Fanfare CD Magazine Archives

DONIZETTI Caterina Cornaro. Carlo Felice Cillario, cond; Leyla Gencer (Caterina); Giacomo Aragall (Gerado); Renato Bruson (Lusignano); Luigi Risani (Andrea); Plinio Clabassi (Mocenigo); Fernando Jacopucci (Strozzi); Teatro San Carlo di Napoli O & Ch; MYTO 5 (2 CDs: 156:53) Live: Naples 5/28/72

This performance of Caterina Cornaro was reviewed in Opera by Enrico Tellini. He said that it was one of the most important happenings of the year. He wrote: “The title role was sung by Leyla Gencer who was in glorious voice. Giacomo Aragall sang with enthusiasm and clear pronunciation, while Renato Bruson was so elegant in his phrasing that his singing appeared a lesson.” Carlo Felice Cillario’s conducting is excellent. Bob Rose

DONIZETTI Lucia di Lammermoor Oliviero de Fabritiis, cond; Leyla Gencer (Lucia); Nino Carta (Enrico); Giacinto Prandelli (Edgardo); Lorenzo Sabatucci (Arturo); Antonio Massaria (Raimondo); Liliana Hussu (Alisa); Raimondo Botteghelli (Normano); O & Ch Del Teatro Verdi di Trieste BONGIOVANNI 1198 (2 CDs: 121:22) Live: Trieste 11/30/1957

Gencer’s vocal brilliance is well evidenced in this recording. The supporting cast is fine. Giacinto Prandelli was a fine lyric tenor, and is, if not really great, quite acceptable. Nino Carta understands the bel canto tradition and sings well. Antonio Massaria is a good, if not great, Raimondo. His role is subjected to the usual cut of the duet between Raimondo and Lucia, and also the tenor-baritone duet is missing. The mad scene is, however, complete. De Fabritiis is an experienced conductor and supports the singers well. The bonus tracks, worth the price of the recordings, feature the last of the great Italian baritones, Ettore Bastianini, a species that unfortunately has vanished, and a fine dramatic tenor, Mario Filippeschi, along with Gencer in finales to acts I and II. The booklet contains notes only, and the sound is quite good for the period. Gencer enthusiasts should not hesitate in acquiring this set. Bob Rose

VERDI Rigoletto Argeo Quadri, cond; Leyla Gencer (Gilda, Elvira2); Carmen Burello (Maddalena); Gianni Raimondi (Il Duca, Arturo2); Cornell MacNeil (Rigoletto); Jorge Algorta (Sparafucile); Manuel Ausensi (Riccardo);2 Teatro Colón O & Ch MYTO 4, mono (2 CDs: 147:41) Live: Buenos Aires 6/24/1961; 6/30/19612

The audience for this 1961 performance of Rigoletto in Buenos Aires must have felt they got its money’s worth. The performance is a strong one, with the principals in good voice. Because Cornell MacNeil recorded the title role twice in the studio, the attraction of these discs will center especially on Leyla Gencer and Gianni Raimondi, whose recorded legacies are mostly (in the case of Gencer, entirely) from live recordings.

Gencer’s Gilda is not the young girl portrayed in the libretto, but a mature woman. Although her voice is occasionally weak at times, perhaps because of microphone placement, she gives a strongly sung, moving portrayal. Raimondi is splendid as the Duke, with a beautiful, ringing voice and brilliant top notes. MacNeil sings a well-characterized Rigoletto, whose love and concern for his daughter shine through his performance. The sound is quite good, and there is almost no distracting stage noise.

BELLINI Beatrice di TendaVittorio Gui, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Beatrice); Mario Zanasi, baritone (Filippo); Juan Oncina, tenor (Orombello); Antigone Sgourda, mezzo-soprano (Agnese); Coro e Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice di Venezia. NUOVA ERA 23333/34 [ADD]; two discs; 70:39, 78:39. (Distributed by Qualiton.) RECORDED in 1964.

I was very excited to receive this set from the head office in New Jersey. Although Beatrice is hardly my favorite Bellini opera (is it anyone's?) and it is far from a masterpiece, the catalog could use a really fine performance of it just to put it in perspective. So imagine my joy when I saw that Leyla Gencer had struck again.

And in fact the interesting Turk is here in fine fettle, singing with her usual individuality and intelligence, and in good voice to boot. She makes us feel for Beatrice's plight (it's the same plight as Anna Bolena's, but it's not as well told or as through-composed) and gets around the difficult music with great panache and expressivity. She's a winner. She inexplicably sings the first cavatina and cabaletta up a whole tone (it's not the pitch of the tape); perhaps this is an alternative about which I haven't heard. Juan Oncina's Orombello is sincere but his tone is downright whiney at times. Robert Levine

BELLINI Beatrice di Tenda • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Beatrice di Tenda); Juan Oncina, tenor (Orombello); Mario Zanasi, baritone (Filippo Visconti); Antigone Sgourda, soprano (Agnese); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro La Fenice, Venice, conducted by Vittorio Gui. MELODRAM 456 (3) (three discs, mono, live performance: Venice, January 10, 1964),
DONIZETTI Anna Bolena. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Anna Bolena); Juan Oncina, tenor (Percy); Carlo Cava, bass (Enrico VIII); Patricia Johnson, mezzo-soprano (Giovanna Seymour); Glyndebourne Festival Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. MELODRAM 458 (3) (three discs, mono; live performance: Glyndebourne, June 13, 1965), $32.94 [ distributed by German News],

All of which is an unduly roundabout way to explain why, after hearing Gencer's Beatrice, I feel I may have been overly harsh in my criticism of the opera the last time I had occasion to review it in these pages (Fanfare VI:6). Had that recording (and, for that matter, any of the other performances of the work to which I'd been exposed, both “live“ and recorded) been sung with the dramatic eloquence Gencer brings to it here, I would surely have been more favorably disposed toward it. In my defense, I did imply that the problem with both Beatrices then under discussion was a too placid and passive interpreter (Sutherland), and I expressed interest in the Beatrice the more theatrically compelling Kabaiwanska, who sings Agnese in one of them, would have provided. Bolena, on the other hand, I have always considered Donizetti's finest tragic opera.

The two are #6 and #8 respectively in Melodram's third series of “interpretazioni liriche indimenticabili,“ and both are here expertly sung and acted by Gencer, who for too many years was unfairly dismissed as a “Callas manqué,“ but who deserves to be recognized in her own right as a singing actress on the grand scale, and whose name, fortunately, recurs with ever-increasing frequency in these pages. Her voice can, at times, be as hard as Callas', but it is more secure in alt, and though her runs and scales are not as impeccable as Sutherland's, she is capable of exquisite high pianissimi and commands sufficient flexibility to encompass most of the roles' more florid passages. Finally (and again, perhaps most important as respects the works under discussion), she is a most involved participant in the drama: one who delivers the texts intelligently and tellingly.

Would she had better support in these performances! Neither husband possesses the beauty of tone or flexibility his music requires, but Cava's rough-voiced Henry is, at least, more fearsome than the Visconti of Zanasi, whose light-textured baritone projects a less than formidable adversary to a Beatrice of Gencer's mettle. The same tenor, Oncina, is, coincidentally, the “lover“ in both, and, though certainly more than adequate, I admired him more in the lighter tenore di grazia parts he had by this time more or less abandoned. Though his prior experience in such roles stands him in good stead in the second-act Beatrice concertato, one can only guess how (or if!) he might have survived “Vivi tu“ in Anna Bolena had Gavazzeni chosen not to cut it, for, from all reports, Rubini, who created the role of Percy, pulled out all vocal stops when he sang it. (This is, I suppose, as good a place as any to deplore the numerous, slashing cuts both conductors inflict on these works. As the operas' prime champions, one would think they might have had greater faith in their integrity as musico-dramatic entities.) Both of the “other women“ roles are soprano parts, though Seymour is frequently taken by a mezzo. (Agnese, in fact, doubles Beatrice's vocal line up to a B in the second-act quintette, “Al tuo fallo.“) As Agnese, Sgourda tends to wobble until she warms up, while Johnson would be more acceptable a Seymour did she not have to vie with memories of Simionato. Anthony D. Coggi

BELLINI I Puritani di ScoziaLeyla Gencer, soprano (Elvira); Gianni Raimondi, tenor (Arturo); Manuel Ausensi, baritone (Riccardo); Ferruccio Mazzoli, bass (Giorgio); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatre Colón, Buenos Aires, conducted by Argeo Quadri. FOYER FO 1024 (three discs, mono), $29.94 [ distributed by German News].

This is the third Puritani “complete“ I've been asked to review in about a year. Do record manufacturers perceive a demand for such, second only to that for Orfeo? The raison d'être of this particular issue is the Elvira of the Turco-Italian soprano, Gencer (“Queen of the Pirates“ as she was once known—and woefully underrepresented on commercial releases), for her 1961 Colón appearances constitute her only assumption of the role for which her voice here sounds lighter and brighter than usual (deliberately so, I'm sure—her only other role that season was Gilda which requires a similar timbre).

I suspect Gencer fans remain the main market for this set even though her performance is not to be disdained by others. The recording, however, poses no threat to the commercial sets with (in order of preference) Caballé-Kraus-Muti or (tied for second place) Sutherland-Pavarotti-Bonynge and Callas-DiStefano-Serafin. No notes; Italian text only. Anthony D. Coggi

BELLINI I Puritani: ExcerptsLeyla Gencer, soprano (Elvira); Gianni Raimondi, tenor (Arturo); Manuel Ausensi, baritone (Riccardo); Ferruccio Mazzoli, bass (Giorgio); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Colon, conducted by Argeo Quadri. RODOLPHE RP 12710 (mono), $11.98 [distributed by Harmonia Mundi USA].

What minimal value this might have as a performance is compromised further by its wooly, distant, muffled sound. I don't know the source of this recording of a 1961 live performance, but it sounds like it might have been made in the house rather than off a broadcast, and with the microphone wrapped in a blanket in order to disguise it! The result is the loss of the individual timbres of each voice, so that what we hear sounds like competent singing but from voices of no particular quality. Fans of Leyla Gencer will know that flaws and all, the Turkish soprano did have a distinctive and identifiable sound—but they would be hard pressed to identify her if this was put on a turntable for them.

Gencer floats some lovely pianissimos, but she also breaks up Bellini's line with her glottal attacks and emotive excesses. The rest of the cast is adequate—no more and no less. Quadri keeps things going without any special insights or distinctive touches. No notes or texts. Henry Fogel

DIVINE. Operatic arias Maria Callas, Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland, Leyla Gencer, Montserrat Caballé, Raina Kabaivanska, sopranos. RCA ITALIANA (two discs), VLS 32640 (2), $19.96 [ distributed by IBR].
VERDI La traviata: È strano! . . . Sempre libera (Callas). Otello: Willow Song and Ave Maria (Tebaldi). / vespri Siciliani: Bolero (Sutherland). Alzira: Riposa . . . Da Gusman, su fragil barca (Caballé). Don Carlo: Tu che le vanità (Kabaivanska). Aida: Ritorna vincitor (Tebaldi). DONIZETTI Caterina Cornaro: Torna all'ospite . . . Vieni o tu (Gencer). Roberto Devereux: Vivi ingrato . . . Quel sangue versato (Kabaivanska). Lucrezia Borgia: Com'è bello (Gencer) BELLINI I puritani: Qui la voce (Callas). ROSSINI La donna del lago: Tanti affetti (Caballé).

The performances by the Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer are lovely. Gencer had a strong and loyal following, but never established an international career; I gather she could be erratic on stage and difficult to work with. But many of her performances preserved on private labels are of stunning dramatic impact. While the voice has breaks between the registers, she uses that to dramatic advantage. She could float high soft notes with the best of them, and the two arias on this set catch her at the top of her form. Henry Fogel

Leyla Gencer. Opera Arias. Leyla Gencer, soprano. FOYER FO 1015 (two discs), produced by Salvatore Caruselli, $19.96 [distributed by German News].
MOZART Abduction from the Seraglio: Tutte le torture. Don Giovanni: Mi tradì quell'alma ingrata. BELLINI I puritani: Qui la voce. DONIZETTI Anna Bolena: Al dolce guidami; Coppia iniqua. Lucia di Lammermoor: Il dolce suono . . . Ardon gli incenzi. MASSENET Werther: Mio Werther. . . Gridar sento. VERDI La battaglia di Legnano: Voi lo diceste . . . Quanto volte. La forza del destino: Pace, pace, mio Dio. Macbeth: Nel de della vittoria. Rigoletto: Caro nome. Simon Boccanegra: Come in quest'ora bruna. Il due foscari: No ... mi lasciata ... Tu al cui. Il trovatore: Tacea la notte placida . . . D'amor sull'ali rosee.

The voice—in its lower and middle registers—has substance and vibrancy. Like Maria Callas—with whom she has often been compared—Gencer is not always comfortable in the upper register; but in general she is more successful than Callas in the stratosphere, never firing off any of those armor-piercing missiles that are so distressing in many of Callas' discs. Nor does Gencer exhibit any of the Callas wobble. She's had a dedicated, cult-like following for many years; her great appeal to her fans, it seems to me, comes from her intensely dramatic projection. Again like Callas, she is said to have been exciting to watch. The performances here are live ones, originally done between 1957 and 1961, taped in Milan, Buenos Aires, Trieste, Florence, Palermo, Salzburg, and Venice. Among the conductors involved are Serafin, Previtali, de Fabritiis, Gavazzenni, Quadri, and Gui. Almost everything is touching in its commitment and its emotional involvement. Gencer convinces the listener she is Elvira, Lucia, Leonora, Amelia, and Charlotte. Warmth, intensity, passion, and earthiness abound all through these performances, giving us a glimpse of an unquestionably impressive performer. Howard Kornblum

BELLINI NormaLeyla Gencer, soprano (Norma); Giulietta Simionato, mezzo-soprano (Adalgisa); Bruno Prevedi, tenor (Pollione); Nicola Zaccaria, bass (Oroveso); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, Milan, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. MELODRAM 468(3) (Three discs, mono) [ distributed by German News].

Leyla Gencer, a Turkish soprano born in 1924 or 1928 (depending on which reference source you consult) must be a puzzling case to all who know her singing. Even in the era of Tebaldi and Callas (and the waning years of Milanov and Albanese) she should have had a more significant career than she did. Were she to arrive on the scene today, she would be embraced.
Gencer was not completely unknown; she had a respectable career in Italy through the 1950s and '60s, specializing in the bel canto repertory as well as in Verdi. She clearly had a following, for a number of her live performances have been circulating for years in the tape and record “underground,“ and one can hear tumultuous ovations after many of her better performances. I have heard from more than one conductor that one of the limiting factors on her career was behavior that was often unpredictable even by prima donna standards, but who knows what the whole truth is.

What is demonstrable is that Gencer was a soprano of genuine stature. She may well have been able to achieve greater fame had she not overlapped repertoire with Callas, and had she also not overlapped with her more famous colleague in some matters of style and approach to this music. Like Callas, Gencer was adept at bringing out the pathos in a dramatic situation, and of appealing directly to the heart with a style that was at once tender and affecting. Also like Callas she threw herself completely into what she sang; Gencer did not give studied, restrained portrayals, choosing instead to invest each performance with a considerable part of herself.

Where Gencer cannot compare with Callas is in variety of vocal color. Callas had a tremendous variety of colors and shades available, thus giving her at any moment a range of interpretive choices not possible for other singers. Added to that variety of vocal color was Callas' intelligence and her highly musical instincts, all leading her to make good choices in almost every instance. Because Gencer did not have that kind of coloristic variety her performances lacked the range and dramatic specificity of Callas. Given Callas' complete identification with the role of Norma, it is certainly not possible to say that if you are going to own one recording of Norma, this Gencer 1965 performance should be the one. If, however, Norma is an opera that is important to you, this recording belongs in your collection.

Where Gencer scores, even over Callas, is in vocal equipment that did her bidding reliably and beautifully. There is no wobble, plenty of genuine tonal gleam, a smooth legato when she chooses to apply it, and a ravishing pianissimo liberally used. She does tend to use the gottal attack perhaps too frequently to depict anger, and she is hardly at ease with the coloratura, but this is an important soprano singing an important role central to the repertoire in which she specialized, and it is very much worth preservingr Simionato is an impassioned Adalgisa, Prevedi a stentorian and rather bullish Pollione, and Zaccaria a fine Oroveso. Gavazzeni conducts without all of the passion and shading that Serafin brought to this opera, but with much that is good. Melodram as usual provides no commentary, and the basic sound is quite good for a broadcast. Henry Fogel

LEYLA GENCER. OPERATIC RECITAL Leyla Gencer, soprano; various conductors. NUOVA ERA 2266/67 [ADD]; two discs: 62:57; 68:02. (Distributed by Qualiton.)
CHERUBINI Medea: E che? lo sono Medea. BELLINI Norma: Casta Diva; Deh! Non volerli vittime. DONIZETTI Belisario: Egli è spento. Maria Stuarda: Figlia impura; Di un cor che more… Ah! Se un giorno. Anna Bolena: Come innocente giovane; Al dolci guidami. VERDI Macbeth: Nel di della vittoria… Ambizioso spirto; La luce langue; Sleepwalking Scene. Il trovatore: Tacea la notte placida; D'amor sull'ali rosee. Un ballo in maschera: Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa. La forza del destino: Son giunta; Pace, pace, mio Dio. Don Carlo: Non piangere mia compagna; Tue che le vanità.

I and others have written in these pages of Leyla Gencer, a Turkish soprano who had a career of considerable importance in the late 1950s and the 1960s. Born in 1928 (according to most sources) in Turkey, Gencer wedded a strong dramatic persona to an affinity for the Verdian and bel canto style. Influenced by Callas, she had a more classically beautiful voice but not the Greek singer's remarkable range of color. She also lacked the uniqueness of the Callas approach to phrasing, and she could not duplicate Callas's uncommonly well-bound legato. Gencer also displayed tonal thinness in her lower register.

On the other hand, Gencer could float a beautiful pianissimo with a steadiness never at Callas's disposal, and she was a highly individual singer deserving of attention on her own merits. For reasons I have never been able to figure out Gencer had virtually no commercial recording career, and our knowledge of her is from live performance recordings. Every scene on this recital is taken from a complete performance that is available on some label or other (many on LP only). As an introduction, though, to the art of this remarkable singer, this set is highly recommended.

Neither the Medea nor Norma excerpts that begin the first disc make the best case for Gencer, because these roles are too strongly identified in our ears with Callas's blazing performances. But in most of the remaining items, Gencer stakes out her own territory and makes a strong and convincing case for herself. If you don't know her work, I urge you to obtain this set and hear some singing of rare beauty and intensity. Nuovo Era includes a moderately informative essay about the singer, no notes on the music, and no texts. The performances are from a variety of broadcast sources, but the sound is consistently listenable and pleasant. One track for each scene. Henry Fogel

VERDI Ernani / BELLINI Norma: Excerpts2. Ernani. • Manno Wolf-Ferrari, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Elvira); Gianfranco Checchele, tenor (Ernani); Giuseppe Taddei, baritone (Carlo); Ruggero Raimondi, bass (Silva); Orchestra, ABAO Chorus of Bilbao; Bruno Bartoletti, cond; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Norma); Adriana Lazzarini, mezzo-soprano (Adalgisa); Orchestra of the Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires. GIUSEPPE DI STEFANO GDS 21031 [AAD]; two discs: 66:55, 58:47. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: Oviedo Festival; September 3, 19681. LIVE performance: July 12, 19642.
BELLINI Norma: Oh rimembranza; Deh, con te lie prendi... Mira, o Norma.

