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Great Australian Voices: Robert Allman (baritone)
List of Contents at end of review
DESIREE RECORDS GAV 002 [3 CDs: 79.21 + 77.44 + 74.00] 

Compared with his native Australia, and older opera enthusiasts in Europe, particularly Germany, the name Robert Allman (O.B.E., A.M., 1927-2013 - obituary) will mean little in Britain. In fact this singer did tour with Covent Garden to major British cities in the 1960s. On the basis of this collection I suggest that is their loss.
 
Allman was under contract at Covent Garden but he terminated this finding opportunity restricted by a xenophobic coterie concerned that native Brits were not getting their share of opportunities. Meanwhile, as Covent Garden struggled to fill the gaps when Tito Gobbi was not available, Allman travelled the world singing major roles in leading opera houses in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Cologne, Hanover, Mannheim, Dusseldorf, Kassel, Essen, Wiesbaden, Strasbourg and Zurich as well as New Orleans, Houston, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Singapore and Vienna.
 
He returned to his native Australia, following the death of his mother in 1969, to become principal baritone with the National Company. Allman’s virtues have been recognised by Richard Bonynge, among others. He writes, "Robert Allman was the possessor of a most beautiful, powerful and natural voice with a true Italianate ring. He was arguably the best baritone voice to come out of Australia in the last century." 

In terms of satisfaction, Brian Castles-Onion, the Australian conductor who has assembled this collection, was pleased to note that the singer, unknown to so many, knew he would leave behind this memoir which became available shortly before his death.
 
Regrettably, Allman did not make many commercial discs. Consequently most of the recordings here are from live performances, often made in less than ideal conditions. In the list of contents at the end of this review, I have noted where arias are sung in other than the original language, usually in German or English. The full contents, and dates of recording, when available, are shown along with track numbers on each CD.
 
I started my listening with CD 1 and was immediately struck by this singer’s vocal range, power and interpretive skills. He considered Nemico della patriafromAndrea Chenieran audition role, and never sang a complete performance. Not a regular feature in opera house repertoires in the 1960s and 1970s, his powerful voice is ideal for the role of Gerard (CD1 Tr.1). Moving to the two Verdi arias that follow (Trs. 2 and 3) and recorded in the same month, I hear an altogether leaner, but still powerful voice, full of vocal nuance and ideal for the Verdi characters that Gobbi dominated on the stages of the world in the 1950s and 1960s. These included the eponymous Rigoletto and Otello.I get the sense from Allman’s singing that he, like Gobbi, bestrode the stage with confidence founded on his interpretive and vocal characterisation. He does not ham up his portrayal in Iago’s Credo, rather tonal variety and strength tell the evil of the story behind the words. The same can be said of the extract from Act 1 of Tosca that precedes the Te deum (Tr. 13). Of a later recording date (1974) than the Verdi arias, his tone is deeper and even more biting and threatening in conveying the words and actions of the story, not least when Scarpia bullies the Sacristan and then tries it on with Tosca herself. There are, however, extraneous stage noises to be heard although these did not limit my enjoyment. Allman’s Mozart Figaro would have made mincemeat of most Counts (Tr.5) and transcends recording limitations.
 
Back in Verdi, the two extracts from Simon Boccanegra from 1975, and conducted by Edward Downes, made me wish I had seen his powerful yet paternal Doge on stage, managing that difficult Figlia and then dominating the Council Chamber as few have (Trs.10-11). He would have made a class opponent for Christoff’s Fiesco, and father to Te Kanawa’s Amelia, in Tito Gobbi’s production that I saw at Covent Garden in the autumn of 1973. The Puccini extracts from Il Tabarro are rather boomy and that of Tosca (Trs.12-13) somewhat recessed and with sonic blemishes. However, both show his capacity in Puccini’s less than loveable characters to be as formidable as he was in his Verdi roles.
 
In between the items above from CD 1 are two of particular interest. The first is an early 1960s recording of Allman singing Amfortas’s Des Weihgefässes göttlicher Gehal from scene one of Wagner’s Parsifal (Tr.4). Perhaps more interesting is the Il Trovatore scene. Sung in German, it starts with what in Italian is Tacela notte! and goes on to Il balen andthe end of the scene (Tr.8). The tenor is the renowned Helge Rosvaenge whose operatic debut took place in 1921.
 
