The best opera broadcast was on the radio last Saturday from 1:00-5:00 p.m. Bellini’s Norma, was followed by some Donizetti with Roberta Peters and Carlo Bergonzi.
The Norma recording was from 1970 ~ Joan Sutherland‘s Met debut and Marilyn Horne‘s first Met Broadcast. The cast also included Carlo Bergonzi and Cesare Siepi. (Saying “also included” is a disservice here.)
Everything about it was incredible! No one was nervous, and everyone was younger than what I’ve heard until now.
Kurt Adler was the chorus director ~ we read one of his coaching books in graduate school. And Alberta Maisiello was in charge of musical stage direction. We went to one of her master classes in New York during graduate school. There she was in her living room, seated at a small desk, smoking skinny cigars. She knew everything. She had hired a pianist to play for the class, but at one point she wanted to play herself. She left nothing out of this opera’s piano reduction, double-third trills included. She was a singer! No pianist I know would have played the trills like she did. She quit singing onstage because her stage fright was debilitating.
Martin Katz arranged for our class of 4 to attend by leaving answering machine messages. Neither Maisiello nor her secretary ever called back. So eventually, Martin left a message, “If you have no objection, 5 of us will appear at your door at 10 a.m. on Saturday.” Our Plan B was to go to lunch.
I heard Bergonzi live just once, at New York’s Merkin Concert Hall with John Wustman. He was old, way past his prime. The second he released the last note of every aria, the audience went wild. I didn’t hear even one note of any of the postludes.
Turns out the entire audience was Italian, and knew a lot more than I did.
Horne sounded even better than I’ve ever heard her, and I’ve never been less than blown away by her singing. The first time I would have heard her live had to have been about 7 years later.
And then, Roberta Peters was stunning. Also before my time. And after that, Bergonzi sang “Una furtiva lagrima.” He started softly. Nobody ever starts softly. He was so expressive, had perfect modulation of his voice, diminuendi, etc. Incredible voice, agility, breath control (connected 2 phrases I’ve never heard connected), and of course diction.
What a wonderful afternoon of opera!
What have you listened to lately that made your day?
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