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Jonathan Woolf
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Marston Records



The Contralto Voice: Eugenia Mantelli, Marianne Brandt, Guerrina Fabbri and Rita Fornia
Eugenia Mantelli (1860-1926) (contralto)
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
La Cenerentola - Nacqui all’affanno [2:49]
La Cenerentola - Non più mesta [2:26]
Il Barbiere di Siviglia - Una voce poco fa [2:58]
Il Barbiere di Siviglia - Dunque io son [2:58]
with Taurino Parvis (baritone)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucrezia Borgia - Brindisi [2:46]
La Favorite - O mio Fernando [3:00]
La Favorite - Ah, l'alto ardor [2:43]
with Taurino Parvis (baritone)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni - La ci darem la mano [3:03]
with Taurino Parvis (baritone)
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)  
Les Huguenots - Canzone paggio (Vaga donna…) [3:04]
Les Huguenots - No, no giammai di giovin paggio [2:55]
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-96)
Mignon - Leggiadre rondinelle [2:44]
with Taurino Parvis (baritone)
Mignon - Io conosco un garzoncel [Styrienne] (3:44)
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust -  Le parlate d’Amor [3:09]
Romeo et Juliette - Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle [Stéphano’s Aria] (3:34)
Georges BIZET (1838-75)
Carmen - Habanera [2:44]
Carmen - Séguedille [2:49]
Carmen -  Chanson bohème [2:13]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Trovatore -  Stride la vampa [2:34]
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-86)
La Gioconda - Voce di donna [3:10]
Antonio LOTTI (c1667-1740)
Pur dicesti [3:22]
Paolo TOSTI (1846-1916)
Dopo [3:14]
Good-bye [2:34]
Gaetano BRAGA (1829-1907)
Serenata [4:16]
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)
Ave Maria, Adaptation from Cavalleria rusticana [3:12]
Guy D’HARDELOT (1858-1936)
Sans Toi [3:03]
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
Der Asra [3:00]
Los ojos negros [3:46]
El Barbero de Sevilla -  Me llaman la primorosa [3:48]
Marianne Brandt (1842–1921) (contralto) Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)
Le Prophète - Ach, mein Sohn [2:21]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucrezia Borgia - Trinklied [1:57]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Frühlingsnacht, op. 39 no. 12 [1:37]
Guerrina Fabbri (1866–1946) (contralto)
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835)
I Capuleti ed I Montecchi - Ascolta…Se Romeo t’uccise [2:57]
Giulietta e Romeo - Ah, se tu dormi* [2:27]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucrezia Borgia - Brindisi [2:18]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
L’Italiani in Algeri; Rondo [3:18]
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801 – 1835)
I Capuleti ed I Montecchi - Ascolta…Se Romeo t’uccise [3:03]
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)  
Le Prophète:  Figlio mio [3:20]
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Semiramide: Cavatina d’Arsace [4:02]
Il Barbiere di Siviglia - Una voce poco fa [3:33]
Rita Fornia (1878–1922) (contralto)
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
Faust: Faites-lui mes aveux [3:17]
Faust: Faites-lui mes aveux [2:55]
Romeo et Juliette:  Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle [Stéphano’s Aria] [4:08]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Madama Butterfly: Lo so che alle sue pene [2:12]
with Riccardo Martin (tenor) and Antonio Scotti (baritone)
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka, op. 33 no. 2 (Aime-moi) arranged Viardot-Garcia) [2:16]
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)
Chanson de Florian (Ah, s’il est dans votre village) [2:25]
Cécile CHAMINADE (1857-1944)
Tes doux baisers “Madrigal” [1:55]
Das Zauberlied [2:47]
Dein gedenk’ ich, Margaretha, op. 12 no. 2 [2:56]
Frühlingslied, op. 31 no. 2 [2:38]
Frülingszeit, op. 3 [2:59]
Allerseelen, op. 85 no. 3 [2:26]
Der Spielmann “Du mit diener Fiedel”, op. 15 no. 1 [4:25]
With instrumental and orchestral accompaniment
rec. Eugenia Mantelli, US Zonophones 1905-07: Marianne Brandt Artistikal/Pathé, Vienna 1905: Guerrina Fabbri, G & T, Milan, 1903: Rita Fornia, Victors 1910-12
MARSTON 52053-2 [75:15 + 78:58]

It’s wearying to keep saying it but Marston has produced another twofer that will powerfully appeal to the vocal collector. Intrinsic disc rarity is one good reason, quality another. When the production standards are so high – of transfers, of booklet biographies, discographical information (no texts obviously) there is little or nothing at which to cavil.

