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Beverly Sills - Welcome to Vienna
Franz LEHÁR (1870–1948)
Die lustige Witwe: Vilja [7:19]
Erich Wolfgang KORNGOLD (1897–1957)
Die tote Stadt: Marietta’s Lied [8:03]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825–1899)
Thunder and Lightning (Polka) [2:58]
Voices of Spring (Waltz)[6:32]
Richard HEUBERGER (1850–1914)
Der Opernball: Im Chambre séparée [4:27]
Giuditta: Meine Lippen küssen so heiss [5:23]
A Night in Venice: Overture [6:37]
Der Zarewitsch: Einer wird kommen [5:02]
Rudolf SIECZYNSKI (1879–1952)
Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume [5:09]
Beverly Sills (soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Julius Rudel
rec. Fairfield Halls, Croydon, England, May 1971
Sung texts with English translations included
EMI CLASSICS 47524 [51:27]

When Beverly Sills passed away on 2 July 2007 the world lost one of the greatest opera singers during the second half of the 20th century. Time magazine called her “America’s Queen of Opera”.  Even though she sang in the great opera houses around the world she increasingly limited her activities to the USA to be able to be with her family more often. Her Metropolitan debut came belatedly in 1975 after Rudolf Bing’s departure as director. After her retirement in 1980 she became general director of the New York City Opera for almost a decade.
She was a lyric soprano with stunning technique. Her coloratura was pin-point accurate and fluent. She was eminently expressive as an actor with her voice. In later years she took on heavier roles, for example Donizetti’s Tudor Queens, which probably contributed to her too early decline in voice quality. On the present disc, made available again through ArkivMusic, there are no signs of deterioration – the only drawback being the hard metallic edge to the voice and a slightly fluttery tonal production that were always her characteristics. The effect of this was a certain lack of warmth, which was compensated for by her penetrating readings of the roles and her excellent enunciation of the text.
All this is amply demonstrated in Hanna Glawari’s Vilja-Lied from Die lustige Witwe. It is deeply nuanced but uncommonly slow and tends to plod. By coincidence I listened to Renata Tebaldi the same evening singing the same aria on that legendary Gala Performance of Die Fledermaus under Karajan. Hers wasn’t an ideal Glawari voice either but her fuller and rounder tone imparted more warmth to her reading.
Ms Sills’ voice wasn’t right for Marietta in Die tote Stadt either but she sings the aria with magical inflections. Few singers have vocalized Frühlingsstimmen more exquisitely. Stunning – but again chilly. When she enters Heuberger’s Chambre séparée she is considerably warmer however and she almost challenges Elisabeth Schumann in her seductive phrasing. The end is so magical that even jaded lovers of Viennese music will capitulate.
Meine Lippen sie küssen so heiss is also hard to resist and the aria from Der Zarewitsch is superbly nuanced. The sound is soubrettish but to this she adds a dramatic ring, which makes it easy to understand that she wanted to expand her repertoire with those heavy Donizetti heroines. The evergreen Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume is one of the loveliest renditions I have heard – and definitely the slowest. This doesn’t matter one iota when she caresses the phrases with such elegance and feeling.
The LPO are in fine fettle and Julius Rudel, born in Vienna, has this music in his veins, which he shows convincingly in the two orchestral numbers: a swinging Thunder and Lightning polka and a lilting overture to A Night in Venice.
There is a lot to admire here but how much depends on how one reacts to Beverly Sills’ type of voice. Those who prefer creamy voices should perhaps look elsewhere.
Göran Forsling


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