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Olivero FanciullaSince September “Trove Thursday” has been offering live performances every week for listening and downloading here on Parterre Box, but I realized I hadn’t yet posted anything featuring one of the “Queens of the Bootlegs,” so I now correcting that with Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West starring the great Magda Olivero as Minnie. 

After I’d been collecting reel-to-reel tapes of in-house and broadcast recordings for a while, one of my “pirate” contacts asked to see the list of things I’d acquired so far. He wrote back shocked: “What!? No Maria Callas? No Leyla Gencer? No Magda Olivero?” I had to admit that by then I’d heard more than enough Callas and Gencer’s bel canto repertoire didn’t interest me much.

But although I’d read about Olivero I’d never heard her. He was aghast and included at the end of a tape I had ordered a few choice moments from her Met debut as Tosca. Immediately I was gripped by her throbbing voice and over-the-top commitment.

There are several live Olivero Fanciulla performances “around” but this RAI broadcast from 1966 is probably the least well known. When I got this recording in college, I had never heard the opera and I have gradually come to admire it more than any Puccini work except for La Bohème. It’s not done often enough in the U.S. these days, although the Santa Fe Opera opens its 2016 season next month with a new Richard Jones production starring Patricia Racette.

Puccini: La fanciulla del West

RAI Torino
5 May 1966

Minnie: Magda Olivero
Dick: Gastone Limarilli
Rance: Anselmo Colzani

Conductor: Fernando Previtali

“Trove Thursday” offerings can be downloaded via the audio-player above. Just click on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

In addition, Fanciulla, Conti’s Don Quixote opera from last week and all previous fare remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.


  • JohninSeattle

    weeeski e soda, Joe!

    I love her in this role. YUM. Can’t wait to give it a listen. (No doubt that Miner’s waltz will prove to be a fatal earworm. Again.)

  • PCally

    I had thought Gencer was the proclaimed queen of the bootlegs? No matter, Fanciulla has become my favorite Puccini work and has grown on me immensely and I’ve only ever heard Magda as Adriana so I look forward to hearing her in something else.

    I suspect I like Racette a bit more than most at this point but her as Minnie at this point sounds grim.

  • Camille

    Oh goody, goody, GOODY!!!!!!!!

    Mine is a terrible poorly produced pirate from Roma in the fifties in which the prompter is so LOUD he should have had a credit billing. Every time I’ve put it on my husband yells “turn that damn thing off!” he hates it so, so I haven’t listened to it much.
    I do remember that the old people STILL talked about her take on Minnie when I was there in the eighties, it had made such an impression.

    Nobody does veristic like La Olivero does veristic and “Per sempre, Dick!” will never sound as good. My first introduction to her was via a no name record I found in a bin on Hollywood Boulevard in 1971 of a Netherlandisch Manon Lescaut and which I only bought because there was just something about the way she looked in the picture as Manon. I can still remember standing there and feeling a buzz and deciding to take a chance on her and this recording as, certainly, no one had clued me in nor was there a parterre box back then to offer up suggestions. Back then one was on their own. I was never the same. After that recording I gave up my incipient Wagnerism to search after “La verità“, as she declares as Adriana. And still to this day, amazingly forty-five years later, I don’t know what this lady had, certainly NOT a great instrument—a friend of mine in Roma loved to recount a tale of how she was told “Signora, vai a casa.”, after one particular bad audition. She would seem to have had something much greater than a voice, but what exactly was that? Was it maybe the yoga, or the vegetarianism, or the fact she came from a little more haute and respectable background than others, that she existed on a different plane from so many singers? I don’t know, does anyone? Or maybe just in spite of and BECAUSE of her vocal limitations, she concentrated solely upon “la verità“? Even Cilèa himself implored her to sing his Adriana. Whatever it was, and since that first hearing so long ago now, she has incalculably enriched me by her singing and am equally indebted to her for having done so. Now that she has become a gauzey myth and a legend, it may be offputting to some to hear about her, but if anyone ever did define that thing called “X” factor, whatever that factor may be and wherever it may come from, it was she and deserves to be remembered and revered.

