performances as well as biographies of the singers.

Musicweb Thursday March 06 2003

All the Guild ‘Immortal Performances’ series of historical opera performances arrived for review at once. So, having listened to the issue of Montemezzi’s ‘L’Amore Dei Tre Re’ over a couple of days (and being bowled over by the performance and quality of the 1941 broadcast), I made my notes and moved straight to this somewhat unusual double from 1949. I was underwhelmed by both the performance and recording of the Schicchi to the extent that I put it aside for a week to clear my palate, as it were, of the outstanding Montemezzi. On return, I still found the recording disappointingly shallow in parts and the performance mediocre. As Richard Caniell points out in the booklet notes, the success of any Schicchi centres on the performance of the title role. I have known Tajo’s singing since the days of Cetra LPs (the ‘Green Label’ versions!). His voice is individual and he covers and colours his tone well, but compared with Gobbi (Caniell prefers Taddei) on the justifiably famous EMI disc he misses too many tricks. Given the nature of the opera, much of it near speech-song and a lot of peripheral activity, this is a serious flaw.

The presence of di Stefano and Albanese is luxury casting. She has the main aria (arietta in fact) of the opera, the famous ‘O mio babbino caro’ (CD1 tr9) and is justifiably, and loudly, applauded, although sounding somewhat mature for the part. Di Stefano’s contribution is all too brief and like the other minor parts is adequately taken, whilst the conducting lacks sparkle. No, you wouldn’t buy these discs for this performance, but it was, and is on this issue, part of a double bill, so what of the melodramatic partner, which had its premiere (1905) thirteen years before Schicchi?

I expect it will be the reputation and renowned performance of Ljuba Welitsch as Strauss’s complex Salome that will draw purchasers as much as the overall performance, although with Reiner conducting and Janssen as Jochanaan it has many virtues. Welitsch had sung the part of Salome at the composer’s 80th birthday celebration in Vienna in June 1944, but didn’t arrive at the ‘Met’ until 1948 and she only sang there for five seasons, returning in 1972 for the character part of the Duchess of Krakenthorp (La Fille du Regiment). She was a highly dramatic and temperamental singer who gave everything, vocally and physically, to a performance, which could put strain on her silvery and often sensuous tone. However, in this performance, at the height of her vocal and interpretative powers in her portrayal of the evil adolescent that is Salome, she is outstanding. With Janssen a steady and expressive Jochanaan, and Kerstin Thorburg a fearsome Herodias, she is well matched. This performance, which takes up the whole of CD 2 and 12 minutes of disc 1, justifies the cost of this issue to a purchaser, whatever the reservations I have expressed about the Schicchi. The recording sounds better than that for the Schicchi too. Can it be? The answer might be that being drawn into involvement in the drama of a flowing and vital performance just makes it seem audibly better.

The booklet is up to the usual good standard of this series with brief essays about the two operas, track-related synopsis and artist profiles; all by Richard Caniell who also carried out the re-creation and restoration.
Robert J. Farr