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A Beginners’ Guide to the Galaxy of Singers from the Past

By Göran Forsling and Jonathan Woolf



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Good singing has always interested many lovers of classical music and today the world of opera and song can boast a plethora of excellent voices. But whenever connoisseurs meet, and very often in reviews, there are references to singers from the past, from "the golden age" or whatever soubriquet is attached to their names. We believe that there must be many listeners and readers of reviews who must feel a bit disorientated when stumbling across names like Jenny Lind, Caruso, Melba, Lehmann, Gigli, Chaliapin, Schlusnus, Supervia to mention a few, maybe even singers from a not so distant past: Callas, Tebaldi, Nilsson, Björling, Bergonzi, Gobbi, Siepi … Names, names, names, but what do they stand for? Why were they so important? Where shall I start if I want to get to know the cream of "the old uns"? To fill this need we have decided to start a series of articles about great singers from the past, with thumbnail portraits of a select group and some references to others of the same period and voice-type for those who feel ready to explore further. We are also going to suggest CDs to start with, as far as possible in the lower price-bracket. Luckily there is plenty to choose from.

Singing and Recording

The human voice was probably the first known musical instrument. When we go back in the history of music, vocal music dominates from early Gregorian chant more than 1000 years ago all through the Middle Ages. It is not until the Baroque era, which starts around 1600, that instruments become equal in importance. This is also the start of a new genre, opera. This was soon to become very popular and in the 18th century opera singers were idols, like today’s pop-stars. Names like Senesino and Farinelli are still known and talked about but we do not know what they sounded like since there was no way of preserving their voices for posterity. That also goes for the next century, the 19th, which is regarded as the highpoint of opera. Most of the works regularly performed today were written during those one hundred years. But sound reproduction was still not possible, even though Edison experimented with phonographs in the 1870s, which means that the legendary stars of that era are also missing in the record catalogues. Of the names mentioned above Jenny Lind, "The Swedish Nightingale" was never recorded, but some singers of roughly her generation had longer careers which stretched into the 20th century. It is around the turn of the last century that techniques advanced to a degree that it was commercially viable to make recordings. It is generally accepted that Enrico Caruso’s first recordings in 1902 triggered the whole recording industry. But during the first 25 years or so the technique was still primitive. The singer sang into a big horn which was connected to a needle that made a track in a disc made of wax or some other plastic material, from which was made a matrix and from which in its turn finished shellac records could be pressed. The frequency range was narrow, as were the dynamics, which affected first and foremost the instruments. Not until 1925 was a new method introduced when an electro-dynamic microphone was used which widened the frequency range considerably and for the first time a symphony orchestra could be reproduced with a quality that wasn’t too far removed from the live sound. There was still no high-fidelity sound, for that we had to wait another thirty years, but this was indeed a leap forward. Real connoisseurs can discuss for hours the merits of "that Melba record from 1904 compared to that 1905 Adelina Patti", but it takes some time to adjust one’s ears to the acoustical recording technique and therefore we have decided to leave this period at that to begin with and start our historical excursions with the electrical era, although in some cases there can still be some tracks from earlier, which also is a way of getting used to those limitations and maybe encouraging some listeners to delve even further back.


Roughly the era of recorded music can be divided into four or five groups:

I. early acousticals 1900–1914

II. late acousticals 1914–1925

III. early electricals 1925–1940

IV. late electricals 1940 – end of the 78rpm era

Those are the traditional historical recordings. Around 1950 the EP and LP appeared and revolutionised the recording industry again, but those efforts are now more than fifty years old and in Europe at least out of copyright, which means that any company can copy and release these recordings. Then there are the big companies, EMI, Decca, DG and others, who own the original matrices and tapes and re-release their old recordings from the 1950s and 1960s and even later than that, so we can confidently add a fifth group:

V. LPs 1950 –

Our aim is carefully to choose a number of great singers, five or six in each of the five traditional voice-pitches: soprano, contralto/mezzo-soprano, tenor, baritone and bass. Within these categories there are sub-categories: lyrical, dramatic, buffo etc, but that is another kettle of crayfish. Each of the chosen singers will be given a concise presentation, including a photo, an outline of their careers, why they were important (and still are) and finally a couple of recommended CDs. At the end of each category there will be a list of further singers that were great in their time and still worth a listen. It is our hope that readers that so far have had some trepidation about indulging in an area that seems complicated and fearsome, will take the first steps and discover the riches awaiting them.

