"Now here's a likeable recording, although the very young, inexperienced leading lady, Elena Souliotis, needs to work on support, control, articulation, and diction. However, she is, at the same time, an affecting and very musical performer and her performance on this recording is not bad. I'd call Elena's performance intelligent in many ways. An example is the truncation of a few bars of rough coloratura or repeat of a cabaletta. She also eschews the ever-tempting high notes as a rule. Souliotis possesses a very large instrument with a dark coloration some find reminiscent of Maria Callas. Her low range is amazing, as a matter of fact, she sings a B-flat below middle C as strongly as any mezzo can. The upper notes are a bit tight at times. But she is a charismatic singer as large ensemble passages prove. Time would have made her one of the greats. She was forced into too much too soon. Abigaille in "Nabucco?" That role scares the daylights out of seasoned veterans. Norma? Way too little experience and training for this role. She sang it before she was ready to. Somebody should have done the opera world a favor by shooting her manager. The other singers are wonderful (except Alexander, who has some trouble with the fioratura and has a few instances of pitch problems.) Special hugs for the great Marilyn Horne, who handles Giovanna's high tessitura with the greatest of ease. Nicolai Ghiaurov turns out one of his best recorded performances. The secondary singers are more than likeable. As mentioned, the recording is missing a few bars and repeats here and there, but not enough has been scissored to ruin the continuity of Donizetti's score. I hear some splices, but this is only a minor annoyance. This is a nice performance at a great price. I've been waiting for it to be reissued for almost thirty years and it was well worth the wait."
WORTH HEARING - AND KEEPING
Milan Petkovic | Toronto, Canada | 07/14/2002
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Opera people seem fiercely divided about the Decca Anna Bolena with Elena Suliotis, first published in 1970. Half think it is brilliant, and Suliotis' faults are worth putting up with because when she is good, she is very good, and the rest of the cast is unmatched; the other half think the recording is an abomination. I belong to the former group. The Anna Bolena is probably Suliotis' least satisfactory recording; the tone is too lean for most of the time and lacking in colour (especially in the opening scene), the technique rather precarious. Yet I don't agree that it is a truly bad recording; her Bolena certainly has virtues, and the dry acoustics are at least partly to blame for the emaciated sound (Horne sounds unusually dry too, her top "pinched"). It is true that Suliotis wasn't in her best form at the time of this recording (two series of sessions: 8/1968, plus 8-9/1969), and that the role put too big a demand on her voice and limited means - a test she did not entirely pass. But it still a fine portrayal (not to mention Horne's and Ghiaurov's contributions - Alexander's is not one of the set's assets), and I will not part with it.
I think of Suliotis as of somebody else than "the new Callas" of the years 1965-1971, as she was sort of hailed at that time. Yes, she did sing several famous Callas roles and yes, she shared a good deal of Callas' artistic temperament, but I think that she deserves an independent appraisal, in which her voice and singing should be evaluated for their intrinsic qualities - good and bad. Suliotis was an unusually exciting, energetic and involved singer with a lovely and generally smoothly produced dramatic soprano timbre, most fabulous contralto-like low notes, a certain degree of vocal agility, an often brilliant knife-like attack on high notes, and a most luminous and exquisite pianissimo singing in which notes, superbly linked together and produced with absolute purity, sounded like an aural equivalent of a delicate string of finest pearls exuding a life of their own. Her dynamic shading was no less impressive, and the often noble and touching character she was able to bring to music, the fiery artistic temperament and vivid involvement with text should never be discounted.On the other hand, she did lack a proper bel canto technique (inability to trill, uneasy and studied passagework, lack of polish or even precision in melismas, etc.) or a solid vocal training, for that matter. At times, one can clearly hear that notes are not certainly placed or ideally focused, she lacks good breath control and thus tend to "chop" certain long phrases, the tone can sound hollow and glassy, without proper support (especially in the middle register), the top is occasionally wiry and edgy, some of the high notes are unabashedly scooped... and so on. However, in my personal view, these flaws are generally balanced by the many rare qualities Suliotis generously displayed in her all too brief prime. Few singers have had that particular type of sound matched with an unusual artistic temperament - the soprano was a rara avis indeed - so, in retrospect, one should perhaps be more tolerant of the shortcomings.It is such a pity that she burnt out so quickly. But I guess this was the price to pay, and I am almost convinced that, for her at least, there really was no other way."
