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Recordings of the Month


From Ocean’s Floor


Conner Riddle Songs

Rodzinski Sibelius

Of Innocence and Experience


Symphonies 1, 2, 3


Great Australian Voices: Nance Grant (soprano)
Detailed Track-Listing at end of review
DESIREE RECORDS GAV 001 [3 CDs: 78.46 + 79.39 + 77.33]

A couple of years ago, after a little investigation, I undertook to review a CD collection featuring an Australian singer unknown to me (review). It was Nance Grant. I quickly concluded that the Australians did not export all their very best voices to Europe. I was listening to a singer who could have become a really big name on other continents. Instead she preferred to stay nearer home and family. The present set was assembled from a wide variety of sources, some not perfect in recording terms, by Australian conductor Brian Castles-Onion. It now further enables us to take our knowledge of Grant’s career and our appreciation of her vocal qualities. 

At age twenty-five she won the 1957 Australian Mobil Quest Competition, sponsored by an eponymous oil company intent on discovering vocal talent in that vast country. She enjoyed success also in the ABC Concerto and Vocal Competition in 1960. This was to set Nance Grant on a most unusual career path. Such a route would normally project a singer towards opera. However, at that time operatic opportunities were somewhat limited. Generally this meant Australian Broadcasting Company studio television performances often to a pre-recorded soundtrack with an actress miming the role. Typical are the extracts from Simon Boccanegra recorded in 1963 with John Shaw, later to become a stalwart of the Italian opera schedule at Covent Garden, in the title role (CD 1, Trs. 10-11). Grant’s full-toned, expressive voice, legato and diction were qualities matched by Shaw along with his capacity to lift to that final cry of ‘Daughter’. It seemed for a long period that Nance Grant’s Australian-based career would be built on recitals, broadcasts and concerts. Other developments, not least the opening of the iconic Sydney Opera House, were to bring a change.
That change was to come with the appointment in 1971 of Edward Downes to the position of Musical Director of The Australian Opera. He was to take up his appointment in 1972, a year in advance of the long-awaited opening of the new Sydney Opera House. Through his work in Britain he knew many Australian singers. Nonetheless, and ever thorough, he visited Australia to ensure that he heard all the available vocal talent. Unaware of Downes and his reputation, Grant turned down the first invitation to audition as she had performances scheduled. He could have consigned her to the out-tray, but didn’t and instead auditioned her the following week. There she sang “Ah fors'e lui” from La Traviata and “Caro Nome” from Rigoletto, two of her bel canto calling-cards. After all, it was her singing of “Regnava nel silenzio” from Lucia di Lammermoor that had helped her scoop the Mobil Quest title in 1957 (CD 3,Tr. 1) along with the coloratura demands of ’Tis wond'rous,the English version of the act one La Traviata aria recorded in 1960, the year of her ABC Concerto and Vocal Competition success (Tr. 2).
Downes, who was to guide much of Covent Garden in the number two position after his return from Australia, was expert at recognising vocal quality. He offered Grant a full-time contract with the infant company to begin with the role of the Marschallin in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. Grant, however, was settled elsewhere in Australia with a husband and family. She pushed her luck and asked for a guest contract which she secured. Downes was to become her artistic mentor and new horizons were to open for her. However, her family was always in the forefront and these horizons were to be in Australia, one temptation excepted. A role that Downes introduced her to was that of Angelica from Puccini’s Suor Angelica. Grant initially found the long scene, as Angelica agonizes over the fate of her child, too near the bone for her as a mother (CD 1, Tr. 15). Downes had to give her a serious talk about performance on stage and showing actual, rather than stage, emotion. This recording is not in particularly good sound.
