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REFICE: “Cecilia” (excerpts). Renata Scotto, Harry Theyard,...

REFICE: “Cecilia” (excerpts). Renata Scotto, Harry Theyard, George Fourie; uncredited orchestra and chorus, Angelo Campori, conductor. VAI Audio VAIA 1042. The priest-composer’s “sacred” opera, first performed in 1934, is late-Puccini verismo, with echoes of “Suor Angelica” and “Turandot” plus a little Mascagni thrown in, and it is all very listenable.

The title role is rewarding enough to have attracted Muzio, Albanese, Tebaldi and, in this live performance of 1976, Scotto. Hearing the soprano in her prime is to be freshly reminded of her rare musicality, her feel for both vocal and dramatic accents, her ability to color vowels and snap consonants while maintaining a seamless line. Few singers today do what she did or probably even know what she was all about.

Theyard is an occasionally strained, but still ardent, would-be husband, and Fourie exploits his quavery voice well as the pagan tyrant. The sound, from a private tape, is acceptable.

*

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STRAUSS: “Der Rosenkavalier” (highlights). Ana Pusar-Jeric, Ute Walther, Margot Stejskal, Theo Adam, others; Dresden Staatskapelle, Hans Vonk, conductor. Denon DC-8010. These excerpts are from the 1985 opening of the rebuilt Semper Opera (destroyed by firebombs in 1945) in Dresden. Vonk knows the idiom, and his singers, none of whom is really inadequate, contribute to a respectable performance.

The three sopranos are too similar in timbre to make much contrast. Pusar-Jeric is a rather light-voiced Marschallin. Stejskal, pushing her voice to its limits, has none of the soaring ease one needs for Sophie. Mezzo-soprano Annette Jahns, as Annina, is more the Octavian vocal type than Walther. Adam, best known of the soloists, is a bit strained by Ochs’ range extremes (his low E-natural is caught by the microphone--one wonders if it was heard in the theater), but he is certainly authoritative. The throaty Italian Singer is unidentified. The orchestra is splendid.

*

COLORATURA ARIAS: RUTH ANN SWENSON, soprano. London Philharmonic, Nicola Rescigno, conductor. EMI CDC 7 75482 2 0. “Positively Golden” is the modest title given to this disc. The program notes go further, citing Swenson as successor to Malibran, Pasta, Lind, Patti, Melba, Tetrazzini, Galli-Curci, Pagliughi, Callas and Sutherland. Well, not quite.

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The soprano possesses a voice of admirable size, flexibility and range. She is accurate and reasonably musical. Unfortunately, once she stops singing, you can’t remember what it sounded like. If she feels different emotions about the bel-canto characters of Linda, Amina, Lucia and Elvira, she doesn’t convey them. Languages don’t seem to be her forte either. Her Italian is no more cleanly enunciated than her French.

Rescigno, the conductor, certainly knows all the tricks, but he can’t sing for the lady.


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