This is the famous NBC broadcast of December 1944. It was marshalled
by Toscanini, and his way with it was fluent, fleet, occasionally
breathless and demanding. Rhythms are pointed with tremendous
vitality, the music swept along on a vortex of passionate commitment
and narrative tension. It’s a somewhat single-minded but
ultimately brilliantly conceived and, more to the point, sustained
approach to the score. It leaves one in no doubt as to the underlying
vehemence and seriousness of the conductor’s vision.
The cast is admittedly somewhat uneven. Rose Bampton is the
Leonore, and hers is an impersonation that is strongest in matters
of vocal clarity and rather less so when it comes, ultimately
to characterization and even, on occasion, pitch. Her Abscheulicher!
however raises an interesting point. In the LP and subsequent
issues of this performance substitution took place of this aria
because Bampton’s voice gave way near the climactic point.
So a later Carnegie Hall performance was substituted and that’s
what has been heard since. For this IP release we go back to
the original source and a patch ensures continuity of performance.
The patch is from the later performance, it’s true, but
we can now hear a briefly spliced original performance in this
restoration. I time the splice at 6.53 into track 17.
Jan Peerce is Florestan and his stalwart singing, a little short
of the ideal it’s true, is nevertheless a noble example
of his artistry. Herbert Janssen’s Pizarro is rather more
complete an interpretation in this respect although the voice
itself is a shade light for the role, for the ultimate in communicative
depth and roundness of tone. Still, his linguistic assurance
is obviously an asset - not one shared by the whole cast it
must be noted. The Marzelline of Eleanor Steber is also attractive
- youthful, precise, and highly musical. That up-and-down singer
Nicola Moscona takes on Don Ferrando and his brief contribution
is somewhat uneven, though preferable to the Rocco of Sidor
Belarsky, who is rather disappointing. The chorus too is a bit
rough and ready.
Now we have to meet head-on the question of the dialogue. There
was none at this performance but it has been now imported from
a variety of (unnamed) sources. None of the actors was apparently
named on the discs from which they have been parachuted into
this set. A phalanx of critical voices has been raised against
the original NBC decision to perform only the music but this
is the first time that a reissue company has done something
about it. IP and its previous operation made something of a
fetish of rectifying ancient ills, on one famous occasion excising
one singer’s performance and replacing it with a preferable
performance by another artist altogether. Obviously these spoken
interpolations have had to be re-equalized and the acoustic
has needed to simulate that of Studio 8H. This is all to ensure
dramatic continuity. Only you, the potential purchaser, can
say, notwithstanding the objections of critics of the ‘music-only’
version, whether this is an acceptable policy, or one that is
acceptable to your own tastes. I’m, as ever, in two minds:
yes it does ensure narrative continuity but no, it isn’t
what listeners heard on the broadcast on that day of this performance.
The two discs are concluded by a sinewy and powerful September
1945 performance of Leonore No.2. There is also a five minute
segment from an interview between Ben Gauer, whose spoken broadcast
commentaries have been preserved, and Rose Bampton. She touches
briefly on the performance of Fidelio and the bulk of the talk
is indeed taken up with her association with ‘Maestro’.
So this famed old broadcast emerges for a new airing, rather
differently from what one may have anticipated. Notes and documentation
as ever are comprehensive and good.
I would like to add some thoughts to Jonathan
Woolf's review of our 1944 Toscanini broadcast of Fidelio, in
particular to his reference that, in terms of the dialogue,
this album "isn't what listeners heard on the broadcast
on that day of this performance." In his gentlemanly way,
he indicates in his contemporaneous review of our Meistersinger
1939 that he tends to disapprove of these sorts of insertions
and corrections, though he does respect my "belief in the
'higher fidelity' of a performance".
What this 'higher fidelity' refers to is likely
unclear to readers, and this instance involving Fidelio might
be a good one to touch on the subject. My insertions are never
arbitrary, neither are they done without steeping myself in
the performance in order to recognize the most authentic facets
of recreation that are reasonably available. As I wrote in the
Recording Notes, I auditioned 14 sets of Fidelio, nearly all
of which used actors for the dialogue, not the singers themselves,
and in all such cases the actor's voices in no way resembled
In this set, readers will actually hear more
of what was broadcast than any other set released. This includes
the broadcast commentary and ovations, and the original Abscheulicher
(with the offending note replaced), plus a sonically superior
Leonore No. 3 which was broadcast. And, they will hear the dialogue
(recreated with reasonably close similitudes to the singers)
which Toscanini was required to omit to fit the available broadcast
times. This made him miserable according to Richard Gardener,
his sound engineer. In short, more is authentically offered
as it was heard on the original broadcast than any previous
release, with the addition of a heightened dramatic veracity.
To quote one of the "phalanx" of
critics who objected to the omission of dialogue in the concert
". . . the musical numbers follow, one
after the other, with scarcely a breathing space between them.
Without the respite granted by the dialogue in a stage production,
it is my experience that the emotional intensity of the music
is on too consistently high a plane . . . to remove the listener's
only chances to recover from one high spot before tackling the
next does not conduce to relaxed and easy listening."
"As I listen to this recording more frequently, I begin
to wonder more and more whether it would not have been a good
idea to have slotted in the dialogue after the dialogue-less
broadcast performance of the music and so have given the whole
thing a more authentically theatrical atmosphere."
(The Toscanini Legacy)
This was precisely my endeavor. I recognize
there are some who take a dim view of such recreations, but,
if done with care and respect, I feel strongly these "ancient
ills" as Mr. Woolf calls them, can be rectified to much
overall benefit. These recreations can, in fact, be understood
and accepted if the actual context, as in the instance he cites,
is provided, something I did in the lengthy booklet for this