I expounded at some length about Ernani—the opera and various recordings—in the very last issue; this new release from Giuseppe Di Stefano follows hard upon. The Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer—a stimulating, quirky, unpredictable artist—and stalwart Italian baritone Giuseppe Taddei are the drawing-cards here; unfortunately, in neither case were my hopes fulfilled. Gencer's opening scene isn't entirely comfortable—there's a certain amount of underpitch singing in the aria, and the fioritura at the end is pushed and rhythmically insecure. The cabaletta is better, despite some ill-tuned high notes and guttural scooping (a trademark effect that figures prominently also in act IV). Better still, in her duet with Carlo, she makes telling use of chest voice (another signature), and of the dotted rhythms so prominent throughout Verdi's score. But in act II her timbre turns markedly sour during her duet with Ernani (she and Checchele are both out of tune by the time it's over), and she later comes to grief in act III (at “Ah! signor, se t'è concesso. . .“), where, scrambling to stay in place and seemingly short of breath, she misses her reentrance after Carlo's interjection and ends up vocalizing wordlessly until her last few syllables. In act IV she caps the final trio with an interpolated, dead-on high D, to the clear delight of the audience, but to no musical or dramatic purpose whatsoever. In sum, a performance of interest only to Gencer devotees. (Attention, newcomers: Robert Levine provides thoughtful comments about this soprano in Fanfare 12:2, November/December 1988, in his reviews of four Donizetti portrayals on Hunt.) Taddei offers a generalized Carlo, displaying a high degree of rhythmic imprecision, a monochromatic “Oh de' verd'anni miei,“ and an ineffective “O sommo Carlo.“ Tenor Checchele can sing tolerably but lacks dramatic presence and vocal staying power; his intonation ultimately goes.awry, especially when he tries to moderate his volume, and his death scene makes no effect whatsoever. (Some sort of buzzer goes off between his final cries of Elvira's name; his time is obviously up.) Aside from a misplaced entrance at one point in act II, Raimondi provides a solidly sung Silva, but since he sounds younger than Taddei, the dramatic balance isn't convincing. The erratic conducting is marked by a singular lack of coordination between stage and pit; the orchestral playing is sloppy, the chorus terrible; numerous standard cuts are taken (including Suva's cabaletta); and the audience often seems unsure of whether or not to applaud. The sound is harsh; the overall perspective, plus fluctuations in pitch and volume, bear witness to a hand-held tape recorder; a few measures of music are lost here and there (including the opening drumroll). There are seventeen cueing points on the first disc and twelve on the second, with the break between acts II and III. An Italian-only libretto is provided, plus pictures of Gencer, Taddei, and, in living color as usual, Mr. Di Stefano. The Norma duets, from a 1964 broadcast, are well sung, but don't leave much of an impression beyond that. Marc Mandel

PUCCINI Tosca.1 VERDI Il trovatore: D’amor sull’ali rosee. La forza del destino: Pace, pace mio Dio. La traviata: Addio del passato. Aida: O patria mia. CATALANI La Wally: Ebben, ne andrò lontana Leyla Gencer (Tosca);1 Vincenzo Bellezza, cond;1 Vittorio de Santis (Cavaradossi);1 Giuseppe Taddei (Scarpia);1 San Carlo Theater O & Ch, Naples;1 Leyla Gencer (sop); Arturo Basile, cond; RAI SO, Turin IDIS 6486/7, mono (2 CDs: 136:55) Live: Naples 1/21/55;1 1955

Thanks to various “pirate” recordings of her performances, the Turkish soprano, Leyla Gencer, still has a considerable reputation, at least among opera savants. She is, in fact, the only reason that this particular review is being written. Why did a singer with a strong voice and considerable temperament have such a lackluster recording career? The annotator, without actually saying so, suggests that there was just too much soprano competition during the 1950s—there was only so much room in the firmament. Fortunately, some people who were equipped to do so were discerning enough to tape broadcasts or surreptitiously preserve some of her live performances. She was 26 years old when she performed this Tosca in Naples. Granted, several sopranos who were at least as good as Gencer have recorded the role so this is, basically a fan-oriented release and, unfortunately, a very frustrating one for, despite high production values by Idis (“Instituto Discografico Italiano”—I don’t know what the s stands for), the source is so flawed that I can only hope that there’s a better Gencer Tosca out there. High frequencies are shaved. The orchestra is heard clearly, but the singers sound far away and are sometimes drowned out or nearly so. My guess is that the mike was hanging from a side balcony high above the pit, and the singers—with the proscenium between them and the mike—are usually singing around a corner. You can tell when someone comes near the front of the stage, which isn’t very often. Gencer, when you can hear her clearly, is an earthy, impassioned Tosca but, happily, one who understands that she is supposed to be singing, not shouting. She’s got it all. I wish I could have seen her do it. Unfortunately, one sometimes has to strain to hear her because the unfavorable conditions don’t favor nuance. The singer least affected by this is, unfortunately, the unsubtle Cavaradossi, Vittorio de Santis, who bangs out his role with minimal nuance. Giuseppe Taddei is a powerful Scarpia who can actually sing his part—a worthy match for Gencer. At least, he managed to participate in two commercial recordings of the opera and, since the second of them is with Herbert von Karajan, it will probably remain available for quite some time.

The sound is considerably clearer on some 1956 recordings of four arias by Verdi, though I detected a little distortion in the loudest passages. The four are “D’amor sull’ali rosee” (without its cabaletta, unfortunately), “Pace, pace mio Dio,” “O patria mia,” and “Addio del passato.” The disc concludes with “Ebben, ne andrò lontana” from Catalani’s La Wally. Once again, it is possible to prefer one of her few peers here and there, but, for me, she’s always in the mix—these are stylish, expressive performances. Too bad they couldn’t have been attached to a better Tosca or something else. James Miller

LEYLA GENCER: Volume 1. Leyla Gencer, soprano; various conductors and orchestras. MYTO 1 MCD 951.122 [ADD]; 78:00. (Distributed by Qualiton.)
PUCCINI Madama Butterfly: Perché con tante cure (with Fernanda Cadoni, mezzo-soprano); Un bel di. Tosca: Vissi d'arte. Suor Angelica: Senza Mamma. TCHAIKOVSKY Eugene Onegin: Ah! Povero mio core (with Gino Bechi, baritone). VERDI Aida: O ciel azzurri. La traviata: Addio del passato. Il trovatore: Timor di me? D'amor sull'ali rosee. La forza del destino: Pace, pace mio Dio. CATALANI La Wally: Ebben, ne andrò lontano. MOZART Il ratto dal serraglio: Tutte le torture. DONIZETTI Lucia di Lämmer moor: Il dolce suono; Ardon gli incensi. POULENC Dialoghi delle Carmelitane: Figliole, con tutto il cuore. ROCCA Monte Ivnor: Non so, non so.

Along with Callas and Joan Sutherland the Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer was an exponent of the new breed of singers who combined dramatic qualities with techniques of old-fashioned vocal virtuosity. Gencer was neglected by the commercial recording industry, and as far as I know she made only three commercial recitals for Cetra during the LP era, but the circulation of her recordings of complete operas on “pirate“ labels earned her a cult following and the title of “Queen of the Undergrounds.“ The situation has not changed in regard to CDs. There are at least nineteen examples of her art on various complete opera or opera highlights CDs available, but as far as I can determine this release is only the third recital disc, and the two previous recitals contain mostly different material.

The recordings featured on this disc were made at the onset of her career, before the counterrevolution gained momentum, thus are representative of the standard prewar repertoire. It was only later that she gained recognition as a specialist as an interpreter of Donizetti heroines.

Comparisons with Callas are inevitable, but there are enough striking differences to establish the fact that she was no Callas clone. Unlike Callas she did sing Mozart, and also as this recording attests sang modern opera. Although vocally she, like Callas, ranged from the dramatic soprano Aida to the coloratura soprano Lucia, Gencer was essentially a lyrico-spinto. Her tonal quality is bright. Unlike Callas, she had neither the hooded quality in the middle voice, nor a secure low range. She was a mistress of the floating, almost disembodied pianissimo high note, rivaling both Caballé and Milanov in that feature.

The selections from Madama Butterfly and Eugene Onegin were recorded in-house, and, according to the notes, on a wire recorder in 1954. Accordingly the sound on these excepts is primitive, but the evidence of her ability to float her voice comes across. The “Vissi d'arte,“ from a live performance made in the following year, is in better sound. Gencer understood that the aria is essentially a prayer, and her command of legato enables her to relax the tempo and float an enchanting diminuendo at the close of the aria. All of the Verdi arias and the Catalani excerpt are commercial recordings previously released on a Cetra LP and made in 1955. The superior sound points up the brightness of her tonal quality and evidences a definite, but not intrusive, vibrato which was a feature of her voice. The ' 'O ciel azzuri“ is just her meat, featuring the pianissimo high notes for which she was acclaimed. Her account of “Addio del passato,“ however, is pedestrian and she omits the spoken reading of the letter. The final piano high note is exquisite. The Catalani aria is well sung; however, the Trovatore “D'amor sull'ali rosee“ well illustrates the positive and negative aspects of her singing that have made her a controversial artist. Along with the usual floating soft highs, her performance of the aria points out that the voice was never fully equalized, the break between her guttural chest voice and her head voice is obvious, and her attempts at a trill produce only a sketchy approximation. “Pace, Pace mio Dio“ finds her back in her element, although one could wish for a more prolonged initial “Pace.“

The following three excerpts emanate from an RAI concert in 1957. She sails through the virtuoistic fioritura of the Entführung arias with aplomb, only her gravelly low notes and approximate trills detract. The lyric quality of her voice is well suited to the Suor Angelica excerpt. Her attempt at Lucia's mad scene is obviously tentative. The tempo is distressingly slow, and she seems to carefully prepare each note, robbing the music of its natural flow and dramatic quality. A comparison with Callas here is instructive, revealing Gencer's lack of an intuitive rhythmic sense as to how the music should go. I cannot place the blame on the conductor, Alfredo Simionato, for the plodding tempo which times out at 12:29, for Gencer also recorded the scene in the same year with Olivero de Fabritiis at an even slightly slower pace (12:33). Callas, in her early Lucia with Tulio Serafin, allows the music to flow naturally and rhythmically in 11:18. The scene as presented on this disc is not completely: the final “Spargi d'amaro pianto“ is lacking.

The Poulenc excerpt is actually a creator's recording, for Gencer sang the role of Madame Lidone in the world premiere of the opera at La Scala which took place on January 26, 1957. The excerpt here presented is from a subsequent performance on February 2, which was released complete on LP on the Legendary label. Oddly, the world premiere of a French opera was presented in an Italian translation. The brief Rocca excerpt is from an RAI concert.
In summation, an interesting recital which demonstrates the versatility of an intriguing artist whose virtues triumph over her vices. The booklet contains notes only in fractured English, no texts. The timing is approximate, and there are no timings given for individual bands. The sound, with the exception of the first three bands, is acceptable. Gencer cultists will not hesitate, and I recommend this disc for its virtues and for its documentation of a historically significant vocal artist. Bob Rose

LEYLA GENCER. OPERATIC RECITAL Leyla Gencer, soprano; various conductors. NUOVA ERA 2266/67 [ADD]; two discs: 62:57; 68:02. (Distributed by Qualiton.)
CHERUBINI Medea: E che? lo sono Medea. BELLINI Norma: Casta Diva; Deh! Non volerli vittime. DONIZETTI Belisario: Egli è spento. Maria Stuarda: Figlia impura; Di un cor che more… Ah! Se un giorno. Anna Bolena: Come innocente giovane; Al dolci guidami. VERDI Macbeth: Nel di della vittoria… Ambizioso spirto; La luce langue; Sleepwalking Scene. Il trovatore: Tacea la notte placida; D'amor sull'ali rosee. Un ballo in maschera: Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa. La forza del destino: Son giunta; Pace, pace, mio Dio. Don Carlo: Non piangere mia compagna; Tue che le vanità.

I and others have written in these pages of Leyla Gencer, a Turkish soprano who had a career of considerable importance in the late 1950s and the 1960s. Born in 1928 (according to most sources) in Turkey, Gencer wedded a strong dramatic persona to an affinity for the Verdian and bel canto style. Influenced by Callas, she had a more classically beautiful voice but not the Greek singer's remarkable range of color. She also lacked the uniqueness of the Callas approach to phrasing, and she could not duplicate Callas's uncommonly well-bound legato. Gencer also displayed tonal thinness in her lower register.

On the other hand, Gencer could float a beautiful pianissimo with a steadiness never at Callas's disposal, and she was a highly individual singer deserving of attention on her own merits. For reasons I have never been able to figure out Gencer had virtually no commercial recording career, and our knowledge of her is from live performance recordings. Every scene on this recital is taken from a complete performance that is available on some label or other (many on LP only). As an introduction, though, to the art of this remarkable singer, this set is highly recommended.

Neither the Medea nor Norma excerpts that begin the first disc make the best case for Gencer, because these roles are too strongly identified in our ears with Callas's blazing performances. But in most of the remaining items, Gencer stakes out her own territory and makes a strong and convincing case for herself. If you don't know her work, I urge you to obtain this set and hear some singing of rare beauty and intensity. Nuovo Era includes a moderately informative essay about the singer, no notes on the music, and no texts. The performances are from a variety of broadcast sources, but the sound is consistently listenable and pleasant. One track for each scene. Henry Fogel

CHOPIN Nineteen Polish Songs, op. 74. CHOPIN-LISZT Six Polish Songs. • Leyla Gencer, mezzo-soprano; Nikita Magaloff, piano. AKADÉMIA CDAK 101 [ADD]; 69:20.

Gencer has an unusual timbre, dark and low; her way of phrasing is often haunting. She doesn't have total security, particularly in the upper range. But I enjoyed what she did with these charming songs, which ought to be better known. Magaloff works well with her, although I find his style dry. In the transcriptions, in addition to that same dry quality, he exhibits a technique that's not all-encompassing. The reproduction is O.K. My recommendation for these remains the Erato disc by Zylis-Gara and Czerny-Stefanska. Howard Kornblum

CILEA Adriana Lecouvreur. PUCCINI Turandot: Excerpts2. • Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Adriana); Adriana Lazzarini, mezzo-soprano (Princesse de Bouillon); Amedeo Zambon, tenor (Maurizio); Enzo Sordello, baritone (Michonnet); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples; Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Liù); Lucilie Udovich, soprano (Turandot); Franco Corelli, tenor (Calai); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples. BONGIOVANNI/THE GOLDEN AGE OF OPERA GAO 143/44 [ADD]; two monaural discs: 67:31, 74:03. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: January 13, 19622. LIVE performance: Naples; December 17, 19661.

The present performance should please fans of Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer—well known to collectors of underground discs—and of the opera itself. The sound is noisy, limited in range, and further marred by blasting at climaxes and occasional, ill-placed dropouts. Gencer has some telling opportunities to demonstrate her ravishing trademark pianissimos (as at “La promessa terrò“ at Maurizio's act II exit) and fully exploits the role's expressive content; she's particularly effective in her third-act Phèdre recitation, and at the start of act IV, as she moves from remorse to chest-inflected tones of vengeance and then once more to despair. You can also hear a striking example of her guttural attack, coupled with a dramatic gasp, on “E finito!“ at the end of “Poveri fiori“ (unfortunately, a jarring break in the original tape separates the aria from the preceding passage). Gencer offers poised vocalism as Liù in the murky-sounding Turandot excerpts that conclude the second disc. Marc Mandel

DONIZETTI Anna Bolena. • Maria Callas, soprano (Anna Bolena); Giulietta Simionato, mezzo-soprano (Giovanna); Nicola Rossi Lemeni, bass (Enrico VIII); Gianni Raimondi, tenor (Percy); Gabriella Carturan, mezzo-soprano (Smeton); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. REPLICA ARPL 32493 (three discs, mono), $32.94 ( distributed by IBR).
DONIZETTI Anna Bolena. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Anna Bolena); Giulietta Simionato, mezzo-soprano (Giovanna); Plinio Clabassi, bass (Enrico Vili); Aldo Bertocci, tenor (Percy); Anna Maria Rota, mezzo-soprano (Smeton); Chorus & Orchestra of RAI Milan, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. REPLICA RPL 2407/9 (three discs, mono), $32.94 ( distributed by IBR).

Note that Gavazzeni conducts both performances (the Gencer is a 1958 RAI broadcast), and he does so with passion and authority. Sadly, he also brought his scissors along for both performances, and engaged in widespread cutting. Smeton's role is diminished into insignificance, with both arias shortened to the point of becoming brief ariosos. Cabalettas, choral numbers, even the overture, are all removed. Despite the weak defense printed in the Callas set booklet, this is butchery, and butchery of a magnificent score.

Despite those cuts, no opera lover will want to be without the Callas recording. I could take 10 pages of Fanfare detailing the magic she brings to this performance. First of all, she is in magnificent vocal condition here. I have been able, over the years, to use this performance to convert those who thought they didn't like the Callas sound. Everyone I have played it for has been taken by the beauty, the poignancy, the passion, and the intensity of this portrayal. Her shaping and sustaining of the line at “lo sentii sulla mia mano“ in Act I are pure magic. The range of color, dynamics, and emotional intensity of the final scene is beyond description. At “Ah! segnata è la mia sorte“ in the finale of Act I, Callas raises goosebumps with the powerful crescendo she produces. It isn't just a case of the sound getting louder; she changes the color of the note, increasing the intensity and pungency of the tone itself so as to bring out all the anger and despair of Anna on one single note.

Leyla Gencer, whose career never took off in the way she deserved, sings beautifully in her recording. Hers is a more traditionally bel canto performance, more classically molded. She is certainly responsive to the drama, and sings with insight and élan. Those as fond of this opera as I am are going to want her recording as well as Cailas'.

