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Spanish mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza was during her heyday (which lasted for several decades) one of the leading lyrical exponents of her voice category. She made her operatic debut at age 22 as Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte and it was in Mozart and Rossini roles she made furore during the first half of her career. A sensational change of direction came in 1977 when she assumed the title role in Bizet’s Carmen at the Edinburgh Festival, conducted by Claudio Abbado. A studio recording with basically the same line-up of singers was later made by Deutsche Grammophon, a set that is still ranked among the top contenders. The present twofer is however devoted to the lyrical side of her repertoire, focusing on the eighteenth century and in particular Mozart. A companion set that will be reviewed before long offers Rossini roles as well as glimpses of her Spanish repertoire.
The first CD is a compilation of two Mozart LPs recorded almost 20 years apart. The earliest LP, recorded with the LSO under John Pritchard in December 1962 when she was 27 (CD 1 tr. 1-7) presents her in some of her signature roles, but also a somewhat surprising excursion into soprano territory. Her youthful, vivid Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro is so disarmingly charming, her creamy tones arguably too feminine for this teenaged boy, but that is something I gladly accept when her singing is so beautiful and assured. And she is unexaggeratedly expressive in a way that makes it easy to imagine her facial expressions. She recorded the role twice much later under Klemperer and Barenboim, still in excellent vocal shape but at least on the Klemperer recording somewhat hampered by the ageing maestro’s lethargic tempos. Here at the beginning of her career the freshness of approach is so immediately pleasant.
Quite different, although also a trouser role, is Sesto in La clemenza di Tito, who in the famous aria Parto, ma tu ben mio vacillates between his friendship with Tito and his love for Vitellia. It is touchingly sung and Gervase de Peyer plays the clarinet part with great sensitivity. Berganza also recorded this opera complete twice, with Kertesz and Böhm.
Dorabella was her debut role and here she is heard in E amore un ladroncello from the second act. Anyone wanting to hear her assumption of the complete role can with confidence turn to Solti’s complete recording from the early 1970s. But the other two arias from Così fan tutte are Fiordiligi’s, notoriously difficult due to the enormous range. This is no problem for Berganza, who with two-and-a-half octave compass has the required soprano top as well as the contralto bottom, which often is the stumble-block for the average lyric soprano. She is simply glorious here. For soprano range was also the concert aria Non temer, amato bene written – and for a specific soprano, the English Nancy Storace, who was Susanna at the premiere of Le nozze di Figaro. Mozart had set the same text some months earlier for a production of Idomeneo, then for tenor, solo violin and orchestra (KV 490). It may not be one of Mozart’s most remarkable scores. But the new one, KV 505, feels much more personal, intimate, and at least Einstein was convinced that the aria is a declaration of love to Ms Storace. Hearing Teresa Berganza singing it so lovingly one can imagine that she too has understood the message – and the dialogue with the ever sensitive Geoffrey Parsons further underlines the message.
After this aria we move from London to Vienna and the recording made there nineteen years later. Without knowing the difference in time – two decades is a very long time in the career of a singer – I am sure few listeners would believe that these arias were not recorded at about the same time as the previous ones. The tone is just as creamy and the legato just as seamless as before, there is no widening of vibrato and the technique is as infallible as earlier. Just listen to her perfect trill in the last aria, Conservati fedele, written in The Hague by a nine-year-old Mozart. There are two more early arias from his adolescence, composed in Italy and well worth a listen, especially since Berganza sings them with such warmth and elegance. Ombra felice … Io te lascio was written in Salzburg in September 1776 for the Italian castrato Francesco Fortini. Here one can trace some influence from his former mentor J C Bach. Al desio di chi t’adora was composed for a revival of Le nozze di Figaro in 1789. Nancy Storace was not available then and the new Susanna, Adriana Ferrarese, had a much grander voice, thus Mozart tailor-made the aria for her. For Ferrarese he wrote the role of Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte the following year.