Elena IS Bolena
Mike Leone | Houston, TX, United States | 01/09/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Well, that may be stretching it a bit. Still, I do think the phrase has a nice ring to it, sort of like the famous "Callas IS Carmen."Seriously, I must admit that I was initially surprised to learn that Decca/London was reissuing this Anna Bolena. Now, don't get me wrong; this is the version that I learned the opera from, and I still love it. But it got rather poor reviews at its initial appearance, mostly because of the participation of its leading soprano Elena Souliotis, despite the acknowledged superiority of the rest of the cast. This recording originally came out at about the same time as Sutherland's Huguenots, which was generally considered to have an inferior cast in most of the roles other than Sutherland's; this led one wag to suggest that whoever was responsible for hiring the supporting cast for each of these ladies' recordings should switch places, so that Souliotis and Sutherland would each be singing with colleagues worthy of her individual talents. Be that as it may, I am still happy that this recording has been reissued.I'll begin with the rest of the cast; they are all excellent. Marilyn Horne, who I initially figured was the impetus for this reissue, brings her accustomed sound and personality to this Adalgisa-like role. She really doesn't sound young enough for Giovanna (or for Adalgisa for that matter), if that makes a difference to anybody. She does, however, blend well with Souliotis. John Alexander has a voice that is rather more slender than that of his recorded competition, but he sings very well throughout, and the high notes hold no terrors for him. Ghiaurov is as good an Enrico as one is likely to encounter. He certainly has the proper regal quality for the role, and his Slavic sound separates him aurally from the rest of the cast. Janet Coster brings a beautiful sound to Smeton and she is especially good in her aria in Act I, Scene 3.As for Souliotis, she is rather problematic in spots, but I wouldn't be without this particular interpretation. She made this recording after having had Anna Bolena in her repertoire for several years. Comparing her performance here to the one she gave in Carnegie Hall in 1966, I find little difference in her interpretation, which tells me that she knew how she thought the role ought to go. She has the strong low notes that enable her to sing this role closer to the way it was written than do Sutherland and Sills, both of whom I love, but both of whom have to rewrite the role to keep it from going into the cellar quite so often. Occasionally a low note doesn't come out quite right, such as in the phrase "E muta d'Enrico in corte" in the Act II trio, and I wish she had those rising trills for the final cabaletta, but I find her voice the right type for the role, and I enjoy her the great majority of the time. Anna gets to express every emotion except for any genuine happiness, and Souliotis has all of these emotions within her voice. Her definite interpretive ideas, even if she can't always carry them out 100 percent, also help carry the day for her.Conductor Silvio Varviso also led Souliotis' recording of Cavalleria Rusticana and her abridged recording of Norma, both originally released when she was still spelled Suliotis. His reading here is as energetic as those other two were, and is self-recommending.The cuts here are few and basically inconsequential. The later commercial recordings with Sills, Sutherland and Gruberova may be slightly more complete but the entire score is basically available in all these recordings.Concerning a recommendation, I would say that anybody who is a particular fan of any of the above-named sopranos should go with her particular recording. And let us not forget Maria Callas and Leyla Gencer, both of whom appear in truncated live performances of the score. Anybody who prizes vocal beauty over dramatic incisveness, on the other hand, would be well advised to look elsewhere, at least as far as the role of Anna Bolena is concerned. On the other hand, I think anybody wanting a good overview of Donizetti's first big success would do well with this recording. Four stars instead of five only because Elena could be a little better."
