Reviews for Toscanini Fidelio 1944 (IPCD 1007-2)
International Record Review
BEETHOVEN Fidelio: Arturo Toscanini, cond; Rose Bampton (Leonore); Jan Peerce (Florestan); Eleanor Steber (Marzelline); Nicola Moscona (Don Fernando); Herbert Janssen (Don Pizarro); Sidor Belarsky (Rocco); Joseph Laderoute (Jaquino)
Chorus under the direction of Peter Wilhousky; NBC SO
IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1007 (2 CDs: 156:25)
Broadcast: New York 12/10 & 17/1944; Live: New York 9/25/1945.
& Leonore Overture No. 2.1 Radio interview with Rose Bampton
This Canadian historical series generally lives up to its name and is notable for the care and imagination with which its releases are prepared and presented. Some earlier releases were put out on other labels, but the four sets here are part of the first release of the newly established Immortal Performances label.
Arturo Toscanini's 1944 New York broadcast performance of Beethoven's Fidelio is already very well known, having been issued on LP and CD by RCA. What was missing was the dialogue and here it has been restored. Or rather, according to Richard Caniell's fascinating booklet notes, some 'suitable dialogue in a matching acoustic' has been found that has been skillfully grafted onto the surviving recording. The other significant difference is that Rose Bampton's 'Abscheulicher' from the original performance has been reinstated (whereas RCA replaced this from a later recording), but with her wrong note replaced. Does this amount to a compelling reason to acquire this new incarnation? For some collectors, the addition of dialogue might be a decisive advantage. Many arguments are advanced in the booklet in favour of having the dialogue in a recorded performance and listeners sharing the views expressed by the likes of Spike Hughes, Lord Harewood and Harvey Sachs will need little persuasion that this new version provides the best possible way of hearing a great performance.
This version has also cleaned up the sound, includes the announcements, and offers a couple of worthwhile bonus tracks: the Leonore No. 2 Overture from 1944 and an interview with Bampton. What it does not include - despite its emphasis on the importance of the spoken dialogue - is either a libretto or a translation. That grumble aside, the skill and devotion with which this set has been restored is not only admirable in principle but impressive in practice. For anyone unfamiliar with this performance, the new set offers one of the most searingly intense recorded performances of Fidelio in existence, now equipped with appropriate dialogue. The vintage cast is vocally strong and very involving from a dramatic point of view: Bampton is Leonore, joined by Eleanor Steber as Marzelline, Jan Peerce as Florestan, Nicola Moscona as Don Fernando and Herbert Janssen as Pizarro.
Recording Notes for Toscanini Fidelio 1944
The requirements Toscanini faced in conforming his program selections to accommodate inflexible broadcast times repeatedly oppressed him. (It was one of these demands that thwarted his desire to conduct Berlioz' Damnation of Faust in the mid-forties.) It also led to occasions of tension (as in the broadcast of La Traviata not hearable in the dress rehearsals and was the reason why Toscanini was required to observe all the ordinary cuts in that score, something that greatly pained him according to his RCA_engineer Richard Gardner). This has particular relevance to the broadcast of the Maestro's performance of Fidelio , as the time available necessitated the omission of the spoken dialogue.
The absence of dialogue or singspiel in certain commercial recordings such as the Beecham Die Zauberflöte and the Busch Nozze di Figaro in the 1930s, or Von Karajan's Nozze in the early LP era, did not generate the opprobrium accorded this Toscanini Fidelio , but there are reasons for this distinction which certain critics articulated:
“This performance would have benefited from the inclusion of some of the spoken dialogue, without which the plunge from one piece into another is sometimes precipitate.”
Famed author of the biography “Toscanini”,
writing in the RCA-BMG booklet for the Fidelio CD release
“This famous recording has two serious liabilities: all of the spoken dialogue is eliminated except for the Act II melodrama; even Jaquino's interruption of the subsequent quartet (in the Dungeon Scene, Act II).”
The Metropolitan Opera Guide
to Recorded Opera , 1993
Another critic thought the 1944 broadcast inferior to the Toscanini performance in the 1930s. He did not find this surprising in view of the fact that the later performance was given:
“without dialogue (even a concert performance should have included Jaquino's interruption of the prison scene).”
Opera on Record , Volume I
Spike Hughes, in his book ( The Toscanini Legacy ) about recordings of Toscanini's performances, states in connection with the 1944 Fidelio :
“ For the experienced and inexperienced alike, the recording has one disadvantage that only the listener can himself combat. The performance, a broadcast, was taken without the spoken dialogue, with the result that the musical numbers follow, one after the other, with scarcely a breathing space between them. Without the respite granted by the dialogue in a stage production, it is my experience that the emotional intensity of the music is on too consistently high a plane . . . to remove the listener's only chances to recover from one high spot before tackling the next does not conduce to relaxed and easy listening.“
“As I listen to this recording more frequently, I begin to wonder more and more whether it would not have been a good idea to have slotted in the dialogue after the dialogue-less broadcast performance of the music and so have given the whole thing a more authentically theatrical atmosphere.”
