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
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
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
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