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Victoria De Los Angeles – The Modest Prima Donna
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Tannhäuser: Dich teure Halle [04:40], Lohengrin: Einsam in trüben Tagen [04:50]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Anatole Fistoulari, rec.1950
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Le nozze di Figaro: Porgi amor [04:31]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind, rec.1949
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Faust: O Dieu! Que de bijoux [04:46]
Paris National Opera Orchestra/André Cluytens, rec.1953
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Otello: Era più calmo … Piangea cantando … Ave Maria [16:29]
Giannella Borelli (mezzo-soprano)
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)

Mefistofele: L’altra notte in fondo al mare [04:51]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Cavalleria Rusticana: Voi lo sapete [03:32]
Alfredo CATALANI (1854-1893)

La Wally: Ebben? ne andrò lontana [03:36]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

La Bohème: Sì, mi chiamano Mimì [05:02], Donde lieta uscì [03:11]
Rome Opera Orchestra/Giuseppe Morelli, rec.1954
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Madama Butterfly: Un bel dì vedremo [04:09], Che tua madre [02:12], Tu? Tu? Tu? Tu? Piccolo Iddio [03:56]*
Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor)*, Rome Opera Orchestra/Gianandrea Gavazzeni, rec. 1954
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)

Stornellatrice [01:48], rec.1949
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)

Tonadillos: El majo discreto [01:27], rec.1950
Joaquin VALVERDE (1846-1910)

Clavelitos [01:47], rec. 1949
Gerald Moore (piano)
Traditional arr. Renata TARRAGÒ

El Rossinyol [02:12]
Renata Tarragò (guitar), rec. 1950
Victoria de los Angeles (soprano), other artists as above
Years of recording as above, no other information
REGIS RRC 1232 [78:15]



I would ask readers to take this review in conjunction with my review of the complete Madama Butterfly with Victoria de los Angeles also on Regis.[review] Possibly to read that review first, since here I have to state some reservations about a much-loved singer.

There are artists for whom a particular adjective comes to mind almost unbidden. "Lovely" seems to be the word that always goes with Victoria de los Angeles, for the golden voice that poured out of her so easily, for the smile on her face that can be felt even without her actual presence, for her communicative way with words.

Yet hers was not a large voice. She sang Wagner’s Elsa and Elisabeth (Lohengrin and Tannhäuser) in her younger years and repeated the latter at Bayreuth in 1961 and 1962, though with controversial results. The extracts here combine the expected golden tone with a feeling that the tendency in those days to recess large orchestras well behind the singer was helping her out.

There need be no doubt about "Porgi amor", an exquisitely spun performance at a very slow tempo which creates problems in the long orchestral introduction – Susskind just can’t stop it from sagging. Still, such beautiful singing has to be heard, and the orchestra must have been entranced since they play much better once she has entered. In the "Jewel Song" we hear that famous charm, that smile in the voice. This is from the first of the two complete recordings she made with the same basic cast and the same conductor. By the time of the second (1959) the voice was a little darker, the interpretation refined still further – or it had become a little mannered with wear, whichever way you look at it. Both times she has to do it all on her own since Cluytens quite fails to ignite the waltz rhythms.

Desdemona should be the sort of Verdi role that will go with a light soprano, and virtually the whole of this long scena goes exquisitely. But both Tebaldi and de los Angeles’s younger compatriot Caballé could spin an equally exquisite line here, and they had the reserves to cover you with goose-pimples in that extraordinary outburst at the end of the "Willow Song". With de los Angeles you feel she’d like to but can’t quite.

This is basically the story with all the remaining Italian arias. Leaving aside the Mefistofele aria which needs a darker tone – a Callas-piece, this, if ever there was one – her detailed response to the words in "Voi lo sapete" and her unforced treatment of the musical line are certainly not what we usually hear in "verismo". For the first three-quarters of the piece I felt inclined to add – in the words of Sir Adrian Boult when Jon Vickers, engaged to do Gerontius, thought he should warn the conductor that "I’m not one of your typical English tenors, you know" – "Thank God!". But at the climax it is clear the composer had another sort of voice in mind, one with the sheer heft to bring the vessel into port. So, too, with "Ebben? ne andrò lontana", so beautiful at the beginning, leaving the listener just slightly undernourished at the end. And so it is with the Puccini extracts. Or is it? When you hear the complete Butterfly from which these are taken – and incidentally Gavazzeni’s fiery conducting also shows up Morelli’s polite accompanying – the whole character of Cio-Cio-San comes alive and even the lack of heft seems a part of her characterization of this fragile, innocent young creature. Maybe it would be the same story with the other roles too – and her complete "Bohème" is conducted by Beecham.

So you have to wait, really, until the Respighi and the three Spanish pieces to hear just why she was so much loved; this is gloriously communicative singing, the scale of the voice at one with the music.

I’m afraid Regis have rather shot themselves in the foot here. If you get the "Butterfly" you will get a much better idea of what de los Angeles could do (and one of the best Butterflys tout court), and you will also get these same two "Bohème" extracts as a filler. At which point, I can only say that, if Regis had jettisoned the five Puccini tracks and given us 20 minutes of lieder, or more Spanish song, my recommendation would be very different.

I was recently critical of the transfers in Regis’s Souzay disc, so I should add that there are no problems here, but problems over track information abound: the orchestra and conductor of the "Otello" extract are not identified - I find it comes from the same disc under Morelli as the following items - "andrò" is enigmatically spelt "abdro" (surely a typing error: ‘b’ and ‘n’ are next to each other on the keyboard. Ed.), the accent is missing from "Un bel dì vedremo", so it means not "One fine day we’ll see" but "One fine of we’ll see", if you call that a meaning at all. Accents also missing from "Mimì" (which alters the pronunciation), "sì" and "uscì". Though Christians don’t launch a fatwa for this sort of thing, it is generally considered polite to spell Dieu with a capital letter, and there’s been a sex-change for someone in Cavalleria Rusticana – "la" instead of "lo". Not what I call chivalry, even of the rustic kind. Once upon a time there used to be a thing called a proof-reader. Funnily enough, they’ve got the capital "D" right in Giuseppe Di Stefano though they got it wrong in the complete opera set. As always, an excellent note from James Murray.

Christopher Howell

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