MARILYN HORNE STEALS THIS "ANNA BOLENA"
The Cultural Observer | 10/03/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a good contender in the "Anna Bolena" sweepstakes. Recorded in 1969, it contains an outstanding performance from Marilyn Horne in the role of Jane Seymour. Her voice is so rich, powerful, and secure, that one forgets that Jane Seymour is, after all, a supporting role. Moreover, Horne executes some coloratura embellishments here that one will encounter on no other recording. I rank her performance here as possibly her greatest on records, easily on the level of her Adalgisa on the Sutherland recording of "Norma". Nicolai Ghiaurov is equally impressive as Henry VIII. His magnificent bass was in its absolute prime here, and his tone floods forth like a gusher. John Alexander sings a good Percy, better, I think, than Jerry Hadley on the Sutherland recording. Unfortunately, the Anna Bolena of Elena Souliotis is problematic. She was one of those unfortunate sopranos, who while still in her middle twenties, embarked upon a career which found her encompassing difficult roles much too early. Her voice resembled that of Callas, and at times, Souliotis sounded as though she was actually trying to mimic the famed diva. It never worked, and after a very short time Souliotis found herself completely voiceless. This "Anna Bolena" contains some good singing in places, and some rather poor singing elsewhere. Still, she is worth hearing for the potential she definitely had, but never completely, or even partially, realized. Silvio Varviso shapes a compelling and involved performance. I would rank this uncut recording slightly below the Sutherland, though it must be said that Sutherland was considerably past her best days when she embarked on her "Anna Bolena" recording. Then, finally, there is Maria Callas herself, to be heard on a heavily cut EMI live recording. When listening to Callas, one can easily see what Souliotis is lacking, but with considerably less than state-of-the-art-sound, that recording is probably primarily for historians and Callas fans, of whom there are many. To get a good idea of what "Anna Bolena" is all about, this recording is a pretty good investment. Go for it."
A great Anna Bolena!
The Cultural Observer | 05/05/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When I usually like one recording of an opera, I usually set my mind on it, not considering other recordings by other singers whom I believe never have anything to give to the role. That is how I first felt about Anna Bolena. Being a Callas fan, I would often look at her recordings first before turning to other recordings, and I usually find Callas to be the supreme interpreter of the role of anything her voice touches. I assumed that Anna Bolena would always belong to her, and after listening to the renditions by Sills and Sutherland, I definitely told myself that no other soprano could make a mark on Anne Boleyn. I didn't hear Souliotis yet, of course. While many people may find Souliotis' voice disturbing, I find it quite appropriate for the role of Anne Boleyn. There are also several merits to this recording which I think would make it the equal of Callas' Bolena, and it a way even surpass it. First of all, the recording is complete in every respect, and it is in excellent sound as well. Second, the cast is exceptional. While Souliotis may not have the marvelous coloratura skill of Callas, Sills, and Sutherland, her stage acting more than compensates for it. Ok, her coloratura is good, but it's not the best. But she has a good chest register, something which a great Anna like Callas had, and her partner in this recording is Marilyn Horne. Why wouldn't this be a great recording? I do have to say that even if Horne is one of the world's greatest mezzos, her voice is too large for the younger Jane Seymour. Still, she sings the role very well. John Alexander, who was Pollione opposite Joan Sutherland's Norma in her famed recording, sings much better and much more dramatically here as well. It's quite odd to note that the two of the three primary singers who engaged in the Bonynge Norma actually performed better here, and that is because Varviso, the conductor, knows his score better than Bonynge does. I don't say that Bonynge doesn't know how to conduct. I'm just saying that his conducting is horribly dry and lifeless. Having said that, let me discuss some of the highlights of this recording. Souliotis, like I said earlier, didn't have the coloratura skill of Sills or Sutherland, but her dramatic acumen on her roles is very much like Callas'. Plus, I find her voice to be quite better for the role as opposed to Sills or Sutherland. Listening to her in the mad scene is simply enough to let you know that there is more to Elena Souliotis that a mini-Callas. She brings a highly different interpretation to the role, the only part where she imitates Callas is her trying to copy the high soft palate arch that makes Callas' voice so exciting. Otherwise, this is a great Anna Bolena, highly recommendable over the other gamut of Bolenas out there besides Callas' great 1957 recording."