The majority of the arias on CD 2 are from one of Berganza’s earliest LPs, recorded in 1960. The beauty of tone and the freshness of her approach can’t be denied but maybe her dramatic insight wasn’t fully developed yet. The two arias from Orfeo ed Euridice are beautifully vocalised but emotionally rather neutral. Alceste’s emotionally high-charged Divinités du Styx is for me forever associated with Maria Callas’s recording, and Berganza is nowhere near her intensity. On the other hand we are spared the ugly vibrato and the shrill top-notes that disfigure Callas’s reading. The elegiac quality of O del mio dolce ardour is however more Berganza’s cup of tea. She is also a charming Serpina in Pergolesi’s La serva padrona, a great Cleopatra in the celebrated Piangerò from Giulio Cesare with the elegiac A-section contrasting well with the dramatic and virtuoso B-section. The beguiling aria from Paisiello’s Nina is also a winner, discreetly elaborated – and one can also admire the delicious instrumentation. Seeing the title Medea one immediately thinks of Maria Callas, but the aria here is not the title person’s but her confidante Neris’s – a role that suits Berganza to perfection. Here Roger Hagger’s bassoon solo should also be mentioned.
The remaining number, Haydn’s cantata Arianna a Naxos, was recorded in Vienna in May 1977. Further sessions were planned for Haydn songs, but obviously they were never recorded and the cantata was not issued at the time – not until 1986 as part of a portrait LP with Berganza. With her husband Félix Lavilla at the piano she sings it marvellously well and brings this attractive programme to a grand finale. Berganza admirers will need no coaching to buy this set but friends of good singing at large should also add it to their collections.
CD 1 Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 – 1791)
Le nozze di Figaro, KV 492:
1. Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio [2:48]
2. Voi che sapete [2:42]
La clemenza di Tito, KV 621:
3. Parto, ma tu ben mio [5:57]
Gervase de Peyer (clarinet)
Così fan tutte, KV 588:
4. Temerari! Sortite! ... Come scoglio! [5:39]
5. E amore un ladroncello [3:01]
6. Ei parte ... Per pietà [8:27]
7. Ch’io scordi di te ... Non temer, amato bene, KV 505 [9:35]
Geoffrey Parsons (piano)
8. Ombra felice ... Io te lascio, KV 255 [8:13]
9. Misero me ... Misero pargoletto, KV 77 [12:05]
10. Giunse alfin il momento ... Al desio, di chi t’adora, KV 577 [7:26]
11. Se ardire, e speranza, KV 82 [6:47]
12. Conservatevi fedele, KV 23 [7:17]
CD 2 Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714 – 1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice, Wq. 30:
1. Che farò senza Euridice [3:50]
2. Che puro ciel, che chiaro sol [4:36]
Alceste, Wq. 37:
3. Divinités du Styx [4:18]
Paride ed Elena, Wq. 39:
4. O del mio dolce ardor [4:04] Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710 – 1736)
La serva padrona:
5. Stizzoso, mio stizzoso [3:20] George Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
Giulio Cesare, HWV 17:
6. Piangerò la sorte mia [5:50] Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740 – 1816)
Nina, o sia la pazza per amore:
7. Il mio ben quando verrà [5:00] Luigi CHERUBINI (1760 – 1842)
Medea (Italian version):
8. Medea! O Medea! ... Solo un pianto [6:58] Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 – 1809) 9. Arianna a Naxos – Cantata, Hob.XXVIb:2 [17:39]
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir John Pritchard (CD 1, tr 1 – 7); Wiener Kammerorchester/György Fischer (CD 1, tr. 8 – 12); Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Sir Alexander Gibson (CD 2, tr. 1 – 8); Felix Lavilla (piano) (CD 2 tr 9)
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 15, 18, 20 & 21 December 1962 (Mozart/Pritchard); 8 – 11 June 1960 (Gluck, Pergolesi, Handel, Paisiello, Cherubini); Sofiensaal, Vienna, Austria, 26-27 May 1977 (Haydn); 3 – 9 January 1981 (Mozart/Fischer)