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CD Review

The Prima Voce Treasury of Opera, Volume I

Ninety-six Performances by Forty-six Singers from the First Half of the Century

  • Francesco Cilèa:
  • Adriana Lecouvreur: Poveri fiori
  • L'Arlesiana: Ela solita storia del pastore
  • Giacomo Meyerbeer:
  • L'Africaine: O paradiso
  • Dinorah: Ombre Legere & Ah! mon remords te venge
  • Les Huguenots
  • Giuseppe Verdi:
  • Aïda
  • Attila: Dagli immortali vertici
  • Un Ballo in Maschera
  • Don Carlos: Ella giammai m'amo & Carlo, ascolta
  • Ernani:
  • Merce, diletti amici..come rugiada
  • Ernani, Ernani, involami
  • Infelice! e tu credevi
  • O, de' verd' anni miei
  • La Forza del Destino
  • Luisa Miller: Quando le sere al placido
  • Umberto Giordano: Andrea Chenier: Un di all' azzuro spazio, La mamma morta & Come un bel di di Maggio
  • George Frideric Handel: Atalanta: Care selve, HWV 35
  • Gioachino Rossini:
  • Barbiere di Siviglia
  • La Cenerentola: Nacqui All'affanno…Non piu Mesta
  • William Tell: Sombre foret
  • Jacques Offenbach:
  • La Belle Helene: Au mont Ida trois deesses
  • Les Contes d'Hoffmann
  • Giacomo Puccini:
  • La Bohème
  • Madama Butterfly
  • Modest Mussorgsky: Boris Godunov: Varlaam's Song
  • Johann Strauss: Cagliostro in Wien: Zigeunerkind, wie glanzt dein Haar
  • Ambroise Thomas: Le caid: Enfant cheri…Le tambour-major tout galonne
  • Georges Bizet: Carmen
  • Pietro Mascagni: Cavalleria Rusticana
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff: Golden Cockerel: Hymn to the Sun
  • François Boieldieu: La Dame Blanche: Rêverie de Georges Brown
  • Jules Massenet:
  • Don Cesar de Bazan: A Seville, belles senoras
  • Manon
  • Wolfgang Mozart:
  • Don Giovanni, K 527
  • Die Entführung aus dem Serail: Wer ein Liebchen hat gefunden & Durch Zartlichkeit und Schmeicheln
  • Gaetano Donizetti:
  • Don Pasquale: Sogno soave e casto & Quel guardo il cavaliere
  • L'Elisir d'Amore
  • La Favorita: A tanto amor, O mio Fernando & Spirito gentil
  • La Fille du régiment
  • Lucia di Lammermoor
  • Lucretia Borgia: Il segreto per esser felice
  • Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin: Letter Scene & Lontan, lontan (Lenski's aria)
  • Charles Gounod: Faust:
  • Salut, demeure chaste et pure
  • Ah, je ris de me voir di belle
  • Il etait un roi de Thule
  • Johann Strauss: Die Fledermaus: Czardas & Mein Herr
  • Amilcare Ponchielli: La Gioconda
  • Imre Kálmán: Grafin Mariza: Gruss mir mein Wein
  • Pietro Mascagni: Iris: Apri la tua finestra
  • Benjamin Godard: Jocelyn: Caches dans cet asile
  • Léo Delibes: Lakmé
  • Franz Lehár: Das land des Lachelns: Von Apfelbluten einen Kranz
  • Mikhail Glinka: A Life for the Tsar: I do not grieve for that
  • Gaetano Donizetti: Linda di Chamouniz: O luce di quest' anima
  • Pietro Mascagni: Lodoletta: Flammen, perdonami
  • Richard Wagner: Lohengrin: Euch Luften, die mein Klagen& In Fernem Land
  • Marc-Antoine Charpentier: Louise: Depuis le jour
  • Otto Nicolai: Merry Wives of Windsor: Nun eilt' herbei
  • Franz Lehár: Merry Widow: Lippen schweigen
Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli, Jussi Björling, Rosa Ponselle, etc.
Nimbus NI1742 6CDs
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

Why purchase a set of archival recordings when you can listen to modern recordings, whose gulf in technical quality is as vast as that separating typewriters from word processors? Buy them for their quaintness. This is the music your parents and grandparents listened to. Buy them for your sense of history. Listening to Marcella Sembrich, who was born in 1858, is comparable to seeing early Edison footage. (Don't you wonder how they perceived music ninety years ago?) Most of all, buy them because they are good, in some cases, better performances than those we hear today.

Culled from Nimbus Records' 100+ Prima Voce CD collection, these recordings date from 1906 to 1943. The works range from Adriana Lecouvreur to Manon; Volume II will take us up to Die Zauberflöte. The collection is not only an excellent gateway to the past, but an formidable teaching tool into operatic technique and its metamorphoses over the years. I don't care much for the dual track listing of Nimbus' booklet (an abbreviated one with technical details and an expanded one with aria summaries). Too much flipping back and forth! Still, the notes are useful and entertaining, even though they could have used photographs.

Of course quality varies widely and not always because of age. Few performers adapted as readily as Enrico Caruso to the new recording medium. And not all recording studios placed their singers close enough to the horn. And – let the truth be known – not all arias were suited for the nascent medium. Some were constrained by recording limitations (usually not over four minutes). Subtle nuances also escaped the studio. Lotte Lehmann's performance is plagued by both defects. She sings only an extract from the Letter Scene (Eugene Onegin), yet somehow the lyricism gets lost. Alma Gluck's recording of the Berceuse (Jocelyn ) also doesn't survive the years. And couldn't they have selected a more dynamic Tito Ruffo aria than the lackluster Pescator affonda (La Gioconda)?

Happily, most of the recordings do not disappoint. Listen to how slowly, how deliberately John McCormack sang, caressing each word. How sensuously Chochita Supervia's voice slithers through Carmen. How forcefully Elisabeth Rethberg's imbues Die Fledermause's Rosalinde with proto-feminist spirit. How skillfully Claudia Muzio and Rosa Ponselle perform just about anything. Malfalda Favero's rendition of Falmmen, perfonami (Lodoletta) makes me wonder why the recording industry stopped featuring such voluptuous contraltos. Of course Caruso and Jussi Björling singing a shopping list can make me melt. I could go on, but you'd be here all day. Buy it and eagerly await Volume II.

Copyright © 2001, Peter Bates