Initially, Grant, little experienced in stagecraft, needed help, which was readily forthcoming. This assisted in her performances as Amelia from Un Ballo in Maschera in Tasmania. It was one of only two Verdi roles that she sang on stage. What a Leonora in both Il Trovatore and La Forza del destino she would have made. Downes, however, recognized that she had potential as a Wagnerian. First though came conducting her as Leonora in Beethoven’sFidelio, the demanding “Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin? ... Komm, Hoffnung.” Again her firmness of tone across a wide range is evident along with the capacity for the voice to soar without spread or losing focus (CD 2, Tr. 4). The voices are somewhat distant.
For Rosenkavalier the opera company brought over Clemens Kaiser-Breme, the highly esteemed Professor, to work especially with the company singers. Like Downes, he too realised Nance Grant’s potential and eventually coaxed her to Germany for coaching and intensive study. During a second visit she had the opportunity to audition on the stage of Bayreuth. She sang “Elizabeth's Greeting” from Tannhäuser and Leonora's “Abscheulicher” from Fidelio. Wolfgang Wagner offered her two small roles in that year’s Ring and the chance to work on a major role for the following year. The proposed dates overlapped with Ariadne auf Naxos fixtures under Downes. Ever loyal to her mentor, Grant turned the offer down and after that was never to sing outside Australia. Downes was correct, hers was a Wagnerian voice in the making, although it would be a few more years before that came to fruition. In the meantime she sang Mozart’s Countess, exhibiting that lovely effortless legato in “God of Love” from Figaro (CD 1, Tr. 5) and security above the stave in “Crudele ... Non mi dir” from Don Giovanni (Tr. 7). Both can be enjoyed despite the limitations of the recorded sound.
Given her Wagner credentials I had not expected her singing as Euridice from Gluck’s opera (CD 1, Trs. 2-5); this time with another Aussie singer, Lauris Elms, as Orpheus. As Downes foresaw, Nance Grant had the potential to be a great Wagnerian and he cast her as Senta in Der fliegende Holländerin 1977. Her singing of Johohoe! Johohoe! Hojohe!, recorded in 1983, indicates just how good she would have been at Bayreuth(CD 2, Tr.1). The nobility of her voice, its clarity of diction and carrying power are evident. The extract from Die Walküre has her as Sieglinde, not a role she sang on stage, but one to which she would have brought some vocal character and distinction (Tr. 2). In the following track she sings as Ortrud, a role she took at short notice. In a none too good recording one also hears Alberto Remedios, well remembered in Britain for his part in Goodall’s Ring Cycle (Tr. 3). However, it was in the role of Elisabeth, along with Senta, that Nance’s Wagner should perhaps be best remembered (Tr. 5) with her richness of tone and legato well in evidence in 1974. Elisabeth was a role Nance had studied with Kaiser-Brene in Germany and to whom she pays tribute. Her rich tone is in evidence, along with her pure high notes, in the extract from Der Rosenkavalier. This was Nance’s first production for Australian Opera, and only her second experience in staged opera.
The remaining tracks on CD2 venture into French repertoire and pre-date her operatic work. The earliest, from Debussy’s Prodigal Son,find her in lyric voice, gently expressive (Tr. 9) and more outgoing vocally but fining down her voice (Tr. 10). Both recordings are taken from a Victoria State TV broadcast of 1962, surely an adventurous choice for the time? The Poulenc (Tr. 7) from a 1968 TV source and the Berlioz of 1969, recorded in a concert in Sydney Town Hall (Tr. 8), clearly show a voice more than ready for opera in character, size, capacity for expression as well as ideal legato.
