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Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1858-1919)
Pagliacci - Opera in Two Acts. Plus appendix, Florence Quartararo Memorial
Canio, Ramon Vinay (ten); Nedda, Florence Quartararo (sop); Tonio, Leonard Warren (bar); Silvio, Hugh Thompson (bar); Beppe, Lesley Chabay (ten)
Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera New York/Giuseppe Antonicelli
Live broadcast performance. 28 February 1948
Appendix of Florence Quartararo in excerpts recorded 1945-1950
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Atlanta, Care Selve
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)
Andrea Chenier, La mamma morta
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Il Trovatore, Tacea la notte placida
Otello, Act 1 duet (abridged) with Joseph Laderout (ten)
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Tosca, Perche chiuso with Ramon Vinay
Tosca, ‘Vissi d’arte’
Landon RONALD (1873-1938)

Cycle of Life, Love I have won you
Georges BIZET (1838-1870)
Carmen, Parle-moi de ma mère. With Ramon Vinay
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Cavalleria rusticana, Voi la sapete
Madama Butterfly, Un bel di vedremo
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Le nozze di Figaro, Dove sono
Don Giovanni, Taci inguisto core. With Ezio Pinza (bass), Salvatore Baccaloni (bass)
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Thais, Mirror Song
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828). Ave Maria


I didn’t approach this reviewing project with any particular enthusiasm although the 1948 date for the Pagliacci promised at least reasonable sonics. The expectation regarding the sonics is fully realised with a good body of sound. What I didn’t expect was the vitality of the performance under the baton of Giuseppe Antonicelli or the strong open-toned singing of Leonard Warren as Tonio. Although he does force his tone on occasion, his singing and characterisation are better than on the EMI/Naxos re-masterings with Jussi Björling as Canio under Cellini. To balance matters out, Björling’s Canio on that studio recording is infinitely preferable to Ramon Vinay’s baritonal tenor with its squeezed climaxes. Also I did not expect, to be bowled over by the Nedda of Florence Quartararo. Had I been a little more observant of the cover, or read Richard Caniell’s usual comprehensive essay, I would have realised something was afoot. Quartararo’s well-coloured voice, fine legato and characterisation point new insights into the role of Nedda. Her singing reveals greater depths in the part than that of sadistic promiscuous bitch.

I didn’t venture to the second of the two discs, which is wholly devoted to Florence Quartararo, until I had read the essay. In it Mr Caniell reveals how, as a young boy in 1946, he had heard her at the Met as Micaëla. He met her again for a series of interviews in 1982 when she passed to him private recordings of various broadcast performances she had made. An American of Italian parentage, Quartararo had been discovered nearly by accident when singing as an untrained twenty-three year old. Two years later she was on the stage of the Met. She spent four years at the theatre singing nine roles of which this Pagliacci was the only performance broadcast. Having met and married the bass Italo Tajo she left singing to bring up their daughter, Cecelia. She also left a studio legacy of four 78rpm discs the contents of which form the first tracks of the second disc (CD 2 trs. 1-5). These well-reproduced recordings include a beautifully coloured and expressive Care Selve from Handel’s Atlanta (tr. 1). Most notable, however, is her Tacea la notte from Il Trovatore (tr. 3). This is lyric soprano singing of the very highest order. The voice soars with clarity whilst words, expression, legato and colouration combine to give superb characterisation. These are words and descriptions that I do not use lightly about any singer. Why then is her name not on every opera enthusiast’s list of all-time greats? The answer can only be familiarity, or more likely lack of it. Florence Quartararo was invited by Toscanini to sing Desdemona in his broadcast Otello. Many critics believe the recording from that broadcast to be one of the monuments of recorded opera. Guild recently issued a new re-mastering from better sources than that used by the RCA issues of the performance which have long dominated the catalogue. (review) Unfortunately for opera lovers, the Met management refused to release Quartararo for the detailed rehearsals that Toscanini demanded and the great maestro turned to his favourite Herva Nelli for the role. I suggest that if Quartararo had sung the Desdemona on that recording she would not have been allowed to leave the stage forever when she did and the history of recorded opera on LP would have been very different than that which we now inherit on CD. I write that sentence in full realisation of its implications. On the evidence of the recordings on this second CD Quartararo’s is a voice to set alongside the giants of the 20th century. Colleagues and other contemporaries likened her voice and vocal skills to that of Ponselle. There can be no greater recommendation.

The remaining tracks of CD 2 lack the sonic immediacy of those derived from the 78s. They are, however, sufficient to further illustrate and support the claims I have outlined. The phrasing, tonal beauty and support for the voice in Dove Sono (tr. 11) and the colouring and expression in the Otello duet (tr. 14)are particularly fine. At that I will rest my case and suggest lovers of fine singing go out and buy while stocks last. Once the word gets out copies will surely fly off the shelves. Richard Caniell promises another issue derived from the singer’s private recordings but it seems that these sources do require quite a lot of work.

Robert J Farr

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