So – here we start our journey to the galaxy. Hitchhikers are welcome on board!

Period III: Early Electric ca. 1925 - 1940


Frida Leider

Frida Leider (1888–1975) was the foremost dramatic soprano of the 1920s and 1930s and was unsurpassed in roles like Brünnhilde and Isolde, which she sang at Bayreuth between 1928 and 1938. During this period she was also a celebrated guest at Covent Garden as, e.g. Leonore in Fidelio, but her home stage from 1924 was the Berlin State Opera, which she had to leave in 1940, since she was married to a Jew.

Recommended listening:

She left a large and valuable recorded legacy and possibly her best electric recordings are to be found on Vols. 1 [PR89004] and 2 [PR89098] in Preiser’s Leider series Link.

Lotte Lehmann

Lotte Lehmann (1888–1976). If Leider was the dramatic soprano of her age, Lehmann was the leading lyric-dramatic singer in operas by Richard Strauss, but she was also a great Sieglinde in Die Walküre and also an excellent Lieder singer. At the Salzburg Festival she was Leonore in Fidelio for ten years and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf learnt much from her about unforgettably moulding a phrase.

Recommended listening:

The abridged Rosenkavalier, conducted by Robert Heger [review], and the first act of Die Walküre, with Melchior as Siegmund and Bruno Walter conducting [review], are desert island recordings. Her best separate recordings can be found on a Preiser disc and Naxos are in the process of releasing her Lieder records.

Elisabeth Schumann

Elisabeth Schumann (1888–1952) was the third of the great German sopranos of this period and she was the most lyrical of them, first and foremost an excellent Mozart singer and few sopranos ever have been such a lovely Pamina or Susanna. Every recording of hers oozes with charm. With advanced years she devoted more and more time to Lieder and her Schubert readings are regarded as models.

Recommended listening:

Naxos have released a full CD with Schubert songs 8.110731 [details] and have also started a survey of all her Victor recordings, so far only the earliest electric ones but the rest will hopefully appear soon. She is also a delightful Sophie on the Rosenkavalier set with Lehmann. On Preiser some of her best recordings from the late 1920s are collected – the period when she possibly was at her very best.

Rosa Ponselle

Rosa Ponselle (1897–1981) was American by birth and started her career as a vaudeville singer. An impresario discovered her talent and took her to the Metropolitan Opera where she made her debut at the age of 21 in La forza del destino against Enrico Caruso, no less. She was at her best in Verdi’s lirico-spinto parts, e.g. Elisabeth in Don Carlo, but she also sang Norma and also appeared as Mathilde In William Tell. She retired in 1936, not yet 40.

Recommended listening:

Many of her best Verdi recordings, some of them acoustic, are collected on a Naxos disc 8.110728 [details]and this company have also recently started a chronological release of her recordings.

Kirsten Flagstad

Kirsten Flagstad (1895–1962) was Norwegian and made her debut as early as 1913. After that she sang mostly operetta for many years and not until 1934 when she sang in Bayreuth, she had a real break-through, but then the operatic world lay before her feet and the Metropolitan, the Vienna State Opera, San Francisco and London quickly launched her in the heavy dramatic roles as the natural heir to Frida Leider. Her relatively late start in the heroic repertoire granted her a long career; she continued singing until 1955 and even later, in 1958, Georg Solti enticed her to a comeback when she sang Fricka on his epoch-making Das Rheingold.

