‘Rare recordings’ the front cover says. This
may be correct as to the last half dozen titles but about the
first five this statement is not quite true. The four Mozart
arias were included on an all-Mozart Preiser disc that I reviewed
some years ago (see review).
Leonora’s Abscheulicher, a role she never sang on stage,
was issued not so long ago by Naxos as ‘filler’ to a Schubert
programme (see review).
About the Mozart arias I wrote, with special reference to Martern
aller Arten, that ‘her singing here is as near to perfection
as one can possibly get in an imperfect world’, and this goes
for the rest as well. Konstanze in Die Enrführung aus dem
Serail was a role she sang for a while after the war but
then dropped, which was a pity. The Mozart roles she stuck to
were the Contessa in Le nozze di Figaro, Fiordiligi in
Così fan tutte and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni.
She made complete recordings of all three but it is good to
have her Elvira here, recorded more than a decade prior to the
legendary complete set with Giulini and with another great Mozartean
at the helm, Josef Krips.
The Beethoven aria was something of a surprise
since Leonora is a part normally sung by a dramatic soprano
– in Schwarzkopf’s days the greatest was undoubtedly Kirsten
Flagstad – while Schwarzkopf was cut out for the lyrical role
of Marzelline. It is true that she has some trouble with the
lowest notes but at least in the studio, where the engineers
can adjust the balance, she is fully capable of moulding the
phrases memorably – especially the lyrical music.
She was in general less suited to the Italian
repertoire, but even though her slender Germanic voice never
feels idiomatic her great musicality and sense of phrasing and
word-meaning allows her to make memorable readings of the standard
arias she chose for these 78rpm recordings. Violetta’s Addio
del passato from the beginning of the last act of La
traviata may seem too studied but her lovely tone and the
sense of vulnerability is compensation enough. The only French
item, Depuis le jour from Louise is deeply felt
even though her French is somewhat hesitant – and the vocalisation
is superb. It is again a weak woman sensitively portrayed.
Another vulnerable creature is Mimi in La
bohème and her most emotional utterance is her act III aria.
Schwarzkopf doesn’t sound Italianate enough, which Victoria
de Los Angeles, with basically the same voice type, does. Nor
is Butterfly her cup of tea. Here though we are reminded in
the first nobly pronounced phrases of the aria that Cio-Cio-San
comes from an aristocratic family. Liù, the slave girl in Turandot,
is a role where Schwarzkopf’s reading is preserved also in a
complete studio recording that she made a good handful of years
after the arias here. Turandot on that recording was Maria Callas
Schwarzkopf’s reading of the arias is basically very similar
to the ones here, which means that they are not very Italianate
but deeply moving.
Schwarzkopf collectors will need this disc even
if it involves some duplication of material but that is a side
effect one has to live with. The transfers are just as good
as on the Preiser disc. The Mozart sides are indispensable,
the other arias, though less idiomatic, all show the high artistic
level of whatever Elisabeth Schwarzkopf did.