Wednesday, August 8, 2007

And now for someone completely obscure...

Okay, there's a small backstory here: One of my favorite haunts in the city (and surely the most dangerous to my pocketbook) is Academy Records on 18th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. So convenient to the 1 train, too. It sells used CDs, DVDs and LPs, many of them quite obscure and most of them at quite reasonable prices. Of course it is generally true that the more obscure items are costlier, but not always. I found the Ninon Vallin 2-CD set on Marston Records for only eighteen bucks. That one has been out of print for some time. I have seen it on for close to a hundred bucks. Also I have found some recordings by the delectable cabaret singer Liane for less than ten bucks. I just found one of hers listed on ebay for $106.52. So you get the idea.

Preiser has a fabulous series of compilations under the moniker "Four Famous [fill in the blank]s of the Past". These are very enjoyable as well. It was through these recordings that I got to hear more of Friedel Beckmann's recordings (another singer obscure to most who sometimes sounds remarkably like Christa Ludwig, with an equally impressive intensity and musicality) as well as many, many others. Academy always has many of these titles on their shelves, but they were always going for eleven or twelve bucks, which seemed a little expensive to me for a single CD. However, Academy has recently begun moving items that have not sold into a bargain bin. Just last week I found an early Scala Tosca recording featuring Carmen Melis (Tebaldi's teacher) and Apollo Granforte as Scarpia. For only eight bucks. Likewise, they moved a good number of the Preiser series into the bargain bin. For four bucks, I found one of the many "Four Famous Sopranos of the Past" volumes. This one features Lotte Schöne (who sings with a charm matched by few others –possibly Bidú Sayao and Elisabeth Schumann – and whom I highly recommend), Fritzi Jokl, Irene Eisinger (another goodie!) and someone named Luise Szabó, whose name was vaguely familiar to me, but about whom I knew nothing. I still know virtually nothing about her, except what scant information there was about her in the liner notes; I have Googled her and found nothing else.

Here's what the liner notes, such as they are, reveal about her:

Very little is known about the short career of the Hungarian coloratura soprano Szabó Lujza (Luise Szabó). Born in Budapest in 1904 she studied at the local Music Academy and made her debut in 1927 at the National Opera House in Budapest. She caused quite a sensation as Queen of the Night in Die Zauberflöte at the Städtische Oper, Berlin in 1931 under the baton of Bruno Walter. Szabó also interpreted this role in the same year in Amsterdam as well as for German broadcast. In Hungary the soprano recorded her Hungarian repertoire for HMV, in Berlin she did 12 titles in German for Ultraphon — some of the latter ones have also been published under the Austrian label Kalliope. Before Luise Szabó’s career had even reached its zenith the singer died during an operation in Budapest on November 19, 1934. There was no family relationship with the soprano Ilonka Szabó.

Anyway, it has taken me a long time to tell this story. The point is that this woman is extraordinarily good. I know of no other current issues of her recordings. Her Queen of the Night is one of the best I've heard. My favorites are still Edda Moser, Lucia Popp and Erna Berger, but Szabó holds her own in this company.

Listen here to her account of "Der Hölle Rache" and see if you don't agree. Her staccati are breathtaking, fearless and pin-point accurate, as are her triplets in the middle of the aria. She even handles those final phrases of the aria quite impressively, where so many lighter-voiced voiced coloraturas collapse. So hers is not the most menacing characterization I have heard, but there is a delightful surprise at the end (though it is less thrilling than the famous version by Florence Foster Jenkins!)

When I have a moment, I will post recordings the other singers I have mentioned here (Vallin, Liane, Beckmann, Melis and Granforte). For now, enjoy the tragically short-lived Szabó.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Justifying her reputation...

Okay, I am going to stop. Very, very soon. But I was just checking youtube to see if either the Sass Violetta from Aix or the Verrett Sleepwalking Scene from Scala had been reposted and unfortunately neither has. But I did find a concert performance of the Sass singing the Sleepwalking Scene. It is different than Verrett's. For one thing, I don't think Sass is nearly as subtle an actor as Verrett. But her singing on this occasion is quite stunning. I know nothing of the provenance of this performance. It's just something to be savored.

And, as a curio, a concert performance in 2004 of the Letter Duet from Nozze di Figaro with Andrea Röst before an obviously adoring, presumably Hungarian, public. I refer readers to a previous post in which I described hearing her in recital at the Hungarian Embassy in Paris in 2005. Let me just say that she is in much better form here than she was in Paris. But if I were Susanna, I would be very, very scared of my mistress. All those weird gestures... she seems more like Lady Macbeth!

So that we do not end on a completely bizarre note, I would like to include a sound file. This is from Sass' Richard Strauss recording. Her Vier letzte Lieder are decidedly strange, but not awful. But this song, "Verführung", with which I was completely unfamiliar, is quite stunningly done. And it's worth listening to just to hear an unknown Strauss Orchesterlied.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Who? Why, Ileana Cotrubas, who else?!?!

I have been doing a little online research on her this morning and I was delighted to discover that an enlightened youtube user has reposted the “Sempre libera” from her 1981 Met Traviata.

Here is a review from the New York Times (March 19, 1981) of her Violetta. Okay, so it's by Donal Henahan, who often had his head up his butt. But even he got it right sometimes:

“It is unlikely that there is a better Violetta now on the world's stages than Ileana Cotrubas. In her first Metropolitan appearance as the pathetic courtesan, she gave a transfixing performance. A singing actress of great imagination and temperament, she was able to exploit the full range of emotions in her first-act scene, and unless a Violetta does that the jig is up. From the first puzzled and tentative notes of ‘e strano’ straight through to the almost delirious brilliance of ‘sempre libera’ she drew one long, unerring curve of vocal and dramatic excitement. She was not, like some Violettas, a case of conspicuous consumption throughout the night, hacking and wheezing incessantly. She coughed a little and fainted when necessary, and generally played on our sympathy like a virtuoso.”

Well, judge for yourselves.

I also found “Caro nome” from her Met Gilda a few years before that (1977, I believe). She is less perfect here; the voice is a little strained on the top, but her musicianship is always paramount. This performance is preceded by an adorable interview in which she present quite a winsome side to her personality than the adamant, demanding one that we acknowledge as well.

Yet she was and is demanding because her standards are SO high. As evidence, I submit her recording of the “Et incarnatus est” from the Mozart C Minor Mass. If this were the only evidence we had of her artistry, she would be assured of her place among the great Mozarteans, not only of recent years, but of all time.

Finally, I found this quote from an interview in which she rages against Regietheater. I espouse this viewpoint myself, so of course I quote it here:

“I teach both technique and interpretation, because you cannot separate them. I think it is nonsense to say that you have to develop a rock solid technique first and then think about interpretation later. You have to develop both of them at the same time. If you explain technique too clinically, as is often done today, you will forget everything about ‘singing,’ and this is the worst disaster you can have. I have to warn American singers about this especially. Often they are fantastic technically, but they lose all the emotion.”

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,