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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Gianni Schicchi (1918) [52.04, not including announcements]
Italo Tajo, baritone, Gianni Schicchi; Licia Albanese, soprano, Lauretta;
Cloe Elmo, soprano, Zita; Giuseppe di Stefano, tenor, Rinuccio;
Virgilio Lazzari, bass, Simone
[Sung in Italian, but Italo Tajo addresses the audience in English at the close]
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/Giuseppe Antonicelli
Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)

Salome (1906) [83.25, not including announcements]
Ljuba Welitsch, soprano, Salome; Herbert Janssen, bass, Jochanaan;
Frederick Jagel, Herod; Kirsten Thorborg, mezzo soprano, Herodias;
Brian Sullivan, tenor, Narraboth.
(sung in German)
Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/ Fritz Reiner
Announcements by Milton Cross
Notes in English. B/W production photographs. Essay on sources and reconstruction.
Recorded double bill as broadcast from New York, New York, USA, 12 March 1949 AAD monophonic No texts included.
GUILD GHCD 2230-1 [156.14]



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Salome is a great play because it says things to us that we would resist hearing if presented in simple scientific discourse. It demonstrates the weakness of religion and the power of sexuality separated from conventional ideas of love; these are messages we donít want to hear, even though we already know them. So, Iím saying that audiences have flocked to Salome for 100 years as a play and an opera because they donít want to hear what it says? Yes, thatís it. They need to hear it, but they donít want to. Straussí music amplifies the play so perfectly that I believe one will find that the play itself is hardly ever given now, but the opera is given frequently. Apparently the version without music is now superfluous.

The only Puccini I have really liked is his last and unfinished opera, Turandot. It is a good experience for a Pucciniphobe for it demonstrates clearly his genius and how it worked. The first act is sublime, one of the finest acts in all opera. The second act, complete, but uneven. The last act is good right up to where the composer died, and at that moment, where genius left and competence takes over, as a work of art it dies and it is merely a talented working out, no genius. Hence, in its lack, we can see in what that genius consisted. One might, then, imagine my curiosity about Pucciniís next to the last opera, Gianni Schicchi, the last work he actually completed and had a chance to hear and repair and work over. On their faces one could hardly consider two operas less alike, yet both Turandot and Gianni Schicchi are absurd, allegorical, and both contain moments of nobility, tragedy, and comedy, albeit in different amounts. Turandot is more like Salome than it is like almost any other opera, so this at first inexplicable coupling in this Met program may have an undercurrent of symmetry after all.

I always listen to a new opera the way I got to know opera in the opera house before surtitles ó making no attempt to follow the dialogue, just listening through as though it were an orchestral tone poem with parts for vocal instruments. Every great opera survives this kind of listening successfully, and second or third rate opera does not. A bad opera cannot be justified on the basis of its telling a good story, and a stupid plot hardly disqualifies an opera from greatness, e.g., Rigoletto.

The restored sound is quite good throughout, with clear undistorted voices, little stage noise clutter, no crackle or scratch, and relatively little congestion at the orchestral climaxes, but still this is not a hi-fi recording, as we are most seriously aware in the muddled orchestral climaxes in Salome. Welitschís voice and interpretation are a wonder throughout, and anyone who knows and loves this opera must have this version. We are captured by the drama and easily make allowances for the sonic limitations. The side break occurs at 20.00, at Jochananís ĎKomm dem Erwählten des Herrn nicht nahe!...í Jagel as Herod is also a superb actor and fully engages Welitsch for the gripping drama of the closing scenes. These days of sound characterisations singers are expected to project their character entirely through the voice. Kirsten Thorborg sounds enough like Welitsch that you canít tell Herodias from Salome without following the text. Today this would be a big minus in a recording; in 1949 it was probably considered good stage technique, to merge the voices this way.

During this period engineers tended to turn the gain up and down capriciously and in restoration an effort has been made to repair this.

This release has also been reviewed on Musicweb by Robert J. Farr who has knowledgeably discussed which of the modern performances of Gianni Schicchi one might prefer. But I think it is obvious that nobody would buy this release as their only recording of either opera; this is for those who know the opera and what to hear classic versions.

Paul Shoemaker



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