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Jussi Bjorling: "The Pearl Fishers" Duet
Georges Bizet, Giacomo Puccini, Giuseppe Verdi
Jussi Bjorling: "The Pearl Fishers" Duet
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (9) - Disc #1

This disc is essential for Jussi Bjoerling fans--doesn't that include almost everyone?--and for anyone who wants a distinctive sampling from recorded opera's most eloquent age. Best are Bjoerling's duets with baritone R...  more »


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This disc is essential for Jussi Bjoerling fans--doesn't that include almost everyone?--and for anyone who wants a distinctive sampling from recorded opera's most eloquent age. Best are Bjoerling's duets with baritone Robert Merrill--especially the classic "Au fond du temple saint" from The Pearl Fishers--and the scene with Renata Tebaldi, "Signore, ascolta; non piangere, Liu," from Turandot. Although the sound is variable--and sometimes disappointingly, annoyingly glitch-ridden in these recordings made between 1950 and 1959--the voice, the style, and the passion of the inimitable Bjoerling more than make up for it. --David Vernier

CD Reviews

Bjorling and his friends - what opera is all about!
Joy Fleisig | New York, NY United States | 09/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If someone were to put a gun to my head and make me pick only one favorite Jussi Bjorling CD ... I would probably be dead. With unsurpassable work in a wide variety of repertory from French and Italian opera to German leider to Scandinavian song to popular "chestnuts" both in studio and live performance, one choice from the great Swedish tenor is near impossible. Still, this classic disc of operatic duets would be a top contender, not only for Bjorling's miraculous singing but also for equally splendid contributions from deservedly legendary colleagues.

The centerpiece of this disc is five duets recorded by RCA in 1950 with Bjorling and one of his most frequent stage partners at the Metropolitan Opera, baritone Robert Merrill. While this great American does have competition for the title of "Greatest Baritone of the Twentieth Century", I don't think any of the other contenders can match him for sheer beauty of voice. The title track, "Au fond du temple saint", is probably the most famous tenor-baritone duet in operatic history. This rendition has won just about every classical music and operatic poll for "Best Recording Ever", and no wonder.The blending of Bjorling's and Merrill's voices is so beautiful that it sounds like a duet between two Stradivarii, a violin and a cello, and is suffused with their real-life close friendship. While this has been sung with better French diction and it's a pity that the central section of the duet ("Elle fuit!...Elle fuit! Mais dans mon ame soudaine") is cut, when you hear these voices shining with love and sincerity, none of that matters.

"Don Carlo" is my favorite opera and it is tragic that the aria "Io l'ho perduta!" and the following scene with Rodrigo is the only evidence on commercial recordings of what may have been Bjorling's greatest stage assumption. In fact, the recording sessions for this shortly preceded Bjorling's and Merrill's first Met performances in the opera. Bjorling perfectly captures Carlo's anguish and idealism, and Merrill's rich tones give his revolutionary true nobility. Likewise, "Solenne in quest'ora" from "La Forza Del Destino" makes one wish that Bjorling and Merrill had recorded the entire opera. At least the two singers did make a complete recording of "La Boheme" that is a serious candidate for the greatest opera recording ever made. Just as in that "Boheme", recorded six years after these sessions, the "O, Mimi tu piu non torni" here is full of cheerful banter, sweet nostalgia, passion, and resignation.

Even these magnificent interpretations, however, pale before the monumental Act II "Otello" duet "Si, pel ciel marmoreo giuro" which (understandably) concludes the CD. Not even the deservedly lauded rendition by Enrico Caruso and Titta Ruffo is quite this extraordinary. The way that Bjorling makes the high A of "morte" blaze and sings "sterminator" almost two octaves lower with equal aplomb will likely make your hair stand on end. His cry of "Sangue! Sangue! SANGUE!" is, well, bloodcurdling, and he and Merrill together make the drama just explode.

Interspersed among these five duets are four selections taken from complete RCA opera recordings featuring Bjorling. The great Croatian Zinka Milanov, perhaps second only to Rosa Ponselle as my favorite dramatic soprano, partners a heroic and genuinely loving Bjorling in the love duet from Act I of "Tosca" and the Tomb Scene from "Aida". In both selections Milanov provides not only a voice of unparalleled beauty, richness and depth, but also the exquisite piano singing that made her famous. In the Tomb Scene the two singers' final, pianissimo B flat on the "si schiude il ciel" which concludes the opera is enough to send anyone - least of all Aida and Radames - to heaven. Des Grieux in "Manon Lescaut" is perhaps Bjorling's greatest complete role on commercial recordings, which is saying a great deal. In the Act II confrontation between Des Grieux and Manon, Bjorling paints every word with deep and specific feeling, and the rapport between him and the great Italian soprano Licia Albanese is electric. Albanese has an odd trick to her vibrato that makes her sound older than ideal for Manon, despite the beauty and freshness of the voice itself, but if anything this only adds drama and urgency to her portrayal. In the the "Signore, ascolta!...Non piangere, Liu" sequence from "Turandot", Bjorling provides far more sensitivity and nuance to his Calaf than most interpreters of the role do - note, for example, the exquisite tenderness of "dolce mia fanciulla". The "unshed tear" quality of his voice is perfect for "the man who smiles no more". Renata Tebaldi's radiant, heartfelt Liu, who spins out long phrases and creamy tone, is an ideal partner.

