The Art of Joseph Schmidt (1904-1942)
The Romanian-born tenor Joseph Schmidt was held back from realizing the full potential of his remarkable gifts by three misfortunes: the rise of the Nazis (he was Jewish, and they came to power in Germany just as his reputation there was at its height), his early death (in a refugee camp at the age of 38) and his height: an operatic career was effectively closed to him by the fact that he was under five feet tall.
It has been said that his voice is audibly that of a small man, but there is no lack of power to it. Its upper range (it rises without strain to the high C and with only a little to the D above) is indeed of an at times reedy brightness while some lower notes are either effortful or husky. There is a slightly nasal quality throughout which can give a rather fretful feel to declamatory passages, but Schmidt's immaculately suave phrasing, his beautifully warm legato, his taste and musicianship very largely compensate for this: his Verdi and Puccini are thoughtful and unexaggerated, not a single bellowed sob mars his Leoncavallo and the restraint of his Meyerbeer and Flotow remind us of how much is lost when their music is sung as though it were by Mascagni. The voice has a flexibility not often met with in singers of this repertory: he can turn a florid phrase, even a trill, with precision, and it is sad that no one seems to have thought to ask him to record arias by Bellini or Donizetti, his earnest style, with its touch of melancholy, would have suited them. In the standard tenor arias though, which fill most of the first two sides of this generous collection, either a reserved temperament or a lack of stage experience deprive him of sheer Italianate vocal exuberance: his ''La donna e mobile'' is quite beautiful but not dashing, not insinuating his rather slow ''Di quella pira'', despite its thrilling interpolated high notes, is not swashbuckling; the famous showpiece aria from Adam's
The lighter music on Sides 3 and 4 is mostly, not to put too fine a point upon it, rubbish (the direst items here are a tawdry gipsy tango by Benatzky and De Crescenzo's vulgarly jovial, misnamed