And why should one want to? There are four contraltos here. Eugenia Mantelli bears the greatest weight. She was born in Florence c.1860 and graduated from Milan in 1877. She sang widely – Buenos Aires, the Bolshoi, made her Met debut in 1894 and her Covent Garden entrance two years later. She sang Wagner  - Lohengrin and Die Walküre included – as well as the more obvious French and Italian repertory and by the age of forty was sharing the stage with such as Melba, Nordica, de Reske, Plançon and Ancona. By 1905 she was touring with her own opera troupe but things seem to have fallen apart for her personally and professionally around 1910 – a Lisbon offer fell through, her second husband cut off contact, one son was mentally disabled and another died. Mantelli herself taught for a while but died in 1926.

The US. Zonophones date from 1905-07. Certainly they don’t reveal a transcendent technique and her coloratura is occasionally ear opening in its navigation through the passagio but she does have a battery of devices to enliven her singing. In una voce poco far we hear quick portamenti, pert trills and, despite the indifferent piano accompaniment in Ah l’alto ardour from La Favorite, we can hear the good, forward production albeit, and I don’t think this is a reproduction question, one whose deployment of dynamics was far too sanguine and limited. These earliest sides hint at another weakness, which was a certain lack of expression in her singing.

She’s better oddly in the French repertoire on the evidence of these sides. Her Mignon has personality and her Faust is idiomatic with registers well integrated. Her Carmen does show some intrusive breaths – it’s not her best moment on disc – with registral breaks into the bargain. The extract from La Gioconda finds her on better form – it’s not from the same session, and allows one to hear how fine she could be and to extrapolate as to the impression she clearly made on stage. She employs rubati, portamenti and a certain stentorian command in the aria antiche – Lotti would have been amazed. Her Tosti Good-bye is well versed in fluid portamento but is otherwise rather under-characterised and the climax is thin.  The evidence of these twenty-eight sides is somewhat equivocal as to her standing but it’s marvellous to have this corpus of discs hunter-gathered together in this way.

There are also the three rare Marianne Brandt Artistikal/Pathés – the former were two-minute cylinders, the latter being the same sides but transferred to disc form. The Viennese Brandt was a great singer, admired by Liszt, given lessons by Wagner and who created Waltraute in the 1877 world premiere of Die Götterdämmerung. She had sung at the Met in 1884 but she retired at forty-eight to teach in Vienna and died in 1921. The recordings were therefore made long after she’d given up concert and stage work. There may only be three sides but what sides! We can hear her powerful chest register, commanding and technically intact, in the Meyerbeer. The piano is heard to better advantage in the Donizetti . It’s true that she rather rolls off the trill here and we can hear some limitations but she was sixty-three and it was entirely understandable. Otherwise the tone is for the most part very steady, the training sounds Italianate as much as German, and stylistic matters are admirably attended to. The Schumann is a beautiful performance, subtle as to metrical matters, fluid and graceful.

Guerrina Fabbri (1866-1946) was born in Ferrera and had a far-flung career – South and North America as well as La Scala, Madrid, Lisbon, and other expected places. She did visit Russia, apparently successfully, but didn’t sustain a London career. She was sufficiently highly thought of for Verdi to consider her for a role in the premiere of Otello but Boito, whom he sent to hear her, was only half way impressed. His comments on her ignorance of Rossinian style do seem to be borne out by one of two gaucheries in her recordings, which were made for G & T in Milan in 1903. There are eight sides here. She has a very strong personality with a highly developed chest voice though we can hear how it is rather florid and overdone in Brindisi. The tone quality itself remains very much a question of preference but in the second attempt at Bellini’s Ascolta…Se Romeo t’uccise she is certainly dramatic if not always technically precise.

The fourth and final contralto is Rita Fornia, born Regina Newman in San Francisco in 1878. She studied in Berlin, contracted to Hamburg opera, debuted in 1901, studied further in Paris with Jean de Reske and returned to America in 1903. She was at the Met by 1907-08 and singing at the premiere of Horatio Parker’s Mona the following season. But marriage put a break on her career and she faded from the limelight and died in 1922. She proves herself in these thirteen 1910-12 sides to have been a most expressive and impressive singer. The voice was quite light but fluid; the technique was excellent, and stylistically she shows Fabbri a turn of heels, though of course their repertoires were rather different.  She shows a real affinity with the French style and her reserved charm can best be savoured in the Chopin/Viardot-Garcia arrangement – beautifully refined and eloquent. She used her voice with great taste and discretion.

So, four contraltos on two discs - the first time Marston has done such a thing. It’s a richly enjoyable set, with some real rarities, and even when the singing is not at the highest level, it’s nevertheless revealing of performance style and practice. Splendidly transferred as well.

Jonathan Woolf 



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