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Zinka Milanov (1906-1989)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)

Norma: Casta diva
Norma: Mira, o Norma with Margaret Harshaw
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Il Trovatore: Tacea la notte placida with Margaret Roggero
Il Trovatore: D’Amour sull’ali rosee
Il Trovatore: Miserere with Jan Peerce
La Forza del Delstino: Son giunta! ... Madre, pietosa Vergine
La Forza del Destino: La Vergine degli angeli
La Forza Del Destino: Pace, pace, mio Dio!
Aida: Ritorna vincitor!
Aida: Ritorna vincitor!
Aida: Qui Radames vera... O patria mia
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)

La Gioconda: Suicidio!
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Cavalleria rusticana: Voi lo sapete, o Mamma
Zinka Milanov (soprano) with
RCA Victor Orchestra/Frieder Weissmann; Renato Cellini
Recorded 1945-53
PREISER 89593 [71.59]


There’s some beautiful singing here. Croatian-born Milanov followed a well-trodden route from provincial opera houses to the German Theatre in Prague, in 1936, and thence to Vienna where her debut was conducted by Bruno Walter. Almost immediately she was booked by the Met in New York and remained there for fully a quarter of a century. It’s where her greatest legacy resides and that exclusively in Italian roles. She gave her final performance in 1966 at the house where she had been so conspicuous a singer and despite her forays into lieder and concert recitals it’s as a Verdian, first and foremost, that she is likely to be remembered. And that’s certainly the focus of this Preiser disc, which catches her in her prime between 1945 and 1953.

Her Casta diva is beautifully done though the lower part of the voice does sound just a shade matronly but it was a voice she could scale down with perfect precision and dramatic verisimilitude, as witness Mira, o Norma. Apparently Milanov always reckoned Tacea la notte placida with Margaret Roggero one of her finest records and it is indeed a thriller. I liked her Miserere with Jan Peerce – she more than he to be frank; he sounds rather tense but the list of ticks on this disc is a long one; so yes to Son giunta! ... Madre, pietosa Vergine where her clarity and phrasing are optimum – all very musically shaped. Hers was not a strident, ear piercing Verdian soprano; it was much more inflected and subtle than that and possessed of moments of genuine nobility (La Vergine degli angeli) and liquid soft portamenti for expressive shading (Pace, pace, mio Dio!).

There’s a considerable improvement in sound in these 1953 RCA discs and she’s commensurately more strident in Aida, hardening plausibly in tone. She was famous in La Gioconda and was to record it a few years later under Previtali, with De Stefano her partner. This excerpt however comes from 1946. Similarly, lest there’s confusion, the Cavalleria rusticana extract is not from the Cellini led set with Milanov and Björling – it is with Cellini but dates from 1945. The same applies to La Forza (not the 1959 LP set) and Aida, which isn’t derived from the 1955 RCA complete recording with Björling, Barbieri and Warren and directed by Perlea. Just to confuse you further Il Trovatore is from the (cut) complete set with the trio of singers just mentioned along with Moscona and conductor Cellini. Tricky things, discographies. But this Preiser is a worthy addition to Milanov’s legacy and strongly recommended.

Jonathan Woolf


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