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.
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.
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.
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
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.