Simionato's performance on both recordings is superb. She sings with abandon, but always within the vocal framework of the Donizetti line. In their great confrontation scene, she and Callas create one of the magic moments in all of opera: this is the stuff of which legends are made. Simionato and Gencer are also potent in the 1958 recording—but not quite on the incandescent level of Simionato and Callas. Henry Fogel                 

DONIZETTI Anna Bolena. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Anna Bolena); Patricia Johnson, mezzo-soprano (Giovanna Seymour); Carlo Cava, bass (Enrico Vili); Juan Oncina, tenor (Percy); Anna Maria Rota, mezzo-soprano (Orsini); Glyndebourne Festival Chorus & Orchestra, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. HUNT PRODUCTIONS CD 554 (two compact discs [AAD]; 67:08, 68:26). LIVE performance: Glyndeboume, June 11, 1965.
DONIZETTI Lucrezia Borgia. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lucrezia Borgia); Mario Petri, bass (Alfonso); Giacomo Aragall, tenor (Gennaro); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro San Carlo, Naples, conducted by Carlo Franci. HUNT PRODUCTIONS CD 544 (two compact discs [AAD]; 65:29, 47:24) [distributed by Qualiton]. LIVE performance: Naples, January 29, 1966.

When it comes to the “big soprano stars“ of the Italian bel canto revival, Gencer (with all due apologies to those others who might feel unfairly shunted aside) remains the not-so-distant-fourth after (in alphabetical order) Caballé, Callas, and Sutherland. She could not compete in sheer vocal beauty and technique with either the first or third, and was thoroughly overshadowed by the second though she was a steadier and more secure vocalist and a riveting actress in her own right. The record moguls, unfortunately, concentrated on the “big three“ (and, from time to time, inexplicably settled for #5, 6, and 7!) for their bel canto projects, but thanks to the efforts of MRF, HRE, BJR, and EJS among others, Gencer came to be fairly well known to aficionados, and Hunt, a label new to me, has taken it upon itself to issue a number of her performances on CD. These are the first of the company's releases to come my way and both are welcome.

The issue at hand preserves the Glyndeboume Festival production which served as the opera's rentrée to the British stage after an absence of nearly a century. It's decent enough as performances go, but Gencer apart (her musico-dramatic interpretation of the title role is second only to Callas' in my book), a rather tame affair. Neither the Seymour nor (especially) the Henry comes across as the larger-than-life characters projected by Simionato and Rossi-Lemeni on the older set. Johnson is too placid and, though Cava is vocally steadier than Rossi-Lemeni, he does not convey the king's menace as frighteningly as most I've heard, either on disc or on stage. Oncina sounds marginally more comfortable than Raimondi, but he too has his vocal shortcomings, and a tone which tightens and becomes unattractive in alt. Gavazzeni, the knowledgeable conductor, observes the same cuts as heretofore, which total some 45 minutes of missing music.

Gencer is slightly below her best form in the Lucrezia Borgia performance which followed some seven months later and doesn't quite hit her stride until the opera's first act (which is actually the second since the authors decided to call the first a Prolog!), but from the very beginning, she invests the role with her accustomed skill, both vocal and dramatic. The opera, premiered three years after Bolena and not quite its equal in overall quality and theatrical effect, is a potent one nonetheless, and someone (I don't remember who) aptly called it a “halfway house“ between the bel canto era and the more vigorous Verdi operas which followed. Its libretto, like Rigoletto''s, is based on a Hugo play and its parallels are obvious. In both, a parent unwittingly brings about the death of her/his child amidst a venue of licentiousness and blood lust. Musically, too, is it a mere coincidence that the brief interchange between Astolfo and Rustighello, two of the opera's less savory characters, presages musically the Sparafucile-Rigoletto duet? Anthony Coggi

DONIZETTI Anna Bolena. • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Anna Bolena); Giulietta Simionato, mezzo-soprano (Giovanna Seymour); Plinio Clabassi, bass (Enrico Vili); Aldo Bertocci, tenor (Lord Riccardo Percy); Anna Maria Rota, mezzo-soprano (Smeton); Chorus of Orchestra of RAI, Milan. NUOVA ERA 6713-DM [ADD]; two discs: 64:48, 67:28. (Distributed by Qualiton.)

I had been waiting and waiting for this release and now that it has arrived I'm feeling a bit let down. Taken from a live (but without audience) RAI broadcast in 1958, the digital remastering of the original has robbed it of any atmosphere it ever had—and it always leaned toward the slightly sterile. My other complaints are about the number of cuts—almost a half-hour's worth in each act—and Gavazzeni's tempos. They are only marginally faster than those he used in the same work with Callas a year earlier, but the lack of audience interplay makes what was intense then seem rushed here. And yes, I'm taking into account the fact that Gencer is not Callas—but she's as close as one can get, and Simionato is in shining, thrilling form.
If I'm giving the impression that this is a washout, I don't mean to. Gencer is wonderful, acting wronged and indignant, and sounding far better than a few years later when the voice had been (rather interestingly) shattered into three separate pieces. Her Anna is the real ticket—a woman swept along by nastiness out of her control. Simionato, as mentioned above, is stellar, acting and singing with utter conviction—another character without control. Aldo Bertocci's Percy is half a performance—much of his role has been cut and he avoids almost all of the high notes—but he does sound involved. He's a lightweight, emotionally, next to the women, but his heart seems to be in the right place. Clabassi is not of as dark a sound as I like as Enrico VIII but he infuses his lines with menace.

The whole show just seems to go by too quickly, without impact or tension. This is a grand, long, complicated work and it lacks expansiveness here. It's interesting—individual moments are effective if played separately, but the entire drama adds up to less. It's whitewashed (could be the sound again—that ambience is a real fake) and left me cold. The Anna-Giovanna duet in act II is a case in point: Neither singer can be faulted for either exclamation, pitch, or involvement, but when it's over, it's over.

The booklet comes with an Italian libretto and a list of the many cueing points. What can I say? I wouldn't want to be without Gencer's Anna, but I don't consider this opera a success unless I feel bowled over at its close. And I don't.  Robert Levine

VERDI La forza del destino Antonino Votto, cond; Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Aldo Protti (Don Carlo); Giuseppe di Stefano (Don Alvaro); Cesare Siepi (Padre Guardiano); Enrico Campi (Fra Melitone); Franco Calabrese (Marchese); Gabriella Carturan (Preziosilla); Teatro alla Scala Ch & O MYTO MCD 001 215 (3 CDs: 212:00)
DONIZETTI Anna Bolena: Scenes • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond; Leyla Gencer (Anna); Giulietta Simionato (Jane Seymour); Plinio Clabassi (Henry Vili); RAI Milano OMYTO MCD 001 215

It was a front-line assemblage that represented La Scala at a guest appearance in Cologne on May 5, 1957, in a performance captured in acceptable but certainly limited sonics. Some of the principals recorded their roles commercially around the same period under good studio conditions (di Stefano under Previtali; Siepi under Molinari-Pradelli), but neither of these worthy recordings is listed in the current Schwann. Because of the audio limitations, I cannot recommend this MYTO set as anyone's primary choice, but it does create, with minor warts, an idiomatic Italian image of this rich and rewarding opera in that period.

The novelty here is Leyla Gencer, who was a famous Leonora in Milan but has never been captured fully in this role, certainly not on CD. As her other pirated recordings indicate (she was unjustly neglected by all "legitimate" labels), she was a fascinating but uneven singer. We could always depend on her dramatic involvement and nuanced inflections, which could illuminate moods and passions without exaggerated emphases. In the big ascending phrase "deh, non abbandonar" of her first aria, she floats a beautiful legato and observes the morendo indication exquisitely. But, even here, the notes above A do not come easily, nor do the Bbs in the Monastery Scene always land on target. Her "La Vergine degli angeli," however, is ethereal, and, when it's all over, we know that we've been listening to a major artist. George Jellinek

DONIZETTI Belisario (Complete)1; Final scene (two performances)2. • Adolfo Camozzo, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Antonina); Renato Bruson, baritone (Belisario); Mima Pecile, mezzo-soprano (Irene); Umberto Grilli, tenor (Alamiro); Nicola Zaccaria, bass (Giustiniano); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro Donizetti di Bergamo; Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Antonina); Chorus & Orchestra of Tetro Fenice, Venice. HUNT CD586 [ADD]; two discs: 71:07, 78:49. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performances: Venice; May 14 and 17, 19692. LIVE performance: Bergamo; October 7, 19701.

I wrote at some length about Belisario in Fanfare 13:1, and I refer readers to that review for background information. That performance was from Venice in May 1969—the opera's first revival this century—and it was such a hit that Bergamo, Donizetti's birthplace, borrowed the production (and most of the cast) and presented it for three performances in October 1970. It was again a smashing success. This is a tape of one of those performances. The cast differences are in the title role and conductor—in Venice, Giuseppe Taddei and Gianandrea Gavazzeni; here the then-just-emerging Renato Bruson and Adolfo Camozzo, respectively. Belisario is a fine work—close to major Donizetti—and it's good to have this set available.
Leyla Gencer is at her best. I wrote in 13:1 about the role of Antonina, that it “requires great exclamatory powers, a right-on rhythmic sense, agility, a ferocious middle and bottom voice, melting pianissimi, and (optional, I presume) high notes—Gencer has them all. Yes, the register breaks are in evidence and the raw, nasty low notes may annoy some, but this is a great portrayal. ...“ She is just as exciting here as she was in '69 and just as solid, if not more so. She's even more potent in the thrilling act I finale than she had been in Venice, and she sings with more subtlety at times than she previously had. And she closes the opera with a high D which is so loud that, I'm sure, it could have been heard in Milan. Robert Levine

DONIZETTI Belisario. • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Antonina); Giuseppe Taddei, baritone (Belisario); Mima Pecile, soprano (Irene); Umberto Grilli, tenor (Alamiro); Nicola Zaccaria, bass (Giustiniano); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice. VERONA 27048/49 [AAD]; two discs: 69:46, 56:46. (Distributed by Allegro.) LIVE performance: Venice: May 14, 1969.

This is the same performance which is available on Melodram MEL 27051 and which I reviewed in Fanfare 13:1 (but without the bonus arias the Melodram release offered). I discussed the opera at some length then and refer readers to that review for background. In any case, I liked the performance and I still do. Here's what I felt at the time: The opera has a fine lead baritone role, full of noble, moving music. Giuseppe Taddei is in strong form as Belisario, the commander-in-chief of the army of Giustiniano, the emperor of the orient. His duet with the prisoner, Alamiro, the tenor, is rousing; the long duet with Irene, his daughter, in the second act, is very touching. When he sings . softly he occasionally flats, but this is a minor quibble—it's an excellent portrayal. Tenor Umberto Grilli, normally no prize package, seems to be inspired by the role of Alamiro, and he sings handsomely and with great involvement. Soprano Mirna Pecile, a singer who otherwise has faded into oblivion, is given the role of Irene (Belisario's and Antonina's daughter). She is sympathetic and sincere, but her tone is nothing to write home about. Nicola Zaccaria is a wise Giustiniano, and the smaller parts are hard to notice.

The role of Antonina requires great exclamatory powers, a right-on rhythmic sense, agility, and ferocious middle and bottom voice, melting pianissimi, and (optional, I presume) high notes—Gencer has them all. Yes, the register breaks are in evidence and the raw, nasty low notes may annoy some, but this is a great portrayal of an outraged, loving wife. Her part in the first-act finale is thrillingly sung, and she tops the act off with a high C which can tear the roof off. Fans of the strange Turk will not want to be without this. Gianandrea Gavazzeni leads the Venice forces with great energy, and if the chorus is a bit ragged at times, well, so what? The spirit of the work is well served.

Yes, still recommended—in one form or the other. The sound on this new release is marginally less tubby, but the Melodram does include the extended scenes from Devereux, so it's up to you. Robert Levine

DONIZETTI Belisario Giandrea Gavazzeni, cond; Leyla Gencer (Antonina); Mima Pecite (Irene); Rina Pallini (Eudora); Umberto Grilli (Alamiro); Bruno Sebastian (Eutropio); Giuseppe Taddei (Belisario); Giovanni Antonini (Eusebio); Niccola Saccaria (Giustiniano); Augusto Veronese (Ottano); Alberto Carusi (Centurione); La Fenice O & Ch MONDO MUSICA MFOH 10301 (2 CDs: 119:58)
DONIZETTI Messa di Requiem. PIZZETTI Introduzione all'Agamennone di Eschile Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond; Leyla Gencer (sop); Mima Pecile (mez); Armando Moretti (ten); Alessandro Cassis (bar); Eftimios Michalopoulos (bs); La Fenice O & Ch MONDO MUSICA MFOH 10201 (2 CDs: 87:51)

Mondo Musica has been given access to the Fenice archives so that the reconstruction fund will be the beneficiary. Why, however, have they found it necessary to duplicate so much material that has already been through countless reincarnations throughout the LP and CD eras? Yes, Belisario is a product of Donizetti's maturity and worthy of study as a Verdian precursor in its treatment of father-daughter relations, but its otherwise clunky libretto shows that Cammarano, despite Lucia, still had not entirely found his way. The set is recommended only to collectors who do not already possess a copy of the performance of May 14, 1969, especially as the sound offers virtually no improvement over previous editions: Onstage movements, stagehands' conversations, and an odd occasional crackle are still present. In other respects, the performance retains its privileged status, as it is unlikely that you will hear a more representative performance from Leyla Gencer as Antonina. All the familiar elements are there, including the heavenly fil di voce, so that we are reminded of how few singers today are capable of investing themselves so totally in a performance, Nelly Miricioiu being one of the very few carrying on this tradition. Giuseppe Taddei's noble baritone in the title role is the other major attribute, leaving Mirna Pecile's tremulous, lightish mezzo Irene and Umberto Grilli's tenorino Alamiro as honorable colleagues. Once again, it is Gianandrea Gavazzeni who leads us through the work, even though he has performed various bits of surgery, though not the evisceration to which he subjected Anna Bolena; but then Belisario is considerably more concise.

Even odder is the Donizetti-Pizzetti pairing. It is difficult to be much kinder to this performance than I was to that by Alexander Rahbari on the Discover label that I reviewed in the July 1998 issue of Fanfare. Gavazzeni leads an inflamed performance that might offer more pleasure if the sound were less murky, as if it were recorded from behind the fire curtain. And despite the conductor's lifelong advocacy and defense of Donizetti, I would be curious to know the authorization for turning the tenor's solo in the Ingemisco over to the soprano, however wonderfully Gencer sings it, or allowing her some beautifully floated high notes in the "Libera Me." The other soloists are credible, but it is clear that Gencer is the star. Why, however, we are asked to purchase a double album with only 87 minutes of music to hear the Donizetti Requiem (66 minutes) and Ildebrando Pizzetti's "Introduction to Aeschylus's Agamemnon" (21 minutes) is something that defies logic. The Pizzetti starts out with brass fanfares and an impressive slow introduction, but then rapidly deteriorates into Hollywood epic background music, replete with a wordless chorus that moans and groans as well. Joel Kasow

DONIZETTI Belisario. Roberto Devereux: Act 1, Aria and Cabaletta; Act 3, Final Scene. • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Antonina); Giuseppe Taddei, baritone (Belisario); Mima Pecile, soprano (Irene); Umberto Grilli, tenor (Alamiro); Nicola Zaccaria, bass (Giustiniano); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro La Fenice; Mario Rossi, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Elisibetta); Anna Maria Rota, soprano (Sara); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro San Carlo. MELODRAM MEL 27051 [AAD]; two discs: 67:35, 72:50. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE Performance: Naples, May 2, 1964. LIVE performance: Venice, May 14, 1969.

Belisario was the Donizetti work which immediately followed Lucia; it was premiered in Venice in February 1836 and it was a fabulous success. Within a year and a half it was staged all over Italy, in England, Philadelphia, Berlin, Paris, New York, and Vienna. It contains some splendid music—all of Antonina's (it was composed for the Austrian contralto Caroline Ungher, whom Rossini described as having "The ardor of the south, the energy of the north, brazen lungs, a silver voice, and golden talent"), a terrific, martial tenor-baritone duet in the first act, a hair-raising first finale, an energetic tenor aria and a lovely soprano-baritone duet in the second act, and, of course, the soprano's final scene. This performance, from twenty-five years ago in Naples, is worthy of serious attention.

In the Ungher role we find Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer at her best. I doubt whether Rossini would ever describe her the way he did Ungher, but she's remarkable in her own way. The role requires great exclamatory powers, a right-on-rhythmic sense, agility, a ferocious middle and bottom voice, melting pianissimi, and (optional, I presume) high notes—Gencer has them all. Yes, the register breaks are in evidence and the raw, nasty low notes may annoy some, but this is a great portrayal of an outraged, loving wife (Belisario, hero or not, is betrayed and dies at the opera's close and Antonina's scena is full of fury). Her part in the first-act finale is thrillingly sung—it's obvious that Ungher's strength lay in what is the middle and bottom of Gencer's voice—although she tops the act off with a high D which can tear the roof off. (Ungher was the contralto soloist at the premiere of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony and she found it a bit high.) Fans of the strange Turk will not want to be without this. Gianandrea Gavazzeni leads the Venice forces with great energy, and if the chorus is a bit ragged at times, well, so what? The spirit of the work is well served.

The second CD is filled out with Gencer singing Elisabetta's first-act aria and final scene from Devereux. It is the same performance I reviewed in Fanfare 12:2 on Hunt CD 545, and I still find it an epic portrayal, full of rage and excitement. Robert Levine

DONIZETTI Lucia di Lammermoor: Excerpts1 ; Mad Scene2. • Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor; Leyìa Gencer, soprano (Lucia); Giacinto Prandelli, tenor (Edgardo); Nino Carta, baritone (Enrico); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Verdi, Trieste 1; Alfredo Simonetta, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lucia); RAI Orchestra, Milan 2. MELODRAM MEL 15003 [AAD]; 76:07. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performances: Trieste, December 13, 19571; Milan, February 10, 19582.

This generous disc of highlights, which presents virtually all of Lucia's music (a few recitatives aside), is somewhat of a disappointment. As readers of Fanfare no doubt know by now, I am a great fan of Leyla Gencer's, whether she's in good voice or poor, mostly because of her distinctive quality, style, and involvement. Here she is in absolutely great voice—perhaps the finest I've ever heard her, but I was left unmoved by the performance.

Gencer's voice is all of a piece here; this was before the shattering occurred. She is in absolute control of every register, at every dynamic level. Her remarkable pianissimi extend up to high C, her fioriture and divisions are fluent and accurate, the very top notes are perfectly in place. Unfortunately, she seems to be detached from the drama—a rarity for her. She makes little of her opening aria and cabaletta—mood pieces if ever there were two—and while she articulates the text with her usual care, she never takes that extra step needed to make Lucia the tragic figure she is. Gencer is the generically upset-soprano here, and while one can admire her singing, one would be hard-pressed to get emotionally involved in Lucia's plight. I hate to say it, but it might be true that as the voice declined the artistry increased. Robert Levine

DONIZETTI Lucia di Lammermoor: Highlights. • Leyla Gencer, sop (Lucia); Giacinto Prandelli, ten (Edgardo); Nino Carta, bar (Enrico); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Verdi di Trieste, conducted by Oliviero de Fabritiis. REPLICA RPL 2486 (mono, recorded live Dec. 13, 1957), $10.98 (distributed by IBR).

