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May 08, 1964 - Image 5

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1964-05-08

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SPURiTANL Vincenzo Belini with v
Joan Sutherland, Margareta Elk-
ins, Pierre Duval, Renato Capec-
chi and Ezio Flagell. Richard
Bonynge conducting the Chorus
and Orchestra of the Maggio
Musicale Fiorentino. LONDON
stereo OSA 1373, $17.98.
ITS CHOICE of Bellini's "I
Puritani" for its first operatic
release of 1964, London Records
has shown its awareness of cur-
rent trends in "fashionable" taste.
There are still a few leading crit-
ics who deplore the recent re-
turn to popular favor of the great
"bel canto" operas; however, they
are fighting a fruitless rear guard
action. It is often said that our
renewed interest in this "bel can-
to" style is due to the great artis-
try and compelling personality of
Maria Callas. Among those who
have followed her distinguished
lead, none has been more "success-
ful" than Joan Sutherland. Posses-
sing but little of the Callas crea-
tive musical artistry or personal
magnetism, the Australian sopra-
no is above all a vocalist. Now,
for the third time, we can hear
Miss Sutherland in the Callas rep-
ertoire. Sutherland started well
with an acceptable "Lucia di Lam-
mermoor," followed by two not
so successful performances in "Ri-
goletto" and "La Sonnambula,"
and now we are confronted by
her recorded performance of El-
vira in Bellini's "I Puritani."
There are two prevalent ap-
proaches regarding opera and its
interpretation. The most common
belongs to that operatic "conno-
seur" who prizes the voice, to the
exclusion of either musicianship
or faithfulness to the composer's
intentions (i.e., the score). He will
take exception to the lack of equal-
ization of tone colour throughout
the scale. Artistic and interpretive
considerations do not rate very
highly with this type of listener.
Stentorian high notes are emo-
tional events in themselves and
often compensate for lack of mu-
sicianship and dramatic credibil-
ity. He will argue that voice is
all important, although he fails to
recognize that the composer is not
merely a writer of tunes which
serve as opportunities for personal
The second approach to opera
is concerned with operatic inter-
pretation as a valid form of thea-
tre expressed through musical
means. The human voice must
serve as a means to an end, and
not be an end in itself pace Suther-
land! Operatic composers, espe-
cially those concerned with "bel
canto," wrote for the voice in
order that it would serve the com-
poser in portraying human em-
tions, e.g. grief, joy, etc. Bellini,
who wrote most of his works with
particular singers in mind, did so
because they possessed not only the
voices but also the intelligence to
project his characters. Such indis-
pensable requisites of musical ex-
actness 'as perfect intonation and
unexceptionable rhythmic sense
are taken for granted. Vocal col-
ouring, so important in Bellini, if
used opportunely can be very ef-
fective-a strident tone, if inton-
ed exactly, can serve well to por-
tray certain states of mind. Every
operatic composer wrote with the
intention that his characters
should be dramatically valid. If he
had desired to write vocal bravura
pieces only, he would have writ-
ten oratorios, concert arias, etc.
One only need read letters that
Bellini wrote to operatic impres-
sarios to realize how much he
had the dramatic aspects of his
opera in mind. He was so con-
cerned with the text that he re-
cited the lines aloud before setting
them to music. The great operatic
composers are also great drama-
tists because they aimed at realiz-
ing drama through music, and no
merely at composing pretty tunes.

They wanted interpreters who
were not merely good vocal acro-
bats, but fine singing actors. It is
exactly because interpreters of this
caliber were, and are scarce that
opera as an art form has under-
gone a slow continuous decay.
A case in point of this difficul-
ty of operatic, and particularly
"bel canto," singing is offered by
the two recorded performances of
Bellini's "I Puritani"-one on An-
gel with Maria Callas, Giuseppe di
Stefano and Tullio Serafin and the
new one on London with Joan
Sutherland, Pierre Duval, and
Richard Bonynge conducting. Miss
Sutherland's performance can be
described as vocally spectacular.
Much of the mannered, diction-
less, rhythmically imprecise sing-
ing so noticeable in her recorded
performances of "Alcina," "Rigo-
letto," "La Sonnambula," and "La
Traviata" has been corrected; and
yet she is hardly the paragon
to make this music dramatically
exciting. The text, under her lack-
adaisical treatment, amounts to
even less than it does when read.
Good examples of this are El-
vira's encounter with Giorgio in
Act I and her reconciliation with
Arturo in the final act. By permit-
ting her tone to droop, she evi-
dently intends us to understand
that she is undergoing some emo-
+o_ h,, +h h Aimce. ' n.m.m so

