When I founded the Leopold Stokowski Society of America I had the opportunity to meet with Sylvan Levin. Maestro Levin had worked with Stokowski as an assistant conductor in Philadelphia and was the orchestra's pianist. He and I had several long talks over the years. One time I asked if he thought Stokowski had any regrets over his long career. Without hesitation Sylvan told me that Stokowski wished he had had more opportunities to conduct opera.
This particular project developed when Julius Rudel suggested a double bill of Monteverdi's opera and Dallapicola's Il Prigioniero. Stokowski didn't hesitate to have the opportunity to conduct two so different operas separated by 300 years.
Rudel and Stokowski cut the opera from almost two hours to 74 minutes because they feared audiences wouldn't turn out for the whole thing. "Donald Oenslager designed magnificent sets and costumes….Instead of evoking a pseudoclassic style [he] set it in the baroque style of Mantua in 1607….It was brilliant and flamboyant, hell seemed a lively place, quite unlike Dante's grim inferno….the stunning costumes in baroque style charmingly stretched the imagination. Orfeo, sung by Gérard Souzay, was crowned with a tall plumed helmet and protected by a burnished breastplate."* A picture of Souzay so accoutered is included in the notes.
Since my readers are most likely Stokowski aficionados and inclined to purchase this the real question is: how does it sound? The answer is, good monaural sound. The opening brass flourishes are vivid and let the listener know this is a Stokowski performance. The strings are full and there is inner detail.
There is a second disc containing other performances by Souzay. This is, after all, titled "Gérard Souzay Rarities".
* Information about the performance is taken from Oliver Daniel's tome Stokowski: A Counterpoint of View.
Copyright © 2007, Robert Stumpf II