Recommended listening:

Preiser have an excellent disc with Beethoven, Weber and Wagner recordings from the late 1930s [PR89141]. Her post-war recordings, including the legendary Tristan und Isolde under Furtwängler, are also classics but they belong, strictly speaking, to the next period. On Naxos there is a disc with duets with Melchior [8.110723]and live broadcasts from the Met of Tristan and Siegfried – both also with Melchior.

Claudia Muzio

Claudia Muzio (1889–1936) made her debut in Arezzo in 1910 and sang for some seasons in Turin and also at Covent Garden but it was in the US and also South America that she has her great successes. She sang all the great Verdi and Puccini roles and also some verismo.

Recommended listening:

Many of her best recordings were pre-electric but she made a fabulous series for Columbia 1934 – 35, which have been issued on the now defunct Romophone label. They will hopefully appear again soon on Naxos, who are reissuing most of that catalogue.

Maria Caniglia

Maria Caniglia (1905–1979) was probably the most popular Italian soprano during the 1930s and 40s, moving from lyrical roles to the great dramatic parts. She was an engaging actor and her voice was magnificent but not always so subtle. She was in great demand all over the world but most of all she was the star of La Scala in Milan.

Recommended listening:

She recorded extensively from 1930 and her voice has also been preserved in a number of complete opera recordings, four of them with Beniamino Gigli: Andrea Chenier, Tosca, Un ballo in maschera and Aida. Maybe even better is a wartime Cetra recording of La forza del destino. All of these are now on Naxos. On Preiser there is also a disc of separate arias, including her earliest offerings from 1930 [details]. There is even some Wagner here.

Further sopranos to explore:

Meta Seinemeyer, Tiana Lemnitz, Elisabeth Rethberg, Dusolina Giannini, Toti Dal Monte, Lina Pagliughi, Lily Pons, Ninon Vallin, Maggie Teyte, Marjorie Lawrence, Eva Turner



Conchita Supervia

Conchita Supervia (1895–1936). This Spanish contralto started her training at the age of twelve and she was sixteen she was Octavian at the Italian premiere of Der Rosenkavalier. After that she sang on the great Italian houses, from 1924 at La Scala. In 1925 she took part in the revival of Rossini’s operas, since she was the first singer since the 19th century who could cope with the tremendously difficult coloratura roles, intended for contraltos: Il barbiere di Siviglia, La Cenerentola and L’Italiana in Algeri. She died in childbirth when she was 41.

Recommended listening:

On Preiser, this goldmine when it comes to historical singers, there is a disc with recordings from 1927-28: Mozart, Rossini, Carmen (one of her great parts) and also two duets from Der Rosenkavalier [details].

Kerstin Thorborg

Kerstin Thorborg (1896–1970) This Swedish mezzo-soprano started her career at the Stockholm Opera in 1923, where she for seven years sang many of the great roles, not least Wagner. From 1930 her career was international. From 1935 she was engaged at the Vienna State Opera, which she left in 1938 as a protest against the Nazis. After that she sang every year at the Met, where she was soubriqueted "Caruso of Contraltos".

Recommended listening:

A legendary recording is Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, recorded live in Vienna in 1936 under Bruno Walter [review]. On Preiser there is a disc with arias, dominated by Wagner, but also some songs by Schubert, Brahms and Wolf [details]. There is also on Guild that live Lohengrin from the Met 1943 with Melchior, where she sings Ortrud [review].

Sigrid Onegin (1889–1943) was German but married one of her teachers, the Russian composer Eugen Onegin. She sang at various German houses but also came to the Met, where she made her debut as Amneris in Aida. Among her signature parts were Orpheus, Dorabella in Cosi fan tutte, Lady Macbeth and Dalila in Samson et Dalila. She was also a noted interpreter of Strauss and Wagner.

