Gorgeous And Passionate: The Art of Grace
Rudy Avila | Lennox, Ca United States | 07/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This pink box set issued by Deutsche Grammophone recently showcases fantastic arias from diverse repertoire sung by Grace Bumbry in three cd's. It's a must have for fans of Grace Bumbry and perhaps even mezzo-soprano students who wish to emulate her technique and transition to soprano. The sketch of her on the cover is lovely. The booklet inside features liner notes on Grace Bumbry's career, pictures of her great roles and track listings. Deutsche Grammophone has outdone themselves yet again and I'm very appreciative of their magnificent work as classical music and opera recording manufacturers. I hope they re-issue and digitally remaster some great old LP recordings that many of the older opera lovers fondly remember - the Norma sung by Beverly Sills and Shirley Verrett as conducted by James Levine for instance. Grace Bumbry rose to fame around the time of Leontyne Price's debut at the Met as Leonora in Trovatore. But Bumbry, a mezzo-soprano, did something that made history- she sang Venus in Wagner's Tannhauser in Bayreuth, breaking the age-old color line in that very theater where Wagner conducted. She would go on to enjoy success as the grand ladies of the mezzo-soprano field - Carmen, Amneris in Aida, Eboli in Don Carlo, Azucena in Trovatore, and would eventually take on the soprano roles of Elisabeth Valois in Don Carlo, Elisabeth in Tannhauser,Lady Macbeth, Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, Salome, Aida, Tosca and Norma. Too bad we don't get all the greater stuff from later in her career on this recording. It would make for a fine tribute album. Instead we are treated to her younger days and earliest recordings. And what a beautiful and powerful sound she has in these recordings!
The earliest documented recording of Grace Bumbry's voice was in 1958 in Salt Lake City, which was originally released as LP's in the Westminster label. Grace Bumbry sings the contralto parts of such Handel oratorios as Judas Maccabeus, Irael in Egypt and the more famous Messiah - absolutely majestic, noble interpretations. Following this are two arias from Gluck's Orfeo, in which she sings a moving Orfeo with pure lyric splendor and warmth. Santuzza in Cavelleria Rusticana is normally assigned to sopranos but La Bumbry shows what mezzos are made of is just as impressive in her rendition of "Voi Lo Sapete, Mama." In the role of Carmen, Grace Bumbry is perfect, perfect. I have her full-length recording of Carmen opposite Jon Vickers' Don Jose. As Carmen, she is into the character's liberal nature, flirty and wickedly playful side. Here we here the Habanera, Segudilla and the more grave-sounding Death Card Aria. As Delilah from Samson et Delilah, she is sensuous and glorious to hear. Gounod's Sappho's final scene in which she leaps from a cliff is dramatic and melancholically interpreted. As Joan of Arc from the Tchaikovsky opera she is beautifully moving and even saintly. CD 1 ends with fiery Spanish songs from Falla's El Amor Brujo which are an incredible and not to mention rare treat.
Grace Bumbry sings Ulrica's aria "Re Del Abbiso" from Un Ballo In Maschera with aplomb, with such passion and bravura that even her predecessor Marian Anderson- who opened the doors for all black sopranos that came later- applaud. As Eboli, she is highly dramatic and complex. The signature aria "O Don Fatale" was one she always sang in audition and was her "good luck" aria because she always got the part after singing it. Upon hearing it one knows exactly why. As Princess Elisabeth Valois in Don Carlo, she is regal and melancholy and the challenging aria "Tu che la vanita" proves easy for her to handle. "Stride La Vampa" is here, Azucena's famous aria and Bumbry does justice to it. She does justice to Aida as well, though Leontyne Price is forever embedded in opera lover's memory as the ultimate Aida, but Bumbry is beautiful and dramatic to hear, and especially noteworthy because she sang both Amneris and Aida so knew both parts very well. Lady Macbeth's arias "Vieni T'affreta" and Sleepwalking Scene is here, sung gloriously with flair. She was singing the heavy part of Lady Macbeth in 1964, even as she was still taking on mezzo roles like Carmen!! Further, we hear the live event of her career- the one role that began it all- Venus in Wagner's Tannhauser, hear singing opposite tenor Wolfgang Windgassen. The final cd contains gorgeous Lieder she must have graced recitals with - Brahms, Schubert, Liszt, Wolf and Strauss. Each Lieder is a bright jewel in a divine chain when sung by the incomparable Grace Bumbry.
Fans of Grace Bumbry -Buy this album!!!"
La Venere Nera di Bayreuth
cherubino | Houston, Texas United States | 08/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Before I begin my review, I wish to express my DEEP hope that, one day soon, we will be able to enjoy on DVD the famous Bumbry/Verrett concert from Covent Garden, from 1982. I watched a VHS-to-DVD transfer that a friend made, who taped it, and it is stunning, to say the least.
There were many great mezzos from the same era as Grace Bumbry, but for me, she always stands out, due to the unique quality of her voice. I compare the timbre of her voice to a ripple of caramel- sweet, satisfying, and substantial. Hands down, she is my favorite Amneris and Eboli, on disc. Her voice is an arresting combination of vocal beauty and dramatic flair.
