John Charles Thomas in Opera & Song

Great voices though not shown in the best possible light

Author: 
John Steane

John Charles Thomas in Opera & Song

  • Zazà, Zazà, piccola zingara
  • (La) traviata, ~, Di Provenza il mar
  • Andrea Chénier, ~, Nemico della Patria?
  • (Il) Barbiere di Siviglia, '(The) Barber of Seville', Largo al factotum
  • Otello, ~, Credo in un Dio crudel
  • O del mio amato ben
  • Hérodiade, ~, C'en est fait!
  • Hamlet, O vin, dissipe la tristesse (Brindisi)
  • Chanson triste
  • Requiem de coeur
  • Lieder und Gesänge, Der Ton (wds. K. Hamsun)
  • Lieder und Gesänge, Nachtgebet
  • In questa tomba oscura
  • Tannhäuser, ~, O du mein holder Abendstern
  • (2) Songs, I praise the tender flower (H65a)
  • Shallow Brown
  • (La) Bohème, 'Bohemian Life', Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì
  • (La) Bohème, 'Bohemian Life', ~, Quando men vò soletta (Musetta's Waltz Song)
  • (La) Bohème, 'Bohemian Life', Donde lieta uscì (Mimì's farewell)
  • (La) Bohème, 'Bohemian Life', Sono andati (Death of Mimì)
  • (L')amour mouillé, Valse d'oiseau
  • Mignon, Connais-tu le pays?
  • Mignon, Me voici, tu m'as rachetée
  • Louise, Depuis le jour
  • Manon, ~, Adieu, notre petite table
  • Manon, ~, Obéissons quand leur voix appelle (Gavotte)
  • (La) Rondine, '(The) Swallow', Ore dolci e divine
  • Madama Butterfly, Un bel dì vedremo
  • (La) traviata, ~, Ah, fors'è lui
  • (La) traviata, ~, Follie! Sempre libera
  • (Il) Segreto di Susanna, 'Susanna's Secret', ~, O gioia la nube leggera
  • Don Giovanni, Batti, batti
  • Don Giovanni, Vedrai, carino
  • (Le) nozze di Figaro, '(The) Marriage of Figaro', ~, Deh vieni, non tardar
  • (Il) Bacio
  • (4) Duette, Umterm Fenster (wds. Burns, trans. Gerhard)
  • Ciribiribin
  • (The) Little Damozel
  • Geschichten aus dem Wienerwald, 'Tales from the Vienna Woods'
  • Still wie die Nacht
  • Simonetta
  • (Les) Contes d'Hoffmann, '(The) Tales of Hoffmann', Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour (Barcarolle)
  • (La) Cruz de Mayo
  • Patotero sentimental
  • Malagueña
  • (La) Vida breve, Vivan los que ríen!
  • (7) Canciones populares españolas, Seguidilla murciana
  • (7) Canciones populares españolas, Jota
  • (20) Cantos populares españolas, Malagueña
  • (20) Cantos populares españolas, Jota tortosina
  • (20) Cantos populares españolas, Canto andaluz
  • Copias de curro dulce
  • Azis y Galatea, Confiado gilguerillo
  • Amantes chasqueaos, Jilguerito con pico de oro
  • Don Quijote de la Mancha, Consejo

These additions to Nimbus’s Prima Voce series are both new issues deriving from Victor originals, the artists being household names in America though known mostly by records and hearsay elsewhere. Lucrezia Bori, Spanish by birth, became one of the most highly valued artists at the Metropolitan from her debut in 1912 till retirement in 1936. John Charles Thomas joined the Met in 1933 but by then had gained a following as a concert singer and continued to enjoy success in that field after retiring from opera. Bori never (to my knowledge) sang in England. Thomas did once: in 1928 he won an ovation at Covent Garden singing Valentin’s aria in Faust. Waiting in the wings for Mephistopheles’ entrance was Chaliapin who (they say) but for managerial restraint would have had his hat and coat on and been off home in five minutes.

Recommendation can follow – but in each case with a warning attached. Thomas’s voice is one of the most ample, wide-ranging and evenly produced baritones on record. Hear him in the first track, the well known air from Leoncavallo’s Zazà, and you will understand instantly why it could be cited, as a voice, along with Caruso, Ponselle and Pinza. But then there is nothing new to learn: his “Di provenza”, which follows, is expressionless and unvaried. Not till one of the last items, an unpublished recording of Percy Grainger’s solo arrangement of the shanty Shaller Brown, does there come anything which conveys real feeling or individuality. So what, one wonders, became of the singer whose Mah Lindy Lou (on Nimbus’s earlier Thomas recital) is among the most magical and imaginative song recordings of all?

With Bori the warning has to do with quality of recorded sound. These are all electrical recordings and known to be “difficult”. I had hoped that the Nimbus method would come up with more generous results but I still find quite a lot that is too squeaky or otherwise impaired in sound for comfort. She herself is one of the irreplaceables: utterly personal, delicate, subtle and with reserves of strength, vocal and emotional. Her Violetta, Mimì, Mignon and Susanna (both Mozart’s and Wolf-Ferrari’s) can be sampled and there are Spanish songs, including some previously unpublished. These are recordings to handle with loving care; but they respond.

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