Rosalia Chalia - Selected Recordings of a Forgotten Soprano
See end of review for full track listing
18 April 1912; (C-11895-1) 12-inch Victor 68400-B
Accompaniments: Tracks [1-24] accompanied by piano; Tracks [25-29] accompanied by orchestra; Languages: Italian [1-7, 9-13, 16, 27-29]; French [8]; English [14-15]; Spanish [17-25]; and Gallega [26]
rec. 1898-1912
MARSTON 51007 [76:48]

Rosalia Chalia was born in Havana in 1863 and grew up in Santiago de Cuba. A gifted musician she could play the piano and violin, but details of her early training are sketchy. It’s claimed she studied in Spain, married, then moved to America, making her professional debut as Aida in Philadelphia in 1894. By 1897 she was touring with various established companies and also making some prestigious engagements – one such was singing with Ysaÿe and Pugno in a work specially composed for soprano, violin and piano by Bruno Oscar Klein. She formed her own opera company in 1900 and toured Latin America for almost a decade. Carmen was her most popular role, though she excelled in Aida, Tosca and the like. She toured North America as well, but her career had wound down by 1916 and the following year she began to teach. She died in 1948 but lived long enough to see herself honoured by Cuban admirers.

We have here a selection of her recordings. She recorded Bettini cylinders between 1897 and 1899 – most of which have been lost – and subsequently made records for Zonophone and Victor. We can gauge the strong and impressive coloratura, a strong chest register when required, considerable flair allied to technical security throughout most of the repertoire. There are indications that she was less secure with then contemporary repertoire – Mascagni, for instance, in which she is somewhat less comprehensively in command. Nevertheless the ledger is strongly in her favour and the restoration of her recordings a real boon. It’s certainly an injustice that her name has been so effaced from recording history.

A few thoughts on the recordings will suggest both the specialist nature of the undertaking and also the persuasive and selective care with which the disc has been compiled. Her Rossini Bel raggio is a seven inch Zonophone from 1900 and is an impressively scaled opener and whilst there’s a touch of blasting on the copy of Io sono docile it too reveals the voice nicely forward – a distinguishing feature indeed of Marston’s transfer philosophy. The obverse of this Zono is that the piano is all but inaudible. We next hear one of those ultra-rare Bettinis – where she joins forces with Alberto de Bassini in more Rossini, this time from the Barber of Seville; he’s a most presentable, personable partner. Rather selfishly I wish Marston had managed to work his pitch-stabilising magic on a number of these tracks, such as the Rossini Stabat Mater extract with contralto Jane Frankel. Another disc partner was Emilio de Gogorza, sounding bullish in Mozart and lugubrious in Bizet.

Her Faust has requisite liveliness though, and the Carmen and La Traviata extracts show her temperament and technique in the round. There’s also an early example of Balfe on disc – I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls, inevitably, from The Bohemian Girl. Her English language singing is endearing – she sings of ‘The Loss Ross Off Sumear’ - and takes the high option at the end. More idiomatic of course is the sequence of Spanish folk songs, all of which impress but I will select my two favourites; [Habanera] and Zortzico vizcaíno with its powerful rhythmic piano underpin. Maybe her Secchi Lungi dal caro bene is a touch erratic – but if it is, we can enjoy her voyage into verismo via Voi lo sapete, o mamma.

Once again a forgotten figure from the dawn of recording makes a reappearance in this consistently valuable series. The notes are very helpful and outstanding booklet production values are matched by transfer skill.

Jonathan Woolf

Track listing:
1. Semiramide: Bel raggio (ROSSINI) [2:17]
July 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone T9139
2. Il Barbiere Di Siviglia: Io sono docile (ROSSINI) [2:37]
November 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone Q9204
3. Il Barbiere Di Siviglia: Dunque io son (ROSSINI) [2:34]
with Alberto de Bassini, baritone Ca. 1898; Bettini cylinder
4. Stabat Mater: Quis est homo (ROSSINI) [2:04]
with Jane Frankel, contralto 4 December 1900; Seven-inch Victor 554 Take 2
5. Don Giovanni: La ci darem la mano (MOZART) [2:58]
with Emilio de Gogorza, baritone 24 May 1901; Ten-inch Victor 3401
6. L’étoile Du Nord: Barcarolle (MEYERBEER) [2:09]
July 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone 9136 Take 3
7. Faust: Ah! je ris de me voir [Jewel song] (GOUNOD) [2:26]
3 June 1901; Ten-inch Victor 3431
8. Carmen: Si tu m’aimes (BIZET) [2:49]
with Emilio de Gogorza, baritone 24 May 1901; Ten-inch Victor 3406
9. Carmen: Je dis que rien ne m’épouvante (BIZET) [2:15]
July 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone Q9134
10. La Traviata: Ah, fors’ è lui (VERDI) [2:32]
November 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone Q9208 Take 2
11. La Traviata: Addio del passato (VERDI) [2:16]
November 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone Q9207 Take 2
12. Un Ballo In Maschera: Ma dall’arido stelo divulso (VERDI) [2:14]
November 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone Q9199 Take 2
13. Aida: O patria mia (VERDI) [2:01]
November 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone Q9203 Take 2
14. Bohemian Girl: I dreamt that I dwelt in marble halls (BALFE) [3:00]
3 June 1901; Ten-inch Victor 3434
15. ’Tis the last rose of summer (OLD IRISH AIR; words by Moore) [2:18]
November 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone 9200 Take 5
16. Il Bacio (ARDITI) [2:28]
November 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone 9206 Take 2
17. La Calasera (YRADIER) [2:21]
July 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone T9137 Take 4
18. [Habanera] (Sánchez de FUENTES; words by Sánchez) [2:12]
November 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone T9448
19. Zortzico vizcaíno (SPANISH FOLK SONG) [2:13]
July, 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone T9135 Take 2
20. Polo (SPANISH FOLK SONG) [2:30]
November 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone T9457
21. Fandango (SPANISH FOLK SONG) [2:23]
November 1900; Seven-inch Zonophone T9453
22. La Borinqueña (Attributed to RAMIREZ; Puerto Rican National Anthem) [2:32]
24 May 1901; Ten-inch Victor 3407
23. Aires criollos (CAMORA) [2:41]
3 June 1901; Ten-inch Victor 3428 Take 2
24. La Partida (ÁLVAREZ) [2:43]
3 June 1901; Ten-inch Victor 3432
25. Los Ojos Negros (ÁLVAREZ) [3:20]
18 April 1912; (B-11892-1) Ten-inch Victor 63681-A
26. Una Noite (Curros ENRÍQUES; Canción Gallega) [4:28]
9 February 1912; (C-11578) 12-inch Victor 68400-A
27. Lungi dal caro bene (SECCHI) [3:14]
9 February 1912; (B-11581) Ten-inch Victor 63674-A
28. Pietà, signore [Preghiera] (Attributed to NIEDERMEYER) [3:30]
5 March 1912; (B-11669) Ten-inch Victor 63674-B
29. Cavalleria Rusticana: Voi lo sapete, o mamma (MASCAGNI) [3:29]