Xenia Belmas (1890-1981) - I
Listening to singers is sometimes like watching a horror movie where the heroine insists on walking down stairs that obviously lead to some harrowing confrontation you are powerless to avert. There are several moments like this on the records of Xenia Belmas. Coming up for the passage misleadingly telling of ''un Eden di delizia'' in the Ernani aria one can see that she is heading the second time for a repetition of the disastrous first. In ''Ritorna vincitor'' she seizes hold with the grand gesture of one who is about to do something desperate; and that's fine but she shouldn't do the same thing so often that the picture comes irresistibly into mind of Groucho Marx sitting crosslegged at a table nearby and raising his eyebrows. She had a conductor for her husband, Alexander Kitschin, who is nominally in charge here. Should he not, one might think, have discouraged his good lady from holding the final note (''soffrir'') quite as long as she does? Then he could, gently but firmly, have drawn attention to several note-values which she seems to have overlooked; and perhaps, while in the discouraging mood, he might have talked her out of the laugh interpolated in the Cavalleria rusticana duet as indicative of her distraught frame of mind. These things are all such a pity, because the voice itself has a fine Slavonic glitter and there is obviously a lot of feeling and temperament there that simply wanted leading in another direction.
Best, predictably, are the two Russian solos, with a tragic tension in The Queen of Spades (also the Mei-Figner low A at the end, which is another pity). Then, surprisingly, Mimi's arias are quite beautifully done, with some lovely inflexions and unexaggerated pathos. The duets with Domgraf-Fassbaender have their points, which include the healthy resonance of his young voice, but I imagine Italians may not be able to listen to the pronunciation with due gravity. Transfers, as usual with Preiser, are clear and forward. The notes claim that ''many errors regarding her life and career could be corrected'' but nothing very instructive follows (her birth is given as 1890 when Kutsch and Riemens have 1889 and her debut is dated 1913 where the obituary in Opera gave 1917, the Paris Aida being 1926 not 1927, and she went to South Africa in 1934 not 1938, but that is about the sum total of enlightenment). One thing: a really charming photograph of Belmas at 80 is reproduced at the back of the insert.'