The singers are lucky to have such fine conductors as Erich Leinsdorf ("Tosca" and "Turandot") and the underrated Jonel Perlea ("Manon Lescaut" and "Aida"). However, Renato Cellini, who handles the Bjorling/Merrill collaborations, is often competent but rarely exciting. The Rome Opera Chorus provides excellent contributions to the "Turandot" and "Aida" excerpts, and the supporting singers - particularly Fedora Barbieri's glorious Amneris and Giorgio Tozzi's sympathetic Timur - are outstanding.

Especially considering its low price, this is probably the best disc one can buy to introduce a newcomer to the world of opera. In this light, it is unfortunate that it includes no texts or translations, but there are some brief notes on Bjorling and synopses of each selection by producer Richard Mohr (in English, French, German, and Italian), as well as photographs of all the singers. About the only reason not to buy this particular CD is the availability of the material elsewhere, primarily on RCA's 2-CD set "The Ultimate Bjorling Collection" . After buying this, you must also get the complete operas excerpted here, and then start dipping into the growing number of solo discs available of these four incredible singers. No music collection, let alone opera collection, can afford to be without them.
The most famous opera duet recording ever
kristian krogholm | 05/25/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In January 1951, Jussi Björling - who posessed the most perfectly developed singing voice in history - recorded duets with the American baryton Robert Merrill. Although Björling had never sung the Pearlfishers duet before, his first and only recording of it became a landmark in the record-history. The free and completely unstrained notes that flows from his perfect instrument are without paralell. The beauty is breathtaking and his singing is divine throughout. Mr.Merrill has his share of the glory, but it is Björling who makes the experience sublime.
In other duets like Don Carlo and Otello, he gives a lesson in dramatic singing to all dramatic tenors; del Monaco, Corelli, Domingo, Bergonzi et al. These classic duet recordings are mixed with later recordings when Björlings voice was darker, but his art and interpretation had developed even further. In the Nile scene from Aida, he sings so beautiful with Milanov that it is a sheer bliss from beginning to end.
When or if RCA decides to make transfers of these fantastic recordings from the original mastertapes which will add to these recordings more beauty, fullness, clarity, dynamic range and vocal nuance, then they will be in every true music lovers cd-collection."
kristian krogholm | 12/04/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Jussi Bjoerling died in 1960, but his throne has remained vacant. Granted, the accomplishments of Tucker, di Stefano, del Monaco, Bergonzi, Domingo, Pavarotti, Gedda, and Carreras have all been respected, applauded, and well documented in opera lore. But it is Jussi Bjoerling who many remember and consider to have been the true successor of Enrico Caruso (an opinion also voiced by Caruso's widow). On the basis of this recording alone, that opinion is greatly validated. There are no individual tenor arias here: all cuts feature Bjoerling in scenes and duets with some of the greatest fellow artists of his time. Robert Merrill, the Met's prime baritone after Leonard Warren, partners Bjoerling in the duets from "The Pearl Fishers", "Don Carlo", and "Otello". Originally recorded by RCA in 1950, they are sonically fine and very beautifully performed. The "Otello" duet represents something of an experiment: Bjoerling as Otello may have been an interesting possibility but it is doubtful that he would have ever been able to sustain such a heavy role onstage. The remaining items are taken from complete recordings that Bjoerling made in the 1950's ----- all of which are currently available. From the 1954 recording of Puccini's "Manon Lescaut" comes the Act Two love duet with Licia Albanese, passionately performed (though Albanese sounds rather dry of voice) and intensely projected. The great Slavic soprano Zinka Milanov partnered Bjoerling on the complete RCA "Aida" of 1955, and the 1957 "Tosca" (also RCA). Both are sung with great vocal beauty by both Bjoerling and Milanov, whose voices in duet constituted something very close to ideal. Lastly, the finale of Act I of "Turandot", with Renata Tebaldi, who sounds every bit as good as she ever would. With Bjoerling as the centerpiece, surrounded by the likes of Milanov, Tebaldi, Merrill, and Albanese, one can have a pretty fair picture of just HOW great and wonderful operatic singing was in the 1950's.This disc is an absolute must."