Whoever the kind soul was that recommended the Russian mezzo,
later soprano, Sara Dolukhanova, I have to ask (respectfully), where
are your ears? At least, on Preiser's CD 89066, she is a decidedly
mixed-blessing in Italian-French repertory, much of it sung in Russian.
The interest here (for me) relates to a performance once hard on a
radio broadcast long ago (1970s) of "O Don Fatale," wherein the
singer took an alternate high note to the ultimate high B-flat. It was
surprising and thrilling, and I've never gotten it out of my head. The
aria is in A-flat, so what was that tone? B-natural, D-flat? But
who was the singer? Was it Dolukhanova? Here she goes for
broke with the aria, in a not-bad performance in Italian, and takes
the final B-flat full throttle and well enough, but then heads north
into uncharted territory. 'She no fly, Orville!' It's a kind of "as
high as I can scream and flat at that" approach to Verdi's climax.
Porca miseria! You've been warned. To be fair to this unusual
singer, let it be said her Khovanshcina arias and Tschaikowski
and Rimsky selections are just fine, and reason to own the CD.
The voice is a fluid dark mezzo with highlights that glint nicely
in the Russian tongue. Meanwhile, her Eboli's aria will serve
as a party selection when you've worn out your new Naxos
Florence Foster Jenkins reissue.
Meanwhile, I have finally heard the Lebendige Vergangenheit
CD issue (#89066), featuring Gladys Swarthout, dimly recalled
from my youth. What a voice!! Or, should I say, top 4/5ths of
a voice, for Gladys was very careful with her lowest range, and
at times the lower middle register could weaken a little. However,
the tonal quality of this mezzo is stunningly beautiful -- watch
out La Stevens! Despite some indifferent diction and occasional
blandness, she is a splendid singer, seeming her best around
age 45 to 50, a testament to good technical care. Swarthout
was born in 1900 and her rather old-fashioned use of downward
portamenti can be disconcerting (Dalila visits Hollywood?), as can
a few grinding glottal attacks, born of style decisions not of
necessity, methinks. But with the likes of Pelletier, Morel and even
Leinsdorf conducting, she most often comes off quite well - as in
Charlotte's aria (Werther) and a Canteloube bolero -- listen to Jean
Morel's orchestral detail! Google reveals a webpage for Gladys
filled with the stardust of five Hollywood movies throughout the
1930s, and even a full-color magazine advertisement wherein
our trim and petite (5'3") diva recommends Pabst beer. Our
songbird managed a few Met roles per season, but the amazing
fact comes up that in spite of her noted Carmen (Mary Garden
claimed her as successor), she sang the Gypsy only nine times
at the Met. "Concerts are where the money is," the star mezzo
was heard to comment.
Just a post-Christmas reminiscence of fun times long ago.
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