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Kind Words

Kind Words

Kind words are always nice to hear and I was really surprised and pleased to see a highly complimentary review of this site written by Dan Shea of the Jussi Bjorling Society-USA

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A Word or Two About Historical Recordings

A Word or Two About Historical Recordings

The sound of the historical recordings (for convenience, let’s say those from 1900 through 1920) that you hear on this site are not necessarily what listeners of that earlier era heard. With early acoustical recordings, the singer stood in front of a cone-shaped horn and the actual sound waves that were produced caused a stylus to vibrate and cut grooves on wax. This method flattered some voices, but had great problems for others, especially soft voices in the middle range. Brass instruments recorded better than others which could give orchestras a “tinny” sound and capturing orchestral accompaniment could be an

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Teresa Stratas – She Went Her Own Way

Teresa Stratas – She Went Her Own Way

Teresa Stratas (1938 – ) was and is petite (5 feet and 105 pounds) with a delicate, sensuous, beauty and an intimate, warm, voice that was still powerful enough to fill the largest auditorium. She sang professionally for 40 years before retiring at the age of 60. Along with Maria Callas, Stratas was one of the finest singing actresses of the 20th Century. Due to her diminutive size she was sometimes referred to as “The Baby Callas” but other than their shared work ethic and Greek heritage, the two were quite different, both in their methods and their results. Like

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Al Jolson – “The World’s Greatest”

Al Jolson – “The World’s Greatest”

Al Jolson (1886 – 1950), in an act of almost unbelievable arrogance and egoism, billed himself as “The World’s Greatest Entertainer.” And for forty years no one challenged that assertion because it was so undeniably true. Robert Benchley wrote in The New Yorker: “To sit and feel the lift of Jolson’s personality is to know what the coiners of the word “personality” meant. …Unimpressive as the comparison may be to Mr. Jolson, we should say that John the Baptist was the last man to possess such a power. Life Magazine said: “When Jolson enters, it is as if an electric

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The Lion of the Met – Giovanni Martinelli

The Lion of the Met – Giovanni Martinelli

In 1911 twenty six year old Giovanni Martinelli was asked to sing an audition. There were two men sitting near the stage but he couldn’t see them because the theater lights were dimmed. When he finished, the men came up to meet him. “Yes,” muttered one, “He will do.” “He will do very well,” said the other. “Allright young man. We will take you.” The two men were conductor Arturo Toscanini and composer Giacomo Puccini. “Take me? Take me for what?” pleaded the stunned young tenor. The European premiere of Puccini’s “Fanciulla del West” was scheduled for Rome in a

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Creators – they sang it first.

Creators – they sang it first.

The singer who first performs a role in an opera is referred to as the role’s creator. Why? Ask the composer. Or don’t because you may get an unflattering answer. Enrico Caruso (1873 – 1921) created the tenor roles in a total of ten operas – possibly a record – including Puccini’s “La Fanciulla del West”, Cilea’s “Adriana Lecouvreur”, and Umberto Giordano’s “Fedora.” Certainly Giordano had no reason to complain as this recording, made in 1902 only five years after the opera’s premiere and with the composer at the piano, demonstrates. Not all composers were so lucky. Until the late

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Tito Gobbi – “The Acting Voice”

Tito Gobbi – “The Acting Voice”

Tito Gobbi (1915 – 1984) was probably the finest Italian baritone of his generation. He had a remarkably subtle way of using his voice to illustrate the drama and emotion of the music. If his voice lacked the beauty of a Robert Merrill or the power of a Lawrence Tibbett, he more than compensated with a fluidity and expressiveness that made him unequaled as a a singing actor. Walter Legge, the legendary producer and a founder of Angel Records, described Tito Gobbi’s contribution to recorded opera as “The Acting Voice”. Gobbi once said that in a recording, as opposed to

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The Most Beautiful Voice – Beniamino Gigli

The Most Beautiful Voice – Beniamino Gigli

Beniamino Gigli (1890 – 1957) was the most famous tenor of his generation, renowned for the great beauty of his voice which was smooth and lush with a sweetness often described as “honeyed.” They called him the “Caruso Secondo,” a title he disliked saying that he preferred to be known as the “Gigli Primo.” In truth he was unlike Caruso in many ways, not least because Caruso’s voice was larger, darker, and more dramatic with what Italians referred to as “squillo” – that full-bodied sound that is the hallmark of a spinto tenor and can thrill an audience. Music critics,

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Roland Hayes – He made His Own Luck.

Roland Hayes – He made His Own Luck.

