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Zinka Milanov sings Verdi Arias
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)

Aida (1871)
1. Ritorna vincitor [6:45]
2. O patria mia [6:41]
Un ballo in maschera (1859)
3. Ecco l’orrido …Ma dall’arido … Teco io sto [22:45]
4. Morrò, ma prima in grazia [4:35]
La forza del destino (1862)
5. Son giunta! grazie, o Dio … Madre, pietosa Vergine [6:33]
6. La Vergine degli Angeli [3:25]
7. Pace, pace, mio Dio! [5:32]
8. Io muoio! … Non imprecare umiliati [8:12]
Il trovatore (1853)
9. Tacea la notte placida [5:18]
10. Timor di me? … D’amor sull’ali rosee [5:14]
11. Miserere [4:40]
Zinka Milanov (soprano)
Jan Peerce (tenor) (3, 8, 11), Leonard Warren (baritone) (3, 8), Nicola Moscona (bass) (8); Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/Dimitri Mitropoulos (3, 4); RCA Victor Orchestra/Renato Cellini (the rest)
rec. February 1952 (9-11), 18 May 1953 (1, 2); May 1953 (5, 7), 9 January 1955 (4), 21 January 1955 (3), 7 April 1955 (6, 8)
NIMBUS NI 7941 [79:40]


 


Zinka Kunc was born in Zagreb on 17 May 1906. Incidentally both the back of the jewel case and the heading of the tracklist have got her birth and death years wrong, mixing them up with the years for her Metropolitan partner Jussi Björling. The biographical notes in the booklet are correct, though.

She studied in her home town as well as in Prague and Milan and after her debut in 1927, singing Leonora in Il trovatore, she spent the next ten years at the Zagreb opera with guest appearances in Hamburg, Dresden and Prague, where Edward Johnson, Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, heard her and engaged her to the Met. She made her debut there, again as Leonora, on 17 December 1937, now as Zinka Milanov, having adopted her husband’s name. She went on singing in the house for 24 seasons in more than 420 performances. Add to this guest appearances in Chicago, San Francisco, Buenos Aires and in due time also arrived at La Scala Milan in 1950. In London she had sung a couple of concerts with Toscanini before the war. Covent Garden had to wait until 1956, when she sang Tosca, a role she returned in the following year, singing against the young Franco Corelli; a recording of the performance on 1 July 1957 exists and was reviewed not long ago. Tosca and Maddalena in Andrea Chenier were two of her great roles but she will probably be best remembered as one of the pre-eminent Verdi sopranos of the period. She continued singing until 1966 and after that led a quiet life in New York with her second husband. She passed away in May 1989.

On this disc Nimbus have collected scenes from four Verdi operas, recorded during the first half of the 1950s. Her voice was still in fine fettle with a healthy ring on the top notes, steady all through the register and with her ability to float high pianissimo tones intact. She had also lived with these roles so long that she knew them inside out and every phrase, every inflection is so well considered, so at one with the predicament of the character. What can be seen as a drawback is the fact that her voice sounds elderly, which must not be interpreted as aged. She was a mature singer at the time, in her late 40s, and she sounds her age, which jars with the characters, who are supposed to be much younger women. I shouldn’t make too much of this and of course in the absurd world of opera we seldom get opportunities to hear singers of the leading roles who really are their age.

And there are many magic moments in this recital. With the reliable Renato Cellini conducting most of the excerpts she has an ideal accompanist, sensitive, flexible and unobtrusive. Aida is of course a role for a dramatic soprano but it also requires the ability to scale down a big voice and sing softly and Milanov obliges in both respects. She hurls the high C in O patria mia up to the gallery with tremendous power and then softens it down to a beautiful pianissimo. Of the two arias from Un ballo in maschera especially Morrò, ma prima in grazia is delivered with hushed intensity and long phrases and an impressive final note, while in Ecco l’orrido she has her caustic moments. The duet with Riccardo, which follows immediately after the aria, is not wholly free from a certain edge either and Mitropoulos presses on too much, making it more hectic than it needs to be. Jan Peerce as Riccardo phrases well and he has glow but his voice is on the dry side and he shows signs of strain. There is also some overloading in this number, which continues with the scene when Renato appears and doesn’t end until Riccardo leaves. I would have liked a couple of cue points in this almost 23-minute-long scene for example to make the duet easily accessible. These excerpts from Ballo are from a highlights record, which also boasted Marian Anderson as Ulrica.

The scenes from La forza del destino finds Zinka Milanov in superb form and her in La Vergine degli Angeli is certainly angelic. Both here and in Madre, pietosa Vergine an un-credited chorus is present – and a good one at that, probably the Robert Shaw Chorale. In the final scene we also hear Peerce, Leonard Warren – who also sings Renato in the Ballo excerpt – and bass Nicola Moscona, all three frequent colleagues at the Met.

From Il trovatore we get Leonora’s two arias, Tacea la notte followed by the cabaletta Di tale amor, where she lightens the tone admirably and in D’amor sull’ali rosee she also sports her elegant trill. This is marvellous Verdi singing by any standards. In Miserere, again with splendid choral contribution, Jan Peerce is a good Manrico. I was a little perplexed by the recording dates for these Trovatore excerpts, since the booklet says February 1952, which was also the period (21 February to 16 March) when RCA recorded Trovatore complete with Cellini and the RCA Victor Orchestra and with Milanov as Leonora. Why should they record her twice? Or are these arias alternative takes or even identical with the ones from the complete opera? I have listened closely several times to both versions and they sound very similar but I can’t swear that they are identical. At least the short dialogue between Leonora and Inez before the cabaletta in Tacea la notte is not included but this is of course easy to cut from the master tapes. The Miserere is anyway a separate recording, since on the complete set Jussi Björling sang Manrico.

The transfers are excellently done and Alan Bilgora’s liner-notes are a good read. There are few Verdi sopranos who can challenge Zinka Milanov and these excerpts from four favourite roles show her almost constantly in the best possible light.

Göran Forsling

 


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