At this juncture in my listening sessions, I was hooked and wanted to learn more about this Aussie baritone who escaped the clutches of England and the record companies, despite such vocal skill. To this end I went next to CD3. This is largely biographical. It starts (Trs.1-3), with Allman’s efforts in the annual Australian Mobil Quest talent competition. I have attended many vocal competitions and heard and seen singers who went on to significant careers on the international circuit. Listening to Allman’s rendition of the Catalogue Aria from Don Giovanni in 1950, I would not have rated his prospects as an opera performer that high (CD.3 Tr.1). Sung in English, as was the requirement of the competition, its virtues were few compared with what was missing, a state of affairs not helped by the language. At that stage Allman was twenty-three years of age. However, over the next couple of years, his appearances showed distinct vocal improvement in both characterisation and strength of vocal tone (Trs.2-3). This was doubtless related to the vocal training he received. He studied with the baritone Horace Stevens, then received tuition from Ivor Boustead who boasted teaching the Wagnerian soprano Marjorie Lawrence, along with seven Sun Aria winners. Allman spent eighteen months under his care and then honed his operatic craft under the guidance of Gertrude Johnson, one of the many protégés of Dame Nellie Melba. 1954, two years after he reached the final of the Mobil Quest of 1952, brought a major turning point in Allman's life with his introduction to Dominique Modesti who was auditioning Australian singers for a vocal scholarship to study in Paris. It was Modesti who refined the Allman sound into an Italianate, vocal force, which he maintained for over four decades and which is evident in these discs.
 
Whilst I enjoyed the singing, contents and performances of CD 1, those on CD 2 are an even greater delight. The disc opens with the long duet between Germont and Violetta in act 2 of La Traviata (Tr.1). It has Kiri Te Kanawa in the eponymous role, not one that I believe she sang in the UK. Conducted by Richard Bonynge it is sheer delight as Allman’s Germont melts from austere father to expressing gratitude to Violetta and leaving. A pity there was no room, or perhaps recording available, for Allman’s Di provenza, particularly if the performance included the second verse. The prominence of Verdi continues with Iago winding up Otello in Era la notte and concluding with the oath duet; the raging Otello matches Allman note for note (Tr.2) with his trumpeted calls of sangue as chilling as Allman’s portrayal of Iago’s evil nature. The temperature softens as Allman complements Joan Sutherland in an undated recording of Perchè fuggisti al canto - Ti scosta, o malnato from I Masnadieri. This work was the only early Verdi she ever recorded (Decca). Allman more than matches his partner there. 

Then follows an extended excerpt from Rigoletto’s arrival at the Ducal Palace seeking his daughter and where he has to eat humble pie and plead with the courtiers as to her whereabouts. It concludes the major Verdi contributions from Allman in this collection. He is quite fearsome in demanding Gilda’s whereabouts before pleading to Marullo after revealing she is his daughter. After his verbal onslaught any group of courtiers would be glad to escape (Tr.4). It must be pointed out that there are recording noises at a couple of points in this excerpt. The disc concludes with three Richard Strauss items and one from The Trojans sung in English.
 
Whilst I have largely concentrated my comments on the Italian components of this collection it would be remiss of me not to mention Allman’s formidable Dutchman along with the other Wagner items from CD 3. The material from Allman’s farewell gala, not an honour given often, makes for pleasant listening (Trs.9-12). As for the last two items they stir memories of long ago when another very famous Australian baritone could be heard on ten inch HMV plum label 78rpm discs. They are a fitting reminder of a long lineage of considerable Australian singers whom Allman can deservedly stand alongside.
 
Just what British opera-goers missed was widely recognised and appreciated in Europe and particularly in his home country. Allman sang alongside the greatest of names from those golden years of the late 1960s and 1970s and under great conductors. The big Verdi voices of those years are a rarity nowadays. In whichever generation, Allman’s voice and vocal skills, as represented and illustrated in this collection, suggest he was their equal. At the present time he would be welcomed with open arms on the world’s operatic stages, not least at Covent Garden. Allman’s voice and artistry survives on a small handful of commercial DVDs: Fidelio from Glyndebourne and Lucrezia Borgia from Opera Australia. This newly released issue from Désirée Records, brought together by Brian Castles-Onion and covering his entire career of forty-seven years is a notable achievement for both singer and compiler.  

