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Montserrat CABALLÉ EN DUO - Duos de Amor: Caballé and Marti
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Madama Butterfly: Viene la sera
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)

Andrea Chénier: Vicino a te
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Don Carlos: E dessa
PUCCINI

La Bohème: O soave fanciulla, Manon Lescaut: Tu, tu, amore?
With Bernabé Marti (tenor), Orquesta Sinfonica Ricordi/Manno Wolf-Ferrari
Recorded December 1964, Barcelona
Duos de Amor: Caballé and Di Stefano
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Manon: Et je sais votre nom
Georges BIZET (1838-1975)

Les Pêcheurs de Perles: Ton cœur n’a pas compris
Riccardo ZANDONAI (1883-1944)

Francesca da Rimini: E così vada
MASSENET

Werther: Il faut nous séparer
Antônio Carlos GOMES (1836-1896)

Il Guarany: Sento una forza indomita
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)

L’elisir d’amor: Una parola, o Adina
With Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor), Orquesta Sinfonica de Barcelona/Gianfranco Masini
Recorded April 1974, Madrid
Duos de Zarzuela: Caballé and Marti
F. MORENO TORROBA, F. ROMERO and G. FERNANDEZ SHAW

Luisa Fernanda: Caballero del alto plumero
Amadeo VIVES (1871-1932), PERRIN and PALACIOS

La Generala: Mi dulce sueno de adolescente
Jesus GURIDI (1886-1961), F. ROMERO and G. FERNANDEZ SHAW

El caserio: Buenos dias
M. FERNANDEZ CABALLERO and M. ECHEGARAY

El duo de la Africana: Comprendo lo grave de mi situacion
Tomás BRETÓN (1850-1923)

La Dolores: Dolores mia ... aqui tu
SOUTULLO and VERT

La leyenda del beso: Amor, mi raza sabe conquistar
With Bernabé Marti (tenor), Orquesta Sinfonica de Barcelona/Eugenio M. Marco
Recorded January 1965, Barcelona
Montserrat Caballé (soprano)
RCA RED SEAL 82876 511902 [2 CDs: 68:21, 66:03]


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I have already reviewed two of these double-CD albums (Grandes héroïnes lyriques and En récital) which bring together the early records made by Montserrat Caballé in Spain, for the Vergara label in the early 1960s and for Columbia a decade later. I gave an enthusiastic welcome to both of these, the first of which was dedicated to operatic arias, the second to artsong. I enjoyed the present album much less.

Montserrat Caballé met Bernabé Marti in 1962 while performing Madama Butterfly and the two were married in 1964, shortly before making the present disc. Apparently Caballé declined to sing the role with any other tenor. It’s a touching story, but love is not enough to transform a middle-ranking provincial tenor into an international artist such as Caballé herself was rapidly becoming. Could she really not hear this? Marti has a robust baritonal tenor, well-placed and steady, and thus far so good, but there is no flexibility in his phrasing and not even a real legato. In addition, this recording seems to have been made in a different venue from the others in the series, which are perfectly acceptable for their date, for the acoustic is very dry, with the voices a long way forward, rather in the manner of an early Cetra. Even Caballé herself suffers from this; her "morbidezza" is rarely in evidence and her ringing security is transformed into a ghetto-blaster. I think both singers were fighting against a heavy-handed conductor, but since the engineers have relegated the orchestra to the far distance the two singers are left high and dry, relentlessly bellowing for no apparent purpose.

In 1964 Caballé performed for the first time with a classier tenor: Giuseppe Di Stefano: It’s a pity they waited ten years to make this disc, for by 1974 the celebrated artist was well past his best. Some of the quieter phrases are still nicely turned but above a mezzo forte he sounds jaded and hoarse and is often flat. Much of this is really painful to the ear, reminding us that 1974 was also the year of his dismal world tour with the declining Callas, the recordings of which have tactfully never been released. The Donizetti obviously strains him least but even so it was a relief to turn to his 1961 performance under Gavazzeni (I have highlights of this on LP, I don’t know if the performance is available, officially or otherwise, on CD). Even then his "fioriture" were clumsy compared with those of Caballé (or Scotto, his partner in 1961) when the same phrase passes from one to another, but at least he still had a likeable timbre and some sense of style. Caballé herself has some exquisite moments but this is not enough.

Returning to Marti after this for the Zarzuela extracts I began to feel that this singer had his points after all – at least the voice is more youthful and in evident good health. Furthermore, the more reverberant recording presents him in a more favourable light and the music itself hardly calls for more than a generalised ardour. These Zarzuela pieces are firmly in what might be called the "international" operetta style, warmly Léharesque in manner. I was a little surprised that they did not sound more Spanish, in the way that Johann Strauss sounds Austrian, Offenbach sounds French and Sullivan sounds English, particularly when at least one of the composers, Guridi, sounds thoroughly Spanish in much of his other music. Is this why the Zarzuela has not travelled more extensively outside Spain? However, it is all very pleasant, and maybe more than that if you understand what is going on – no texts, translations or even synopses are provided. No doubt Internet will provide texts for most of the opera duets, but not for these.

This latter omission puts the tin lid on as far as any recommendation is concerned; just what do you get for your money? Hectoring opera duets with Marti, embarrassing ones with Di Stefano and some nicely done Zarzuela pieces which, under the circumstances, can only be recommended to those who know Spanish.

Christopher Howell

MONTSERRAT CABALLÉ: Grandes héroïnes lyriques

Montserrat CABALLÉ en récital: Recital "Los Encores"

Montserrat CABALLÉ EN DUO - Duos de Amor

Montserrat CABALLÉ: Récital espagnol

 



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