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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Nosag Records  

Stina-Britta Melander ”Från 14 till 80 år” (From 14 to 80 years)
CD 1
Otto LINDBLAD (1809 – 1864) Varför skall man tvinga mig att sjunga; Trad. Fjorton år trot jag visst att jag var; F GROTHE Illusion; Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) Un ballo in maschera: Saper vorreste; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791) Die Zauberflöte: Papagena; O zittre nicht; Der Hölle Rache; Edmond AUDRAN (1840 – 1901) La mascotte: ”Jag älskar mina pullor små”; André MESSAGER (1853 – 1929) Veronique: Donkey duet; Charles LECOCQ (1832 – 1918) La fille de Madame Angot: ”Som Madame Angot”; André MESSAGER Veronique: Swing duet; Franz von SUPPÉ (1819 – 1895) Die schöne Galathea: ”Vackra yngling låt oss fly”; Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797 – 1848) Don Pasquale: Son anchio la virtu magica; Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 – 1880) Orphée aux enfèr: ”Alltså. Du bedrar mig”; Giuseppe VERDI La traviata: E strano, e strano; Franz BERWALD (1796 – 1868) Jag går i kloster: Jag står vid klostrets dystra murar; Sköna blomma; Låt mig vara ifred; Hilding ROSENBERG (1892 – 1985) Lycksalighetens ö (Isle of Bliss): Den blyga aftonvinden; Allt övervinns av tiden
CD 2
Trad. Paper of pins; Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924) La Bohéme: Mi chiamano Mimi; Joseph CANTELOUBE (1879 – 1957) Chants d’Auvergne: L’aio de rotso; Malurous qu’o uno fenno; Jon LEIFS (1899 – 1968) Mariuljod; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Die Zauberflöte: Ach, ich fühl’s; Max REGER (1873 – 1916) Du meines Herzens Krönelein; Wenn die Linde bluht; Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809 – 1847) Andres Maienlied; Joseph MARX (1882 – 1964) Und gestern het er mit Rosen gebracht; Richard STRAUSS (1864 – 1949) Brentanolieder: Amor; Fritz ARLBERG (1830 – 1896) Förgäves uppå stigen; Isidor DANNSTRÖM (1812 – 1897) Långt bort I fjärran; Claude DEBUSSY (1862 – 1918) Pantomime; Claire de lune; Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY Elijah: Hear ye, Israel; Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 – 1893) Eugene Onegin: Triquet’s aria; Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868) Il barbiere di Siviglia: Una voce poco fa; Giacomo PUCCINI Madama Butterfly: Un bel di vedremo; Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Le nozze di Figaro: Non so più; Trad. 14 år tror jag visst att jag var
Bonus Programme: Bergerettes (Shepherds’ Songs): Bergère légère; L’amour s’envole; Chanson les amours de Jean; menuet d’Exaudet; Jeunes fillettes; Chaque chose a son temps; maman, dires-moi; Non je n’irai plus au bois
Stina-Britta Melander (soprano) with various accompaniments and co-singers, among them Hugo Hasslo, Gösta Kjellertz, Lars Ekman, Sven Erik Vikström, Erik Saedén and William Claussen
Recorded 1938 – 2004
NOSAG CD 2108 [72:20 + 77:01]

 

 

Stina-Britta Melander, born in 1924, has been blessed with an unusually long career, especially for a high lyrical soprano. To readers in the English-speaking world she may not be a household name, but older opera lovers in Germany and Austria will surely remember her. It was there that in large part she achieved her greatest triumphs 1958–1973. She recalls in her personal and charming liner-notes that when she made her German debut as Violetta in La traviata in Wiesbaden she had 52(!) curtain calls. This period is well documented on an earlier double CD, released a couple of years ago by Talking Music (TALKCD1030), which draws on material from a couple of complete CD operas, radio recordings and live performances where we hear her in company with singers like Rudolf Schock and Fritz Wunderlich.

