Largeness, Power, and Brilliancy!
Doug - Haydn Fan | California | 09/17/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"At Geraldine Farrar's Met premiere in 1906 the leading American opera critic William J. Henderson complained that Farrar sought "Largeness, power and brilliancy' over mellowness and poise. Well, we finally have a fair sampling of Farrar's "largeness, power and brilliancy", and it makes for riveting listening! Instead of the thin and watered-down soprano voice previously known to CD listeners here instead Nimbus shows us the real Geraldine Farrar - a bold flamboyant personality with stunning full top and tremendous power for a lyric soprano. No wonder Farrar was such an overwhelming crowd favorite among the general public and the less effete Met goers!
Not only is the grandeur and exposive power of Farrar's singing a revelation, we can also hear that Henderson's complaints were only relative to an age unsurpassed in refinement: Farrar, as anyone can judge who does not suffer from a tin ear or prejudice, was anything but the mediocre technician most modern critics put her down for. Yes, she was never going to challenge a Melba in coloratura passages, though she was no slouch at 'songbirding' as she liked to call such vocal acrobatics. But then she never wanted or desired to sound like what she described in her own words was, 'a mere songbird, imitating a flute.' Farrar wanted to grab her audience dramatically, and she managed the notable feat of doing so without resorting to the excesses of Verismo.
In these selections from the French repetoire a modern listener not only can sense the visceral impact Farrar must have made on contemporary audiences, but can also clearly hear just how remarkable and refined Farrar's art was. Unlike other CD issues of Farrar, including the highly regarded Marston, Farrar's voice throughout her range is not trapped by the limitations and eviscerating effects previously unresolveable in transferring acoustic recordings to CD. Whatever complaints might be lodged against the Nimbus horn approach, with acoustic sopranos it's a godsend. Their voices ring out, and we can hear far more body than is possible on electrical transfers as is the case with all other reissues.
Right off the bat this daughter of one of the original Philadelphia Phillies hits a home run. Her first aria, from Manon, made in 1908, finds Farrar at the very pinnacle of her power, with leaping octaves and yet also the most melting and affecting singing. Farrar's genius for exploiting the ebbs and swells of volume gives the piece a dramtic inwardness and personal tug impossible to resist. Moreover, like her American lyric soprano predecesor, Emma Eames, Farrar's French is extremely good, and she understands better than most how to balance the pointed inflections native to such discourse with and into her beautiful rounded full tone.
I find it particularly odd anyone could seriously downgrade Farrar's technical abilites after listening closely to these recordings. One of the most challenging problems facing any singer is maintaining vocal emission during soft passages, and Farrar has no problem meeting this demand. This is largely because Farrar mastered a true sense for legato singing first learned under Emma Thursby, a Lamperti pupil, and finally securely instilled in her singing under the tutelage of the august and imperial Wagnerian, Lilli Lehmann. Farrar's complete ease in legato can be found throughout her singing - it's marvelously done in the Thomas Mignon aria, 'Connais-tu le pays", where she holds her musical line with rock solid security support against the interweaving violin of Kreisler. Yet perhaps her legato is never more wonderfully done than in her sure handling of the enormous constantly changing range of volumes and speeds found throughout Bizet's enchanting aria, "La-bas, dans la montagne" from Carmen.
The high point of this set of course is Farrar as Carmen. Here is one of the two signature roles of her career, the other being of course Puccini's Madama Butterfly, also available in riveting performances and expansive marvelously exciting transfers on another Nimbus Farrar album. Geraldine Farrar in Italian Opera Nimbus allows us to hear Farrar's meticulous attention to even the tiniest details of Bizet's score - compared to almost all today's singers, who insist on sliding around Bizet's careful notations, Farrar is a paragon of taste and decorum. Surprisingly, given her reputation for playing a wild and reckless Carmen on stage, Farrar on records never goes over the top, and insists on remaining true to the French conception of balance. As a huge bonus the CD also offers Giovanni Martinelli at the beginning of his career as Don Jose, his somewhat tight sounded emissions here aided by the acoustic horn approach of the Nimbus engineers, and an utterly magnificent Escamillo sung by a redoubtable Pasquale Amato. Amato is truly stunning - even if the aria is sung in Italain. For fun Nimbus adds a 1921 version of the Argonaise Prelude to Act 4 conducted by Toscanini leading the La Scala orchestra.
I can't say enough good things about these Nimbus recordings improvements in the sound we hear from early sopranos. Despite all the cat-calls pf many in the historcial recording community - a tiny group to be sure -make about the Nimbus sound, most people much prefer these voices leaping out at them, rather than straining to hear what sounds rather impoverished and thin, too often the result of trying to transfer these singers acoustic recordings using electrical means.
On this CD we can, and I think for the first time, actually get some idea of the astonishing power and brilliance of Farrar in the opera house. The closing section of "Je connais un pauvre enfant" from Thomas' "Mignon" is great singing, and must have impressed even those jaded Met audiences used to the likes of Melba. The same can be said for Farrar's sensational performance of "Te souvient-il du lumineux voyage" from Thais. If the singer was struggling with serious vocal issues when this 1918 recording she certainly could fool me.
Unlike so many other attempts this CD finally gives us the legendary Farrar, not a pale ghost of the singer, and goes a long way to allowing us to enjoy the presence through her recordings of the dominating star of the Metropolitan Opera until her retirement. Whatever some might say, Farrar was a hell of a singer!
This CD has been issued with two differing cover photos of Farrar - there is also one of her right profile showing her looking upwards to the heavens. Both have exactly the same selections. A lengthy booklet with a lomg essay about Farrar by Roland Vernon comes with the set. There are also several photos and full recording information.