Sisserita Jones, Maria Selika (the first black artist to perform at the White House), Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield – these and many others, largely unknown today – were African-American singers of opera and classical music. All were victims, personally and professionally, of racial prejudice. Roland Hayes (1887 – 1977) was luckier in that he had the opportunity (an opportunity that he largely created for himself) to make recordings, some of which still exist to testify to his art. Until the middle of the 20th century, a black artist in America could sing gospel or classical music in concert but appearing on

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“Bubbles” – Beverly Sills

“Bubbles” – Beverly Sills

Her mother said that Belle Miriam Silverman emerged from the womb with bubbles in her mouth and for the rest of her life friends, family, and eventually the world would know Beverly Sills (May 25, 1929 – July 2, 2007) as “Bubbles.” The name which perfectly described her personality on-stage and in public. Off stage she was just as delightful and charming, but had an iron will and a determination to succeed that made her an irresistible force in the world of opera. Sills was essentially a lyric coloratura but her light soprano was strong with a warm tone and

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America’s great tenor – Richard Tucker

America’s great tenor – Richard Tucker

Richard Tucker (1913 – 1975) made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1945 and sang there for 30 years. After the death of Jussi Bjorling in 1960, he became the dominant tenor at the Met in an era when tenors such as Franco Corelli, Giuseppe Di Stefano, Mario del Monaco and, even his brother-in-law, Jan Peerce were his direct competition. Supremely confident and highly competitive, he was not musically elegant and had a tendency to overact, but he had a ringing voice, superb technique, and impeccable diction. Rivn (Rubin) Ticker was born in Brooklyn, New York. His Romanian Jewish parents changed

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A voice of warm, liquid butterscotch – Robert Merrill

A voice of warm, liquid butterscotch – Robert Merrill

Robert Merrill (1917 – 2004) had perhaps the smoothest, richest, and most effortlessly beautiful baritone voice of the 20th Century. He sang at the Metropolitan Opera for 31 seasons singing almost every baritone role in the Met’s repertoire. Moishe Miller was born in Brooklyn, New York to Orthodix Jewish immigrants who came from Warsaw, Poland. His father was a shoe salesman and his mother had been an aspiring opera singer in Poland and it was she who encouraged Merrill to sing. He was an overweight child with a stuttering problem, but the stutter vanished when he sang, which certainly gave

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Perfectly Lovely – Montserrat Caballe

Perfectly Lovely – Montserrat Caballe

Montserrat Caballe (1933 – ) lacked the absolute vocal richness and beauty of Rosa Ponselle and Leontyne Price or the magnetic intensity of Maria Callas, and she never mastered a trill for her Bel Canto roles, but her luscious creamy tones, her perfect legato, and an almost unbelievable pianissimo – often described as a “floating” Pianissimo” – made her unequaled in her time as a master of Bel Canto and Verdi roles. She was equally at home in German lieder, operas by Mozart, Strauss, and the Romantic French composers. Montserrat Concepción Bibiana Caballé i Folch was born in Barcelona, Spain,

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The King of Baritones – Mattia Battistini

The King of Baritones – Mattia Battistini

Mattia Battistini (1856 – 1928) began his career while Puccini was still a teenager and Guiseppe Verdi was alive and composing. He sang for 50 years, appearing with such operatic greats as Marcella Sembrich, Jean de Reszke, and Adelina Patti and gave his last concert (in good voice) the year before his death. One of the great singers of his or any other generation, Battistini had stylistic elegance and an extraordinary beauty of phrasing that carried forward the 19th century Bel Canto singing style into the 20th century world of Caruso and Ruffo. He was a lyric baritone with a

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Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson (1898 – 1976) never appeared on an opera stage. Like Roland Hayes and Marian Anderson before him, virulent racism prevented that and, once he had become so famous that he might have overcome that obstacle, he decided to reject offers to perform opera because the music had “no connection” to his heritage. But he had one of the greatest basso voices of all time. He certainly would have been a major opera star as this recording of Sarastro’s aria “O Isis und Osiris” from Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote” (sung in English) demonstrates. Paul LeRoy Robeson won a full academic

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Many Nights of Love – Grace Moore

Many Nights of Love – Grace Moore

“Grace’s only failing – if, indeed, she had one – was that she lived and breathed headlines, and was a master at creating them … Offstage, Grace was the foodstuff of a gossip columnist’s diet. In newsprint she became an earthy woman who sampled love at every table – and rumor had it that the tables were numerous.” – Rosa Ponselle Grace Moore (1898 – 1947) had to struggle to gain respect as an opera singer. That she had a beautiful voice there was no question, but she began her career singing in nightclubs and then in Broadway musical revues.

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Poking Fun at Opera – Anna Russell, Beverly Sills & Danny Kaye, Victor Borge, and . . . Al Jolson

Poking Fun at Opera – Anna Russell, Beverly Sills & Danny Kaye, Victor Borge, and . . . Al Jolson

Opera as an institution lacks a sense of humor. Soprano Eileen Farrell once had a sign in her office at Indiana State University (where she taught voice) that read “Stamp Out Opera.” It was not appreciated. The great Wagnerian tenor Leo Slezak stood watching the Swan Boat in Lohengrin sail right past him without stopping. Without missing a beat he turned to the audience and asked, “What time is the next swan?” But those are rare exceptions to the rule. The movies don’t handle opera much better. The Marx Brothers and Danny Kaye did the best work, but even there

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Brief Candles – Ruby Elzy, Salvatore Licitra, Eleana Suliotis & Alfredo Coccoza

Brief Candles – Ruby Elzy, Salvatore Licitra, Eleana Suliotis & Alfredo Coccoza

The poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote: My candle burns at both it’s ends It will not last the night But ah my foes, and oh my friends It gives a lovely light. I’d like to examine the legacies of a few of those singers whose candles did not last the full night. Those who the fates decreed careers in opera far shorter than their talents deserved. Ruby Elzy (1908 – 1943) Ruby Elzy graduated from Ohio State University in 1930, first in her class in the music department and received a fellowship to the Julliard School in New York,