Recommended listening:

Preiser have issued two CDs, one with songs, the other with arias, including Orpheus, Carmen and Dalilah.Vol 1, Vol 2

Marian Anderson

Marian Anderson (1897–1993) owned one of the warmest contralto voices of her generation, and she became enormously popular, even among people who normally didn’t bother about "classical music". She worked mainly as a concert singer, performing negro spirituals, which was her true metier, but she was also a noted singer of Lieder. Her recording of Schubert’s Ave Maria is one of the classics of the gramophone. When touring Europe in the 1930s she got interested in Sibelius’s songs, which she also recorded. The composer even dedicated his Solitude to her. In 1955 she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as the first coloured singer ever, singing Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera. By then, though, she was 58 and past her best.

Recommended listening:

In the Naxos Nostalgia series there are two discs devoted to Marian Anderson, both with a mix of spirituals, Lieder, sacred songs and opera arias. Volume 1 includes Ave Maria. Review Review Preiser also have an Anderson disc with no opera. details There is some overlapping with the Naxos discs but all three are well worth owning.

Ebe Stignani

Ebe Stignani (1903–1974) was the leading dramatic contralto during almost thirty years, from her La Scala debut in 1926 until she retired in 1958. She was one of the all time greats with a voice type that today seems practically extinct. Amneris in Aida, Azucena in Il trovatore, Eboli in Don Carlo and Adalgisa in Norma were some of her more than one hundred parts.

Recommended listening:

She can be heard on a number of complete opera sets, some of these live recordings. An early (1931) La Gioconda is on Naxos [review], as is the even more recommendable La forza del destino (1941) [review]. Aida (1946) with Gigli and Caniglia is outside the scope of this period but still worth hearing [review], as is the 1954 EMI recording of Norma with Callas, also available on Naxos [review]. The ever-reliable Preiser label offers a fine cross-section of arias from some of her central roles recorded 1936–1941.[details]

Further mezzo-sopranos/contraltos to explore

Karin Branzell, Margarete Klose



Beniamino Gigli

Beniamino Gigli, born 1890, died 1957, charismatic Italian who after a career in Italy came to the MET as the natural heir to Caruso for more than ten years. In the beginning of the 1930s he returned to Europe and had a long career well into his 60s. He had a brilliant lyric dramatic voice and also charmed his audiences with his meltingly beautiful half-voice. His singing was sometimes marred by too much sobs and gulps but he always made amends by the passion and intensity of his delivery.

Recommended listening:

All his "singles" are being issued chronologically by Naxos. Start with Volumes 7 [review] and 8 [review], recorded in the beginning of the 1930s when he had reached the ideal balance between mature insight and a still fresh voice. These are his legendary recordings of many of the standard tenor arias and he also sings a number of Neapolitan and other songs, which was another speciality of his. Gigli also took part in a number of complete recordings of standard operas, from I Pagliacci in 1933 to Aida in 1946. In between these he recorded Un ballo in maschera, Cavalleria rusticana (with the composer conducting), La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Andrea Chenier. All of these have also been reissued by Naxos and are valuable complements to his singles since they show his dramatic talent in a wider scope. Some of them were recorded rather late in his career but are still valuable documents.[details of Naxos recordings]

Tito Schipa

Tito Schipa (1887–1965) was the aristocrat among his contemporaries and indeed in any time. His was a smallish, lyrical voice with limited range (no breast-beating high Cs) and not intrinsically beautiful as Gigli’s certainly was, but it was employed with the utmost musicality and taste and no one could inflect the musical line with so many exquisite nuances. His operatic repertoire was not large; he only sang roles that were suited to his resources and this also allowed him to continue singing well into his 60s. He didn’t leave La Scala until 1950.

Recommended listening:

Naxos are in the process of releasing his American recordings, where the first volume covers 1922–24 but in the next volume we are already in the electric era and his voice is reproduced with amazing fidelity [details]. As with Gigli this is a mix of opera arias and popular songs. Other collections can be found on Preiser and Nimbus. His only complete opera recording, Don Pasquale (1932) has been available on CD (Frequenz).