The present well-filled set casts its net wider and roughly covers her activities in Sweden. Its starting point is her first test record for His Master’s Voice back in 1938 where, with a voice that of course has no operatic dimensions but has a lightness and freshness that she preserved all through her career, the 14-year-old girl asks “Varför skall man tvinga mig att sjunga?” (“Why are they forcing me to sing?”). With hindsight it seems a superfluous question; she takes as naturally to singing as a horse to water - strange metaphor, but having grown up on a little farm in central Sweden, I know horses’ capacity to consume water whenever they get an opportunity. This early she had already that fast vibrato, the easy high notes and an aptness for coloratura that were always her hallmarks, although still in embryo. Since the programme is presented strictly chronologically, it is easy to follow her development.

Four years later, singing “14 år tror jag visst att jag var” (”14 years I believe I was”) on a commercial 78 rpm record, the voice is more evenly produced and the coloratura is spot-on. The song, by the way, was once made famous by 19th century Swedish diva Christina Nilsson. Illusion, a fairly vapid “schlager” the term in general use for a popular song, to my surprise turned out to have been one of the most frequently played records in 1944, according to Swedish Radio, staying for 17 weeks at the top of the list of best-sellers.

The live recording from the Stockholm Opera of Un ballo in maschera from her debut year 1946, shows her as the page Oscar (or Otto) as a fully-fledged young coloratura soprano, lively, agile with absolutely clean runs. After a pert Papagena, in duet with the sonorous Hugo Hasslo there is a leap of seven years that brings us to the mature artist, singing the Queen of the Night’s two hilarious arias, for once in Icelandic, which really doesn’t matter, since the text is ruminative anyway up in those stratospheric regions, whatever language is used. Some suspect intonation apart, these are good renditions of both arias, the second being quite forceful, as befits the evil woman.

The sound quality is variable on these early recordings. But the operetta sides, made I suppose for Swedish Radio, show a marked improvement. That is a definitive asset for the French duets with the charming Gösta Kjellertz, conducted by Albert Wolff, no less.

A high spot is the aria from Don Pasquale, recorded in 1959 and sung in Italian where her Norina is witty and alluring – and her trill is excellent! Even better is her Violetta, sung in German in a 1960 recording. She has that tone of vulnerability that makes one feel pity for her from the outset. The slightly fluttery tone and deep involvement recalls my first LP - Violetta, Elena Todeschi on Concert Hall; a recording that was the trigger for my interest in opera in the early 1960s. In between these two arias we hear a central scene from Orphée aux Enfèrs, where she is partnered by the excellent character tenor Sven Erik Vikström, who on stage also was able to play Orphée’s violin solo.

The final tracks of CD 1 present two Swedish opera rarities. Franz Berwald nurtured an unrequited love for opera. The operetta Jag går i kloster (I go to a nunnery), completed in October 1842, was staged in Stockholm and ran for six performances with that other legendary soprano, Jenny Lind. It is pretty music, with folksy atmosphere, which would be interesting to hear revived some day. Britta-Stina Melander sings it simply and beautifully and in the duet “Låt mig vara ifred” (“Let me be alone”) we also hear bass-baritone Erik Saedén, born the same year as Melander and still singing. As a matter of fact, as I write this at about 8 p.m. on 20 December 2005 he is singing the part of Geronte in Manon Lescaut at the Royal Opera in Stockholm. As can be heard on this 44-year-old excerpt, few can challenge him when it comes to articulation of the text. The other work is Hilding Rosenberg’s Lycksalighetens ö (Isle of Bliss), a big romantic opera, written and premiered during WW2 and regarded as one of the few really important Swedish operas. Melander’s singing of Zephyr’s aria shows that this could also have been an international success. And it still can. I strongly recommend the complete live recording from the Norrland Opera, which I reviewed some time ago and also made one of my Recordings of the Year (see review).

