I’m making my forum debut with this rather long post, hoping that this is an appropriate thread and that I don't bore anyone to death.
As a self-confessed opera nerd/geek and CD collector, I am always on the lookout for new listening pleasures. Sometimes, when browsing music streaming services, YouTube and other web sources, one comes across a really outstanding singer who, for one reason or another, has been all but neglected by the major record companies.
Going back to the early days of recording, one will of course find many names that are long forgotten, even by the most ardent music lovers. Even in the stereo era, however, one can occasionally come across truly world-class performers who have left only a small handful of commercial recordings, if any. Sometimes, those recordings don't even show the singers in the best light. Luckily, the many “unofficial” recordings available in various formats often provide comfort.
I would like to draw your attention to five such singers from the stereo era, as these artists really deserve being heard and will surely provide listening pleasure to anyone with an interest in opera. Some of the names will no doubt be familiar to many of you, while others may not.
Please add to the thread any such “unsung hero(in)es” you would like to share with a fellow opera lover.
JAMES MILLIGAN – Canadian baritone (1928–1961)
Milligan was an exceptional Wanderer in a 1961 “Siegfried” from Bayreuth, conducted by Rudolf Kempe. Even though the recorded sound is very variable, and never more than passable, the qualities of Milligan’s performance still come across quite vividly. I have uploaded a sample to YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fB2hvM5byN4 (never mind his slight slip of the tongue at the start).
Milligan was a favourite of Sir Malcom Sargent's, and made a small handful of recordings with him (Messiah, Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast and – of all things – a few Gilbert & Sullivan operettas). To my ears, he handles the bass part in Messiah exceptionally well, with an impressive lower range for a singer who seemed to be more baritone than bass. Unfortunately, apart from a “Tosca” in English and a “Messiah” from Canada in poor sound, I have not been able to trace down any further recordings of Milligan.
ANITA CERQUETTI – Italian soprano (born 1931)
I'm sure you have seen her name, but have you really stopped to listen to her? If there has ever been a better Italian dramatic soprano than Cerquetti, I have yet to hear her! Cerquetti’s career was frustratingly brief, but she did at least record a complete “La Gioconda” and a recital on Decca. There should have been so much more… Luckily, a number of "unofficial" live recordings exist.
Try her Leonora in “La forza del destino”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVzmgFaixWU
INGRID BJONER – Norwegian soprano (1927–2006)
Bjoner had an important international career, singing leading roles in all the major opera houses worldwide. She excelled in several German roles, not least as Elsa in “Lohengrin”. It is difficult to understand why she was not used in more recordings – apart from a live “Die Frau ohne Schatten” on DG under Keilberth, a “Götterdämmerung” from Norway (she sings Gutrune) and a long-deleted “Messiah” on Eurodisc, she appears to have been neglected by the record companies altogether. A collection of live recordings is available on Orfeo d’Or, though, and both her Elsa and other roles are fortunately well documented in various “unofficial” recordings.
A very interesting interview with her can be found on YouTube. Among the performance excerpts is an impressive Chrysotemis in Strauss’ “Elektra”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuBhkMCoyHU#t=2782
GIANFRANCO CECCHELE – Italian tenor (born 1938)
One of several fine tenors to live in the shadow of “The 3 Tenors” (along Giacomo Aragall, Franco Tagliavini, Giuseppe Giacomini, Vasile Moldoveanu and others). Not necessarily a model of subtlety (not an uncommon trait in this repertory...), but an excellent voice.
He appeared as Turiddu in Karajan’s film version of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and on a recording of the early Verdi opera, “Aroldo”, on CBS/Sony under Eve Queler, but seems have to made no further commercial recordings available on CD.
His Turiddu is very strong: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YfN98_KEDM#t=3962
CATARINA LIGENDZA – Swedish soprano (born 1937)
Another Nordic soprano who, like Bjoner, excelled in the heavier part of the German repertory. Ligendza, too, had a major international career – her impressive CV includes leading roles in all the most prestigious opera houses worldwide, Bayreuth included.
She can be heard in Jochum’s “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” on DG and in two opera films: as Chrysotemis in Böhm’s “Elektra” and as Senta in Sawallisch’s “Der fliegende Holländer”. She is also the Third Norn in Karajan’s “Götterdämmerung” on DG (luxury casting, indeed – a few years later, Ligendza was an excellent Brünnhilde herself). Fortunately, many “unofficial” recordings in good quality exist.
Her Senta is first class: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U3BWRA9-bv4
Enjoy and explore!