Leyla Gencer is a Turkish soprano whose career spanned the fifties, sixties, and seventies. I have encountered her in a variety of roles (Norma, Leonora in Trovatore, the title role in Pacini's Saffo, Lucretia Borgia, etc.), and she always brought something special to them. Why her international career didn't really catch fire is beyond me, since this kind of highly personal singing, based on a secure vocal technique, is just what we've had a shortage of in the past few decades. Here we have a full-voiced, richly sung, and beautifully phrased Lucia; and since the excerpts are chosen to focus on all of the soprano's scenes, this disc is very valuable. Prandelli's lyric tenor strains at times, and there are all kinds of ensemble problems. But Gencer soars through this music in a way that all opera lovers will find satisfying. There are real goosebumps here. Henry Fogel

DONIZETTI Lucrezia Borgia Adolfo Camozzo, cond; Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia Borgia); Umberto Grilli (Gennaro); Anna Maria Rota (Orsini); Gianfranco Casarini (Don Alfonso); Bruno Sebastian (Rustighello); Gianfranco Manganotti (Liverotto); O & Ch of the Donizetti Theater, Bergamo MYTO MCD 013.246 (2 CDs: 142:57) Live: Bergamo, 1971

Donizetti showers the commanding central character of Lucrezia—part vengeful monster, part devoted mother—with magnificent vocal and theatrical opportunities. We have been treated to two complete "official" recordings so far, featuring Montserrat Caballé (RCA, 1965) and Joan Sutherland (London, 1977, currently deleted). Both divas score effective moments in the challenging vocal line, but neither creates a dramatically compelling Lucrezia. The Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer, who made the role one of her special vehicles in Italy a generation ago, comes close to the ideal in this 1971 live recording from the composer's native Bergamo.
A fascinating artist, Gencer was never an image of vocal perfection, but her weaknesses— cloudy enunciation and intermittent pitch inaccuracies—cannot diminish her overall command of the role. She comes across as a truly formidable Borgia in the later scenes, but in the first act (usually called the Prologo) she treats us to lovely leaps into softly floated high Bs in her aria, sustaining the tender mood in her subsequent duet with Gennaro. Her vocal registers are not seamlessly joined but—like her celebrated Greek-American contemporary—she can turn that presumed failing into virtue by exploring her well-focused chest register in the third act. Catching Gencer in a true theatrical atmosphere undoubtedly helps, but we get the real Lucrezia in this technically imperfect recording, something neither of the polished studio versions could duplicate. George Jellinek

DONIZETTI Lucrezia BorgiaGabriele Ferro, cond; Leyla Gencer (Lucrezia Borgia); Alfredo Kraus (Gennaro); Elena Zilio (Orsini); Bonaldo Giaiotti (Alfonso); Gianfranco Manganotti (Liverotto); Walter Gullino (Vitelozzo); Teatro Comunale di Firenze O & Ch. LIVING STAGE LS 1096 (2 CDs: 130:19) Live: Florence 1979

In a previous issue (25:5), I gave a rather positive review of a 1971 live performance of Lucrezia Borgia from Donizetti's native Bergamo, also with Leyla Gencer, a specialist in this opera, in the title role. At that time I also offered some background notes of this uneven but often exciting work, which I need not duplicate here, all the more so because this 1979 performance is technically so inferior that I can recommend it only to uncritical admirers of this distinguished soprano. She was already 55 at the time, but vocally fairly close to her 1971 form—at times insecure of pitch, but always in control of the role's wide-ranging demands. Her textual clarity may be indistinct, but there is no denying her total immersion in the character. As she did in 1971, Gencer omits the cabaletta of her initial aria “Come è bello,“ but delivers the rest of her scenes with vivid involvement. George Jellinek

DONIZETTI Marta Stuarda. • Leyla Gencer (Maria Stuarda); Shirley Verrett (Elisabetta); Franco Tagliavini (Leicester); Giulio Fioravanti (Lord Cecil); Agostino Ferrin (Talbot); Chorus & Orchestra of Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, conducted by Francesco Molinari Pradelli. HUNT PRODUCTIONS 2 HUNT CD 543 (two compact discs [AAD]; 69:04, 58:03) [distributed by Qualiton]. RECORDED live, Florence, May 2, 1967.

For anyone unfamiliar with the great, underrecorded Leyla Gencer, this set will serve as an excellent introduction. Gencer's voice was (indeed, probably is) a very complicated instrument. In the early and middle '50s she was best known as a Verdi soprano, and the sound was even, rich, and well produced, with slightly disembodied piannissimi. By the end of the decade and during the '60s she had moved into the bel canto repertoire, singing Lucia, Elvira ml puritani, a Rossini rarity or two, Donizetti's three queens (Maria Stuarda, Elisabetta, and Anna Bolena—this last she took over from Callas at La Scala), and kept characters like Lady Macbeth and Donna Anna (!). By then the voice had become less well integrated but more interesting—it was in three relatively distinct pieces. It consisted, to make a difficult discussion easy, of a raw, very effective and dramatic if hardly beautiful chest voice, a rather hollow, unfocused (at times) but also colorful middle, and a spectacular, bright, huge top, healthy up to an Eb above high C. The disembodied soft notes remained, always sounding as if they wre coming from the spirit world—sort of the singing vampiress.

Gencer was adored all over Europe but ignored by the record companies and most of the United States, probably because her repertoire so closely mirrored first Tebaldi's and then Callas'. Not only did they get there first, but the former offered creamier sound and the latter deeper portrayals. Both the Turkish Gencer and the Greek Callas had voices which were acquired tastes: Callas had an extra dose of genius or two and so hers was more easily acquired. At any rate, our friendly pirates performed a great service when they began taping her—she's very special, offers thrills galore, and deserves to be heard.

Two of Gencer's Queens have now appeared on CD, on a label called Hunt, and much of the re-mastering is impressive. Even if it weren't, I would have to recommend this release—of the three available on discs (although the other two are only out on black disc), this is the finest. Sills is superb, if overembellished, but the conducting is mopey and the remainder of the cast are not bel canto people. Sutherland is out of her league. She sings beautifully at times and offers some impressive fireworks, but much of this role, in particular its crucial middle act, sits in the weakest part of La Stupenda's voice and she transposes almost every line up in a most unwelcome and un-Maria-Stuarda-like way. She is more dramatic than one might have guessed, but her reading can not be deemed a success.

In brief, the opera, based on Schiller's play, has as its centerpiece a fictional meeting between Mary Stuart and Elisabeth I in Fotheringay Park. Mary is proud and Elisabeth is jealous of her beauty. Elisabeth insults the prisoner Mary and Mary loses her cool entirely—she calls the Queen “impure child of Anne Boleyn“ and a “vile bastard,“ thus sealing her own fate. It is a scene of unsurpassed power in Donizetti, and fans of great hair-pulling and mud wrestling have a field day with it. Mary's long third-act scenes, too, are rich in melodic and dramatic invention.

In the pivotal Fotheringay Act (II), Gencer sings her opening aria dreamily, at exquisite mezza voce—Maria is recalling happier days. When she hears that Elisabeth is nearing she turns arrogant and the voice harshens to good effect. When she does hurl her insults she sings the notes of recitative precisely as written—deep, cruel, voice-wrecking. It's overwhelming—and so is the rest of her portrayal. All the notes, a few slurs in fioriture aside, are there, and the top is rock solid; indeed the top D natural with which she ends the second act is mind-blowingly loud and brilliant.

Gencer is in good company here. Shirley Verrett made somewhat of a speciality of this Elisabetta, and with very uningratiating music to sing (Donizetti knew who his heroine was, even though he gave the whole first act to Elisabetta) she still makes quite an impression. She is dramatically right on the money and matches Gencer's vituperati veness in Act II. It is hard to believe that anyone can sing so relentlessly loud without losing either her voice or her mind, but Verrett manages it. (In her Act 1 duet with Leicester he sounds like he walked out in the middle.) She was a great mezzo.

The tape has two blips in it: In the middle of the great confrontation/hair pulling scene five measures drop out and similarly, eight bars in the Act III scene between Elisabetta and Cecil have disappeared. The engineers have nicely spliced everything together, but it's pretty jarring. The sound, as mentioned above, is acceptable. Don't miss this one. Robert Levine

DONIZETTI Poliuto Giuseppe Morelli, cond; Leyla Gencer (Paolina); Amedeo Zambon (Poliuto); Vincente Sardinero (Severo); Antonio Lluch (Felice); Ferruccio Mazzoli (Callistene); José Manzaneda (Nearco); Barcelona Teatro Liceo O & Ch MELODRAM 50065, mono (2 CDs 112:20) Broadcast: Barcelona 12/12/75

The first performance of Poliuto was scheduled to be performed in Naples in 1838. The head censor, however, found the subject too sacred and banned the performance. Two years later Donizetti worked with Eugène Scribe on a French version entitled Les Martyrs that premiered in Paris on April 10, 1940. Only after Donizetti’s death was the original Poliuto performed in Naples at the Teatro San Carlo in 1848. Both versions are rarely performed. There are three other CD issues of Poliuto, but none of Les Martyrs. When I was one of the principals of Voce Records, we issued both operas on LP, first Les Martyrs with Leyla Gencer, Ottavio Garaventa, and Renato Bruson, and later Poliuto with Adriana Maliponte, Giorgio Castellato Lamberrti, and Renato Bruson. Gencer and Bruson are probably the only singers to have sung in both versions.

Gencer is the star of this performance. Her ability to produce soft piano tones is still evident. Zambon has a strong dark tenor voice. He sings in the can belto style rather than the bel canto that is necessary for Donizetti. Sardinero is a good Severo. Unfortunately, the sound on these discs is terrible. Apparently it is from a radio broadcast, and on the first disc there is soft but audible interference. On disc 2, a high-pitched buzz distorts the sound. Why companies release such issues is beyond me.

Fortunately, Donizetti lovers have the Callas/Corelli version to appreciate. Carreras is good on the CBS set, but Ricciarelli is not in good voice. The Nuova Era set is a good one featuring Elisabeth Connell, Nicola Martinucci, and Bruson. Only passionate Gencer fans may want this set, but the miserable sound is not worth it. Bob Rose

DONIZETTI Roberto Devereux. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Elisabetta); Piero Cappuccini, baritone (Nottingham); Anna Maria Rota, mezzo-soprano (Sara); Ruggero Bondino, tenor (Roberto Devereux); Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro San Carlo, Naples, conducted by Mario Rossi. FOYER FO 1042 (3) (three discs mono), $29.96 [ distributed by German News].

On p. 51 of the May/June 1985 Fanfare, in the column titled “European Opera for the Record,“ Nick Rossi reviews this same performance on Fonit-Cetra's release (DOC 65). His perceptive comments regarding Leyla Gencer's assumption of the dominating role of Queen Elisabeth I are recommended reading. Leyla Gencer was born in Istanbul in 1924 or 1928, depending on which reference source you read. She studied with Gianna d'Angelo and Apollo Granforte, and made her Italian debut in 1953 as Santuzza. She was one of the first of this era's sopranos to triumph in Donizetti's English trilogy, Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, and Roberto Devereux. Her repertoire, as well as much of her general approach to singing, matched that of Callas, although without the Greek-American soprano's regality of phrasing and remarkable variety of vocal colors. Gencer was an important singer who revived a number of bel canto operas before anyone else did (this Devereux performance was the opera's first important modern production) and who scored major successes in much of central pre-Puccini Italian repertoires.

The performance here, processed in good sound by Foyer, is a 1964 staged performance. It is rare that a broadcast of a live performance can be said to merit strong recommendation over a solid, well-made studio recording, but in this case there is no question. 1964 was prime time for the Gencer career, and she is Elisabeth in a way that no one else has been. Gencer fills in the vocal line with a tonal splendor and richness, particularly in the middle register, that is quite unmatched by Sills. This is true despite Gencer's one major flaw, a tendency to sing either at forte and louder or pianissimo, with little in between. While Gencer does phrase and color the music with insight and passion, there is no question that a more varied dynamic and coloristic palette would probably have brought her even greater success.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is simply not up to the level this music demands if it is to rise above the level of soprano showpiece, and Caballé herself is not as dramatically persuasive as Gencer. Gencer's is the only performance I have heard in which you become convinced that Donizetti's music really does have the nobility and scope to convey the aura of a great queen.

Mario Rossi's conducting, clearly a labor of love, is idiomatic and at the same time highly theatrical. Richard Fairman, in his essay on Donizetti's “Tudor Queens“ in Alan Blyth's Opera on Record, Vol. 3 (Longwood Press), recommends this over all recordings of the opera, and I would not only second that recommendation but I would make it even more strongly. This is the only recording, even though most of the sets were taken from live performances, that seems to believe in Donizetti's opera as musical theater. In the duets, the singers sing to each other, not to us. The recitatives are shaped meaningfully. And striding above all, there is the commanding presence of Leyla Gencer. Anyone who responds to the music of Donizetti will want this set. I have not heard the Fonit-Cetra issue, but the quality of this Foyer release is quite good. Earlier issues on both labels have had approximately equal sound—both being about the best of the companies releasing old broadcasts. Only an Italian libretto is included, with no notes at all. Henry Fogel

DONIZETTI Roberto Devereux. • Leyla Gencer (Elisabetta); Ruggero Bondino (Roberto Devereux); Anna Maria Rota (Sara); Piero Cappuccini (Nottingham); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, conducted by Mario Rossi. HUNT CD 545 (two compact discs [AAD]; 62:17, 67:49) [distributed by Qualiton], RECORDED live, Naples, May 2, 1964.

As the joke goes, there's good news and bad news. In this case, there are three pieces of each. The bad news is the conductor, the orchestra and chorus, and the tenor. The good news is everything else, which is considerable.

This performance marked the 20th-century premiere of Roberto Devereux. It is all the more shocking, therefore, to listen to these discs—the orchestra and chorus sound so underrehearsed that one wonders if they are sight-reading half the time. In addition, conductor Mario Rossi has, apparently, no feeling for the bel canto repertoire—he manages to bring out all that is trite in the score (the “huge ukelele“ sound of the strings, for example) without respecting its taut, well-constructed sections. To be sure, there are some uninspired moments in this work, but none of them takes place when the Queen is on stage. Nonetheless, Rossi chooses tempos, particularly in the almost flawless second act (one of Donizetti's greatest achievements), which threaten to bring the work to a halt and destroy the tension. Much of the cast is so good that they simply go their own way and make the required effect, but it's a struggle.

Gencer is dynamite. Of course, the rawness in her voice is present at times, but it is appropriate here. Elisabeth, presumably in her 70s during this period of her historical life, was a crotchety old thing and Donizetti has composed wild changes in tempos and registers to mirror her rapidly varying moods. The sudden plunges into chest voice are meant to startle (Sills has the same effect on Angel) and they most assuredly do. One wishes Gencer had a real trill and that a bit less of the coloratura were smudged, but the aging Monarch is vividly portrayed and much of the singing is gorgeous. This is, arguably, Donizetti's greatest creation—part woman, part ruler whose very word is law—with both parts at war with one another. Certainly she is a woman of more complexity than any of his other heroines. The final act is filled with self-hate and sadness. Gencer gets under Elisabeth's skin as effectively, if not more so, than Sills: The former is more outraged, the latter more wounded. Both are valid.

And so. The sound is flat, the orchestra and chorus a disgrace, the conducting unsympathetic, the tenor a disaster. I still recommend this for Gencer—but only if you also own the Sills. The role is great enough for two, and these two are great. Robert Levine

GLUCK Alceste Vittorio Gui, cond; Leyla Gencer (Alceste); Mirto Picchi (Admète); Renza Jotti(Ismene); Rome Opera House O & Ch OPERA D'ORO OPD-1356 (2 CDs: 134:09)

This bumper crop of Gluck recordings is a boon for a Gluck lover like me. While some of the recordings may range into the ridiculous, the music is always sublime. I'll begin this survey with the performance I cherish above all others.

This broadcast does not find Leyla Gencer, so beloved of diva cultists, in very good form. I can't imagine why it was released. The sound is poor and the performances worse. It's fun to argue about which is the best Alceste on records, but this is my vote for the worst. The best? For the Vienna version there is Östman's superlative recording on Naxos. Still unchallenged as the best French version in modern sound is Serge Baudo's outstanding recording with Jessye Norman and Nicolai Gedda on Orfeo (a confusing label for a Gluck opera!). The Norman recording, made in good digital sound in 1982, already sounds like an operatic lifetime ago. The dramatic power of Jessye Norman at the peak of her career cannot be gainsaid—not even Flagstad, Callas, or Farrell made a more impressive sound. She is paired with Nicolai Gedda, long past his prime, but still the best Admète on records by a long shot. The conducting by Baudo is sound and most of the ballet music has been included, save the concluding grand ballet. Baudo's 1982 performance came just before the vogue of "original instruments" and the quest for "authenticity," and may be labeled by some as "dated."
Unfortunately so, if the new Alceste recording on Philips is typical of more modern norms—Baudo presents the opera in all its majesty while the Gardiner version, cut and fatally altered, is quite a small-scaled performance. James Camner

MASSENET Werther. • Leyla Gencer, sop (Charlotte); Ferruccio Tagliavini, ten (Werther); Mario Borriello, bar (Albert); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Verdi di Trieste, conducted by Carlo Felice Cillario. REPLICA RPL 2410/12 (three discs) $32.94 ( distributed by IBR). live recording of Jan. 20, 1959

If Leyla Gencer is the reason behind this release, that too is curious. Charlotte is not a role in which many singers make a real impact, and one is unlikely to buy a recording of Werther for the Charlotte. Gencer does sing with involvement, intelligence, and beautiful voice—and somehow makes the Italianate nature of her conception of the role convincing. The rest of the cast is quite good, and Cillario's full-blooded approach to the score meshes well with Tagliavini and Gencer. All in all, if one came across this performance in the theater, one would come away very pleased indeed, despite the Italian language and its theatrical, devil-may-care approach. It is, at least, good honest singing in the grand opera tradition. But as a recording for repeated hearing, it just doesn't stand up. Henry Fogel

MASSENET Werther. • Carlo Felice Cillario, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Charlotte); Ferruccio Tagliavini, tenor (Werther); Mario Borriello, baritone (Albert); Giuliana Tavolaccio, soprano (Sofia); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Verdi di Trieste. MEMORIES HR 4554/55 [ADD]; two monaural discs: 69:36, 51:16. (Distributed by Koch International.)