  • 98rsd

    I don’t really know Fanciulla, but I remember a friend playing a selection from a live Olivero performance in which she held a thrilling high note forever (a la Melchior with Waelse). Any suggestions so I can find it?

    • Camille

      It could likely be the climactic C at the end of “Laggiù nel Soledad” in act one around about a half hour in, or the climactic high C in the second act when she is about to lay her first big kiss on Johnson-“AHHHHHHHH!” I think it’s only a few beats bt they hold it till their lungs cave in-that really can be thrilling!—but as that is somewhere in the middle of the act you’d have to wade through a lot to get there. There is another high B in “Io non son che una povera fanciulla” toward the end of act I which is, because of the tonality its written in and the angle of the phrase, a very HI high B natural on the the word “Su, su, su come le STELLE”, and which is usually mucked up hecause of its difficulty. If the soprano gets it, she usually hangs on there to show her stuff! There are a lot of high points for Minnie and it’s such a shame she doesn’t get out of the old Polka more often.

      • fletcher

        Probably not what you’re talking about, but there’s also the climactic C in the astonishing Act II love duet, shared with the tenor, thought I’ve only heard it in the fabulous Steber/Del Monaco live recording under Mitropoulos and in a YouTube clip with Dimitrova and Bonisolli under Sinopoli.

        • Camille

          That’s, unfortunately, almost always cut. I am still in the first act so don’t know about it yet, but am so glad those documents with Dimitrova and Steber exist to show it can, and should, be done. Exhausting, but worth it.

          That passage has been condemned by so many critics. I’m not sure they are right.

          • fletcher

            I didn’t realize it was so frowned upon -- I find it thrilling in the Mitropoulos and dearly miss it in the otherwise very good Capuana recording. The duet sounds -- is -- weirdly truncated without the ending, and just sort of stops mid-stream.

            Also, another big fermata is the high B-flat at the end of “Oh, lo fareste” passage in Act I (“Ecco, Johnson, perchè chi vuol quest’oro, pria passerà su me!”) -- great stuff.

            • Camille

              Yes, it does sound truncated, and drops off into a conversation, abruptly. I’ve always hated that but that is the way it originally was written and I feel the new addition(written soon after — I think just about a years later and given with the greatest Eugenia Burzio (a very great verista herself), is a significant improvement. I’m sorry, I can’t recall all the exact facts at the moment. It IS very high and rather fatiguing for the pair singing, and I can see why the Minnie, who has LOTS more to sing and then laugh hysterically and not be regarded as a loon, would want to save herself la bella fatica at that point.

              I seem to remember that old fart Mosco Carner (? — it was some old Rumpelsteltskin like him) going on a long rave about how it was the absolute worst music Puccini had ever written. HUH? How about that horrible ragpicker part, what’s her name, in Il Tabarro? I don’t like Tabarro too much, no matter what I try and no matter that I like some of it, in parts. I once saw an old score of it in Italy in which it had an utterly different final page, with the final note on a high C for Giorgetta, bemoaning “E morto, il mio amor!” Perhaps ‘Claudia Muzio didn’t like to sing a high C? I don’t know why this page was changed. And Fanciulla has a bunch of other variants, too, come to think of it, but they are not reprinted in modern scores and have been struck for a long time, including a page in which Minnie sings about Nina Micheltorena, which renders her characterization a little more sympathetically vis-à-vis Micheltorena, actually.

              For me, it’s absolutely his greatest score, no doubt, but it is a lot of labor to get to know and took me a lot of time to understand the different language setting, and to come ultimately to love — so I can understand why people opt for other of his works. Also, the fact that Minnie is triumphant in her love is usually so off putting to all those who crawl to Puccini for the inherent sadistic impulse towards women, haha. (See Catherine Clément for more along those lines!)