This is entirely in accord with my own emotions ever since I heard the broadcast recording at RCA in 1950. Finally, I decided to bring back to the performance its missing proportion, but, as it turned out, this is easier said than done. The first problem was finding a recording that offered the dialogue with voices that could be made to match some, if not all, of the singers in the Toscanini production. To this end I auditioned 14 performances, discovering that almost all of them used actors to deliver the dialogue. These voices did not match those of the singers. In every instance, the actors were not identified. This practice extended even to the Kleiber broadcast with Nilsson. In some instances a few critics have commented on the disparity between the speaking voices and those of the singers.
Then there was the problem of matching the voices to the 8H acoustic of the Toscanini performance, a requirement that none of the 14 performances I heard satisfied. The recording of dialogue that most closely matched Rose Bampton's speaking voice jarringly lacked in dramatic involvement; it was conversationally spoken, completely inappropriate to the Maestro's fiery reading. The performance I located, which had enough elements to bring it within the drama, presented a Leonore whose temperament was rather different than that of Madame Bampton. This difference in temperament seemed to characterize all the recordings in which the singers did not speak their dialogue.
Then I sought to bring in Peerce's speaking voice for his Florestan. This appeared to be possible because he recorded the opera complete under Knappertsbusch's direction for Westminster Records. However, that long out-of-print album was aggravatingly elusive. I finally obtained a copy through a mail auction, paying a premium price, only to discover that an anonymous actor spoke Peerce's lines and he sounded nothing like Peerce. Finally, I was forced to give up the idea of matching speaking to singing voices. The most I could do was to achieve a plausible correspondence, dictated by the even more important requirement to come near matching the 8H ambiance. But that also had to be approximate and required extensive re-equalization. One thing that eluded complete control was the fact that the dialogue varies in dynamics and focus as the speakers move closer or further from the microphone. In addition, a recording from the rehearsal was used for Rocco's Gold aria. This altered his microphone placement and focus, making the join-up from the dialogue problematic.
Essentially then, the benefit of such a re-creation would be to restore the necessary rest places between musical passages, to introduce the textual-dramatic continuity and re-shape the performance to the proportion envisioned by Beethoven which had been thus far defeated by deplorably inflexible broadcast schedule timings.
There were other reasons to contemplate releasing a new version of this much-circulated performance. Chief among them was the fact that the already available RCA-BMG set offered the Abscheulicher which Bampton later recorded in Carnegie Hall instead of what was broadcast. This was because, in the broadcast, Bampton's voice failed her in the final phrase of this great aria and the engineers improperly recorded the horn section in the middle part of the aria. I also greatly regretted the substitution because Bampton's singing in the original broadcast has greater immediacy and emotional color than in the later recording, sung without an audience in Carnegie Hall, and apart from two horn passages the sound in the broadcast Abscheulicher is better to my ears. My solution was to keep the broadcast performance and replace only the poorly sung note before the concluding phrase. Thus, the original Abscheulicher is heard here for the first time on disc.
Apart from this, our edition and the RCA/BMG CDs are nearly identical in the vocal and orchestral reproduction but the sporadic differences, sometimes marginal, are occasionally quite significant. Often the RCA has excessive bass or rumble clouding the orchestral textures. There are also considerable differences in the Leonore No. 3 because the RCA/BMG recording filtered the overture and then added an electronic treble boost, imparting a spurious brilliance which is ear-piercing, metallic, and to me, unpleasant. I much prefer the original recording. Though Gardner's and RCA's start with the same sonic, many passages in the Leonore No. 3 reveal the (Gardner) tape possessing more dimension, air and “top”. Thereafter one encounters portions where the sonics become identical, though differences repeatedly become audible - the RCA sound becomes shrill, thin and watery from the first string melody onward, reducing the size and force of the tuttis. In another instance, the RCA BMG finale to Leonore No. 3 becomes shrill, lacking much bottom, while ours has greater impact in the ultimate fortissimo ending the Overture. Overall, where there are differences, the Gardner source has more overtones (example: beginning of Act II) or increased tonal body as in the finale to Act I.
Given, then, the addition of the original Abscheulicher , the spoken dialogue and the broadcast commentary and ovations, a premiere edition emerges, one that I believe will be of interest to those who esteem this performance. My endeavor sought to present a solution to the problem outlined by Spike Hughes in his book about Toscanini's recordings; it is my hope that the Toscanini performance has now regained a needed proportion.
I am greatly indebted to Madeleine McCarthy, Yasuki Mabuchi and Robert Carlson for their help in bringing about this release.
Archivist and Sound Engineer
The performance of Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 2 is a bonus we provide. It stems from a private recording made at a Benefit concert Toscanini conducted in Carnegie Hall on 25 September 1945. The program also included Beethoven's Egmont Overture and his Ninth Symphony. The concert was not broadcast.