Fogel justly questioned the reason for the release of this performance. Why a Werther sung in Italian, except perhaps for the Italian public? If this release was originally, and is today, for Tagliavini fans, Fogel pointed out that he had previously recorded the opera, in French, for Cetra when he was in much better voice. The Cetra set is today available on CD. If the reason for the release is for Gencer fans, Fogel found that curious, for as he stated “one is unlikely to buy a recording for the Charlotte.“ Unlikely perhaps, but I confess that I bought the Replica set because I am unashamedly a Tagliavini fan, and I was curious to hear Gencer in the role. 1 certainly agree that Tagliavini sang the role better on the Cetra recording, but even a second-rate Tagliavini performance has much to recommend it. As for Gencer, as Fogel pointed out, she sings well and her conception of the role is convincing. Again to quote Fogel: ' 'The rest of the cast is quite good, and Cillario's full-blooded approach to the score meshes well with Tagliavini and Gencer.“ . Bob Rose

MASSENET Werther. TCHAIKOVSKY The Queen of Spades: Selections2. Werther. • Carlo Felice Cillario, conductor; Feruccio Tagliavini, tenor (Werther); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Charlotte); Mario Boriello, baritone (Albert); Giuliana Tavolaccini, soprano (Sophie); Vito Susca, bass (Le Bailli); Raimondo Botteghelli, tenor (Schmidt); Eno Mocchiutti, bass (Johann); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro Verdi, Trieste; Nino Sanzogno, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lisa); Antonio Annaloro, tenor (Herman); Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Milan. ARKADIA CDHP599.2 [ADD]; two monaural discs: 68:08, 70:26. Produced by Nikos Velissiotis. (Distributed by Qualiton.) 20, 19591. 2, I9602. LIVE performance: Milan; Feb. LIVE performance: Trieste; Jan.

I reviewed an earlier (1951) Tagliavini performance of Werther (Bongiovanni GBl 101/02) in a recent issue, and called it interesting but technically lacking. This one seems to me at least marginally superior in every way, though the sound is not up to state-of-the-art standards.
The intended emphasis here is not on Tagliavini but on Leyla Gencer. That this Turkish soprano with her immense popularity and her wide range of roles should have been wholly ignored by the commercial record producers is one of the great mysteries. However, the so-called “pirates“ have made up for it with innumerable unauthorized recordings, of which this one has a certain uniqueness. In 1954 Gencer, then at the start of her career, was asked to play Charlotte in a pioneering TV production for RAI. She demurred, mostly, it appears, because she did not want to be overshadowed by the tenor-protagonist. But then Tullio Serafin stepped in and told her that it would be good for her to learn to love a part that she thought she might not like. So she accepted the offer and televised her role opposite Juan Oncina. However she sang Charlotte on stage only once in her long career—in Trieste five years later, whence this recording.

Charlotte is usually sung by mezzos (Giulietta Simionato in the Bongiovanni recording), but Gencer, with her rich firm lower register, has no trouble with the tessitura. She is perhaps more restrained than Simionato, but is quite convincing throughout, especially in the final scenes. And, frankly, I like the sound of her voice better.

The “bonus“ selections from The Queen of Spades consist of Lisa's first-act aria and her “suicide“ scene, with Annaloro as a melodramatic Herman.

Everything is sung in Italian. An Italian-only libretto is provided for the Massenet. There is an essay in Italian with the goldarndest English translation you'll ever encounter. Sample: “exactly one year later the touching Carlotta was written for the television: her amber voice, her real tears, and with trepidation of the fate of Leyla Gencer.“ Recommended to the attention of sophisticated opera buffs. David Mason Greene

MAYR Medea in Corinto Maurizio Arena, cond; Leyla Gencer (Medea); William Johns (Giasone); Cecilia Fusco (Creusa); Gianfranco Pastine (Egeo); Gianfranco Casarini (Creonte); et al; Ch & O del Teatro di San Cario di Napoli MYTO 3MCD 993.211 (3 CDs 2007:38) Live 3/20/77

Leyla Gencer clearly outshines her competitors as Medea. She floats her exquisite soft tones in her opening aria "Sommi dei, che giuramenti," and makes a tour de force in the invocation of the furies. The supporting cast, although not quite equal to the level of Gencer, acquits itself well. William Johns, with the exception of a few forced and flawed high notes, phrases well and modulates his tones in the bel canto style. Cecilia Fusco's bright coloratura soprano is well suited to the role of Creusa, and Gianfranco Pastini capably handles the foratura of the lyric tenor role of Egeo. Maurizio Arena's feeling for the score is quite evident, and his treatment is authoritative. Gencer fans should not hesitate, and anyone interested in the development of the bel canto tradition should have a recording of this opera. Bob Rose

MONTEVERDI L'incoronazione di Poppea: Excerpts. • Bruno Maderna, conductor; Grace Bumbry, soprano (Poppea); Giuseppe di Stefano, tenor (Nerone); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Ottavia); Alberto Rinaldi, baritone (Ottone); Glora Lane, mezzo-soprano (Arnaltä); Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala. MYTO RECORDS 1 MCD 905.31 [ADD]; 77:51. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: Milan; January 27, 1967.

The “stars“ were as listed above—or almost. Di Stefano, in the event, came up indisposed, and sang only the final performance, preserved here forever. The reviewers didn't think much of the effort, but the singers threw themselves into the piece (to judge from this disc) as though it were Trovatore, and the audience responded deliriously—at least to the Bumbry-di Stefano scenes of passion.

Should you purchase this memento? Were it well recorded, I might suggest that you acquire it as a historical curiosity. But it ain't. Once again we have a microphone poorly placed (obviously smuggled in by a patron). The noises of an apparently restive audience are in the foreground. The orchestra forms a sonic screen between listener and singers, frequently obscuring them. Even di Stefano cannot shout down his accompanying trombones. When the singers can be heard their voices sound harsh and edgy. Bumbry's suffers particularly. (Oddly Ottavia sounds richer and deeper than Poppea and I had to check to make sure that Myto hadn't got Bumbry and Gencer confused.

Of course no attempt has been made to carry out the composer's vocal intentions. Nerone and Ottone should be soprano and alto respectively and Arnalta should probably be a tenor. As far as I can make out, modern instruments are used. (The score is a 1937 editing by one Giacomo Genuti of the Venice manuscript.) Finally the recording gives us only the scenes that feature the stars, the point being to appeal to their fans and to hell with Monteverdi's opera. Unless you are a masochist, I say leave it alone. David Mason Greene

MOZART Don Giovanni Georg Solti, cond; Cesare Siepi (Don Giovanni); Leyla Gencer (Donna Anna); Sena Jurinac (Donna Elvira); Richard Lewis (Don Ottavio); Mirella Freni (Zerlina); Geraint Evans (Leporello); Robert Savoie (Masetto); David Ward (Commendatore); Covent Garden O & Ch OPERA D’ORO 1452, mono (3 CDs: 163:02) Live: London 2/19/1962

Solti and several of the singers in this performance made commercial recordings of Don Giovanni—sometimes more than one—so I suppose the main draw of this release is the opportunity to hear those who didn’t (Gencer in particular), or to hear otherwise unpreserved cast combinations. This performance is a curious mixture of ingredients—old stylistic practices and new, the local and the international, and so on. The mixture is inconsistently successful because the ingredients sometimes clash, but one good thing that can be said about this Don Giovanni is that it won’t put you to sleep. It’s an exciting if often shaggy performance, with the emphases on wit and beauty rather than on the score’s seriousness. This is not its first time on CD, although this might be its most affordable incarnation so far.

Turning to the women, interest centers on Gencer’s Anna, because she made so few studio recordings. Predictably, she’s no wilting violet, and her big sound helps her to create a character who is strong enough to stand up to Giovanni, to say nothing of Ottavio. Again, her first aria is more successful than her second, as her voice and temperament are better at projecting righteous indignation than conciliation. With such a forward Anna, it’s harder to create a contrast between Anna and Elvira, and Jurinac really isn’t successful doing so. One way to play this role is to make her into a crazy woman, a sort of Holy Roller, which I don’t include among Jurinac’s skills. “Mi tradì” is a passionate outpouring of hurt love, but elsewhere, Jurinac seems uncomfortable, as if she wanted to be in a more classically proportioned performance than the one in question. Freni’s sweet Zerlina provides plenty of contrast with Gencer and Jurinac, but the performance is only two-dimensional. Arguably, a Don Giovanni in which Zerlina and Masetto don’t matter very much is lamed in one of its limbs. To my mind, that is what happens here. Raymond Tuttle

MOZART Don Giovanni, K. 527. • Sir Georg Solti, conductor; Cesare Siepi, bass (Don Giovanni); Sir Geraint Evans, bass-baritone (Leporelló); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Donna Anna); Sena Jurinac, soprano (Donna Elvira); Mirella Freni, soprano (Zerlina); Richard Lewis, tenor (Don Ottavio); Robert Savoie, baritone (Masetto); David Ward, bass (The Commendatore); Orchestra & Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. GIUSSEPE DI STEFANO RECORDS GDS 31024 [AAD]; three monaural discs: 60:55, 62:20, 53:50. (Distributed by Qualiton.)

One formula for putting on a good Don Giovanni during the 60s: get Cesare Siepi and surround him with worthy colleagues. In London in February 1962, the formula worked as expected. Solti's leadership strikes me as a bit hard-driven and heavy-handed but it bristles with nervous energy most of the time and the singers can cope with his tempos: the various pitfalls are overcome . . . with distinction, in some cases. Two of them are the Anna and Elvira of, respectively, Gencer and Jurinac, performances of such musical and technical accomplishment that they stand out even in these surroundings. O.K., let's nitpick: in “Mi tradi,“ Jurinac runs short of breath but still brings the aria off brilliantly. Nine years later, in another country under another conductor, her age is starting to catch up with her, but she's still a very respectable Elvira . . . better than most that you've heard. I might as well mention that Giulini induces Gundula Janowitz to give her all as Anna, but her all isn't quite enough in “Non mi dir.“


As a bonus, GDS gives us Gencer as Elvira in ten minutes' worth of music from a 1960 RAI broadcast. She should be quite a good one, but her low notes seem weak to me. James Miller

MOZART Le nozze di Figaro Silvio Varviso, cond; Heinz Blankenburg (Figaro); Mirella Freni (Susanna); Gabriel Bacquier (Count Almaviva); Leyla Gencer (Countess); Edith Mathis (Cherubino); Carlo Cava (Bartolo); Johanna Peters (Marcellina); Hugues Cuénod (Don Basilio); Royal PO; Glyndebourne Festival Ch GLYNDEBOURNE FESTIVAL OPERA 1-62, mono (3 CDs: 162:10) Live: Glyndebourne 6/9/1962

The late Leyla Gencer remains best known for her dramatically convincing portrayals of a series of Verdi, Donizetti, and verismo heroines in an RAI broadcast series from around this period. But she also had this fine Countess in her, notable for its beautifully floated legato lines in “Porgi amor” and “Dove sono,” though both—the latter in particular—are sped along so much as to obliterate a fair amount of their majestic, heartfelt effect. Gencer gives us a more assertive Rosina than is usually the case. As emotionally self-obsessed as her brat of a husband, Gencer makes this Countess his equal in obduracy. She finds her match in Bacquier, who also makes a more formidable (and therefore, more interesting) opponent to Figaro than is usually the case. His Count is angry but not blunt, smoothly sexual and adept at changing his manner to suit the needs of the moment—an adroit manipulator, whose “Crudel, perchè fin’ora” for once comes across as a grieved lover rather than as a pouting child. Bacquier is a lighter sounding Almaviva than is usually the case, and his bright timbre makes a nice contrast with Blankenburg’s darker tone. I wouldn’t suggest it before Kleiber (London Legends 466369), Giulini (EMI Classics 58602), or Solti (Decca 410150), but for those who already know the opera and are looking for something different, the performances of Bacquier, Gencer, and Cuénod should more than suffice. Barry Brenesal

PACINI Saffo • Franco Capuana, cond; Leyla Gencer (Saffo); Tito del Bianco (Faone); Louis Quilico (Alcandro); Franca Mattiucci (Olimene); Mario Guggia (Ippia); Maurizio Piacente (Lisimaco); Vittoria Maniachi (Dirce); Naples Teatro San Carlo O & Ch. OPERA D'ORO 1450 (2 CDs: 130:51) Live: Naples 4/7/67

This live performance celebrating the centenary of Pacini's death was first issued many years ago on LP by MRF, with two booklets, one a biographical account of the composer and the second a libretto with English translation and photographs of the performance. It was subsequently released on CD by Hunt Productions in 1988 and reviewed by David Johnson (Fanfare 12:2). He said, “If you have the MRF, no need to abandon it for this CD; if not, and you suspect that it will be a good long time before a better Saffo comes along, then this issue is worth owning—especially if you can lay your hands on MRF's translation of the libretto.“
In Fanfare 20:5, Henry Fogel reviewed the only competitive recording of this opera, a live performance from the Wexford Festival in 1995 on the Marco Polo label. Fogel wrote: “Members of the relatively small but fanatically devoted group of admirers of the Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer will be familiar with this opera through its only prior recording, a pirated affair from a 1967 Naples revival. That performance suffers from some cuts, uneven casting, somewhat lumpish and unvaried conducting, and monaural broadcast sound, but it has the undeniable attraction of a true diva in the title role. Gencer was at her best on that night, floating lovely soft high notes and singing with passion and intensity, as was her wont.“ Actually, the only cut consists of the second verses of Climene's aria, “Ah! con lui mi fu rapita,“ and her cabaletta “Il cor non basta a reggere“ in the beginning of the second act. Both are given complete on the Wexford recording. Gencer is the principal reason for acquiring this recording. The sound is passable; the booklet contains a brief synopsis. Capuana conducts with a sense of the style required. Bob Rose

PACINI Saffo. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Saffo); Franca Mattiucci, mezzo-soprano (Climene); Tito Del Bianco, tenor (Faone); Louis Quilico, baritone (Alcandro); Vittoria Maniachi (Dírce); Mario Guggia (Ippia); Maurizio Piacente (Lisimaco); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, conducted by Franco Capuana. HUNT PRODUCTIONS 2 HUNTCD 541 ( compact disc [AAD]; 130:43) [distributed by Qualiton].

Leyla Gencer was at an early stage of her all-too-short career in 1967, having just made grand splashes as two other classical figures: Norma and Alceste. Her voice was a peculiar one, dark and rather hooty, but it is worth coming to terms with, for she was a remarkable vocal tragedienne. When she finally reaches her great final scena, which is at once an epithalamium for her sister's marriage and a dirge for her own impending suicide, Gencer is deeply thrilling. None of the other members of this 1967 cast are of that quality, although Louis Quilico's baritone is handsome (if only he had an inkling of the meaning of the words he was singing!). If you have the MRF, no need to abandon it for this CD; if not, and if you suspect that it will be a good long time before a better Saffo comes along, then this issue is worth owning—especially if you can lay your hands on MRF's translation of the libretto. David Johnson

PONCHIELLI La Gioconda Oliviero de Fabritiis, cond; Leyla Gencer (Gioconda); Umberto Grilli (Enzo); Mario Zanasi (Barnaba); Luisa Bordin Nave (Laura); Ruggero Raimondi (Alvise); et al; O & Ch of Teatro la Fenice MONDO MUSICA MFOH 10081, mono/analog (161:08) Live: Venice 1/7/71

Leyla Gencer collectors may feel that they need this, but despite my enthusiasm for the Turkish soprano I'd be hard put to recommend it to anyone else. The performance as a whole doesn't really take flight, it has more than its share of ensemble lapses, and some of the other principals do not fall easily on the ear. Grilli's hard, metallic tenor might be tolerable if he sang with any semblance of grace or variety of timbre—but he doesn't. Zanasi was always an elegant and noble singer, but his Barnaba could use a bit more of an edge. Nave's Laura is ordinary—a bit thin-toned but certainly listenable. Raimondi's Alvise seems generalized, though warmly vocalized. Mirna Pecile is a tremulous La Cieca.

That leaves Gencer's Gioconda. Unfortunately, 1971 was a bit later than ideal in the Gencer career, and the voice was beginning to unravel (though not yet to a serious degree). The registers, never smoothly blended, are even more distinct and separate than usual here, and intonation is questionable on more than one occasion. Despite all that, Gencer was always an involving, fascinating singer, one who never phoned in a performance. Hers is a committed, impassioned Gioconda, with those trademark pianissimos magically floating over everyone, and we'd kill for her likes today. Her only other Gioconda (virtually all of her recordings are taken from live performances) is from two months later in Rome. The supporting cast is better, the conducting (Bartoletti) is equally idiomatic, but Gencer is in somewhat shakier voice, and the sound is more constricted and far less distinct than is the case here. Henry Fogel

ROSSINI Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra (complete)1; Excerpts2. • Nino Sanzogno, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Elisabetta); Umberto Grilli, tenor (Leicester); Pietro Bottazzo, tenor (Norfolk); Sylvia Geszty, soprano (Matilde); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro Massimo di Palermo; Alfredo Simonetto, conductor; Maria Vitale, soprano (Elisabetta); Lina Pagliughi, soprano (Matilde); Antonio Pirino, tenor (Norfolk); Giuseppe Campora, tenor (Leicester); Chorus & Orchestra of RAI, Milan. MYTO 2 MCD 905.30 [ADD]; two discs; 77:52, 77:27. (Distributed by Qualiton.) 1 LIVE performance: November 23, 1970. LIVE performance: Aprii 27, 19532.

This may be Gencer's greatest role. Elisabetta (bearing a resemblance to the real first Elisabeth of England only in nobility and capacity for anger—the plot here is totally fictitious) is a demanding role, filled with alternating rage and tenderness, and Gencer holds nothing back. It's a perfect intro to her minuses and pluses for the beginner. The hollowness is there, as is the unsupported mid-voice, but so are the blazing top notes, the agility, the disembodied pianissimi, and the constancy of purpose. Her voice is the exact weight for the role, and she gives us the fury as well as the sweetness. Those who have never heard her teeny-weeny embellishments to “Bell'alme generose“ are in for a treat.

Nino Sanzogno leads an exciting, pre-Rossini-enlightenment reading, although I don't like the cuts of the Matilde-Elisabetta duet in act I or the Norfolk-Leicester duet in act II. The other cuts are small and internal. The sound somewhat sabotages the proceedings—beware: act I, particularly, favors the orchestra (the mike must have been in front of the trumpets) to the severe detriment of the singers; act II is a bit improved. As hinted at above, the bonus is no real prize, although Vitale is better than expected without entertaining the way Gencer does, and Pagliughi is chirpy. Booklet with (sufficient) cueing points, essay and Italian only libretto. I like this despite its problems. Gencer is something else. Robert Levine

ROSSINI Stabat Mater. • Mario Rossi, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano; Bianca Maria Casoni, mezzo-soprano; Luigi Alva, tenor; Forbes Robinson, bass; Bavarian Radio Chorus & Orchestra. NUOVA ERA 2250 [A?D]; 59:00. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: Monaco, 1967.

