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Mercedes Capsir (1895-1969)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)

I Puritani – Qui la voce
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

Lucia di Lammermoor – Regnava nel silenzio
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Rigoletto – Caro nome
La traviata – Ah! Fors’ è lui with Lionello Cecil
La traviata – Pura siccome un angelo with Carlo Galeffi
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)

Dinorah – Ombra leggiera
Clement Philibert Leo DELIBES (1836-1891)

Lakmé – Dov’ è l’indiana bruna?
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La bohème – Si, mi chiamano Mimi
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)

Il re – Colombello sposarti
Il re – La bella mugnaina
Julius BENEDICT (1804-1855)

Il carnevale di Venezia
Emilio ARRIETA (1823-1894)

Ah! Rayo de luz encantadora
Mercedes Capsir (soprano)
Professori d’Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala/Lorenzo Molajoli except for the Arrieta; Gran Orquesta Sinfonica bajo/Daniel Montorio
Recorded 1928-33
PREISER 89157 [76.14]


What is one to make of the Barcelona Spitfire Mercedes Capsir? A coloratura soprano capable of vertiginous heights she was discovered early, and soon travelled to Madrid, Lisbon, Buenos Aires and Paris. Though she couldn’t displace Toti Dal Monte and Gilda Dalla Rizza in Milan she did sing widely and successfully in Italy (Bologna, Venice, Rome and a few La Scala performances) and did give a Rigoletto with Toscanini. She was successful at Covent Garden and also sang at the now unfairly forgotten Italian opera company in the Netherlands in the early 1920s – which employed strong casts. One of her major successes is happily documented on disc, and is here in this Preiser recital; she gave the premiere of Giordano’s one act Il re in 1929. She seems to have been pretty much at her peak around the late twenties and early thirties and discographically, at least, 1928-29 were notable for a complete La Traviata and Barber of Seville. She never sang in North America and though she continued to sing intermittently in Italy – her last La Scala performance was in 1934 – her career appears to have inexorably wound down. Her last appearance was in Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio segreto back in the city of her birth at the Teatro Liceo in 1949. She died in 1969.

And so what to make of her? Sometimes her powers of coloratura flexibility are astounding. Listening to her I Puritani is a sobering experience with its roulades of technique and her command. Yet the Lucia extract, though sung with technique to spare, sounds … well, just tossed off. And whilst her intonation survives the scrutiny of Delibes and her technique is entirely untroubled by the Benedict soufflé one does begin to be troubled by an ease of vocal production that doesn’t seem, prima facie, to be matched by commensurate depth of imagination. Partly of course this is repertoire. No one can sing the Benedict and expect to be judged a Lotte Lehmann. But whilst the Lucia is full of evenness of production and superb ornamentation there is a distinctly mechanical feel to it. Her Traviata is good though it doesn’t sound really quite stylish enough – it’s extracted from the complete 1928 recording by the way – but she can show acumen in the lighter Marina, a Regal disc from 1929.

Perhaps a better case for the consistency and greater depth of her musicianship can be derived from her complete recordings – I would suggest La Traviata to start with where she makes a good pairing with such as Carlo Galeffi and Lionello Cecil. This Preiser however is a well engineered and a generous survey of her incendiary technical flourishes and an apt introduction to a singer I can never quite work out if I like or not.

Jonathan Woolf

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