Rita Gorr (1926-2012) is usually classified as a mezzo-soprano with a compass of over two octaves and a repertoire ranging from Wagner to Verdi to French roles as per this bargain-priced compilation. Her voice was comparable to that of Maria Callas and really more of a soprano Falcon. Gorr never ventured into the high lyric coloratura roles that Callas mastered earlier in her career but her spinto capability allowed her to take on Eboli in London and New York, and Kundry at Bayreuth; all with great success.
Her sound is very large, distinct and even metallic, somewhat reminiscent of Flagstad
’s soprano. It did not always take well to recording, especially in the rather harsh sound here provided by HMV. In this regard, she is comparable to other big-voiced singers of her era like Mario del Monaco
. Listening uninterrupted to a recital such as this from Guild can result in clarion tones becoming wearing on the ear. Gorr attacks high notes and murders them; her bronze timbre can make her characters seem uniformly formidable. Thus her Charlotte in “Werther”, although grandly sung, perhaps lacks the pathos a gentler voice can impart. There is a “Gallic edge” in her sound which reminds me, too, of Crespin
. Like that artist, Gorr was such a fine vocal actress that she could tackle a wide gamut of roles, some of which certainly demanded more overt sentiment than the average Wagnerian virago. The two roles at the end of the selection here, Charlotte and Dalila, find her forcing less and caressing the music more. These interpretations are both sensuous and grand – perhaps a little too grand for the gentle Charlotte.
Hers was above all a Medea voice; comparison with Callas
is otiose as both are marvellous. The strain on top notes which was characteristic of both singers merely adds to the excitement, although there are moments in “Perfides ennemis” when her effortful production of top notes verges on a piercing scream. One always feels that Gorr is pushing her voice to its limit and would be happier if her music were transposed a semitone lower. Perhaps this is what contributed to her vocal crisis some three years after the last of these recordings. She recovered somewhat and eventually switched fach
. Indeed her career eventually spanned some fifty years but this collection presents her in her greatest French roles in her young prime.
Ironically for a singer always associated with French roles, she was born in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium but the French connection is now indelible. In interviews she preferred to speak French rather than betray her strong regional Flemish accent.
Her affinity with Gluck is immediately apparent. She throws herself into the raw emotion of the hero’s two heroines’ plights. The moment in “Ô malheureuse Iphigénie”
when the chorus joins her on high G is spine-chilling. It is refreshing to hear a singer prepared to take such risks with her voice even if sometimes the results are almost scary.
She is ably partnered in the “Médeé” excerpts by tenor Guy Chauvet. Not all listeners will respond to her daring, almost relentlessly vibrant affect but to have heard her in the theatre must have been an event.
Christoph GLUCK (1714-1787)
1. Divinités du Styx [5:08]
Iphigénie en Tauride
2. Ô toi, qui prolongeas mes jours [4:27]
3. Ô malheureuse Iphigénie (Choeurs René Duclos) [4:01]
4. Je cède à vos désirs - D'une image, hélas! trop chérie [4:08]
5. Non, cet affreux devoir - Je t'implore et je tremble [4:08]
Orphée et Eurydice
6. Malheureux, que je fais? - J’ai perdu mon Eurydice [5:33]
Luigi CHERUBINI (1760-1842)
7. Vous voyez, de vos fils, la mère infortunée [4:10]
8. Perfides ennemis qui conspirez ma peine* [4:38]
9. Chers enfants, il faut done que je vous abandonne* [6:07]
10. Du trouble affreux qui me dévore [4:20]
11. Eh quoi! Je suis Médée [5:03]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
La damnation de Faust
12. Autrefois un Roi de Thulé [5:21]
13. D’amour l’ardente flamme [7:26]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
14. Werther! Werther! . . . Ces lettres . . . ah! je les relis sans cesse [6:07]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Samson et Dalila
15. Printemps qui commence [4:46]
16. Samson, recherchant ma presence [3:28]