Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Marcella POBBE - Portrait
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Guglielmo Tell: Selva opaca (Turin, 28.11.1956) (1)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Simon Boccanegra: Come in quest’ora bruna (Milan, 25.6.1959) (2), Otello: Ave Maria (Turin 28.11.1956) (1), Don Carlo: Tu che le vanità ... O Francia! (Milan, 15.7.1959) (2), Il Trovatore: Come d’aurato sogno ... Tacea la notte placida (Milan, 20.6.1959) (2), Timor di me ... D’amor sull’ali rosee (Turin, 28.11.1956) (1), Falstaff: Sul fil d’un soffio esteso (Milan, 25.6.1959) (2)
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Lohengrin: Solo ne’ miei prim’anni, Aurette a cui si spesso io confidai il dolor (in Italian) (Milan, 18.2.1958) (2)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Le nozze di Figaro: Porgi amor, Don Giovanni: Crudele? Mio ben troppo mi spiace (Milan, 17.6.1959)
Marcella Pobbe (soprano)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Arturo Basile (1), Orchestra Sinfonica della Cetra di Milano/Umberto Cattini (2), Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI/Bruno Bartoletti (3)
Dates and locations as above
WARNER FONIT 5050466-2908-2-3 [61:45]

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I have an old Cetra LP with three of these performances, including "Selva opaca" which opens the present CD. I hadn’t been listening for long before the conviction came upon me that I didn’t remember it being like this at all, so out came the old black disc. On LP we hear a voice which has a certain edge, almost soubrette-like, very clear and forwardly placed. On CD we hear a voice which has more body, roundness and sweetness. One would swear that the microphones have been shifted back a few yards; words are a little less clear, as befits a voice heard from a greater distance, and the rounder sound suggests that the vocal production itself is more backward.

Now, I am all in favour of taming the shrillness characteristic of early Cetra LPs, and of smoothing out distortion, of which the LP had many uncomfortable moments. But when the two versions are so different that our perception of the voice and even of the singer’s actual vocal production changes, then I can only describe the situation as alarming. A voice can be "created" just by twiddling knobs!

Obviously, one of the two gives a false impression, but which? My hunch is that the LP is closer to the truth. The singer seems more "present" in my listening room, and emerges as a more vivid interpreter, strikingly so in Leonora’s scene and aria "Timor di me … D’amor sull’ali rosee"; on LP she grabbed my attention and held it, on CD her singing, well-schooled as it is, seems a little sleepy. The effect might be easier on the ear, but a layer of cotton wool seems to have got between me and the singer. I find the implications of this extremely disturbing; it would be interesting to have the impressions of somebody who actually heard Pobbe’s singing and retains clear memories of it.

Some readers might be asking at this point who Marcella Pobbe was (or rather is, for she is still with us). She was born in Vicenza in 1927 (1921 and 1931 have also been tried) and made her debut in Spoleto as Marguérite in 1948. She reached La Scala in the 1954-5 season, appearing as Elsa, Agathe and Betsabea in the local première of Milhaud’s "David". Her Met debut came in 1958 as Mimì. By this time she was having an on-and-off affair with Nicolai Gedda; in 1959 it was off and she turned down the role of Elisabetta (in "Don Carlo") at the Met to avoid singing alongside him. She was not invited to appear there again. This was not the only piece of bad luck to come her way. In one of the very first divorces allowed in ultra-Catholic Italy she rid herself of a wealthy husband quite unnecessarily – the good man dropped dead the day after the divorce papers came through! Her ultimate misfortune was to belong to that select group – including also Carteri, Cerquetti, Frazzoni and Gavazzi – who had to make their way in a world dominated by Callas and Tebaldi. I have not been able to trace the date of her last appearance but her temperament has been undimmed by time. With the cameras and recording equipment full on her she protested that her interviewer was asking "such stupid questions"; more than actually "stupid", the hapless man’s questions were insufficiently centred upon the great lady herself!

Leaving aside the technical questions raised above, it can be heard that Pobbe was able to spin long, pure legato lines, but also had agility when it was called for. As transferred here, it is inevitably the gentler items that make most effect; the "Falstaff" aria is meltingly lovely. The LP I have referred to also had items by Puccini and Cilea which might have been chosen in place of the two Wagner items which, being sung in Italian, will not be of great interest to the wider international public, especially when they are so flabbily conducted. Apologies are offered for the quality of the sound in the Mozart, which sounds like an air-check (can’t the RAI find the original tapes?). In spite of this and lack-lustre conducting I felt in a way that I was getting a truer picture of what it might be like to sit in the theatre and listen to Marcella Pobbe. She proves an exquisite Mozartian, her "Porgi amor" deeply felt and beautifully shaded, her coloratura easily thrown off in the final pages of Donna Anna’s aria.

Pobbe’s recording career was linked to Cetra and the RAI. Of several complete sets for the former, that of Boito’s "Mefistofele", with Tagliavini and Neri under Questa, is currently available; televised operas for the latter include “Adriana Lecouvreur”. She also took part, alongside Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, in a Turin Radio performance of Dvořák’s “Te Deum” under Karel Ančerl which would be worth putting out on CD. Her repertoire also included R. Strauss’s "Four Last Songs"; I wonder if a recording exists? She is definitely a singer worthy of remembrance, but in view of my perplexities over the transfers I feel I can only recommend this disc to seasoned collectors who will have the competence and experience to answer some of the questions I have posed.

Christopher Howell



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