NAXOS – Enrico Caruso – The Complete Recordings Volume 1 through Volume 12
Caruso recorded over 260 sides, almost all for the Victor Company (now RCA Victor.)
Since copyrights have expired on all of these, there are many labels offering versions of the same recordings. The quality of sound restoration is the paramount consideration in determining which label to choose. Oddly, RCA Victor’s own re-issues provide relatively poor quality. The premier audio restoration engineer in the industry is Ward Marston and he did a masterful job on this set for Naxos Historical, which covers every Caruso recording from the Berliner Gramaphone discs in 1902 through the final recordings in 1920. Choose your favorites.
LV (Lebendige Vergangenheit) – Feodor Shaljapin MONO 89030
OPERA – Feodor Schaljapin Recital CD 54568
EKLIPSE RECORDS- Fedor Chaliapin Live Recordings at Covent Garden and Albert Hall EKR 50
The LG disc captures Chaliapin (notice how many phonetic spellings can exist in translations of the Russian Cryllic alphabet) when his voice was at it’s freshest – from 1907 through 1912 but the acoustic recording process does not always display the richness of his voice. Opera’s recital disk duplicates some of those early acoustic recordings but also includes several of the later electric records which have much better sound, even if the voice is somewhat older. The 2- CD Eklipse set consists of excerpts from live electrical recordings of six different operas using microphones placed near the stage during actual performances from 1926 to 1928. Chaliapin’s voice lacked the range of earlier years, but the richness of the sound and the immediacy of the performances more than compensate.
NOTE: Chaliapin made only one film, Don Quixote in 1936 with music by Jaques Ibert. The music is not as pleasant as the Massenet Quixote which he performed on stage, but he is truly impressive. It is available in English and French. My suggestion would be to view it on www.youtube.com before you buy it.
DELOS – Lawrence Tibbett Baritone DE 5500 (2 CD’s)
DELOS – Opera Arias & Concert Songs 1928 – 1940 & Opera Arias & Sound Tracks 1935 – 1939DELOS DE 5500 (2 CD’s)
NIMBUS – Lawrence Tibbett In Opera NI 7825
NIMBUS – Lawrence Tibbett from Broadway to Hollywood HRM 6005
The Delos disks include commercial recordings, broadcast recordings, and film sound track recordings. The Nimbus In Opera disk covers most of Tibbet’s best commercial recordings from 1926 to 1939. The Nimbus Broadway to Hollywood disk includes all eight of the songs from the first recording of music from “Porgy and Bess” (with George Gershwin in the studio supervising) plus several other items including four sound track songs from the lost film, “The Rogue Song,”which earned Tibbett an Academy Award nomination as best actor.
NOTE: Only one of Tibbett’s films is currently available, altho there are musical excerpts from at least three others on youtube.com. Metropolitan is on DVD and well worth the purchase. The plot is stupid but there are several great arias as well as some of the songs he generally performed in concert.
NIMBUS /PRIMA VOCE – Ponselle NI 7805
NIMBUS / PRIMA VOCE – Ponselle Volume 2 NI 7846
ROMOPHONE – Rosa Ponselle The Victor Recordings 1923 – 25 81006 (2 CD’s)
ROMOPHONE – Rosa Ponselle The Victor Recordings 1926 – 29 81007-2 (2 CD’s)
PEARL – Rosa Ponselle The Columbia Acoustic Recordings 1918 – 1923 GEMM 9964
NAXOS – La Traviata 8.110032-33
The Nimbus / Prima Voce discs cover all of the most famous Ponselle commercial recordings in well restored sound. For completists, the Pearl and Romophone sets include every commercial record the lady made including some previously unreleased takes. Miss Ponselle herself always maintained that her voice was best represented by her radio broadcasts and I have no hesitancy about recommending the 1935 Metropolitan Opera broadcast of “La Traviata” on Naxos Historical. The sound has been well restored, although it is still restricted and scratchy and Ponselle indulges in some questionable histrionics in the first act, but – especially in the Act II duet with a magnificent Lawrence Tibbett and in the final act death scene – Ponselle gives one of the greatest interpretations of Violetta in recorded history, matching if not surpassing everyone. Including Callas.
NOTE: The only film available of Ponselle is the MGM screen test she made for Carmen. But it is on The Art of Singing: Golden Voices of the Century DVD which also contains videos of many other great artists. Highly recommended.
NAXOS – Jussi Bjorling Volumes 1 though Volume 7
BLUEBELL – Jussi Bjorling Rigoletto and Il Trovatore excerpts ABCD 002
BLUEBELL – Jussi Bjorling Live Holland 1939 / Norway 1954 ABCD 006
SONY – Romeo et Juliette – Jussi Bjorling & Bidu Sayao 88697 80465 2
The Naxos set includes just about every commercial recording Bjorling made, from his day as a child soprano with the Bjorling Quartet, through his “crooner” recordings as “Eric Odde” and on to his greatest operatic hits. The Swedish label Bluebell has released his Swedish commercial recordings, almost every concert Bjorling gave in Sweden, as well as operas he sang there. His 1957 “Rigoletto” is simply extraordinary and the 1960 “Trovatore, one of his last performances, is excellent. The Live Holland 1939 catches the 28 year old Bjorling when his voice was freshest and most beautiful. The Norway concert five years later is less satisfying as he had a bad cold that evening, but still equals most other tenors at their best. And the complete 2-disc “Romeo et Juliette” from the legendary Metropolitan performance in 1947 has just been released by Sony at a price competitive with most single disc CD’s. It’s a must have.
