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Ljuba Welitsch - Prima Voce
NIMBUS NI 7959/60 [60:40 + 47:34]

Experience Classicsonline

CD 1
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Don Giovanni
1. Don Ottavio, son morta! … Or sai, chi l'onore [6:43]
2. Crudele? Ah no, mio bene! … Non mi dir [6:48]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786 - 1826)
Der Freischütz
3. Wie nahte mir der Schlummer … Leise, leise [8:29]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813 - 1901)
Un ballo in maschera
4. Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa [5:00]
5. Morrò, ma prima in grazia [4:01]
6. Ritorna vincitor! [6:14]
Pyotr TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Eugene Onegin
7. Tatiana's Letter Scene [14:07]
The Queen of Spades
8. Ich muss am Fenster Lehnen [4:14]
9. Es geht auf Mitternacht [4:58]
CD 2
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
1. Love Duet [11:39]
2. Vissi d'arte [2:58]
Richard STRAUSS (1864 - 1949)
3. Final Scene [16:30]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825 - 1899)
Die Fledermaus
4. Klänge der Heimat [4:13]
Franz LEHÁR (1870 - 1948)
Die lustige Witwe
5. Viljalied [4:52]
6. Lied und Czardas [4:12]
Carl MILLÖCKER (1842 - 1899)
Die Dubarry (pastiche made by Theo Mackeben)
7. Ich schenk' mein Herz [3:05]
Ljuba Welitsch (soprano)
Alessio de Paolis (tenor) (CD 1 tr. 1), Richard Tucker (tenor) (CD 2 tr. 1); Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Rudolf Moralt (CD 1 tr. 4, 5, 8, 9; CD 2 tr. 5-7); Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/Fritz Reiner (CD 1 tr. 1, 2; CD 2 tr. 3), Max Rudolf (CD 2 tr. 1, 2, 4); Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Süsskind (CD 1 tr. 3 & 7), Josef Krips (CD 1 tr. 6)
rec. 1947 (CD 1 tr. 6), 1948 (CD 1 tr. 3 & 7), 1950 (All other tracks)

Few sopranos in recorded history have had more glorious voices and sung with more dramatic intensity than Bulgarian born Ljuba Welitsch (1913-1996). She was also a superb actor and her good looks made it possible for her to have a second career as film star after her operatic years were over. Her intensity had its price and before she was 40 her voice was more or less gone. She was still capable of taking on less demanding character roles. She appeared as Marianne on Karajan's classic Rosenkavalier, recorded in December 1956 and she was also one of the famous guests at the Gala Performance inserted in Karajan's Fledermaus, recorded to the best of my knowledge in June 1960, where she sang the refrain of Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume, artfully, as exquisitely phrased as ever and with a ringing final note but it is obvious that she had to work hard and that the voice was afflicted with irreparable signs of wear - which she still managed to mask skilfully.

On all the items on this 2 CD-set there was nothing to mask or hide. During the period 1947 to 1950, when these 78s were recorded, she was at the height of her powers, which means that you'll have to search for ages - and quite possibly in vain - for recordings that surpass these offerings. For many years now I have treasured an HMV LP with some of these recordings, including an earlier version of Vissi d'arte, recorded at the same session as Leise, leise from Der Freischütz and also a riveting version of Quando m'en vo from La bohème, Musetta being one of her great roles, which Alan Bilgora also says in his exhaustive appreciation in the booklet. It's a pity it wasn't included here since there would have been plenty of room for it. That LP also included a different recording of the final scene from Salome, a broadcast tape from Austrian Radio with Lovro von Matacic conducting. The technical quality is inferior to the American Columbia version on the present set but it was recorded in 1944, which was the year of her debut in Vienna, which was as Salome at a gala performance with the composer conducting in connection with his 80th birthday. This gives it a special significance. With another six years' experience in the role and having made her Met debut in February 1949 in this signature role of hers under Fritz Reiner it is naturally their joint effort included here that is the superior version but the historical value of the Vienna recording is still high. Birgit Nilsson on the complete recording with Solti is hard to beat for sheer power and steely brilliance and Inge Borkh - also with Reiner on an early stereo version on RCA - is possibly the most frightening Salome ever but neither of these high-octane sopranos has the sheer beauty of tone and the youthful exuberance of Ljuba Welitsch. Those three recordings should be in every decent Strauss collection and at gunpoint I would probably choose Welitsch as my desert island record.

I have nothing but undimmed praise for the rest of the material as well. Her Donna Anna is absolutely stunning: bright, shining, steely notes, executed with warmth and elegance and the coloratura in Non mi dir is impeccable. Alessio de Paolis is a more than worthy Don Ottavio. This Italian tenor (1893 - 1965) was a member of the Met ensemble from 1938 to 1964 and sang in 1555 performances, mostly character roles. Ms Welitsch is superb as Agathe and Aida and her Amelia in Un ballo in maschera is not only gloriously sung but shows her deep understanding of the character's predicament as well. I knew her Letter Scene from Eugene Onegin but hadn't heard the two Queen of Spades arias. The only drawback is that all three are sung in German, but that matters very little.

Tosca was one of her great roles and read-haired and temperamental as she was she had ample opportunities to give full expression to her emotions. Rumour has it that she had a grudge against Leonard Warren and once when they sang together in Tosca at the Met she gave vent to her aggressions, after she had killed Scarpia in the second act, by kicking his 'corpse' repeatedly - and Warren couldn't possible defend himself! The two excerpts from the opera on this set present her as an impassioned, vibrantly intense and infatuated diva in the first act duet, while Richard Tucker is rather prosaic, though he sings with admirably steady tone. Maria Callas may have peered even deeper into the soul of Tosca but vocally Ljuba Welitsch is superior.

The operetta excerpts are glowingly sung and not even Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's classic recordings are markedly better, though her readings are even more seductive. Ljuba Welitsch delivers a fiery reading of the czardas from Zigeunerliebe, where also the excellent violin solo should be mentioned.

This is a set that no lover of great singing can afford to be without!

Göran Forsling 

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