Unfortunately, Bumbry was, and is, one of those artists that the critics love to pick apart. Just read the online review of this three-disc collection on Opera News online. The reviewer picks out even the most minute faults in her voice.
No, her musicianship was not spotless, but this does not matter. As the other reviewers stated, her Handel is a wonder to hear. My heart skipped a beat the first time I heard these tracks. As for the rest of disc one, it is a sampling of Italian and French arias. I have to say that I find her Carmen and Delilah a bit too forceful. She all but shouts, "You're gonna love me, dammit!" Still, she is a force that cannot be denied.
The second disc features Grace at her very best, in Verdi. This was the first occasion in which I heard her sing Ulrica's aria, Tu Che Le Vanita, Azucena's arias, and La Luce Langue. Every aria is a highlight and testament to Bumbry, but the two Trovatore arias in particular are spellbinding. To give you an idea, she outclasses several times over Fiorenza Cossotto, who gave a lazy interpretation on the classic Price/Domingo recording.
Bumbry At Her Best: An Amazing Collection
cherubino | 06/13/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am so proud to be the first critic to submit a review for this outstanding Deutsche Grammophone album: Grace Bumbry- Early Recordings. Fans of the diva will not want to be without this brilliant 3-cd box set, containing juicy, virtuosic arias for mezzo soprano as well as dramatic soprano that capture Grace Bumbry at her youngest. The career of Grace Bumbry was an impressive and lengthy affair. She started off singing the dramatic mezzo soprano roles in the grand tradition- Azucena from Verdi's Trovatore, Princess Eboli in Don Carlo, Amneris in Aida, Carmen (naturally) and then she transitioned into soprano territory when she astonished the world by singing the diva roles of Aida, Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, Lady Macbeth, Elisabeth in Don Carlo, Norma and even Strauss Salome, said to be an incredible performance but lamentably never recorded or taped. Her career lasted for several years throughout the 60's, 70's and 80's. She gained world recognition in the opera scene when she broke the "color" barrier at Bayreuth, Germany, which had hitherto accepted only Aryan-German or European white singers because of Wagner's rabid Supremacist sentiments. She sang Venus in Tannhauser (in the dramatic soprano interpretation rather than the mezzo) and she became a legend. That was back in August of 1962. That moment is captured on the last two tracks of CD 2.
The first recordings are from December of 1957, recorded in Salt Lake City, Utah, under the baton of Maurice Abravanel, originally from the Westminster LP label. The opening arias here are excerpts from Handel's oratorios - Judas Maccabeus and the more famous Messiah. Her deep, rich, warm mezzo voice perfectly embodies the Handelian contralto voice, as evidenced in "Their land brought frogs" in "Israel in Egypt" and in "He Was Despised" from the Messiah, which was conducted by Sir Adrian Boult in London. The rest includes two arias from Gluck's masterpiece Orfeo. Bumbry sings in a regal manner, with a divine voice that further re-inforced her Baroque/Gluck style at this time. I have never heard Che Faro Sensa Eurydice sang with such beauty and passion. The first cd for me, the best example and outpouring of her mezzo soprano repertoire. Here we find what I consider her greatest role- Carmen. At this time, Shirley Verrett, another successful black singer, was the most sought after Carmen in opera houses. But Grace Bumbry, for me, is and always will be Carmen. I first heard the voice of Bumbry on the EMI recording of Carmen she sang opposite Jon Vickers and Mirella Freni. Karajan conducted her in a fine Carmen in the Salzburg Festival. As Carmen, she's playful, liberated, subtle, wickedly funny, strong and dramatic and even a bit cynical and tragic. She colors her voice and character to make Carmen a character that most encompassed the originality of Bizet's intention. The Habanera, Seguidilla and the Card Song, which is Bumbry at her best mezzo voice. She sings the scene, in which Carmen reads her own impending death in the tarot card, with such gravitas and nobility and resignation to her fate with the greatest prowess of voice and acting ability. The rest of the second cd features the arias "O Ma Lyre Immortale" a brilliant vocal feat from the opera Sappho by Charles Gounod, a rarely staged opera today - and the aria Mon Coeur from Saint Saens Samson and Delilah. The role of Joan of Arc from the Tchaikovsky opera is another rare jewel and here she sings so wonderfully that one wishes this opera was revived today. The cd concludes with masterful Spanish bravura in Fallas' Amor Brujo.
The second cd documents her rise to soprano heaven. She is able to reach up from her mezzo earth to the strata of soprano dramatic power. Though even as a soprano Bumbry still sang the mezzo roles of Ulrica from Un Ballo and her prized Eboli. Her "O Don Fatale" captured here at its earliest, is simply the best without question. Tracks 7-9 is the infamous Sleepwalking Scene from Verdi's Macbeth. As Lady Macbeth, she is icy, "mad" and very dramatic without delving into the hysteria that other mezzos, most famously Fiorenza Cossotto, would do. She may be "mad" or sleepwalking but she is still the Queen. The last cd are gorgeous, elegant and virtuosic Lieder songs from Schubert, Brahms, Liszt and Strauss.
The best album of Grace Bumbry to be re-issued!! I'll cherish this album for years. Thank you Amazon.com and Deutsche Grammophone. Now please keep re-issuing lost and rare recordings and continue to amaze us the opera lovers."