vieni al tempio." Callas shows what
a remarkable difference a change
of inflection can bring about, emo-
tionally and dramatically.
Her treatment of the florid pass-
ages, if less spectacular than
Sutherland's, is interesting in it-
self. Callas' aim is expression
rather than empty-headed brilli-
ance. The voice is always flexible,
if not dazzling, on the rapid scales
and arpeggios, while lyrical parts
are sung in tones as melting as
those of Ponselle. Her phrasing is
a model that every singer should
follow, but few do. Angel's record-'
ing has the distinction of per-
formances by Serafin and di Stef-
ano; Serafin's baton guides the
singers with great authority and
insight through his beautiful score:
compare the way he molds the in-
troduction and accompaniment to
"Qui la voce" and the way his
opposite does it in the London
set. Di Stefano's account of the
stratospheric part of Arturo is
thoroughly worthy of his col-
leagues; his attention to such de-
tails as phrasing, diction and ton-
al gradation a r e admirable
Duval in the London re-
cording does not have as much
experience, everything is sung at
the same level - loud - and his
tones become strained in the up-
per reaches. Thanks to judicious
transposition of the final duet
"Vieni fra questa braccia" a half
tone down, Di Stefano avoids this
pitfall. Other singers in the Angel
cast are less spectacular but alto-
gether acceptable. Rolando Pan-
erai is a good Ricardo, in fact bet-
ter than his counterpart, Renato
Capecchi. To its credit, London,
on the other hand, can count
Margret Elkins' superb rendition of
the brief role of Enrichetta and
Ezio Flagello's sonorous Sir Gior-
gia. His Angel counterpart, Nicola
Rossi-Lemeni, is too far past his
vocal prime to be a top-rate Gior-
At best, the London recording of
"I Puritani" is a good example of
a performance which would satis-
gy an opera lover of the first
type; the Angel set could be con-
sidered an excellent example of
drama realized through music.
What would have made the Lon-
don recording memorable, would
have been a conductor as know-
ing as a Serafin or a Giulini. Such
a conductor might have kept the
"diva" under control. Her hus-
band, Richard Bonynge, is not the
man to curb her excesses; if any-
thing, he may even encourage
them. He is a devoted accompan-
ist. "I Puritani," to be anything
more than a piece for so-called
"canary fanciers,"needs an intel-
ligent, firm conductor and a so-
prano who has more regard for
the composer than to think his
score merely a skeleton on which
to hang her vocal pyrotechnics.
We are informed in London's
program notes that "most of the
customary cuts have been restored
and no keys have been transposed
from the printed score." This is
not quite true; there are still a
number of cuts-a very extended
section from the orchestral pre-
lude comes to mind. There is also
a transposition for the tenor in
the final ensemble; he sings a D-
flat rather than the F. The opera
is closed by a short and brilliant
cabaletta "which appears in the
Palermo manuscript." This, inter-
estingly enough, gives Miss Suth-
erland a chance for final virtuo-
sity. London has managed the
stereo effects very nicely; perhaps
thanks are due to Bellini for not
including a ballroom scene or any
other source of party noises.
-C. Ranieri di Sorbello

