Friday, January 20, 2017
Conductor who forged a special partnership with Maria Callas in his 70-year careerWhen Georges Prêtre, who has died aged 92, conducted the opening bars of his first opera, Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila, they were disturbed by rustling sweet papers. He turned on the offenders with a loud “Non!”, broke his baton in two and hurled the pieces into the audience. This led to a renewal of his contract and, in 1950, to marriage with the opera house director’s daughter, Gina Marny.This debut came at the Marseille Opera in 1946. He was still directing the Vienna Philharmonic in its New Year concerts in 2008 and 2010, and in Paris in 2013. Continue reading...
French conductor Georges Prêtre (1924–2017) has died. Prêtre made his Royal Opera debut in 1965 when he was engaged to conduct the first revival of Franco Zeffirelli ’s historic production of Tosca . Prêtre conducted the cast of the original production – Maria Callas , Tito Gobbi and Renato Cioni – and his interpretation was hailed for its understanding of the score and his sympathetic coaxing of a clearly ill Callas in the title role. In fact, Callas only sang one of the four scheduled performances, a Royal Gala. This performance turned out to be her final operatic appearance. The Australian soprano Marie Collier – one of Covent Garden Opera Company’s resident artists – was rushed in to take over. Prêtre with great musical skill guided the young soprano through the demands of the role, both musically and dramatically, and joined the soprano for her rapturous reception at the end. They were given 14 on-stage curtain calls and won rave reviews. In 1980 Prêtre returned to conduct the premiere of Les Contes d’Hoffmann in John Schlesinger ’s acclaimed production. Prêtre accompanied the stellar cast – including Plácido Domingo , Geraint Evans , Agnes Baltsa and Ileana Cotrubas – with a rare and commanding authority. The Financial Times commented, ‘The orchestra were on admirably light-fingered form for Prêtre’, while The Observer wrote, ‘Prêtre conducts with warmth and vitality’. Hoffmann was soon established as one of The Royal Opera’s most popular productions and has been regularly revived. Prêtre returned in 1983 to conduct the first revival of Elijah Moshinsky ’s production of Samson et Dalila, with Jon Vickers and Shirley Verrett in the title roles. He had a genuine love of the Saint-Saëns score and brought a real vitality to the evening. Prêtre supported Vickers’s towering performance as Samson and The Times warmly greeted his conducting of the ‘beautifully soft choral singing and orchestral playing of endlessly versatile finesse’. Prêtre was recognized worldwide as an inspiring conductor. He enjoyed an exceptional rapport with Callas – both on stage and in the recording studio – and his musically assured appearances at Covent Garden in three epic productions make a fitting legacy.
Miriam Pirazzini, one of Italy’s foremost mezzo-sopranos of the post-War decades, died on Christmas Day. Born in 1918 she sang opposite Maria Callas in the 1958 Rome Norma that the diva abandoned at the end of Act 1.
The international Italian soprano Gigliola Frazzoni has died in her home town, Bologna, at a great age. She made her debut there as Mimi in 1953 and was soon appearing at all major houses. In 1955 she replaced Callas in Andrea Chenier at La Scala. In 1957 she sang Mère Marie in the La Scala world premiere of Poulenc’ Dialogues des Carmélites. Her signature role was Minnie in Puccini’s La fanciulla del West, which she recorded with Tito Gobbi and Franco Corelli at La Scala in 1956.
The death has been announced of Elisabeth Carron, who sang Mimi at the Met and Madam Butterfly at City Opera, among many other leading roles. She sang opposite Callas, Vicker, Nilsson and other legends of the mid-century. From her official bio: The youngest of four children born to Sicilian immigrant parents, Elisabetta Caradonna grew up during the Great Depression, when most forms of entertainment were community-based and necessarily inexpensive. One of the most popular was the marathon dance contest, which would include ad-hoc intermission acts that popped up when the dance bands took their breaks; these entertainers were paid only with whatever money the audience cared to toss on to the stage. With her older brother Rosario as her impresario, Elisabeth began to sing at these events at the age of nine. She was a runaway hit, and soon she was doing well enough to be hired to sing with a real orchestra during intermissions at a Newark movie house, where she and her brother could make ten dollars a week. And later in life…
Leonard Bernstein’s Candide opened on December 1, 1956 and the overture brought the house down. ZealNYC have put together a pack of interviews with surviving participants, starting with Barbara Cook, who played the role of Cunegonde. She says: I am extremely proud to have been part of the original cast of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide. I have two distinct memories of opening night in New York, December 1, 1956 at the Martin Beck Theatre. First is that the overture stopped the show — people loved it, and to this day it’s one of the most frequently played pieces by symphony orchestras around the world. My second big memory from opening night was Lenny coming backstage to wish me luck. He was just about to leave when he added, “Oh yes, Maria Callas is out front.” I said, “Oh my God, I could have done without knowing that.” Lenny laughed and said “Don’t be ridiculous. She’d kill for your high E-Flats.” Read the full article here.
Great opera singers