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Christoph Willibald von GLUCK  (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice
Kerstin Thorborg (mezzo soprano) – Orfeo
Jarmila Novotna (soprano) – Euridice
Marita Farell (soprano) – Amore
Annamary Dickey (soprano) – Blessed Spirit
Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Erich Leinsdorf
Recorded live, New York, 20 January 1940
Extract - Che faro senza Euridice (Gluck-Thorborg, sung in German) [3.17]
Interview with Kerstin Thorborg (undated, in English) [18.16]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Das Rheingold – Weiche, Wotan, Weiche (Erda) [3.56]
Die Walküre – So ist’s denn aus (Fricka) [2.48]
Die Walküre – Deiner ew’gen Gattin (Fricka) [2.55]
Götterdämmerung – Waltraute’s Narrative – Höre mit Sinn was ich sage! (Waltraute) [8.20]
Tristan und Isolde – Act II Einsam wachend (Isolde) [4.32]
Parsifal – Act II Ich sah das kind (Kundry) [5.31]
Kerstin Thorborg (mezzo) with unidentified accompaniment (from Victor M707, recorded May 1940)
GUILD GHCD 2317/18 [72.26 + 79.33]



I finished my review of a competing transfer on Walhall WLCD 008 with the thought that this was natural Guild territory. And so it’s proved. If it’s belated that’s nonetheless worthwhile; it’s enabled the Guild team to collate some additional material, not least an eighteen minute, undated interview in English with Thorborg. And there’s a more-than-respectable pendant in the form of the commercial 1940 Victor Wagner extracts, all sung with Thorborg’s singular directness and power. It might be as well to reprise part of that review and set the scene for the Leinsdorf-led Orfeo.

This performance of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice comes live from the Met in 1940 and was the first staging at the house since Toscanini's 25 years earlier. The star is Thorborg, better known as a towering Wagnerian but who had performed the part to acclaim under Bruno Walter. Her Euridice is the newly arrived Czech soprano Jarmila Novotna, who had only recently made her Met debut in La Bohème. She'd hurriedly left Vienna following the Anschluss having already inspired Lehár to write for her (Giuditta, 1934) and Toscanini, reputedly, to fall in love with her.

The acetate discs have suffered some damage with surface scuffing and some swishes, noticeable very early on; the Chorus is diffusely captured, but the orchestra under the young-ish Leinsdorf manages to be both expressive (with some old fashioned rallentandi) and forward moving - fortunately so as Leinsdorf tended to sprint through his Wagner nights at the Met - and he applies the same sort of solution to this most static and columnar of operas.

Thorborg is especially strong when the music sits in the middle of her voice; sometimes lower down she can lack a degree of projection. Her powers of histrionic impersonation are very much there but seldom, if ever, overdone and the gravity and nobility of her assumption is tangible. Che farò is taken at a very reasonable, non dirge-like tempo - she is, unlike Ferrier, conversational with it, though there is a massive slow down in the central section, as was the custom. Novotna had studied under Max Reinhardt in her Berlin days and was a consummate singer-actor, even this early in her career. She is expressive, less so than Thorborg perhaps, or less explicitly so, but affecting nonetheless. The voice itself is quite superb. As Amor, Marita Farell can be a bit "pipy."

So yes there are some sonic limitations despite the two principals and Leinsdorf. Guild has gone to some trouble to rectify an abrupt side change between Deh! Placatevi con me and the passage beginning Mille pene; the alarming pitch drop in Che puro ciel and elsewhere which had previously troubled the transfers, not least Walhall’s, have been attended to as well. The sound is certainly generally very listenable.  The Wagner Victors are from commercial copies and in fine estate. There are some dropouts in the Thorborg interview but we can hear her talk about her admiration for Bodanzky and for Bruno Walter, of Traubel’s beautiful voice and her “nice colleagues” generally. She’s witty concerning the rise of American singers noting the main difference between them and European artists is the confidence of the Americans; “they’re not nervous” she says with incredulity. Part of the interview is off the cuff and part sounds heavily scripted.

Walhall’s single disc Orfeo has no notes, just a cast and track list, an inferior transfer, and an unlistenable extract of live excerpts as fill-up. Contrast Guild, with its well-researched notes, restored sound and apposite additional material. You’ll have to pay more for the two discs - but there’s no advantage in paying less.

Jonathan Woolf








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