              Anyway, I’m glad you like it and have found it, and am certainly grateful Steber recorded it, even if it is a stretch for her. Ghena sounds as if she could blow the house down and t’s certainly not a stretch, and I’m so grateful to Maestro Sinopoli, whom I adored, for having allowed it to be reinstated and it that it was recorded. Perhaps the day will come when Fanciulla becomes a popular opera but, god almighty, since I’ve become aware of it, in 1970, it hasn’t made a whole lot of progress in that respect. Domingo helped to boost it some when he was touring around with it, that’s for sure, but I don’t believe even HE would go in for impersonating Jack Rance, bad guy of the Golden West, not that it would help any!

            • fletcher

              Thanks Camille for your long reply; I didn’t know the duet’s ending was a later addition as it’s in the 1912 Ricordi score scanned on IMSLP. It strikes me as an odd passage to single out as a particularly overwrought — I can think of a lot of other “purple” patches in his earlier operas -- and then there’s almost all of Turandot…) but to each his own, I guess. It’s my favorite Puccini score too, along with, funnily enough, Il tabarro, which I love. I even like the silly Frugola bit at the beginning; her levity balances out the later horror(s). Michele’s desperate, awful “La notte è bella!” is heartbreaking. Fanciulla and Tabarro are for me two of the most human operas (others that come to immediately to mind are Kát’a Kabanová, Don Carlos, and Porgy & Bess).

            • armerjacquino

              I can’t imagine that the cut from TABARRO was for the purposes of avoiding a top C, given the massive exposed one Giorgetta has twenty minutes earlier. I have to say, that ‘my lover is dead!’ ending sounds much less dramatic to me than the wham/bam ending of the opera as published.

            • Camille

              Dear fletcher—please let us take us this skein of thread again as I was unable to find what I was looking for today regarding the Fanciulla changes. At present I am hnable to find what I am looking for and too pooped out to continue. I am so pleased to speak with someone who knows this score, and, I may give Il Tabarro another try sometime and I’ll tell you of it at a later date, and why.

              Dear armer — which C are you talking about? There are rwo, the first one in “È ben altro il mio sogno” is marked oppure and am thinking the option is to go up-- but I no longer have a score and may not check. Or the other one, in the duet with Michele, only a passing note, really? I will spell out the phrase in the old coly so you may see what was written as it actually was wuite effective, however it did pull focus from Michele and his moment of monumental revenge. Further, I’m thinking she knows she’s next and unlikely to be emitting acuti. .

              Will be back when I have more energy and have found my information.

              Casco dal sonno — Buonanotte

            • Camille

              Last typos of the day and so sorry, fletcher & armer, I hope you can figure out what I was intending to say. I shiuld get a speeding ticket so I’d slow down.

              And now, “A letto, a letto…”

  • Rowna

    I am in vocal/aural ecstasy listening to Ms. Olivero’s Minnie. I had heard her before, but never in this and never at this point in her career. What a tremendous realization of a character. Her voice is blooming gorgeous. Who knew! Not me. So grandissimo thanks to Mr. Corwin. I have to say it again -- she is fantastic here. And you know how we (former) sopranos can be bitchy about our sisters-in-kind, or rather, UNkind.

    • Camille

      Greetings Rownissima!

      Are you reporting yet from Connecticut or are you still in P.burgh?

      Moving is hell, so I hope you didn’t leave any music behind. Also, hoping you’ll be able to make your way down to the MET this season for more live action but Connecticut is close but maybe you are not accessible easily by rail? Hope so. Best of luck with settling in and let’s hope for a good new season this coming fall.

      • Rowna

        Sammy my darling! Move date is June 30. I am planning on attending at least 3 matinees at the Met -- Dutchman, Tell and Puritans. Will I get to meet you? You can write to me at I hope you write regardless. Moi

        • Rowna

          ARGHHH! Didn’t see the type -- i meant CAMMY!!!!

          • Camille

            hahahahahahaha! Rownissima, don’t you worry, honeychile!

            Well, don’t lose your opera scores in the move!!!!! I lost one of my Don Carlos and am inconsolable about it. I will see you at the MET someday and come up and introduce myself but I am basically a very boring person and always disappoint people.

            It is very good you will be near your kids and they will have all that input from their grandparents, a priceless heritage. Mazel Tov!

