Stars of English Opera, Volume 1

Author: 
Alan Blyth

Stars of English Opera, Volume 1

  • (Il) Barbiere di Siviglia, '(The) Barber of Seville', Largo al factotum
  • Samson et Dalila, ~, Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix
  • (Les) Pêcheurs de Perles, '(The) Pearl Fishers', ~, Je crois entendre encore
  • (La) Favorita, ~, Spirto gentil
  • Rigoletto, ~, Caro nome
  • Rigoletto, Pari siamo!
  • Rigoletto, ~, Cortigiani, vil razza dannata
  • Don Carlo, ~, O don fatale
  • Falstaff, ~, È sogno? o realtà
  • Esmeralda, O vision entrancing
  • Alcina, Verdi prati, selve amene
  • (Die) Lustigen Weiber von Windsor, '(The) Merry Wives of Windsor', Als Büblein klein
  • Tosca, Vissi d'arte
  • Gianni Schicchi, O mio babbino caro
  • (The) Bartered Bride, ~, How could they believe
  • Così fan tutte, ~, Per pietà, ben mio
  • (Die) Zauberflöte, '(The) Magic Flute', Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön
  • Don Giovanni, Il mio tesoro

This is an auspicious beginning to what promises to be an important series from Dutton Laboratories. The discs chosen come from that fruitful period in British singing in the years before, during and just after the war, when Columbia and HMV were busy recording a crop of native singers performing so eloquently in their native tongue. The group of tenors alone is a distinguished one, headed by Heddle Nash, whose dreamy, poised mezza voce is heard to perfection in Nadir’s Romance from Les pecheurs de perles, one of his most beguiling records. His ardent, refined singing of “Spirit so fair” from La favorita, made during the same 1944 Liverpool session, is equally desirable. So is James Johnston’s account of Jenik’s aria from The bartered bride, an item excluded from Testament’s disc devoted to his art (4/95) and therefore the more welcome. Webster Booth’s airy style is well suited to the once popular aria from Esmeralda.
Most welcome of all are Don Ottavio’s second aria and Tamino’s Portrait solo as sung by David Lloyd, whose forthright, mellifluous tone and persuasive performances offer Mozart singing of the highest calibre. Joan Cross’s account of Fiordiligi’s Act 2 aria, one of my earliest purchases and a souvenir of Sadler’s Wells’s notable wartime staging of Cosi fan tutte, is another fine piece of Mozart singing – and isn’t that Dennis Brain playing the horn solos? The other Joan is disappointingly represented by two well-tried, often reissued items, rather than by some rarity from her vast discography. Catley’s “Dearest name”, sweet and agile, can match the best accounts by sopranos of her type.
Howe’s “Softly awakes my heart” and Ripley’s “O fatal beauty”, slightly underpowered, tell us what appreciable careers these estimable singers might have had today, when artists like them make their mark mainly on the stage rather than in concert work. Marjorie Thomas’s refined art is recalled in her pure Handelian legato. Llewellyn offers character but a rather attenuated tone in Ford’s aria, Hargreaves much feeling but stilted diction as Rigoletto. If these two baritones were limited in appeal, Noble was one of great distinction regarding tone, line and diction. Dutton offer here his 1939 HMV “I’m the factotum” (his earlier Columbia can be found on their CD devoted solely to his art – see above), which launches this disc in the most engaging way. Natzke was an equally communicative singer, admirable in tone and phrase in the Lustigen Weiber aria, a record new to me.
Transfers, as usual from this source, are exemplary, surface noise wholly eliminated, voices clean and forward.'

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