I won't speculate on how a Bavarian chorus and orchestra, an Italian conductor, and an odd assortment of soloists came to perform Rossini's Stabat Mater in Monaco on an unspecified date in 1967, but the outcome is surprisingly agreeable. Rossi eschews sanctimony and moves things along smartly, though he's perhaps too relaxed in "Sancta Mater" and "Fac ut portem." Aside from the predictable exception, the vocalists are a modest, genteel group. Casoni is straightforward and rather faceless. Alva is sweet and buoyant, a far cry from the muscular Merritt and Pavarotti. He needs a good admixture of falsetto to reach his top Db. Robinson lacks weight on bottom but sings with feeling and intelligence; he knows exactly how his music should go. Gencer is in capital voice, free and soaring on top. A few glottal grunts notwithstanding, this is lovely singing, yet there's no want of power and temperament. The chorus is competent but not flattered by the compressed, muddy sound. (The soloists, incidentally, take "Quando corpus morietur.") Even if the sonics were first-rate, however, I wouldn't rate this performance above Kertész's (London) or Scimone's (Erato) and commend it primarily to fans of Gencer.  Ralph V. Lucano

VERDI Aida. • Franco Capuana, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Aida); Carlo Bergonzi, tenor (nacrâmes); Fiorenza Cossotto, mezzo-soprano (Amneris); Anselmo Colzani, baritone (Amonasrd); Bonaldo Giaiotti, bass (Ramfis); Franco Pugliese, bass (The King); Chorus & Orchestra of the Arena, Verona. GIUSEPPE DI STEFANO RECORDS GDS 21032 [AAD]; two discs: 72:05, 65:25. (Distributed by Qualiton.)

I have saved Leyla Gencer until last, but not because she is least. She's not the star of the performance but the efforts of her colleagues wouldn't count for nearly as much without a good Aida. Some of the beauty of her top notes had faded by 1966, but, though they have an edge here, they're never strident and the unfailing flair for Italian opera that made her a cult figure (but, oddly, never a star) doesn't fail her. Anyone who admires her will have no reason to wince. Like Calks, she didn't have super top notes (I think Gencer's were actually better), but like Callas, she didn't make top notes the point of her performances. When some singers blow a top note, it's the ruination of all that has gone before; with Gencer, it's merely an unfortunate flaw. James Miller

VERDI Don Carlo1. Soprano Arias. • Bruno Prevedi, tenor (Don Carlo); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Elisabetta); Sesto Bruscantini, baritone (Rodrigo); Nicolai Ghiaurov, bass (Philip); Luigi Roni, bass (Inquisitor); Rome Opera Chorus & Orchestra, conducted by Fernando Previtali 1. MELODRAM 37022 (three compact discs, mono [AAD]; 71:39, 69:03, 70:40) [distributed by Qualiton].
Arias: From La forza del destino; Jerusalem; Macbeth; and Il trovatore (Leyla Gencer, soprano).

The Don Carlo performance was given April 24, 1968 in Rome, and is of the Italian five-act version of the opera. Although my interest was first ignited by the presence of Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer (always an interesting, alive performer), it is the remarkable Rodrigo of Bruscantini that stays longest in the memory. He brings a nobility of phrase, a steadiness of tone, and a variety of intensity to his singing that can serve as a lesson to baritones more famous for Verdi singing than he was. His singing announces itself as important the minute he opens his mouth.

Gencer doesn't disappoint either, although at times the tone is a bit steely (whether due to her own problems or recording quality is hard to determine). She floats some of her trademark pianissimi, and sails into the role with utter abandon.

Unfortunately, Elisabetta and Rodrigo cannot carry this opera and the level drops once away from Bruscantini and Gencer. Ghiaurov was an important Philip in the 1960s, but seems to have phoned this performance in, and Roni lacks the vocal stature for his big scene. Any performance of Don Carlo ultimately stands or falls on two principals: the tenor and the conductor. In both of these areas, this performance is at its weakest.

Bruno Prevedi's tenor, unvarying in its sound, used at a single dynamic level (forte) almost throughout, and unpleasantly whiny in quality, wears out its welcome early on. Prevedi made a decent career in the 1960s and '70s because his voice carried well and had a certain impact due to its size and brilliance, and because he reliably never sank below an acceptable level. But listening to any of his recordings gives meaning to the damning phrase “useful tenor.“ In the Don Carlo/Rodrigo scenes the difference in utterance of phrases between Bruscantini and Prevedi serves to magnify the latter's inadequacy. Henry Fogel

VERDI I due Foscari. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lucrezia); Mirto Picchi, tenor (Jacopo Fosean); Gian Giacomo Guelfi, baritone; Alessandro Maddalena, bass (Loredano); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro La Fenice, conducted by Tullio Serafin. MELODRAM 465(2) (two discs, mono) [ distributed by German News].

Leyla Gencer is wonderful: this may be one of her finest performances to survive, and she far eclipses all competition. Guelfi, as others have noted in these pages, was the owner of one of opera's biggest baritone voices. On some days he had it under control, and on others he simply bellowed out something approximating a musical sound. Here he is on his best behavior and he sings with sweep, and a sense of commitment that is more effective than Cappuccilli's well thought out, but somewhat stilted characterization. Henry Fogel

VERDI Rigoletto. • Cornell MacNeil (Rigoletto); Leyla Gencer (Gilda); Gianni Raimondi (Duke); Jorge Algorra (Sparafucile); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro Colón, conducted by Argeo Quadri. FOYER FO 1025 (three discs, mono), $29.94 .
VERDI Il trovatore. • Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Mario del Monaco (Manrico); Fedora Barbieri (Azucena); Ettore Bastianini (Conte de Luna); Chorus & Orchestra of Radio Italiana, Milan, conducted by Fernando Previtali. FOYER FO 1012 (three discs, mono), $29.94 [ distributed by German News].

Surely all Verdi fans, and all opera buffs, already have at least one and maybe more recordings of each of these splendid warhorses, possibly featuring one or several of the soloists listed above. What, then, gives these recordings their interest? For me, in two words, Leyla Gencer. The Turkish soprano, a spinto with coloratura skills, has been ignored by the commercial record companies, but she has had an important career nonetheless, singing at just about every major opera house and festival in Europe and, except for the Met, in the United States. These sets gave me my first chance to hear her work.

The RAI II trovatore is the earlier, dating from May 18, 1957; Gencer had made her professional debut in Italy only three years before, and was still in her 20s. In those quintessential Verdi soprano arias, “Tacea la notte placida“ and “D'amor sull'ali rosee,“ her voice is a bit unsteady at lower volume but fills out excitingly as she rises to the climaxes; “Di tale amor,“ with its oddly disjunctive and instrumental phrases, sets her a different kind of challenge which she has the agility to meet; and in the “Miserere“ she guts it out with an impressive chest range. RAI brought together a strong and sturdy cast, on the whole better than we were hearing at the Met in those days (remember Kurt Baum?). Del Monaco is unrelentingly loud and sometimes crude, but such a voice would cause a sensation in these days of light lyric tenors straining to make heroic sounds. Barbieri phrases choppily (though this is partly Verdi's fault) but makes a vivid gypsy; Bastianini is wooden and prosaic in “II balen“ but otherwise cultivates a nice line of sneering and snarling. Previtali leads an alert but otherwise rather faceless performance, making the standard cuts. The sound must originally have been quite clean and acceptable, but in these pressings it is badly marred by pre-echo, especially in Acts I and IV. Perhaps the earlier Replica issue of this same performance (RPL 2413/5) is better in this respect; I have not heard it. By the way, Replica claims that the broadcast originated in Rome rather than Milan, and since Previtali was based in Rome at the time, I suspect that Replica is right.

The sound of the Colón Rigoletto is even more of a trial to listen to, congested and distorted in loud passages and with the offstage music so faint that the engineers resort to some fairly clumsy gain-riding. Argeo Quadri, whom I have heard doing some good Verdi in Vienna, is here in rather stodgy form, especially in Act I. Cornell MacNeil's jester must be well-known to all by now, as he has appeared in the role on a Met telecast and recorded it twice, the first time with Joan Sutherland three months before this performance of September 22, 1961. Vocally he is a complete Rigoletto—sarcastic in Act I, tender and loving with his daughter, heroic in his cries for vengeance, broken in spirit when Gilda is first abducted and then murdered. Tito Gobbi is still more subtle and provides much telling detail, but in compensation Mac-Neil's instrument is bigger and despite an incipient wobble more beautiful, at least to these ears. Gianni Raimondi also has a handsome voice but sings loudly throughout, encouraged by the enthusiastic audience, and often pushes the pitch sharp. The Colón comprimarii are well in the picture, including a convincingly low-life Sparafucile and Maddalena. But what about Gencer? The size and quality of her voice makes her a dramatic Gilda like Milanov and Callas, rather than a songbird like Pons and Peters, but she keeps her timbre light and virginal through “Caro nome,“ only in the last two acts suggesting by a slightly darker color and more emphatic phrasing the woman Gilda is becoming through her disillusioning and harrowing experiences. Gencer also indulges herself in an ear-splitting high Eb at the end of the duet “Si, vendetta“— the Argentinians love it—but on the whole this is a well-thought-out characterization as well as a vocally secure performance.

Inevitably I mentioned Maria Callas, who made famous recordings of both of these works. Both singers are similar in vocal weight and range, as well as in repertoire, and the unavoidable comparisons make it clear why Callas was the star and Gencer was and is in her shadow. Of course Gencer's high notes are more secure than Callas'—almost everyone's are—but at least in these two fairly early performances, she lacks Callas' striking individuality of timbre and vocal characterization. Nonetheless, Gencer remains an important singer, and if her career is now nearly over, private enterprise on both sides of the Atlantic has given us more than 30 of her broadcast and stage performances, summarized in the checklist below and available for us to explore. John W. N. Francis

VERDI Il trovatore. • Fernando Previtali, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Leonora); Mario Del Monaco, tenor (Manrico); Ettore Bastianini, baritone (Di Luna); Fedora Barbieri, mezzo-soprano (Azucena); Plinio Clabassi, bass (Ferrando); Chorus & Orchestra of RAI, Milano. ARKADIA MP 483.2; two monaural discs: 66:54, 57:30. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: May 29, 1957.

This RAI broadcast was previously released during the LP era on three different labels that I am aware of: HRE, Replica, and Foyer. Now available on CD, it features a cast which could hardly be duplicated today led by an authoritative and sympathetic conductor. However, since three of the four major principals have recorded the opera commercially, Del Monaco, Barbieri, and Bastianini, the major interest is probably for the “Gencer cultists“ to hear her in a role which she never recorded and is not usually associated with. For the rest of us, the question may well be: How do you like your Trovatore steak, rare? medium? or well done? If you equate “rare“ with passionate, bloody, violent, a performance that allows the singers to “let it all hang out,“ this recording will be for you. On the other hand if you want musical correctness and refinement you will not be encouraged to purchase this set. To be frank, I prefer my Trovatore steak rare, so with some reservations noted below I can give it a qualified recommendation.

Gencer's Leonora will not disappoint her loyal fans. True the voice is not equalized, at times unsteady, and she lacks a true trill which mars her “D'amor sull'ali rosee,“ but she has the coloratura technique to satisfy in the cabaletta “Di tale amor,“ and makes good use of her floating pianos in the “Tacea la notte.“ She is also impressive in the “Miserere,“ her controversial chest register is to my ears effective here, and the last-act duet with Bastianini is excitingly sung.

In my admittedly long operagoing experience I have only heard in the theater two tenor voices that for sheer power and brilliance are unequaled: one was Lauritz Melchior and the other Mario Del Monaco. The true tenor di forza is a rare bird, born not made and like the dodo extinct today. Del Monaco has often been, unjustly I feel, criticized for always singing crudely at full volume. In a review of a live performance recording of Otello, Henry Fogel (Fanfare 10:4) sagaciously stated: “His (Del Monaco's) reputation as a bellower has much of its roots in his studio recordings, where he did sing consistently loudly (egged on by his aggressive wife, according to producer John Culshaw, she wanted him to be louder than anything else on record at all times). In the theater he could modulate his powerful tone with substantial grace and subtlety.“ Del Monaco's performance on this live recording, when contrasted to his commercial recording, substantiates Fogel's point. Del Monaco does not sing at full power all of the time; he does modulate, a prime example being his pianissimo on “Non ferir!“ in the “Mal reggendo“ duet. Furthermore he was, particularly in the Italian dramatic tenor repertoire, a sensitive artist whose technical ability has often been slighted. He had luxuriant breath control, excellent phrasing, and marvelous diction, and as Fogel also stated, “was a capable, persuasive vocal actor.“ His voice was so huge that his piano sounds like any other tenor's mezza voce, and his mezza voce sounds like any other tenor's mezzo forte. I am well aware that there are those who find his unremitting stream of bright, powerful tone annoying, just as there are those like me who find it exciting and thrilling. Since I feel that the role of Manrico calls for a true dramatic tenor, not a straining lyrico spinto, and I find that overall he sings better on this live performance than he does on his commercial recording, I can heartily recommend it to those who are fond of Del Monaco. For the record, although he interpolates a ringing high Db at the conclusion of the trio in the first act, he sings “Di quella pira“ in the customary half-tone downward transposition.

Ettore Bastianini, in contrast, never learned to modulate his steely vibrant baritone. Consequently he is fine in the dramatic moments, the aforementioned first-act trio, and fourth-act duet with Gencer, but he fails at the high point, “Il balen,“ just as he does on his commercial recording. Legato was not his forte, and at times he is inclined to aspirate, but today we would kill for this type of powerful Italian baritone.

Fedora Barbieri contributes an authoritative Azucena. She does not steal the opera in this company, but she thoroughly knows the role. Only a deficiency at the very top and bottom of her voice when the tone turns tremulous is at times distracting. On the plus side she projects the text and character well. Her voice may be a shade too light and beautiful to rank her with the best interpreters of this demanding role.

Plinio Clabassi is perhaps the best Ferrando on records. Not only did he have a true basso profundo, but he had the technical ability to sing all of the notes in his aria and cabaletta in the first scene. The role was one of his specialities and he is eminently satisfying.

The sound is adequate for its time. In a review of this recording issued by Foyer, John Francis (Fanfare 7:3) noted: “The sound must originally have been quite clean and acceptable, but in these pressings it is badly marred by pre-echo, especially in Acts I and IV.“ It is rather obvious that this set derives from the same tape source. On this set the engineers have obviously cut the treble, and the pre-echo is barely audible. RAI tapes were quite variable as I know from long experience. I have not heard either the Replica or Foyer pressings, but the HRE LPs are in better sound, brighter and clearer.

The recording observes the standard cuts, Gencer is shorn of her cabaletta in the fourth act, which is the only really damaging one. Previtali leads a rousing fast-paced performance.
The well-worn cliché that all you need to perform II Trovatore are the four greatest singers in the world is apt, and unfortunately there is no recording that meets that standard. I might add that one might increase that number to five and include the Ferrando. Three out of four is about the best one can get. If like your Trovatore steak well done, then the Milanov, Björling, Warren, with the youthful Barbieri will be to your taste. The three principals sing beautifully, but Cellini, the conductor, tears through the score at such a pace that all the fire and passion of the music are lacking. I am partial to Karajan's feeling for this score and Callas is incomparable as Leonora, but Di Stefano is over parted. Better is the version conducted by Karajan on Cetra with Price, almost the equal of Callas in the role, a more beautiful voice but less temperament, and Corelli, on his good behavior, the closest approximation to Del Monaco, and with Simionato's vivid Azucena, but Bastianini fails the “Il balen“ test here also. The two best lyrico-spinto Manricos are Björling and Domingo, both of whom can be heard on multiple commercial and private recordings. My dream cast from recordings would consist of Callas, Del Monaco, Granforte, and Elmo, with Clabassi as Ferrando, conducted by Karajan. Oh well, I can dream on.

No notes nor texts, they really aren't necessary. There are adequate cueing bands. In summation a qualified recommendation for Del Monaco and Gencer fans. Bob Rose

VERDI Il trovatore Fernando Previtali, cond; Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Mario del Monaco (Manrico); Fedora Barbieri (Azucena); Ettore Bastianini (Il conte di Luna); Plinio Clabassi (Ferrando); Athos Cesarini (Ruiz); O & Ch di Milano della RAI MYTO 2MCD 013.247 (2 CDs: 134:47 Text, No Translation, No Translation)
& VERDI La forza del destino: duet

The eminent Turkish soprano Leyla Gencer (b. 1924) was surely the most under-recorded major singer of her time. Overlooked by virtually the entire recording industry, she is enjoying belated recognition thanks to a substantial number of live recordings that are now coming to light. Verdi's Leonora seems to have been a perfect role for her, and this 1957 broadcast from the Italian Radio in Milan finds her in outstanding form. (Callas and Tebaldi made complete recordings of Il trovatore the previous year, and Gencer's portrayal doesn't suffer by comparison.) She lives the character fully in all its passion, fury, and self-sacrifice, singing with vividly expressive coloration of phrases. She is accurate in rhythm and musical detail; her tones are well equalized and enriched by softly floated high notes (a D in "D'amor sull'ali rosee") and a judicious use of the chest register. A few notes land slightly under their intended destination, but these are minor blemishes in an otherwise splendid portrayal.

Gencer may dominate, but she is surrounded by an excellent cast, all seasoned interpreters of their roles. Del Monaco bellows his offstage serenade in the first act, but contributes mightily to the lusty ensemble of the Trio that brings the act to its close. More of a warrior than a troubadour, he manages a reasonably lyrical "Ah sì, ben mio" and follows it with a stentorian "Di quella pira," down a semitone. Fedora Barbieri is quite magnificent, imposing at both extremes of the range—offhand I cannot recall a more excitingly realized Azucena on records. Whether in tender moments or in raging fury, Ettore Bastianini's resonant baritone is a pleasure to hear, and Plinio Clabassi is a model Ferrando.

Two conductors—Karajan and Giulini—could make us realize that Il trovatore is more than a "singers' opera." Fernando Previtali cannot quite do that, but his essentially brisk but always accommodating tempos serve the music well and maintain an exciting momentum throughout. In keeping with the usage prevalent in the 1950s, there are a few cuts in the score. Omitting Leonora's fourth-act "Tu vedrai che amore in terra" is particularly damaging because Gencer would have excelled in it.

The orchestral sound is quite good for 1957, attesting to the quality of the RAI archives. There are informative notes on the artists, but the libretto—in minuscule type—is in Italian only. As a bonus. MYTO offers a duet from La forza del destino with Del Monaco and baritone Carlo Guichandut—poorly recorded and dispensable. But Gencer devotees—and there are many—will welcome this Trovatore. George Jellinek

VERDI Jérusalem. • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Elena); Giacomo Aragall, tenor (Gastone); Gian Giacomo Guelfi, baritone (Ruggero); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro la Fenice. VERONA 27040/41 [AAD]; two monaural discs: 60:58, 65:00. (Distributed by Allegro.) LIVE performance: Venice; September 24, 1963.

Leyla Gencer is the principal justification for this set. Her patented floated soft high notes, her generosity of phrasing, and the intensity of her singing are unique. The other argument for preservation of this performance is Guelfi's ringing baritone. He is at his best, which means an imposing vocal presence. Aragall's monochromatic tenor is occasionally under the pitch, and the other singers are nothing special, nothing awful.