  • You may have guessed by my username, I have been an accolyte of Mme Olivero for some time. I first heard her in Boston in the Late 70’s. I was a conservatory student who ushered at the Opera Company of Boston in order to get in for free. Tosca was scheduled so I signed up to usher for the first performance. I had never heard of Magda. When I first heard her offstage “Mario Mario Mario!”, the hair on the back of my neck stood up.I had never heard such a voice. When she sang the line in act one,”Egli vedi ch’io piango” she started out barely audible and swelled to the most amazing crescendo. The audience stopped the performance and gave a huge ovation.
    I remember her singing the section that begins,”Vedi le man giunte io stendo a te” while on her knees crawling across the stage. Heartbreaking.
    I noticed that she sang the “cantata” from the very front of the side right aisle. At the next performance I made sure I was seated there and had the pleasure of watching Mme Olivero sing from 2 feet away from me.
    I threw her a bouquet of roses with a card attached. To my delight she wrote back to me on Ritz Carlton Boston stationary. That started a long correspondence with her. My most treasured possesion is a first edition Score of Adriana that she signed for me after her Carnegie Hall recital.

    My name is Peter and Magda Olivero is my drug of choice.

    • JohninSeattle

      Bravo, caro Peter. Bravo.

      Here’s to all the True Fans and most especially you.

    • Camille

      Thank you for your testimony and your true love. They don’t grow them like you anymore.

    • arepo

      How wonderful! Another true Magda fan. Someone gave me a cd with about 18 different “Vissi d’artes” on it and I listened without looking to see who was singing and chose my favorite ones. When I got to Olivero’s (I’d never even heard of her then) I flipped out and from that day on we have had a wonderful continued correspondence on her birthdays and Christmas.
      We planned a trip to Italy and were set to make a stop in her hometown and asked if she would grant us a visit but she returned my note saying that she would sadly not be there as she vacations in Lausanne at that time every year and hoped we’d try again.
      Lo! when we returned home from our trip, there, waiting for us, was a postcard from Lausanne with her apologies once again and hopes that we’d be able to see her at another time.
      We have a small room dedicated to her with autographed pictures of her.
      It’s nice to see that I am not alone in my passion for a great lady with a magnificent set of pipes that never quit.

  • manou

    Sorry to intrude -- just to say Domingo in the ROH Nabucco is being streamed live now on YouTube

    and should be available for a few days after the live stream.

    • aulus agerius

      So grey and drab :-(

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      I was there last night, which was the ROH debuts of both Jamie Barton and Leonardo Capalbo. Monastyrska pretty much stole the show though on amazing form. She seems more comfortable on stage than she used to, so although still far from a gifted actress, she’s less stiff and old school. She was also a bit more free musically and sang it better than when the production was new. She was really thrilling and didn’t shirk any opportunities to blast out a high note. Still think her ‘Anchi’io dischiuso un giorno’ is too off the voice and crooned though, shame she can’t come up with a way of modulating evenly from pp to ff and sustaining something half way along. Domingo was surprisingly good compared to other things I’ve heard from him in recent years. Relyea was pretty terrible though.

      • PCally

        He’s always terrible

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          I’ve never minded him before. Trying to remember when I last saw him, possibly Lucia at the Met with Dessay? Think he was perfectly OK then. Zaccaria is a much harder role, obvs.

          • Bill

            Relyea started out somewhat promisingly perhaps as he was attractive on the stage but in the last
            7 or so years vocally he has been consistently very disappointing.

          • Porgy Amor

            I wasn’t that knocked out by Kowaljow’s Zaccaria when that production was filmed in 2013. It wasn’t terrible singing, but he just sort of sleepwalked through it and missed some opportunities. I liked Monastyrska and Caré (Ismaele), and it seemed to me one of Domingo’s more successful baritone undertakings.

            • Cocky Kurwenal

              Kowaljow was far better (I saw that run too, although with Nucci rather than Domingo). It’s funny, the first time I heard Kowaljow was when the McVicar Aida was new (Monastyrska’s unscheduled debut) and I thought he was amazing. Ever since, he has just come across as a perfectly decent, safe pair of hands. I think perhaps I was carried away by Borodina-related excitement at that Aida and just loved everything (except Volle’s Amonasro).

