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Collection: The Art of Singing - Golden Voices of the Century
Stars of Opera on Film and TV
[116 mins]
Chapters; and Subtitles in English, French, German, Spanish and Italian.
 Amazon UK  £23.99

A glance at the list of legendary singers, all caught on film, in this incredible, magical collection is impressive enough. Add crisp DVD images and miraculous clarity of sound considering the age of some of the clips, plus commentaries by such luminaries as Kirk Browning, Thomas Hampson, Giovanni Martinelli, Magda Olivero, Risë Stevens and Jon Vickers - plus an eloquent, erudite booklet article by Gramophone's John Steane, and you have a package that is quite simply irresistible!

Cleverly, the collection begins and ends with images of the two most famous operatic idols of the 20th century - Caruso and Callas. Clearly Caruso appeared only in silent films but an impression of the intensity of his acting and singing comes over very well in a film of I Pagliacci and you can guess at the beauty and power of his voice. Similarly, Callas's passion is fervently projected in her most famous film appearance as Tosca singing 'Visi d'arte'. Interestingly a line up of five singers with Caruso: Daddi, Journet, Scotti, Sembrich and Severina are seen miming to a 1908 recording of the Sextet from Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor.

If I were to comment on all the 34 excerpts on this DVD this review would stretch ad infinitum; so, with great difficulty I will restrict myself to commenting on just a few. Giovanni Martinelli, contributes a commentary about the difficulties facing singers in the early days of the 'talkies' (the excerpts he stars in are from 1930 and 1931), and sings 'Celeste Aida'. He then appears as a spirited gondolier singing 'Torna a Surriento' - filmed in 1930 and 1931 respectively. The great Gigli is filmed recording Handel's 'Largo'; and there is the beautiful pianissimo singing and superb articulation of tenor Tito Schipa. The lovely larghetto of baritone Giuseppe De Lucca is caught; brilliantly lucid and eloquent in his portrayal of Figaro in 'Largo al factotum' from Rossini's Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Rare 1932 footage of Luisa Tetrazzini shows her listening to, and accompanying a recording of Caruso singing 'M'appari' from Flotow's Martha. MGM screen tests of the stunningly beautiful Rosa Ponselle singing arias from Carmen are included and Richard Tauber acts as Franz Schubert and sings that composer's 'Ständchen' from the 1933 production of Lilac Time. Two famous strong Wagnerian singers appear: Kirsten Flagstad singing 'Hojotohal' from Die Walküre (amazingly introduced by Bob Hope) and Lauritz Melchior sings 'Winterstürme' again from Die Walküre in front of an adoring Jane Powell from the 1948 MGM musical Luxury Liner. One of the most arresting images is of the charismatic bass Fyodor Chaliapin singing Ibert's 'Chanson du duc' from Pabst's Don Quichotte.

Rugged sex appeal is exuded by Franco Corelli singing 'Non piangere Liù' from Puccini's Turandot (and yet we learn how we was torn with pre-performance nerves) and the dashing Fairbanks-like Lawrence Tibbett sings 'Chanson du Toréador' from Carmen. Then there is the fine colaratura singing of Joan Sutherland as she surmounts, with élan, all the tongue-tripping difficulties of Meyerbeer's 'O beau pays' from Les Hugenots. Colour spectacle is supplied when Ezio Pinza sings in the Coronation Scene from Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov. One of the two most substantial excerpts in the programme comes from Boris Godunov - the Death Scene with the another great bass, Boris Christoff. The other is the Final Scene of Act I of La bohème with the great Jussi Björling and the warm, beautiful singing of Renata Tebaldi. I cannot finish without mentioning the absorbing reminiscences of Magda Olivero, now in her eighties, about the older generations of singers. Incredibly Olivero was summoned to New York's Metropolitan for her debut at the age of sixty-three! And we see her singing Visi d'arte in Turin in 1960.

I cannot recommend this absorbing compilation too highly

Ian Lace

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