Gavazzeni brings a lyrical impulse and energy to the score, and the orchestral and choral contribution is strong. The sound is curious: one gets the impression that the mike was near the pit because the orchestra registers with more presence than the singers. The orchestral perspective is therefore rather close (and somewhat dry), whereas singers vary depending on their position on the stage. While that is less than ideal, the sound doesn't get in the way, and one must note its clarity and lack of distortion. Verona supplies an Italian-only libretto, no notes, and seventeen tracks for the opera (which is sufficient). I received four Verona releases for review this month, and every one of them lists the total time of their discs incorrectly (always about two minutes too much), even though the individual track times are correctly listed.

This same performance is available on Melodram 27004, and there is no discernible difference between them in sound, or in production values. I am unfamiliar with any other recording of Jérusalem, in French or Italian (although no doubt a Fanfare reader will bring me up short with a list!). For most collectors, the advice here is to purchase I Lombardi instead, preferably on Hungaroton (HCD-12498-500); in Fanfare 8:1 I explain my preference for that set over the Philips. Complete Verdi collectors, or Gencer fans, will find this of value as well.
Henry Fogel

VERDI Jérusalem. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Elena); Giacomo Aragall, tenor (Gastone); Emilio Savoldi, baritone; Gian Giacomo Guelfi, baritone (Ruggero); Chorus & Orchestra of La Fenice, Venice, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. MELODRAM MEL 163 (three discs, mono), $32.94 [ distributed by German News].

That is the performance presented here on three Melodram discs, recorded September 24, 1963. The sound is of respectable quality, good enough to have been taped off the air instead of in the theater. The performance, of the rough-and-ready sort, with cuts in the first three acts, (and sung in Italian) will have to do for now—Jérusalem is the one Verdi opera that has never been commercially recorded.

The Elena, Leyla Gencer, an enthusiastic attacker of high notes, is a powerful, if crude, singer with enough agility to get through her part with minimal embarrassment—she's the one member of the cast who provides some vocal excitment. Giacomo Aragall has the brilliant top notes required for Gastone, but his singing is pushy and choppy. The Ruggero, Gian Giacomo Guelfi, a baritone singing a bass role, exhibits his usual power on top (also his usual sloppiness) but is less imposing down below. Emilio Savoldi, singing the nominal “lead“ baritone role, the Count of Touoise, is competent but muffled.

Verdi was satisfied with his work, and why not? Jérusalem (at least in the streamlined Italian version) is a fast-moving effective opera in the early Verdi manner—certainly more than just an interesting specimen of musical recycling. Since this is the only recording I know of, I'll recommend it until something better comes along. James Miller

VERDI La battaglia di Legnano. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lida); Giuseppe Taddei, baritone (Rolando); Gastone Limarilli, tenor (Arrigo); Paolo Washington, bass (Federico); Chorus & Orchestra of Florence May Festival, conducted by Vittorio Gui. REPLICA ARPL 2250 (two discs, mono; also numbered Replica 24), $19.96 [ distributed by German News].

There are three solid pluses that this performance has to offer, and they add up to a convincing case for one of Verdi's weaker operas: Leyla Gencer, Giuseppe Taddei, and Vittorio Gui.

Gencer (more about her in this issue under Donizetti's Roberto Devereux) brings her distinctive timbre and dynamic control to Verdi's Lida, and is, in a word, extraordinary. This is a strongly etched portrayal. Taddei seems to have occasional intonation trouble, but still brings his smooth voice, superbly produced legato, and consummate Verdi style to his role. Gui, about 74 at the time of this performance, shows signs of age with a few moments of slackened energy. For the most part, though, he demonstrates an uncanny ability to give shape and momentum to Verdi's slow music through proper binding of the phrases. In all, this is wonderful conducting.

As I indicated, the limited sonic quality and the vocal shortcomings of the other roles (Li-marilli's tight, charmless tenor is particularly ungratifying) prevent this from being a first choice. Its virtues, however, should not pass unnoticed, nor unappreciated. Serious opera collectors will want to add this to their libraries. Replica has done its usual fine processing job; included is an Italian-only libretto. Henry Fogel

VERDI La battaglia di Legnano: Complete; Excerpts1 Vittorio Gui, cond; Leyla Gencer (Lida); Gastone Limarilli (Arrigo); Giuseppe Taddei (Rolando); Florence May Festival O & Ch; Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond;1 Leyla Gencer (Lida);1 Giovanni (aka João) Gibin (Arrigo);1 Ugo Savarese (Rolando);1 Verdi Theater O & Ch, Trieste1 MYTO 2 MCD 033.281, mono (2 CDs: 155:00) Live: Florence 5/10/1959

Technically, Leyla Gencer is a highly accomplished Lida who can do things that Stella simply avoids or simplifies; and she sings with nuance, using what Verdi gives her, to bring out the character’s apprehension and vulnerability. The disc is filled out with most of her contributions to a 1963 Trieste performance where she is, if anything, in even more robust voice than four years earlier. Any Gencer fans should grab this set. Gastone Limarilli and Giuseppe Taddei both sing with character—they don’t just belt out the music and both are in typical voice and neither does much to simplify his part. There’s little trace of carelessness or sloppiness here. The other roles in the opera are all minor ones that are easily sung by comprimarios. Gui makes very few cuts: there’s the usual half-a-cabaletta on two occasions, and there’s a brief cut in the act III prelude that is, I suspect, due to a fault on the original tape, which sounds like it was taken off a broadcast. The Trieste performance has decent mono sound, too, but seems to have been taped from the audience. Giovanni (aka João, he was Brazilian) Gibin is in good voice, and makes a heroic Arrigo

Although I recommend this CD to fans of Gencer and think that the Gui performance of La battalgia di Legnano is quite a good one, I would not recommend it if your purpose is to acquaint yourself with an obscure Verdi opera. Philips took on La battaglia as part of its Verdi series back in 1977 and the combination of sound and performance does even more justice to the opera than the Myto set. First of all, as was Philips’s custom, the performance is uncut and idiomatically conducted by Lamberto Gardelli. It is in clear, powerful stereo. If Katia Ricciarelli can’t match Gencer’s power and flexibility, she offers a sincere, vulnerable characterization that brings the role to life. James Miller

VERDI La forza del destino. • Antonino Votto, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Leonora); Giuseppe Di Stefano, tenor (Don Alvaro); Aldo Protti, baritone (Don Carlo); Gabriella Cartaran, mezzo-soprano (Preziosilla); Cesare Siepi, bass (Padre Guardiano); Enrico Campi, bass (Fra Melitene); Chorus & Orchestra of La Scala, Milan. MELODRAM MEL 37010 [AAD]; three discs: 70:05, 68:00, 68:25. (Distributed by Qualiton.)

I suppose I would save a lot of space by merely suggesting that Gencer fans buy this recording, but I could have said that without even listening to it so I'll at least try to prove I did the work. The performance, recorded live in Cologne in 1957, is marred by various small cuts, most of them so stupid and inexplicable that I suppose they have to be attributed to "tradition." The Mahler and Toscanini definitions certainly seem to apply here. Leyla Gencer, a soprano of Turkish origins, had an odd career. Since she's always turning up on "pirate" recordings, she was obviously getting lots of engagements and lots of people were interested in recording her performances, but she had no commercial recording career and no career in the United States beyond an occasional appearance . . . and yet, she's usually the only reason for acquiring her various "pirate" recordings, and such is pretty much the case here despite the presence of some well-known names. Back in 1957, even when her voice was in pretty good shape, it tended to turn strident as it went up as well as thin out. But vocal problems never stopped Callas and they don't really stop Gencer, either. Even though she lacks sheer power, she's forceful enough to suggest it, and, with the ability to cut it down almost to a whisper, she uses her voice quite shrewdly and tastefully. Without the ideal sound for the aria, she does a lovely "Pace, pace, mio Dio." Whoever did this remastering left everything on: applause, the orchestra tuning up, so we get a sense of how the audience reacted. Gencer's "Pace, pace, mio Dio," the best thing in the performance, gets close to the least applause, while the audience goes crazy over Di Stefano's free-wheeling, sweet "O tu che in seno agli'angeli (except for the very top, he's in voice, so that might be an additional reason for buying this version). Protti is a capable but dull (the operative adjective in almost any of his performances) Carlo, Campi, a Melitone who nearly exhausts the buffo repertoire of mannerisms, and Siepi is missing his low notes . . . they're unusually weak here. I nearly forgot to mention Gabriella Carturan, an adequate Preziosilla but not one with any particular flair. The performance, as a whole, is crude and clumsy, but the general effect is there, and Gencer, who slipped through the cracks with Callas, Tebaldi, Price, and others on the scene, remains a fascinating singer. Was there only room for one Callas-type back then? Filling out the third CD are some Gencer performances of excerpts from II trovatore (her "Tacea la notte placida ... Di tale amor," with its clean attacks and floating pianissimos, yields to few), Macbeth, and Don Carlo. The excerpts from the last two operas come from 1968 when her voice was a bit tattered and had developed a slight beat. Lady Macbeth's "La luce langue" suffers less than Elisabetta's "Tu che la vanita," which could have been a great performance. There's adequate cueing and an Italian-only Forza libretto. As I suggested, for Gencer fans.  James Miller

VERDI La forza del destino Antonino Votto, cond; Leyla Gencer (Leonora); Aldo Protti (Don Carlo); Giuseppe di Stefano (Don Alvaro); Cesare Siepi (Padre Guardiano); Enrico Campi (Fra Melitone); Franco Calabrese (Marchese); Gabriella Carturan (Preziosilla); Teatro alla Scala Ch & O MYTO MCD 001 215 (3 CDs: 212:00)
DONIZETTI Anna Bolena: Scenes • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, cond; Leyla Gencer (Anna); Giulietta Simionato (Jane Seymour); Plinio Clabassi (Henry Vili); RAI Milano OMYTO MCD 001 215

It was a front-line assemblage that represented La Scala at a guest appearance in Cologne on May 5, 1957, in a performance captured in acceptable but certainly limited sonics. Some of the principals recorded their roles commercially around the same period under good studio conditions (di Stefano under Previtali; Siepi under Molinari-Pradelli), but neither of these worthy recordings is listed in the current Schwann. Because of the audio limitations, I cannot recommend this MYTO set as anyone's primary choice, but it does create, with minor warts, an idiomatic Italian image of this rich and rewarding opera in that period.

The novelty here is Leyla Gencer, who was a famous Leonora in Milan but has never been captured fully in this role, certainly not on CD. As her other pirated recordings indicate (she was unjustly neglected by all "legitimate" labels), she was a fascinating but uneven singer. We could always depend on her dramatic involvement and nuanced inflections, which could illuminate moods and passions without exaggerated emphases. In the big ascending phrase "deh, non abbandonar" of her first aria, she floats a beautiful legato and observes the morendo indication exquisitely. But, even here, the notes above A do not come easily, nor do the Bbs in the Monastery Scene always land on target. Her "La Vergine degli angeli," however, is ethereal, and, when it's all over, we know that we've been listening to a major artist.

Don Alvaro was probably one of the roles that contributed to Giuseppe di Stefano's early decline. But he delivers it excitingly in 1957 (when he was only 37), and gets a deserved huge applause after his third-act aria. He and Protti milk their wonderful duets to the full, leaving a few note values unobserved, but no emotional highs unexplored. The baritone, a frequently recorded artist in the 1950s, was never in Gobbi's or Bastianini's league, but his sturdy and dependable vocal-ism is here again in evidence. Cesare Siepi is a warm-toned, philosophical, somewhat restrained Guardiano; Campi a light-voiced, able Melitone, and Carturan a bright and vibrant Preziosilla. Franco Calabrese's Marchese is not given the audio presence that fine bass deserves.

Except for the "Scena e Duetto" in act III ("Sleale! Il segreto fu dunque violato"), and a few minor snippets, the opera is given complete, and conductor Votto holds everything firmly together. There are a few imprécisions in the chorus, but the orchestra is in fine fettle, with outstanding contributions by the solo violin and clarinet. Disc 3 contains important scenes from Donizetti's Anna Bolena centered on the hapless queen—the extended act II duet with Jane Seymour (the great Simionato) and the celebrated finale with chorus. Deriving from a Milan Radio broadcast of 1958, the sound is far superior to the Forza portion in clarity and forward presence, and there is no applause to interrupt the continuity. Gavazzeni's leadership leaves no doubt about his reputation as an eminent Donizetti authority, and Gencer reveals her subtle dramatic art, exceptional agility, and exquisite pianissimo?,. George Jellinek

VERDI Les Vêpres siciliennes (sung in Italian as / vespri siciliani). • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Elena); Gastone Limarilli, tenor (Arrigo); Giangiacomo Guelfi, baritone (Guido di Monforte); Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, bass (Giovanni da Procidä); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro dell'Opera, Rome (Gianni Lazzari, chorus master). MELODRAM MEL 27037 [AAD]; two monaural discs: 72:34, 76:02. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: December 5, 1964.

The horizon lies low for the Vespri rendition, too, for much the same reasons. Limarilli again sings the tenor lead; as heard (1964) four years earlier than in the Stiffelio outing (1968), his voice penetrates adequately through Verdi's orchestration but his Arrigo is too light and bright of timbre to convey the heroics convincingly, nor does Limarilli's singing have quite the steadiness this time that might compensate for the miscasting. Leyla Gencer's tone has a creaminess and darkly burnished hue that appeal greatly; offsetting those assets, and her strength in the upper reaches of the part, are a sluggishness in coloratura as well as a reliance too frequently on glottal stops to feign emotion. After a slow start, Nicola Rossi-Lemeni as Procida delivers some of the best singing that this listener has ever heard from him, the voice having more resonance and pliability than usual. Giangiacomo Guelfi is a baritone who always “delivers the goods“ dramatically, although he is less reliable for musicianship; here he sings Monforte with much vigor, deploying his large voice with incisiveness of attack and richness of tone that more than recompense the occasions of haziness in pitch just sufficiently in evidence to impinge on the listener's awareness. C.-P. Gerald Parker

VERDI Macbeth. • Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lady Macbeth); Giuseppe Taddei, baritone (Macbeth); Mirto Picchi, tenor (Macduff); Ferruccio Mazzoli, bass; Chorus & Orchestra of the Palermo Opera, conducted by Vittorio Gui. RODOLPHE RP 12440/42 (three discs, mono), $35.94 [ distributed by Harmonia Mundi USA].

There are a number of problems with this set. The sound is muddy and dry for a 1960 radio broadcast, and suffers from tape dropout throughout and distortion at climaxes. The secondary roles are not well sung. Mirto Picchi's unvaried whine makes one grateful that Verdi gave Macduff little to sing, the choral work is dismally raw-toned and ragged, and the orchestral execution is sloppy despite inspired conducting.

If those are the reasons one cannot recommend this set as a “basic“ Macbeth, there are contradictory factors that will appeal to all Verdians. Taddei, Gencer, and Gui all turn this affair into gripping operatic drama, something substantially more than the sum of its parts.
Taddei is an intensely dramatic, incisive Macbeth with a full comprehension of the Verdi phrase, and the vocal technique and sound to deliver it. There are moments when he pushes the voice sharp, and others where he misjudges an effect, but his is a performance of enormous conviction and presence and a great deal of dramatic specificity. It is that latter attribute that sets Taddei's Macbeth above virtually all of his recorded competition.
Leyla Gencer cannot be mentioned without the Callas comparison, not only because of Callas' supremacy in this role but because Gencer seems to imitate Callas in many matters of phrasing and shading. What Gencer cannot do is bring Callas' enormous (uniquely so) range of vocal color to this music. Taken on its own terms, though, Gencer's is a wonderful performance. Her voice is a very flexible and more traditionally attractive soprano voice, and she sings with abandon. Her approach does not explore the variety inherent in Callas' realization of this complex role. However, Gencer soars through this difficult music with technical security and a great deal of passion. It is a performance I am very glad to know.
Vittorio Gui's conducting is just what you would expect from this veteran—dramatic, but with many lyrical and delicate touches. His tender accompaniment to “Pietà, rispetto, amore“ is very beautiful, but he is also capable of whipping up a heady storm. Minimal notes, in French, on Gencer are included, as is an Italian-only libretto. Henry Fogel

LEYLA GENCER. OPERATIC RECITAL Leyla Gencer, soprano; various conductors. NUOVA ERA 2266/67 [ADD]; two discs: 62:57; 68:02. (Distributed by Qualiton.)
CHERUBINI Medea: E che? lo sono Medea. BELLINI Norma: Casta Diva; Deh! Non volerli vittime. DONIZETTI Belisario: Egli è spento. Maria Stuarda: Figlia impura; Di un cor che more… Ah! Se un giorno. Anna Bolena: Come innocente giovane; Al dolci guidami. VERDI Macbeth: Nel di della vittoria… Ambizioso spirto; La luce langue; Sleepwalking Scene. Il trovatore: Tacea la notte placida; D'amor sull'ali rosee. Un ballo in maschera: Ma dall'arido stelo divulsa. La forza del destino: Son giunta; Pace, pace, mio Dio. Don Carlo: Non piangere mia compagna; Tue che le vanità.

I and others have written in these pages of Leyla Gencer, a Turkish soprano who had a career of considerable importance in the late 1950s and the 1960s. Born in 1928 (according to most sources) in Turkey, Gencer wedded a strong dramatic persona to an affinity for the Verdian and bel canto style. Influenced by Callas, she had a more classically beautiful voice but not the Greek singer's remarkable range of color. She also lacked the uniqueness of the Callas approach to phrasing, and she could not duplicate Callas's uncommonly well-bound legato. Gencer also displayed tonal thinness in her lower register.

On the other hand, Gencer could float a beautiful pianissimo with a steadiness never at Callas's disposal, and she was a highly individual singer deserving of attention on her own merits. For reasons I have never been able to figure out Gencer had virtually no commercial recording career, and our knowledge of her is from live performance recordings. Every scene on this recital is taken from a complete performance that is available on some label or other (many on LP only). As an introduction, though, to the art of this remarkable singer, this set is highly recommended.

Neither the Medea nor Norma excerpts that begin the first disc make the best case for Gencer, because these roles are too strongly identified in our ears with Callas's blazing performances. But in most of the remaining items, Gencer stakes out her own territory and makes a strong and convincing case for herself. If you don't know her work, I urge you to obtain this set and hear some singing of rare beauty and intensity. Nuovo Era includes a moderately informative essay about the singer, no notes on the music, and no texts. The performances are from a variety of broadcast sources, but the sound is consistently listenable and pleasant. One track for each scene. Henry Fogel

VERDI Macbeth Vittorio Gui, cond; Giuseppe Taddei (Macbeth); Leyla Gencer (Lady Macbeth); Stefania Malagu (Lady-in-waiting); Mirto Picchi (Macduff); Ferruccio Mazzoli (Banquo); Franco Ricciardi (Malcolm); Teatro Massimo di Palermo O & Ch URANIA 22.407, mono (2 CDs: 142:38) Live: Palermo 1/14/1960.

This is one of those frustrating live recordings that opera fans, particularly Leyla Gencer fans, both live and die for. It’s also, in this particular incarnation, an excellent performance presented in the cheapest, junkiest packaging imaginable: a flip-over, double-CD box with a four-page “booklet” (I’m being charitable by calling it a booklet) that simply lists the cast and track index. But I suppose we should be grateful that it’s even out. Formerly available on Great Opera Performances (1993), Pantheon (1995), and Living Stage (1999), all its earlier issues have sunk without a trace, so the Urania release is the only one you can get.