Robert J Farr 

List of Contents  
CD 1 
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)
Andrea Chenier
1. Nemico della patria. rec. Nov 1974 [4.53]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Rigoletto
2. Cortigiani vil razza dannata. rec. Nov 1974 [4.38]
Otello
3. Vanne; la tua meta già vedo. rec. Nov 1974 [5.02]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Parsifal
4. Des Weihgefässes göttlicher Gehalt. rec. Nov 1974 [4.10]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Le nozze di Figaro
5. Non più andrai. rec. Nov 1974. [3.58]
Macbeth
6. Perfidi! ... Pietà, rispetto, amore cond. Charles Mackerras. rec. 11 Sept 1981. [4.54]
Rigoletto
7. Chi è mai, chi è qui in sua vece? [6.44]
Il trovatore
8. Tace la notte! with Helge Rosvaenge as Manrico and Christine Sorrell as Lenore. Sung in German. rec. 3 July 1963 [7.42]
Aïda
9. Cielo! mio padre! with Virginia Zeani as Aida. cond. Knud Anderssohn rec. New Orleans 1 April 1963 [7.47]
Simon Boccanegra
10. Dinne ... alcun là non vedesti?
11. Plebe! Patrizi! Popolo! [5.09]
with Dolores Cambridge and Reginald Byers. cond. Edward Downes rec. 1975. [4.53]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Il tabarro
12. Nulla! Silenzio. rec. 1973 [3.19]
Tosca
13. Un tal baccano in chiesa! Bel rispetto! with Elisabeth Fretwell [5.21]
Gianni Schicchi
14. Tell me, Ladies and Gentlemen rec. 1974 [0.50]
 
CD 2
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La traviata
1. Pura siccome un angelo.
with Kiri Te Kanawa as Violetta. cond. Richard Bonynge. rec. 1978 [17.24]
Otello
2. Era la notte .... Si, pel ciel marmoreo giuro! with Angelo Morenzi. cond. Carlo Felice Cillario rec. 1981. [7.06]
I masnadieri
3. Perchè fuggisti al canto - Ti scosta, o malnato. with Joan Sutherland [8.33]
Rigoletto
4. La ra, la ra ..... Cortigiani. cond. Mark Elder. rec. 6 Nov 1972. [8.12]
Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1858-1919)
Pagliacci
5. Sei là? credea che te ne fossi andato! with Maureen Howard as Nedda rec. 1972 [4.48]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Salome
6. Wo ist er, dessen Sündenbecher jetzt voll ist? cond. Edward Downes. rec. 1976. [4.12]
7. Niemals, Tochter Babylons Salome [5.27]
Elektra
8. Was willst du, fremder Mensch? with Rita Hunter rec. 1985. [10.14]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
The Trojans
9. All Troy exalts in her triumph and joy. with Margreta Elkins. cond. Richard Divall. rec. 1985 [11.47] 
CD 3
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
1.The catalogue aria, Don Giovanni (Mozart) and The Blind Ploughman (Radclyffe-Hall). rec. Mobil Quest heat, 1950 [9.20]
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
2. Honour and Arms. Samson (Handel) and Yeomen of England (German) rec. Mobil Quest heat, 1951 [8.25]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Otello
3. Credo. rec. Mobil Quest semi-final 1952 [6.06]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Salome
4. Never! Daughter of Babylon! with Joan Hammond rec. 1960 [4.56]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin
5. Dank, König, dir, daß du zu richten kamst! rec.1987. [5.07]
Götterdämmerung
6. Gutrune, Holde Schwester. [3.13]
Tannhäuser
7. Blick ich umher. rec.1974. [4.39]
Der fliegende Holländer
8. Die frist ist um. cond. Georg Tintner rec. 1977 [11.27]
Farewell Gala rec.1997
9. A word allow me! - Robert Allman [1.16]
10. The aria - Robert Allman [7.20]
11. Ah think then, sweet people [2.52]
12. The Floral Dance [4.49]
13. The Lost Chord [4.28] 

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