A programme with wonderful performers and equally wonderful music
The first of two Festival of Music telecast programmes from the Producers' Showcase series is a sheer joy from start to finish. I do prefer the second programme, both of them have superb music and some of the very best performers of the time, but while the second programme had fewer performers the segments were longer and while there are some amazing performances here Boris Christoff's Boris Godunov is the best segment of any performance on either telecast. Back to this though, there was only one drawback, Charles Laughton. I like Laughton a lot from his films, but here he seemed ill at ease at times(unsurprising considering the constant changes to the programme content) complete with some stumbling of words and instances where he loses his place, with his introduction of Renata Tebaldi being the one exception.
Conversely there is much to enjoy, namely amazing music from Les Contes D'Hoffmann, Tosca, Carmen, Pagliacci and La Boheme, not to mention music from Mendelssohn and Chopin. And who better to perform these than some of the best performers then? Every single one of them range from very, very good to magnificent. The very, very good were Marian Anderson's performance of three spirituals with accompaniment by Franz Rupp. Anderson's singing is musical, stylish and comes from the soul, all very important for these types of songs. Also Isaac Stern's exciting performance of the finale of Mendelssohn's violin concerto, Roberta Peters' agile and mostly accurate account of Olympia the doll from Les Contes D'Hoffmann and Gregor Piatigorsky playing Weber's Adagio and Rondo.
Outstanding are three performances, Rise Stevens' seamlessly dramatic Card Song being one. She was a beautiful woman with a mezzo soprano voice to match, this part of Carmen shows it perfectly. Jan Peerce singing Vesti La Guibba also fits into this category. The voice is in great shape, with beautiful tone, striking musicality and legato and rubato galore. It may perhaps be a tad myopic, but Peerce fends for himself so well you'd never think that. And I mustn't forget the wonderful Zinka Milanov. This is perhaps not her at her very best, her D'Amor Sull'Alle Rosee is just unforgettable, but her Vissi D'Arte is equally worthy, very moving dramatically with floating pianissimos that few have equalled.
Which brings me to the magnificent ones. I am the most familiar with the performance of act 1 from La Boheme(Che Gelida Manina, Si Mi Chiamano Mimi and O Soave Fancuilla) performed by Jussi Bjorling and Renata Tebaldi. It was a slight disappointment to me that Che Gelida Manina and the last part of O Soave Fancuilla were transposed down a semitone but it was sung so phenomenally any disappointments quickly subside. Both Bjorling and Tebaldi are superb, he with a warm appealing voice with some of the most ringing, effortless high notes of any tenor and she with one of the biggest and most beautiful at whatever dynamic soprano voices.
Artur Rubenstein finishes the programme with a stunningly performed A flat Polanaise(Chopin). But it wasn't just his amazing piano playing that struck me as unforgettable, but also his enigmatic way of performing, especially with the dramatic lifting of the hands. Last but not least, one of the best performances of the Pagliacci prologue of all time, sung by one of the all-time great American baritones Leonard Warren. There have been outstanding performances of this great aria, there's Gobbi for how three-dimensional the interpretation is, Merrill for the pathos, Glossop for the magnetic eyes, Herlea for the power and especially Milnes for the legato and the most thrilling high A flats in the history of high A flats, but Warren is also special for the evenness throughout the range of his voice. His singing is musical too and his acting convincing.
Overall, a wonderful telecast programme and a treasure for anybody into classical music and opera or are fans of these performers. 9/10 Bethany Cox
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