The February 1, 1947 Roméo et
Juliette performance from the Metropolitan Opera has at last surfaced in fresh and good sound and has been released in a fine package from Immortal Performances, with nice texts, information and photos. The improvement from Myto’s version is substantial, and the sound is warm and pleasant, and the voices both full
After having mesmerized lovers
of great singing now for decades, this
evening of truly great singing can now be acquired in very gratifying sound. Before listening, I read through the reviews from the last Roméo performance Bidú Sayäo and Jussi Björling sang together. That was in 1951 in San Francisco. The headlines from the papers all referred to the tremendous vocalism of Björling, and the Los Angeles Times concluded after a rave review of Björling’s singing: “Even Gounod himself could not have possibly dreamt of a more perfect Romèo”.
Even though Bidú Sayäo
certainly must have her share of the glory of
the evening, it is Björling who brings the
performance to an almost ecstatic level with his gorgeously effortless and passionate singing. His voice, even the middle register, has such radiant shine that it soars above both orchestra and colleagues on the stage. That evening, he truly sang like a God.
There have been other tenors in
the past who were great, even fantastic, but
still I feel that they almost pale in
comparison with Björling’s incredible vocal
gifts which were displayed in full on that evening. He has everything a singer can wish for: a beautiful voice, a wonderfully rich vocal timbre, effortless production, perfect technique, an even, silken quality throughout the wide range, and the quality remains the same whether he sings a dramatic forte or a lyric pianissimo. When he comes on stage in the first act, you immediately realize that this will be something absolutely special. In the duet “Ange adorable”, listen to how he sings the repeated ending phrase “rendez-moi”. First with a blazing forte, then with the most tender pianissimo.
One might assert that he sang
the Cavatina with even more of that
youthful freshness and ring seven years earlier in Stockholm, and the Garden scene with more poetic abandon, but he makes up for that abundantly in the third act when his vocal splendor is beyond comparison. The conclusion of the act is crowned with an intensely dramatic, incredibly resonant and ringing high C of unparalleled brilliance, making the already emotionally drained audience become absolutely delirious. If you haven’t been to heaven by the end of that act, then surely by the end of the Tomb scene you will be lifted above yourself.
Björling and Sayäo give
everything they have, both on top of their
form, and the singing is hors concours. There
are some slight flaws in the text: Björling debuted in 1930, not in 1932. He returned to the Met in 1945, not in 1946. He sang 90 performances for the Met, not 120. And despite assertions to the contrary, Björling IS a passionate singer, if ever there was one. Listen to his live operatic performances from 1939 to 1959 and that will convince even the most doubtful customer. His return performance to the Met in 1959 is still, to this day, the most passionately dramatic singing of Cavalleria Rusticana, and the avalanche of applause which he receives is approached only by that for Flagstad on her return in 1951.
If you love great singing, this
Roméo set from Immortal Performances is a
must-have illustration of what singing at the highest level is all about.
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