            • armerjacquino

              That was the first revival of the McVicar AIDA, I think. In the first run we were treated to the Amneris of Marianne Cornetti, who the night I saw it cracked horribly on BOTH iterations of ‘Or dal ciel si compira’. Vratogna was the Amonasro in that run.

            • Cocky Kurwenal

              Of course you’re right, ArmerJ. I’d forgotten about the previous run which I didn’t attend. Carosi, famously, got pregnant between the dress rehearsal and the first night for the revival, but I’d forgotten there had been a whole run with her as well.

          • Relyea was a good Bluebeard in Toronto a couple of years ago…

      • armerjacquino

        Absurdly precious question: how was the Anna?

        I saw her as a last minute replacement for Agresta as Violetta a couple of months ago and I predict Big Things.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          It’s very hard for an Anna to make much of an impression of course, but being aware of the Agresta substitution I did try to listen out for her. Certainly a very confidently produced and well projected sound, and she was quite a bit better on stage than either the prima or seconda donna. But I can’t say much more than that I’m afraid, it’s such a slight role. I see she’s Clothilde in the new Norma -- must be kind of weird to do a full Violetta and then have to face another entire year of 1 or 2 line roles.

          • Krunoslav

            My most impressive Anna was Deborah Voigt, SFO 1987, up against the formidable Abigailles of Mara Zampieri ( great when on pitch, which was maybe 65% of the time) and Grace Bumbry (not as good as in the 1979 Paris film, but very solid and fun).

            Recently (2013), I heard a noteworthy Anna from Angela Moretllaro at Philadelphia (with Csilla Boross, also fun, in the key role).

  • Milly Grazie

    @Olivero is my Drug of Choice AKA Peter, I have read your comments for a long time and always been struck by them and your devotion to Magda Olivero. Only last year I looked her up and listened to some recordings that we are so lucky to have access to. Once I did that I totally GOT your fascination and devotion. Fierce singing wrapped in silvery tones that touched me deeply.
    As Camille says, “they don’t grow them like you any more” ! Agreed!
    Mantenere il buon lavoro!

  • laddie

    Thank you for this! I am happy to have it prior to my first encounter with the opera at Santa Fe upcoming this summer. Though not terribly excited to hear Racette sing this role, I am hopeful for a good performance.

    • Cocky Kurwenal

      If Racette is on anything like the form she was for ENO’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk earlier this season, she’ll be great. Although if she’s on anything like the form she was for the ROH’s Tabarro, also earlier this season, then not so much.

      • PCally

        Well Katarina is a role in which vocal flaws are much easier to overlook. Shrieks and poor tuning can be covered by an orchestra as well. And while I thought Racette was committed and intelligent I found her interpretation of the role disappointingly bland and straightforward, especially when compared to extraordinarily ambiguous and complicated performance Westbroek gave at the met (and at the ROH judging by the telecast). Racette might be able to act Minnie quite well but I would not want to hear her trying to soar over an orchestra.

        • Cocky Kurwenal

          But the differences related mainly to the actual size and condition of the voice. I don’t think anyone was overlooking vocal flaws in the Shostakovich, because she sang it very well, without shrieks or poor tuning. The Giorgetta wasn’t particularly afflicted by shrieks or poor tuning either, it was just very lack lustre and somewhat insecure sounding.

          • PCally

            Well at least when I went (opening night) the sound spread pretty much whenever she went above the staff, though I guess tuning was mostly fan. Once again, the orchestration is so heavy it’s frankly hard to tell at times. But frankly I don’t think her voice is big enough for either role. I think it’s basically a lyric voice that could project well and so she cleverly manipulated into being able to deal with heavier roles until time caught up for her. Beyond that the basic sound is dry and monochromatic, the exact opposite of what I look for in Puccini.

  • arepo

    Laddie: I’ll bet you anything that Racette is going to put on one helluva show for us in Santa Fe. That Poker Scene alone is worth the price of admission.
    Don’t sell her too short yet!