tics (Wagner and Bruckner). It l
is interesting to observe Bruno n
Walter's treatment of the music t
within this area - music upon h
which his wide-spread reputation i
Regarding the Mozart and I
Haydn albums, I find the tempos t
appropriate, although some of the t
allegros (fast movements) seem t
a bit slower than I think is ideal. i
But this is a very subjective con-
Walter's insight into the har- V
monic make-up of the works and
his feeling for the melodic linep
are his most commendable attri-V
butes. He knows just which notes
to emphasize to make the per-V
formance much more than just I
ordinary. He makes the music n
sound alive. Walter is able to con-c
vey a well-shaped melodic linei
of appropriate dramatic and emo-t
tional proportion.n
I am used to the Klemperert
performances of these Mozart
symphonies. In comparison, the
Walter recording imparts a moreS
"pesante" approach than the
suaveness of the Klemperer. Neith-
er is more accurate; choice of one
above the other is simply a matter
of personal preference.
Walter's work with the Haydn
symphonies, again, has a heavy-
footed feeling about it. Although
it may be more appropriate heref
than in the Mozart, I think WalterP
fails to communicate (to me att
any rate) much of the subtle
humor in Haydn which listenersj
enjoy so much in this master'sa
music. I prefer the polished
tongue-in-cheekness of Beecham.c
But my major criticism is withv
the ritards and Viennese luft-d
pauses (dramatic pauses) whiche
Walter employs, mostly to empha-
s i z e structural and cadencials
points of 'importance. We knowi
that Walter is very steeped in the
romantic tradition of the Vien-o
nese, but we do not know whethers
Mozart and Haydn expected theser
editorial additions to be inserted2
into their work. I personally thinkv
the luftpauses in classical music
stop the forward momentum of the
music. But I am sure that therep
are many who would agree withI
Walter does especially well with
the slow, lyric movements of thesev
symphonies; lyricism is closer tof
his emotional expression.t
I suppose I have taken the pes-t
simistic approach to these twor
classical discs. This is not meant
to be discouraging, but to show
points of disagreement. Which
side the listener chooses is de-
termined by his own taste within
the bounds of musical-historical
accuracy. Each side can be ar-
gued intelligently I am sure. Wal-
ter is the romanticist; I am the
Schubert symphonies, we can ob-
serve Walter's approach to the
German transitional works be-
tween the classic and romantic
periods. On the whole I find
them-especially the Beethoven-
much more pleasing than those of
the previous album. In the Bee-
thoven the tempos are not rushed,
as some prefer, but set a pace
fast enough to be appropriate,
and, at the same time, slow
enough so that the music can be
At only one place, in the first
movement, does Walter insert one
of his editorial luftpauses for em-
phasis. Again, I find this addition
disturbing, but overlook it in light
of the other virtues.
Here, too, the harmonic high-
lighting is a welcome change from
the run-of-the-mill. His concept
of the horizontal within the ver-
tical accounts for this harmonic
enlivening. The string sound is
realistic; the brass is powerful,
but not overpowering.
As an added bonus gift, this a-
bum includes a free disc of Wal-

ter's rehearsal of the first and
second movements of the Bee-
thoven. I found this free gift as
interesting and valuable as the
finished performance.
Walter's conception of the
Schubert is very Schubertian. Of
all the symphonies discussed here,
the first movement of the Schu-
bert has the longest tradition for
ritards-in its first movement. But
I must disagree with tradition. I
prefer a more flowing perform-
ance. For those who like the ri-
tards, this record is 'ideal. For
those who like their Schubert with
a more classic orientation, I can
only recommend another. At this
point it is all a matter of taste.
IT IS IN THE Bruckner that
Bruno Walter comes into full
bloom. His close identification of
the late nineteenth century Ger-
man music is obvious in this re-
Walter is not overtaken by the
lushness of these scores. His in-
terpretations are highly romantic,
as they should be, and wallowy in
sound; but the texture is always
clear. Walter does not let melodic
lines or important accompani-
mental figures become obscured
for the feeling of the gushy long
line. Walter achieves both-not an
easy trick.
WA+. r'. plnLnr n sterumen-

ritiq ues
et the dynamic level become mo-
notonous; he must never permit
he tempos to drag; he must keep
his players interested, loving the
music they play-or they will be-
come bored and so will their play-
ng. Walter does none of these
hings. Melodic lines, dynamics,
empo, instrumental balance, and
the players' interest all are here
n the right amounts.
Of these four albums, this one
gives the performance I like best.
Walter is in his element, and the
results show it. The others are
performed well if one agrees with
Walter's interpretation. For those
who don't, the fault is not with
Walter's ability, but with his read-
ing into the music that which is
not there. To evaluate these re-
cordings one must decide whether
it is the tradition or the music
that counts. The problem is how
much liberty may a performer
-Jeffrey K. Chase
4. Eugene Ormandy conducting
the Philadelphia Symphony Or-
chestra. Columbia Monaural ML
5859, $4.98. Stereo MS 6459,
THIS RECORD poses the ques-
tion of whether a fine per-
formance of a banal work merits
purchasing the record. I tend to
think not.
Eugene Ormandy does a fine
job here with a symphony which
appears to be an exercise in
Shostakovichian cliches and or-
chestration techniques. Shostako- K
vich succeeds in both, but that
does not mean that the music is
especially good.
I hear very much of his fifth
symphony in this work. But it is
perhaps more correct chronolog-
ically speaking to say that much
of this work is heard in the fifth
symphony. "Shostakovich's Fifth"
has had so much more play than
any of the others, that it is the
work which we usually hear first.
I prefer his Fifth and, there-
fore, really have little reason to
hear this Fourth more than once.
It does make for a good study in
orchestration, however.
For those Shostakovich fans
who gobble up each precious note
from the carefully guided pen of
this contemporary Russian master,
this "American recording pre-
miere" is a good bet. It's sound
is Columbianly realistic.
-Jeffrey K. Chase
University of Detroit
The New 'i
Minstrels V

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40. The Columbia Symphony Or-
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ing. Columbia Monaural ML
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100 "Military." Columbia Sym-
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conducting. Columbia Monaural
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