Giovanni Martinelli

Giovanni Martinelli (1885–1969) made his debut in Milan in 1910 but arrived at the Met as early as 1913 and remained there as a leading Italian tenor until 1946. His was a powerful dramatic tenor with gleaming penetrating high notes and very little of the honeyed beauty of e.g. Gigli and Schipa. He was an expressive actor and excelled in roles like Radames in Aida and the title role of Otello. He even sang Tristan against Kirsten Flagstad’s Isolde in Chicago in 1939. By many he is regarded as the best Verdi tenor during the 1920s and 1930s.

Recommended listening:

Absolutely indispensable is the live recording of Otello from the Met, also featuring Tibbett’s galvanising Iago and Elisabeth Rethberg’s vulnerable Desdemona. [review]On Preiser there is a CD with recordings from 1926–27 [details], while Pearl have a two CD set covering 1925–29. A Nimbus disc features both acoustic and electrical recordings. All of these are worth exploring.

Richard Tauber

Richard Tauber (1891–1948) Austrian of birth he had his training in Freiburg and made his debut as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte in 1913 and was regarded as the foremost Mozart singer in Germany and Austria. Like Schipa he didn’t have a very large voice and he rarely hit a high C but his mellifluous delivery and his ability to caress phrases unforgettably made him immensely popular. Some critics thought him too sentimental, something that became more pronounced when he in the late 1920s became associated with Franz Lehár and was the operetta star of his time. He also sang Lieder and popular songs and even composed. At the end of his career he returned to Mozart and turned out to be just as stylish as he was in his youth.

Recommended listening:

On Naxos there are a couple of volumes with Tauber’s operatic recordings [review] and in their Nostalgia series he can be heard in a lighter vein [review] [review]. In the field of operetta it is especially valuable to have some recordings of the parts in Lehár operettas that he created, conducted by the composer.

Lauritz Melchior

Lauritz Melchior (1890–1973) Born in Denmark he had his training in Copenhagen and after his debut in 1913 he sang the first five years as a baritone but after further studies moved up to the tenor department where he soon became the leading dramatic tenor, specialising on Wagner. No one has actually equalled his volume, his roundness of tone, his dramatic delivery and his stamina. 1926–1950 he sang almost 500 performances at the MET, more than one hundred as Tristan, regarded as the Everest of tenor roles. He had a jovial personality and made films and sang operetta and musical after he had left the stage.

Recommended listening:

His recordings of opera arias and excerpts, mostly Wagner but also e.g. Otello, from the early electric period are a must. EMI hopefully still have a Reference CD in stock. Nimbus, Pearl and Preiser also have Melchior collections. Otherwise Danacord have issued an extensive series of reissues. On Naxos there is a Tristan und Isolde from Met 1936 with Flagstad [review], a Lohengrin from the same source (1942) [review], a Götterdämmerung (1936)[review] and also the studio made recordings of Die Walküre (acts I and II) from the 1930s with Bruno Walter [review].

Georges Thill

Georges Thill (1897-1984) was undoubtedly the greatest French tenor of the 20th century. He studied with the Italian bel canto tenor Fernando de Lucia and under his guidance developed a voice that was a mixture of the lyric and the dramatic. He could excel in ravishing mezza voce singing but also had a powerful forte with a ringing high C at his disposal and his emission of tone was absolutely even from top to bottom. Naturally he was at his best in the central French repertoire where his timbre and enunciation seems perfect.

Recommended listening:

With a recorded legacy of more than 150 titles and a couple of complete operas there is a lot to choose from but the obvious starting point is definitely the 1931 Werther, still regarded as the touchstone recording, where he is partnered by the delectable soprano Ninon Vallin.[review] This set has been reissued by Naxos and as a "filler" we also get six further Massenet arias with Thill.

