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Subject: Selva opaca and a favorite Tebaldi recital
From: Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Maxwell Paley <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Sun, 19 Mar 2017 22:25:22 -0700

text/plain (37 lines)

The aria has come up in conjunction with the Met “Tell” performances. 

On another thread, I think the one about Leontyne Price, mention was made of Tebaldi’s 1955 recording of “Io sono l’umile ancella” from “Adriana Lecouvreur.”

Tying those together.

If I were to compose a short list of great “aria recitals” (arias recorded at a session to be made into an album, rather than excerpted from complete recordings), one of those on my short list would be the one that Tebaldi recorded in Rome with the Santa Cecilia orchestra and Alberto Erede in summer of 1955.

It came out in mono as “Operatic Recital No. 3” (No. 1 was her first set of Decca recordings, a group of arias made in Geneva in 1949, and No. 2 was a collection of excerpts from complete recordings) in the US and  was later issued, in stereo, as “Renata Tebaldi - Stereophonic Recital” in the UK and, in the US, the stereo version dropped the “No. 3” and became just plain “Renata Tebaldi - Operatic Recital.” The stereo version won a grammy.

The singing is so bright, beautiful and lustrous on this recording that I’m surprised it didn’t get taken more seriously in the CD era. To my knowledge, it never was reissued as an intact recital on CD, at least prior to the complete Decca set of all Tebaldi recordings (I never bought that because I already had so much of it). It certainly seemed to me that it should have been one of Decca’s “Classic Recital” series.

It can’t possibly be considered any kind of “concept album” because the only apparent connection between the arias is Tebaldi’s beautiful and spacious singing. We get Mozart’s Countess, followed immediately by Adriana Lecouvreur, snippets of Mascagni’s Lodoletta, Catalani’s Wally (not the popular “Ebben, ne andro lontano” which I wish they had included, but rather “Ne mai avro pace dunque”), then back to Rossini’s Mathilde and Refice’s Saint Cecilia.

The “Selva opaca” is not only my favorite item on the recording, it’s one of my very favorite Tebaldi recordings and one of my favorite vocal recordings. JB Steane dismissed it because he was so troubled by the aspirations in her melismatic passages (which I don’t even notice) that he failed to pay attention to the grandeur and expansiveness with which she lays the aria out.

The voice is really beautifully caught by the Decca engineering team in their early stereo “tree” microphone setup and she’s presented front and center with full dynamics in your living room. The sheer quality, firmness, strength of projection and velvety floating are all representative of her absolute young prime.

Personally, I’m not much of a verismo fan musically (I know them’s fighting’ words to a number of you) so I would have rather they used session time to capture her in such prime voice singing “Come in quest’ora bruna” or let us hear what her 1955 voice is such terrific sound was like in Elsa’s Dream or as Wagner's Elisabeth. But the record is so good, I’m not going to complain.

Up until recently, to get all of the selections on this LP digitally, you had to scrounge around a number of sources. You could buy the complete Decca box. However, you now can buy the Australian Decca Eloquence “Tebaldi - the Early Years.” You’ll want to use something like iTunes to reassemble the tracks; the CD mixes together the 1949 aria recordings with the 1955 recital, but it does have all of the 1955 selections. Eloquence is also the label to which I’m highly indebted for having made all of the “introuvable” DGG recordings of Irmgard Seefried available again as well as all of Flagstad’s Decca Lieder and song recordings.

If you haven’t heard this Tebaldi recital, or if you haven’t heard it in some time, you’re in for a treat.

Max Paley
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