The sound quality is awful, and difficult to listen to. Both voices and orchestra were cramped to an almost unbelievable degree by the original tape recording, making it even shriller than the 1952 Callas performance conducted by de Sabata. Unluckily, I never heard Gencer live, but I did hear Taddei, and this recording is a mere shadow of his voice. Urania has attempted to correct some of the harshness of sound by introducing a fairly hefty amount of reverberation. I commend them in their efforts, but the result is kind of like listening to a very shrill bell ringing in an empty locker room. What they needed to do was rather less reverb and more equalization: restore some of those missing mid- and low-range frequencies.
Vittorio Gui was a good, solid, but unimaginative conductor. His work in this opera lies somewhere between the badly misjudged phrasing and lack of flow on the Erich Leinsdorf recording (RCA) and the highly imaginative, atmospheric conducting of de Sabata (EMI). He imparts drama, cohesion, and a good musical flow, but just misses on atmosphere. Gencer’s characterization of Lady Macbeth is very good, technically more secure but not as emotionally intense as Leonie Rysanek or Callas. She was to perfect her characterization further by the time of her 1968 performance, though by then the steely security of her high range had become rather more careful. Taddei is one of the most imaginative and intense Macbeths on record, in his own way the equal of Leonard Warren. The vastly underrated Mirto Picchi didn’t have a beautiful tenor voice but he was a great actor, and Macduff’s aria here has real depth and meaning. Shockingly, it sounds as if there were only 30 people in the audience that night. Lynn René Bayley

VERDI Macbeth, (complete)1; Excerpts2. • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor; Giangiacomo Guelfi, baritone (Macbeth); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lady Macbeth); Giorgio Casellato Lamberti, tenor (Macduff); Lorenzo Gaetani, bass (Banquo); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro La Fenice, Venice; Victor de Sabata, conductor; Maria Callas, soprano (Lady Macbeth); Angela Vercelli, soprano (Lady-in-waiting); Dario Caselli, bass (Physician); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro alla Scala, Milan. OPERA ITALIANA OPM 1 [ADD]; two discs: 74:31, 75:54. Produced by Sabina di Nicoli. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance: December 7, 1952. LIVE performance: April 9, 19681.

According to the accompanying booklet (Italian only), this recording “offers a cast outstanding for the names of Leyla Gencer, Giangiacomo Guelfi, and Giorgio Casellato Lamberti“—all head-liners who got scant attention from commercial recording interests. Later on one discovers that its chief purpose is to memorialize the Lady Macbeth of Gencer, “the choicest Lady of our times since Callas.“

Leyla Gencer was born in Ankara, Turkey—the date is apparently up for grabs—and made her operatic debut there in 1950. After three further years of study in Italy, she launched a major career there at the Teatro San Carlo, Naples, in 1953. Three years later she was called to San Francisco to take over for Renata Tebaldi, who had canceled her appearances in Francesca da Rimini. She sang there sporadically for a number of years, and was heard in Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, and other American cities, but never at the Metropolitan, and the most of her quite successful career was in Europe. (I heard her in Attila in Newark in 1972.)

Gencer did indeed follow the Callas path, singing coloratura, spinto, and dramatic roles. Her coloratura technique was remarkable, but there were vocal problems from the start, which she largely obscured by the passion of her singing and the effectiveness of her acting. She took advantage of the bel canto revival of her era and left a number of “private“ recordings of then-obscure Donizetti and Verdi operas.

Verdi's intentions for his Lady Macbeth are well known from a famous letter he wrote Salvatore Cammarano on the subject in 1848. He saw her as “ugly and evil.“ He did not want her to sing in the usual sense of the word. He wanted her voice to be “harsh, smothered, hollow“—in sum, “diabolic.“ On the occasion of Gencer's Venice appearance in the role, a local critic heard her not as a flawed singer, but as carrying out Verdi's wishes to the letter.
Perhaps she was, but the recorded result, however harsh at times, sounds neither hollow nor smothered to these ears. What they hear all too often is a vibrato a yard wide. The voice sounds old and worn rather than evil. But perhaps the effect is intended, for though the flaw is there on my Attila piracy (on the Robin Hood label) taped four years later, it is by no means so obvious.

Certainly Gencer pours temperament into her interpretation, but for me it fails to add up to any clear-cut characterization. Perhaps one needed to be there. The sleep-walking scene, which can under usual circumstances stand my hair on end, seems endless and she eschews the high note at the end. David Mason Greene

VERDI Macbeth: Highlights. • Gianandrea Gavazzeni, conductor Leyla Gencer, soprano (Lady Macbeth); Giangiacomo Guelfi, baritone (Macbeth); Giorgio Casselato-Lamberti, tenor (Macduff); Lorenzo Gaetani, bass (Banco); Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro La Fenice, Venice. MELODRAM MEL 15002 [AAD]; 74:19. (Distributed by Qualiton.) LIVE performance March 9, 1968.

About one hour of the opera is not presented here. Almost all of the witches music, the solo chorus work, the trio of murderers, the ballet, and other parts aficianados tend to sit through impatiently have been excized. If I were cutting Macbeth to fit it on one generously packed CD, I'd cut it exactly like this, and so, I think, would you. (I can hear the purists yelling.) And to boot, this is a great performance, with the strongest Macbeth on discs.

Giangiacomo Guelfi had a thrilling, huge sound. Here, near the end of his career, he reins it in after the first scene, singing more expressively than any other recorded Macbeth, including Leonard Warren. Just listen to his “O vista, o vista orribile“ in his first-act duet with his Lady for real fear and trembling, the descent into lunacy in the Banquet Scene, and the combination of arrogance, regret, and sadness in his final aria. His vocal powers may have been on the wane (the waning sounds deliberate here most of the time in keeping with the character), but his interpretive powers were at their pinnacle. Great going.

His Lady is Leyla Gencer, the singing vampiress. Regular readers know how much I admire this controversial singer, she of the disembodied top, glottal attacks, raw middle, and gutter-level chest voice. Well, never has she sounded so at home—this was the voice Verdi meant in the famous “your voice is too beautiful“ letter. She skips the fil de voce Db at the close of the Sleepwalking Scene, although elsewhere the top of her voice is incredibly free and easy, but it doesn't spoil the moment. Her reading of that scene lacks the word-for-word spellbinding effect that Callas brought to it, but it will still cause chills, hampered only by Gavazzeni's rather routine conducting. Her second-act Brindisi is terrific—she differentiates completely between the two verses while still managing every one of the notes. Her second verse is more deliberate and pointed—the Lady is trying to act cool.

I wish I had been at this performance, and next to video, this is the next best thing. Even if you're mad for Verrett, Rysanek, Warren, Cossotto, and Milnes, you need this. Robert Levine

VERDI Rigoletto Argeo Quadri, cond; Leyla Gencer (Gilda); Gianni Raimondi (Duke of Mantua); Cornell MacNeil (Rigoletto); Jorge Algorta (Sparafucile); others; O & Ch of Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires MYTO 2 MCD 003.225, mono (2 CDs: 147:45 () , no translations) Live: Buenos Aires, 6/24/61
& BELLINI I Puritani: Act III • Argeo Quadri, cond; Leyla Gencer (Elvira); Gianni Raimondi (Arturo); Manuel Ausensi (Giorgio) Live: Buenos Aires, 6/30/61

I'm certain the audience at the Teatro Colón went home happy on the night of July 24, 1961. The performance presented here is solid, and Gencer, Raimondi, and MacNeil justify their star status. The best of the three is Gencer, to whose fans these CDs probably hold the greatest interest. Absent from commercial recording studios (another story for another time), she nevertheless was a major talent in the 1950s and 60s. Like Callas, she brought weight and intensity to Lucia di Lammermoor, Gilda, and other roles considered "twittery" earlier in the century. Her Gilda, like Callas's (as recorded by EMI), is a woman, not a girl. "Caro nome" is sung with touching intimacy (we are reading Gilda's mind), and we hear exactly what has happened to her in the Duke's chambers from the mournful adoration in her voice when she sings "Tutte le feste." She sings and acts strongly and with sensitivity, and so this is a first-class interpretation, lacking only the last degree in memorability (except for the yowl she emits when Sparafucile stabs her, an awful tradition).

Rigoletto was MacNeil's specialty role. At the time of this performance, he was only 38 (and two years his "daughter's" senior!). Because he subsequently recorded the role for EMI (now on Classics for Pleasure CD-CFPD 4700), this live recording is less important for him than for Gencer. Here, MacNeil is in good form, albeit prone to flatting when he pushes for more volume. "Cortegiani" is moving, and, overall, he shows an obsessive concern for his daughter quite missing from Milnes's studio portrayal. Raymond Tuttle

VERDI Simon Boccanegra. • Tito Gobbi, baritone (Boccanegra); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Amelia); Giuseppe Zampieri, tenor (Adorno); Giorgio Tozzi, bass (Fiesco); Rolando Panerai, baritone (Paolo); Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni. MOVIMENTO MUSICA 03 010 (three discs, mono), $29.94 ( distributed by Disocorp).

This performance, recorded during the 1961 Salzburg Festival, has some excellent qualities but is not really competitive with either. Gobbi, I must say, is even better here than he is in his studio recording, whether due to increased experience in the role (five years separate the performances), the “heat“ of a live audience, or both. Gencer, who made far too few commercial discs, is extremely good as Amelia, and her fans are not the only ones who will welcome her dark, almost mezzo-ish timbre in this music. Zampieri, an Italian comprimario who went on to become the Vienna Opera's resident leading Italian tenor, has a similarly dark-textured voice and is quite acceptable as Adorno though he obviously has his own ideas about markings, ideas which don't necessarily agree with those in the Ricordi score. If you like your Paolos loud and unsubtle (as I do), you will find Panerai extremely effective, but Tozzi, usually so fine as Fiesco is here disappointing. He sounds insufficiently warmed up for “Il lacerato spirito,“ and does not project a character strong enough to confront the titular hero on his own terms. He is more successful in the role's more lyric sections. But the main objection to this set is that the performance rarely catches fire, due principally to the conductor's lackadaisical and erratic reading and to the disconcerting effect of characters moving in and out of effective microphone range. Also, such excitement as the performance does manage to generate might have been more successfully sustained if some of the applause was edited out. I don't doubt that, in the house, the minute-plus ovation following the council chamber ensemble had an exhilarating effect on the “live“ audience so that it was “up“ for the crushing concluding.series of “Sia maledetto's“ which follow, but on disc, it merely serves to dissipate the built-up momentum. Antony D. Coggi

VERDI Simon Boccanegra Mario Rossi, cond; Tito Gobbi (Boccanegra); Leyla Gencer (Maria); Mirto Picchi (Gabriele Adorno); Ferruccio Mazzoli (Fiesco); Walter Monachesi (Paolo); Naples Teatro San Carlo O & Ch IDI 6552, mono (2 CDs: 134: 32) Broadcast: Naples 12/26/1958

I am happy to report that two recordings of the 1857 version, those conducted by John Matheson and Renato Palumbo, are still available. Of the two, I narrowly prefer Palumbo’s but either one is worth hearing. Mario Rossi, however, conducted the more popular 1881 version in Naples back in 1958 and it was apparently broadcast, if I may infer this from the dull but well-balanced sound. Predictably, Tito Gobbi is a powerful Boccanegra whose only problems occur when he’s asked to sing dolce, but he had made a studio recording for EMI 15 months earlier which finds him in even better voice, possibly through retakes, and, with one exception, surrounded by a stronger cast. The exception is Leyla Gencer, his Naples Maria, who sings with all the expression and power one could ask for; if anything, she’s the star of the performance, for Ferruccio Mazzoli is merely a respectable Fiesco and Walter Monachesi’s Paolo, good as it is here, seems more imposing on the earlier EMI recording. In 1881, the part of Gabriele Adorno was sung by Francesco Tamagno, who went on to create the title role in Otello; in 1932, when the Met revived Boccanegra for Lawrence Tibbett, Gabriele was assigned to Giovanni Martinelli. He should have a voice and delivery that suggest a decisive, forceful person. Mirto Picchi is a decent enough Gabriele, and seems to have more voice than EMI’s Giuseppe Campora, but his generic singing adds up to very little. He’s just there. The performance has several cuts, including the second verse of his offstage serenade, another in the subsequent Simon/Maria duet, and yet another after the Maria/Gabriele duet in act II. Gabriele’s aria, “Cielo pietoso rendila” in the same act is taken down a half tone for Picchi. In 1857, the father/daughter scene between Simon and Maria ended with a flashy coda. In 1881, Verdi and Boito chose to have the orchestra die down to ppp over which Simon softly utters “figlia.” It’s a very effective curtain; the trouble is that the act goes on for a minute or so as Paolo and Pietro plot to kidnap Maria. Some conductors “solve” the problem by simply omitting these anticlimactic measures although they explain some of the events in the subsequent Council Chamber Scene. Either choice has its advocates, and I’m glad I don’t have to make the decision—Rossi’s choice is for the cut.

This is certainly a good performance, but the EMI, with Boris Christoff as an imposing Fiesco who can hold his own with Gobbi and Victoria de los Angeles, a lovely Maria (though I still prefer Gencer above anybody), and Gabriele Santini’s sympathetic conducting, is superior in sound and performance. It is, however, a monaural recording (my copy says “stereo” on the jewel box but I am sure this has been corrected on the reissue). For those who must have two channels, there is an excellent DGG from 1977, forcefully led by Claudio Abbado, with Piero Cappuccilli in great voice, offering a more pointed characterization than he did on Gavazzeni’s RCA recording. The supporting cast includes Nicolai Ghiaurov (Fiesco), Mirella Freni (Maria), José Carreras (Gabriele), and José van Dam (Paolo). Great sound. If anything, I narrowly prefer it to the EMI or any other recording I’ve heard. James Miller

VERDI Un ballo in maschera Nino Verchi, cond; Giorgio Merighi (Riccardo); Leyla Gencer (Amelia); Piero Cappuccilli (Renato); Adriana Lazzarini (Ulrica); Giovanna Santelli (Oscar); La Scala O & Ch MYTO 8, mono (2 CDs: 132:17) Live: Milan 4/8/1973


In terms of sound, the 1973 La Scala pirate is more typical of the unofficial genre, apparently recorded far from the stage. The obvious point of interest is the late Leyla Gencer, whose posthumous reputation will be based on such recordings as these since she made few visits to the recording studio. She had a dramatic flair that unfortunately is and was—even in her day when the competition was tougher—rare. The distant recording, while satisfying as an example of what voices can actually sound like in the upper reaches of a theater, puts her at a disadvantage, and I don’t think she was in her best voice at this time; in fact, it was around the early 1970s that I managed to hear her live for, unfortunately, the only time. Still, her fans will probably want it and I can hardly blame them. The actual star of the performance, however, is Piero Cappuccilli, a commanding Renato, whose magnificent control and power in “Eri tu” (he does not merely shout his way through it) drives the audience to heights of (well-deserved) enthusiasm (even the pirate taper can’t restrain himself). The Riccardo, Giorgio Merighi, always seems to be at stage rear, unless his voice is conspicuously tinier than those of his colleagues. His singing is neat, even elegant at times, but in a miniaturized way. The rest of the cast is solidly competent. James Miller

VERDI Un ballo in maschera. • Oliviero de Fabritiis, conductor; Carlo Bergonzi, tenor (Riccardo); Leyla Gencer, soprano (Amelia); Mario Zanasi, baritone (Renato); Adriana Lazzarini, mezzo-soprano (Ulrica); Dora Gatta, soprano (Oscar); Chorus & Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale, Bologna. MOVIMENTO MUSICA 051 020 [ADD]; two discs: 61:15, 73:25. (Distributed by Koch Import Service.)

This Ballo has forty cueing points, a list of them, annotations, and an Italian-only libretto. I can't tell if it's a broadcast (11/61) because the orchestra seems too close and loud, but we normally hear the singers clearly enough. If Bergonzi's Riccardo is the focus of your interest, forget it: he made two commercial recordings where he sings even better than he does here. On the other hand, Leyla Gencer never recorded anything, and as usual, her performance is not without interest despite a few strident high notes. In this case, since the competition includes excellent Amelias by Callas and Leontyne Price, the recording will be of interest mainly to Gencer's enthusiasts. Although he lacks vocal veneer and a smooth legato, Mario Zanasi is, at least, a dignified, “sincere“ Renato and the rest of the cast is, well, listenable. There are some small cuts scattered throughout the performance. The sidebreak, so to speak, is after “Ecco l'orrido campo“ and the opening bar (what should be, that is) of CD number two is missing. There's even a trace of crosstalk near the end. Although I consider Leyla Gencer one of the more interesting singers of the 50s and 60s, I could forgo this Ballo, but true devotees will probably need it. James Miller

ZANDONAI Francesca da Rimini. • Franco Capuana, conductor; Leyla Gencer, soprano (Francesca); Renato Cioni, tenor (Paolo); Anselmo Colzani, baritone (Gianciotto); Coro e Orchestra del Teatro Comunale G. Verdi di Trieste. ARKADIA CDHP 597.2 [AAD]; two discs: 69:02, 69:37. (Distributed by Oualiton.) LIVE performance: Trieste; March 16, 1961.

Francesca da Rimini, Zandonai's most famous opera, has had only one commercial recording (Cetra, 1952), and it's forty years old. The 1984 Met revival was well received but didn't spur any action in the studios, so we've had to depend on the pirate companies for alternatives to the Cetra set. The best of these is probably Standing Room Only 840 (from Lyric Distribution), which preserves a 1973 performance with Kabaivanska, Domingo, and Manuguerra, conducted by Eve Queler. (It's circulated on other labels as well over the years.) In Fanfare 11:4, Henry Fogel praised a 1976 Radio France account on Rodolphe 32492 with Ligabue, Bondino, and Protti. (I haven't heard it.) He was less enthusiastic about the 1961 Trieste Francesca, though he had kind words for Leyla Gencer. The Trieste performance is now making its first appearance on CD, and I agree with Fogel's evaluation of it, though the sound seems to have undergone some improvement. Capuana is a dull conductor, and Cioni is a monotonous Paolo, in over his head. Colzani's Gianciotto is potent, but the only reason for acquiring the recording is Gencer's Francesca. I wish her voice were voluptuous enough to do justice to the character we remember from Book 5 of the Inferno. Dante, touring the second circle of Hell, was so overwhelmed by her passionate effusions that he fainted. D'Annunzio, the librettist of the opera, doesn't draw her quite so vividly, so we should probably be content with Gencer's portrayal. She has a few ungainly moments, but she also has passion and temperament to spare, and she makes a persuasive, sympathetic heroine. The Arkadia recording is for Gencer fans and Zandonai fanatics only. It comes with an untranslated Italian libretto. My copy was missing several pages. Ralph V. Lucano

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