I was tempted to say that CD 3, after the first two tracks already mentioned, is a series of trifles. In a way tracks 3-8 are, but not when sung as Nance Grant sings them. Only the Oscar Straus is dated, but all show the singer in flexible lyric voice. Her skill as an artist makes very wholesome fare for whoever was listening with pure high notes and coloratura. Her secure trill (Tr. 8) is very evident in Benedict’s The Wren. Only recently having come to light on a tape Nance found at home is a series showcasing her surely young self, as Zerlina, Pamina, Blonde and Lucia (Trs. 9-12). She is joined by her baritone colleague, Neil Warren-Smith, doing wonders with the demanding tessitura. All are accompanied by orchestra. Only the final track (20), of the last eight is similarly accompanied. These piano-accompanied ones are generally with some distortion of the recorded sound.
After her retirement from the stage at age fifty-nine in 1990, Grant sang, to great acclaim, a farewell concert in her home-town of Melbourne. After retirement, Dame Joan Hammond persuaded her to join her in teaching at the Victoria College of the Arts which Nance did for eight years. She now lives in retirement surrounded by her husband and family, for whom she forsook an international career, and happy in the choice she made.
Nance Grant has written in some detail about her life. The article appears on this site.
Robert J Farr
Detailed Track-Listing 
CD 1
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
La corona
1. Benché inesperto all'armi. rec. 1981 [5.43]
Orpheus & Euridice
rec 1981. with Lauris Elms
2. Lovely fields so gentle, peaceful. [3.40]
3. Come, come to your husband's bidding [4.19]
4. O fiendish delusion ([3.06]
5. Love so tender [2.41]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Marriage of Figaro
rec. 1976:-
6. God of Love [3.51]
7. Is Susanna not here? I remember [6.18] 
Don Giovanni
8. Don Ottavio, son morta ... Or sai chi l'onore [6.42]
9. Crudele ... Non mi dir [6.57]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Simon Boccanegra
rec. 1963
10. I have neither home nor parent [3.46]
11. Tell me, did none then ever see you [3.58]
14. May laurels crown thy brow [5.48]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Stabat Mater
12. Inflammatus. rec.1972 [3.53]
Ermanno WOLF-FERRARI (1902-1972)
The School for Fathers
13. My mirror tells me I am fair to look on. rec. 1965 [1.54]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Suor Angelica
15. Senza mamma. rec. 1975 [16.08]
CD 2
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der fliegende Holländer
1. Johohoe! Johohoe! Hojohe! rec. 1983 [7.29]
Die Walküre
2. Der männe sippe. rec. 1981 [21.09]
3. Elsa! Who's there? rec.1985 [13.15]
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio 4. Abscheulicher! Wo eilst du hin? ... Komm, Hoffnung. Rec.1975 [7.08]
5. Allmächt'ge Jungfrau, hör mein Flehen! [5.35]
Der Rosenkavalier
6. And there behold, how vain, pretentious [5.37]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
The Dialogues of the Carmelites
7. My daughters we have almost come to the end of our first night in prison. rec. 1967 [3.05]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
The Damnation of Faust
8. There was in Thüle once a King. Rec. 1969 [5.19]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
The Prodigal Son
9. The years roll by no comfort bringing ... Azaël! [4.02]
10. Yet again do I seek this quiet spot to weep in [6.58]
CD 3
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor
1. Regnava nel silenzio. rec.1957 [8.01]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La traviata
2. 'Tis wond'rous. rec. 1960 [6.51]
Oscar STRAUS (1870-1954)
The Chocolate Soldier
3. My Hero. rec. 1958 [3.53]
Arthur PENN (1875-1941)
4. Carissima [2.46]
Mark LUBBOCK (1911-1986)
5. The Whispering Poplar. with piano [2.52]
6. The Whispering Poplar. with orchestra [2.31]
7. Villanelle [4.05]
8. The Wren (La Capinera) [3.13]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni
9. You Lay Your Hand in Mine [3.09]
The Magic Flute
10. The Manly Heart [3.14]
Il Seraglio
11. Goodbye then and hear what I say [3.59]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Lucia di Lammermoor
12. Looks of sorrow [9.45]
Georges Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)
13. Serenade [2.51]
Roger QUILTER (1877-1953)
14. Drink To Me Only [2.58]
15. Love's Philosophy [1.17]
Giulio CACCINI (1551-1618)
16. Amarilli mia bella (Caccini) [3.11]
Pietro CIMARA (1887-1967)
17. Fiocca la neve [3.00]
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
18. Nebbie [2.47]
19. Stornellatrice [1.51]
20. At the Balalaika [5.16]