Apart from a lovely rendering of Mimi’s aria from La bohéme, again sung in German, CD 2 mainly covers songs with piano and to a great extent from the last part of her career. After a lively duet with a William Claussen on top form and two of Canteloube’s most well-known Chants d’Auvergne in spirited performances we find her in the period after her German sojourn. Past 50 and nominally past her best in terms of lyrical soprano singing, it is still difficult to find any signs of deterioration. There is no widening of vibrato, there is no discernible hardening of tone, only that hard-to-define feeling that this is a singer who has been active for quite some time, which has given her even greater confidence and deeper insight. There is a likeness to Erna Berger, another light coloratura who retained her girlish timbre and lightness and became an excellent interpreter of German Lieder during her Indian Summer in the 1950s. Exquisitely accompanied by “Sweden’s Gerald Moore”, Jan Eyron, she moulds the Reger songs in a way that makes one wonder why they are not heard more often. Du meines Herzens Krönelein is more readily associated with Richard Strauss, who is here represented by the equilibristic Amor. Her technically assured singing made me think that she must have been a perfect Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. A quick check with Stina-Britta revealed that: “Certainly, I sang it at the ”second premiere” at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin in the 60s with Silvio Varviso conducting, Lisa Della Casa and the recently deceased tenor James King. Among coloratura parts Zerbinetta was my favourite role.” I would certainly have loved to hear her in Grossmächtige Prinzessin!

Fritz Arlberg and Isidor Dannström were two important Swedish singers during the 19th century. The quite simple “folksy” songs presented here, sung with disarming simplicity – “art concealing art” – are interesting for being dedicated to the two greatest Swedish international sopranos during the period, Christina Nilsson and Sigrid Arnoldsson. The former left no recorded evidence of her art, although there have always been rumours about some early cylinders, but obviously they have never surfaced. The latter (1861 – 1943) made several records when still in her prime, some of which I have heard. The primitive sound on recordings made before WW1 was always more devastating to the female voice than to the male, so it is not easy to know exactly what she must have sounded like “in the flesh”, but it seems that Melander, approaching the age of 60, could still challenge her.

The two Debussy songs, again with Eyron at the piano, are light and elegant, and “Hear ye, Israel” from Elijah, rather distantly recorded in the vast St. Clara Church in central Stockholm in 1987, rings out impressively.

At the age of 70 she returned to the opera stage for a few performances of Eugene Onegin in a MusikiDalarna (Music in the province of Dalecarlia) production. For the first and, to my knowledge, only time Monsieur Triquet’s part was sung by a soprano, but not actually as a trouser-role; Melander was instead an utterly charming Madame Triquet. I saw one of the performances and enjoyed it greatly. Here was an old stager who knew all the tricks how to steal the show, both visually and aurally. I believe that is possible to hear all this on this recording, even without the experience of having seen her. It is true that the voice has begun to thin out – but remarkably little. What is even more remarkable to hear is her “reprise” of 14 år tror jag visst att jag var, recorded at her 80-years-concert a year ago. It’s a frail voice but it still retains its girlish timbre and there is very little trace of a widening of the vibrato – she even has her coloratura in fine fettle.

There is a quite substantial bonus in the shape of a set of charming French 18th century shepherds’ songs, charmingly performed in 1959. Having played the CDs straight through one has her voice of 45 years ago fresh in the memory. Lovely!

The sound is, as I have already mentioned, variable; quite a number of the titles on CD 2 are private recordings, but as whole it is all quite acceptable. The booklet is adorned with photographs of her stage-roles and a charming colour photo from October 2004 with Dolly: no, it’s not a cloned sheep, it’s a highly individual and cute dog.

Jussi Björling, who noticed her stage-nerves at a performance of Faust, said to her: “Don’t worry, girl, you sing well, just keep on doing it and you will became a great singer”. Beniamino Gigli, who heard her as Butterfly in 1954, sent her a letter where he recommended her to study for a couple of months with Toti dal Monte: “then you will become an opera singer that the world will hear about”. Both Björling and Gigli can’t have been wrong, can they? – and here is evidence aplenty that they weren’t. For newcomers to Stina-Britta Melander it may be advisable to buy the earlier double-CD first and hear her in all her glory at the height of her powers, mainly, in the 1960s. For a more all-embracing portrait this second album is also a treasure-trove.

Göran Forsling

 

 

 

 



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