Jussi Björling

Jussi Björling (1911–1960) Born in Stora Tuna in central Sweden he had an early career as a boy soprano together with his father and two brothers. He came to the Stockholm opera still only 19 and during the next eight years he sang more than 50 roles. In 1938 he came to the Met which became the home stage for the rest of his life. His was a true tenor, produced with a supreme lightness but with a brilliant ringing top and unsurpassed beauty all through the range. His plangent tone still goes directly to the heart in most of the standard tenor arias. Jussi was considerably younger than the other singers represented here and actually more belongs to the following periods but his recorded legacy from the first decade is of a quality to make it compulsory listening for anyone interested in good singing.

Recommended listening:

So far Naxos have issued six volumes with Jussi Björling, covering both his Swedish recordings and the ones in the original languages. [details]Here we can also hear his foray into popular music where he under pseudonym recorded quite a few dance band sides. His complete opera recordings from the early 50s are of course not to be missed, Manon Lescaut (on Naxos) maybe the pick, even though they belong to the LP era [review].

Further tenors to explore

Franz Völker, Joseph Schmidt, Dino Borgioli, Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, Aureliano Pertile, Heddle Nash, Richard Crooks, Sergei Lemeshev, Helge Rosvaenge

Basses 1925-WW2

Alexander Kipnis

Alexander Kipnis (1891-1978) Versatility in range – from the cavernous depths to high Ds without discomfort – and in repertoire – from Wagner to Brahms, Wolf and beyond – marked out the supreme artistry of Alexander Kipnis. A superb lieder recitalist and a powerful theatrical stage presence Kipnis was equally successful in his native Russian songs as in the central Germanic repertoire; somewhat less so in his more limited forays into the Italian school.

Recommended listening

Some Wagner (Walküre) can be found on Naxos [review] and Archipel, and plenty more on Pearl, his Boris is on Walhall; his Fidelio on Naxos. Upper to full price houses the lieder - for now – though some is available on Vocal Archives.


Ezio Pinza

Ezio Pinza (1892-1957) An almost exact contemporary of Kipnis, Ezio Pinza was a different kind of animal – a basso cantante. His later popular career may have diminished him in the eyes of specialists but history will denote him as one of the rarest of his kind, a singer with exquisite control, perfectly graded pianissimi and tremendous taste. His earliest recordings in the 1920s show his voice in freshest and most vibrant estate. His decline was post-war.

Recommended listening

His Del Forza del Destino with Bruno Walter is on Naxos and an incandescent place to start. If you can run to it I suggest Guild’s Met restorations of Samson and Don Giovanni [review]. There are cheap and serviceable selections on Myto and Walhall.

Feodor Chaliapin

Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938) Chaliapin’s recording career began well into the acoustic era of course but he made discs until 1936, two years before his death. He was the ultimate singer-actor, a theatrical presence of magnetic allure, and one who was perfectly prepared to jettison Italian ideas of legato in favour of dramatic realism and vocal impersonation. Despite that the voice is invariably under absolute control, and it’s frequently of considerable intrinsic beauty, despite the reputation for histrionic projection.

Recommended listening

Naxos has a fine Portrait disc [review], and whilst Preiser has a structured approach [details] Minerva and Phonographe are more snapshots, though the latter includes the live Covent Garden discs; the run of acoustics are on Pearl and Arbiter.

Marcel Journet

Marcel Journet (1867-1933) Journet creeps in to the post-1925 list but only just; he did sing until the year of his death. The 1927 recordings he made show him in admirable vocal estate for a man of sixty and only reveal some wear and reduction in range. His was an extensive career and he had a voice to match – wide compass, nobility, technical security bordering on the remarkable - incredible rapidity of movement from low to high without break or technical impediment. As the representative French bass he demonstrates all that is greatest in that school.

Recommended listening

Grammophono - including a Caruso disc with duets - and Atoll have snippets of Journet’s art, his indispensable Faust recording (frayed in voice) is on Pearl – though once digested it will be imperative to seek out the Preisers devoted to him.