NOTE: Besides a La Boheme duet with Renbata Tebaldi on the Art of Singing: Golden Voices of the Century DVD, his TV appearances on The Voice of Firestone are available. I would also recommend the DVD Bel Canto I – Tenors Of The 78 Era, which includes interviews with the Bjorling family.
EMI – Maria Callas Verdi Arias I CDC 7 47730 2
EMI – Callas Opera Arias CDC 7 47282 2
GALA – Maria Callas Historical Recordings 1955 – 1960 GL 310
The Callas voice was not conventionally beautiful, but through her artistry she sang as if it was and made you believe it was beautiful. It was a powerful voice and yet she could scale it down to delicate coquettishness or plaintive sadness. The EMI discs capture Callas between 1955 and 1959 when her voice was most secure and her artistry at it’s fullest. The Verdi disc contains Callas’ only studio recordings of arias from “Macbeth.” She sang Lady Macbeth on the stage only three times ( a poor quality recording exists of one performance) and she is simply magnificent here. The Opera Arias disc provides some of her finest studio recordings, with outstanding arias from “Adriana Lecouvrer” and a definitive “Una voce poco fa” from “Barber of Seville.” The Gala disc consists of live concert recordings from 1955 through 1960. The highlights are the “Il Trovatore” and “La Vestale” selections. There are many complete Callas opera recordings available, both studio and live stageperformances, on many labels. Her EMI “Tosca” with Tito Gobbi conducted by Victor Sabata is rightly considered one of the few “perfect” opera recordings (another would be the Bjorling/Sayao “La Boheme” conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham on Angel /EMI.) As for “Norma,” she made two studio versions, the earlier in better voice and that later with less voice but better interpretation. Neither can match her onstage performances of which there are several to choose from, each differing in quality in different ways. Callas herself said that her 1955 Berlin performance of “Lucia di Lammermoor” conducted by Herbert von Karajan was the best she ever gave. For myself, I prefer her La Scala “La Traviata” conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini. Your choice.
NOTE: The only film Callas made was Paolo Passolini’s truly awful Medea, in which she does not sing. Avoid it. Instead, grab a copy of In Concert – Hamburg 1969-1962 and In Concert Paris 1958. There are also several documentaries availabl which include musical excerpts. I prefer Maria Callas – Living & Dying for Art & Love.
There are so many Jolson CD’s available – at least a hundred – that recommending a few is a daunting task. Start with these.
Jolson Vol. I Stage Highlights 1911 – 1925 Flapper 9748
Jolson Vol. II The Salesman of Song 1911 – 1923 Flapper 9796
Jolson Vol. III The Twenties 1920 – 1929 Flapper 7045
Let Me Sing and I’m Happy (2-CD) (the Decca recordings) Living Era AJS 272
In 1946, while touring to promote The Jolson Story in New York, Jolson popped in unannounced at the WOR radio studio where Barry Gray was doing his late night broadcast. The result was more than an hour of fascinating reminiscence and song. The entire show is now available on CD.
Al Jolson Live! The Barry Gray Show October 27, 1946 On Stage OS-6001
NOTE: All of Jolson’s Warner Bros. films are now available on DVD from Warner Archives including a 3-DVD set released for the 75th anniversary of “The Jazz Singer” which includes the previously unavailable 1926 short sound film, “A Plantation Act.” Hallelujah I’m a Bum” and “Rose of Washington Square” are also available on DVD. These last two are the most watchable. Most of the Warner films are embarassingly bad, with the exception of “The Singing Kid” and “Go Into Your Dance” – well, the last 10 minutes of that one is cringe-inducing, but the rest is very good.
OTHER RECORDINGS WORTH LOOKING FOR.
I Pagliacci (2 CD) Guild GHCD 2291/2
The Pagliacci with Quartararo and Ramon Vinay is okay, altho I’m not a fan of Vinay. But disk 2 has all five of Quartararo’s RCA recordings plus a number of her radio performances. This is the only available CD of her work. Don’t miss it.
Muzio Nimbus NI 7814
Complete Legendary Italian Columbia Recordings Bel Canto Society
also, Romophone Records has released three 2-CD sets covering all of Muzio’s recordings including the Pathe, Columbia, HMV, and Edison doscs. Pricey, but complete.
Verrett in Opera RCA 09023-61457-2
While Shirley Verrett is represented on complete opera recordings (both CD and DVD) this is her only recital disk. Great stuff, especially the Samson et Dalilah.
Classic Recitals Decca 475 6235
Suliotis is also to be found on a couple of complete operas, but this is her only solo disk. Well worth buying.
French Opera Arias EMI7 695452
I adore this lady. She is well represented on recordings, but this is my favorite.