Great Singers at the Mariinsky Theatre
Here is a superb collection, ''courtesy [we are told] of the Director of Staff of the St Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music''. All of the originals are rare, and some, in this immaculate condition, must be practically unique. Readers who have the invaluable Gramophone Award-winning Pearl volumes (''Singers of Imperial Russia'', 6/93) will want to know about the extent of duplications: I make the total seven (Nezhdanova's Traviata and Fra Diavolo, Lipkowska's Snow Maiden, Juzhin in La Gioconda, Karakash's Queen of Spades, and Sibiriakov's Judith and Verdi Requiem). That leaves 15, which makes the expenditure still very well worthwhile.
Among the soprano solos, particularly exciting is Boronat's account of the Queen's cabaletta in Les huguenots, queenly indeed as far as the letter of the score is concerned but brilliant in technique and often exquisite in shading. Nezhdanova in both Lakme excerpts (the Bell song and now even more famous 'flower' duet) sings with lovely purity and easy command. Collectors who know Bronskaya only from her Columbia recordings will be pleasantly surprised by these two from 1913, the voice at its freshest, the style in Ophelia's Mad scene very appealing. Lipkowska's Snow Maiden is an utter charmer, and also delightfully youthful in tone is Katulskaya's Mireille.
Of the tenors, I still find the greatest fascination in Smirnov, part of the fascination being his capacity for committing atrocities (notably the top C in ''Giunto sul passo'') even while bestowing in other respects the most fastidious, loving care: and that Mefistofele aria is a marvellous example. Labinsky's Halka solo has exemplary evenness of line, as has the baritone Karakash in Yeletsky's aria. Kastorsky's Gremin and Sibiriakov's admonition of the Israelites in Judith are among the finest of all; and how skilfully Sibiriakov subdues his mighty bass in the Thais duet with Katulskaya.
The booklet has some fine photographs and admirable notes by Boris Semeonoff. The original copies used are all in pristine condition. There are, of course, those who 'can't stand Nimbus transfers at any price'. Well, they will just have to go without, won't they.'