Other basses: Norman Allin, Ivar Andresen, Wilhelm Streinz

Baritones 1925-WW2

Heinrich Schlusnus

Heinrich Schlusnus (1888-1952) Versatile in the Italian repertoire and equally versed in his native lieder Schlusnus possessed one of the most beautiful of all voices, irrespective of type. His art was marked by sheer grace, by fluidity through all registers, though being a high baritone it was naturally stronger in that part of his voice. He shared with Kipnis sovereignty in the opera house and on the recital platform; he was a memorable Wagnerian.

Recommended listening

Preiser is the premier source of Schlusnus’s recordings [details] but you can find La Traviata on Gala and Gebhardt has issued some of his Wagner.

Herbert Janssen

Herbert Janssen (1892-1965) Janssen’s stature seems to grow with the years. Later concerns about the wear in his voice from the 1940s cannot efface the singularity of his operatic impersonations – principally Wagnerian – or his success in lieder. Tonally the voice was often beautiful if not quite in Schlusnus’s class, but Janssen’s penetrating combination of acute characterisation and discreet expression lent him a very special place in vocal art.

Recommended listening

His Tristan is invaluable on Naxos [review] and Archipel, and for his Strauss Elektra you can try the Guild transfer [review]. Those imperishable lieder discs are on Preiser and also on Pearl.

Gerhard Hüsch

Gerhard Hüsch (1901-1984) Hüsch was first an operatic and then a lieder singer and was equally distinguished in both art forms. He shone in Mozart as he did in Puccini and his Schumann and Schubert cycles were profoundly impressive. Tonally and technically he was supremely equipped – and he didn’t overtax the voice as Janssen did – giving his singing lyricism and conviction. He was a lyric baritone of the highest class.

Recommended listening

His Magic Flute with Beecham is on Naxos [review], invaluable lieder are on Hänssler and Pearl, whilst Pearl have issued the Wolf Society sides. The Nimbus transfers of a selection of his lieder are available in a 2 CD set.

Friedrich Schorr

Friedrich Schorr (1889-1953) The quartet of German baritones is completed by the bass-baritone Schorr. He was an exceptional Schumann singer but the bulk of his reputation rests on his Wagner. For thirty years Schorr was an indispensable Wagnerian – his magnetic theatrical presence allied to a resonant vocal production, a splendid legato, and command over soft and intense singing, ensured that he seemed to inhabit his roles from within, the very essence of characterisation.

Recommended listening

Of course there is the Ring – on Naxos – with Bodanzky and Leinsdorf conducting fleetly [review]. Guild has his Mastersingers [review] and with Pearl and Preiser [details] releases you will have an exhaustive Schorr collection.

Riccardo Stracciari

Riccardo Stracciari (1875-1955) Leaving Ruffo and Battistini aside as too early Stracciari was the reigning Italian baritone of this period. He was an energetic and characterful singer – technically irreproachable with regard to divisions and with a command of legato, and a quality of penetration at the top of his register. His Rigoletto was exceptionally impressive and his stage appeal indivisible from his pronounced qualities of word painting.

Recommended listening

Opera d’Oro present a fair amount of his Italian and French repertoire on disc. Enterprise has a Highlights selection, and of course Pearl and Preiser [details]take a more comprehensive and analytical look.

Lawrence Tibbett

Lawrence Tibbett (1896-1960) Tibbett’s early decline – traceable to the early 1940s – has tended to mask his real stature as a trenchantly declamatory operatic baritone. He sang new music and older with the same commitment but excelled in the Italian repertoire. Here, in his youth, his ringing top notes were soon joined by a mature colour and subtle vocal inflexion to produce an undeniable home grown American operatic star.

Recommended listening

Essential - the Otello on Naxos [review]which you can supplement with his Offenbach on the same label [review]. For a foray into contemporary Americana Hanson’s Merry Mount is again on Naxos [review]. Living Era has a cheap and accessible selection recorded 1926-35. Opera d’Oro presents some of his French repertoire.

Other baritones

Apollo Granforte, Cesare Formichi, Peter Dawson (bass-baritone), Charles Panzéra

Göran Forsling and Jonathan Woolf


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