Cher Public

Impossible Discs (part 3)

By Ortrud Maxwell

And now, the finale, one last visit to the graveyard of operatic recordings. This time, we shall meet many complete opera sets that were planned but dropped, others begun but never finished, and still others even completed but left unreleased! 

But before any of that, I want to do a little clean-up by supplementing my first two articles, adding to those lists of artists who subbed for others on existing recordings. The first article might also have mentioned six additional tenorial tales. Two concern experienced performers singing a familiar role in the place of a Bigger Name who would have been singing the part for the first time: Carlo Bergonzi in for Luciano Pavarotti on the Decca/Bonynge Adriana Lecouvreur, and Pierre Duval replacing Franco Corelli (!!!) on the FIRST Decca/Bonynge Puritani. More regrettably, Plàcido Domingo did not (as originally planned and announced) record his excellent Siegmund on the Dohnanyi Walküre; Poul Elming replaced him. We similarly lost James King’s planned Erik on the EMI/Klemperer Holländer.

On the other hand, one can be reasonably pleased that Neil Shicoff, not José Carreras, sang Don José on the Ozawa Carmen; Mr. Carreras’ Don José should be remembered as it sounds on the DG/Karajan recording! Another unnecessary duplication was avoided when the death of Jussi Björling brought Nicolai Gedda to the EMI/Schippers Bohème. But we’ll close this paragraph with a baritone story I’ve always liked. Ettore Bastianini was going to learn Jago for a records-only assumption (Decca/Karajan), but he showed up underprepared and was replaced by Aldo Protti (who of course had already sung the part on Decca’s mono Otello, conducted by Alberto Erede, with the same tenor and soprano). The funny part involves Bastianini showing up with all these experienced Otello types and trying to make a joke out of it by asking, “Now what’s all this about a handkerchief?”

To the findings reported in the second article , I should add a few more items:

  • In the late 1950s, Decca switched sopranos on a pair of projects: Anita Cerquetti and Renata Tebaldi traded Fanciulla and Gioconda.
  • Christel Goltz was originally announced for the DG/Böhm Elektra which so memorably stars Inge Borkh.
  • Mirella Freni joined Mr. Gedda on the above-discussed EMI/Schippers Bohème, planned as a stereo remake with Mr. Björling and Victoria de los Angeles (a la their Butterfly, though the first time out there Giuseppe di Stefano was the wonderful Pinkerton).
  • Catarina Ligendza on the DG/Jochum Meistersinger continues the tradition of bad replacement Evchens (as already reported re: Hannelore Bode) — we were supposed to get Edith Mathis!
  • Julia Varady, the Santuzza on the Decca/Gavazzeni Cavalleria Rusticana, was another of those mystery replacements — was this also proposed as a Freni project, with that diva backing out at the last moment?
  • Cheryl Studer was replaced by Luba Orgonasova on the Rossini Stabat mater (DG/Chung).
  • On the brand-new DG/Abbado Don Giovanni, Carmela Remigio (who?) stands in for originally-announced Jane Eaglen (which is why Sony could include the Donna Anna arias on Miss Eaglen’s new CD); Cecilia Bartoli gave way to Patrizia Pace as Zerlina.

Let’s round off this talk of individuals replacing individuals with a few conductor changes. Jean Martinon’s death brought Lorin Maazel on board for EMI’s Thaïs (where he also played the violin for the “Meditation”), and William Steinberg disappeared from the RCA Trovatore which now bears Zubin Mehta’s name. The RCA (now Decca) Walküre conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, already discussed for changes with its Sieglinde and Fricka, was once earmarked as a project for Herbert von Karajan, and Ferenc Fricsay was named for the above-mentioned DG Elektra which Karl Böhm ended up making. But the most surprising such tale must be that of Carlo Maria Giulini on the justly celebrated EMI Don Giovanni — not only was he a replacement (for Otto Klemperer, who got a second chance seven years later), but he had never performed the opera before!

Before we turn to those complete sets you’re so eager to read about, let’s take a moment to review discs of operatic excerpts. Dame Joan Sutherland reportedly recorded Mignon’s “Connais-tu le pays?” for her “Romantic French Arias” album, but we’ve yet to hear it if so. RCA planned a second disc of Donizetti rarities with Montserrat Caballé, and she taped long Marino Faliero and Fausta scenes for it. The disc was never finished, however, and even with all the CD compilations featuring the diva, these arias were never released.

More surprisingly, she recorded an entire duets album with Mr. Carreras — the Lucrezia Borgia prologue, Manon‘s Saint-Sulpice scene, the end of Act One of Otello, almost all of Chénier Act Four, the Hérodiade prison duet — in 1990, but due to “unacceptable sound quality” (I leave it to my readers to guess what this euphemism might mean) the album has not appeared. Two other Doomed to Disaster Duet Albums, both on Philips: Shirley Verrett and Simon Estes singing “show tunes,” and of course the notorious Maria Callas/Giuseppe di Stefano scenes from Elisir (I think), Don Carlos, Les vêpres siciliennes, Otello and (if memory serves) Faust.

Ruth Ann Swenson’s calling-card aria recital (“Positively Golden,” on EMI) was supposed to include Lakmé’s Bell Song and “Caro nome,” but neither appears on the record. Since broadcasts reveal her to be particularly ravishing whenever she sings the latter, its omission ranks as a particular disappointment. And Angela Gheorghiu’s first solo disc for Decca does not include Micaëla’s aria (which I believe she did record for it) because of the Teldec Carmen which features her (indeed, she’s its only real attraction). Moreover, though I read a detailed listing of the day-to-day recording schedule for the EMI duet record which features Miss Gheorghiu and her hubby, Roberto Alagna, two items mentioned there — the second Adina-Nemorino duet and Périchole’s Séguidille — are not on the CD.

James Levine’s gala concert (April 1996) suffered an unusual spate of cancelled numbers: Miss Swenson and Mr. Pavarotti’s Lucia duet; Hildegard Behrens’ Bible Scene from Wozzeck; Sharon Sweet, Dolora Zajick and Richard Leech in the Norma trio; Miss Bartoli’s Cenerentola finale; Dame Margaret Price’s “Io son l’umile ancella”; Teresa Stratas in an item from Act Two of Mahagonny; Miss Caballé’s Willow Song and Ave Maria; Marilyn Horne’s “Che farò”; Jessye Norman and Christa Ludwig in the Cat Duet (!!!!); and a Bartoli-Bryn Terfel “La ci darem” (replaced by the Act Two Sextet).

And there were replacements in the Ghosts of Versailles quartet (Christine Goerke for Miss Stratas), the Don Carlos interview (Roberto Scandiuzzi for Nicolai Ghiaurov), the Périchole solo (Frederica von Stade for Maria Ewing, who was evidently going to do two selections!), the Fledermaus duet (Hakan Hagegard for Jerry Hadley), the Hoffmann Sextet (Alfredo Kraus for Francisco Araiza), the Lombardi trio (Mr. Bergonzi for Mr. Pavarotti again!) and the Tannhäuser solo (Deborah Voigt for Miss Behrens, who only days before had nabbed the aria away from Miss Eaglen).

All right. No more screwing around. This ain’t our first time at the rodeo. Let’s find out about abandoned recordings, beginning with those planned but dropped before they could ever start. Columbia struggled and struggled to find a Leonore for Bruno Walter’s Fidelio, but neither their own Eileen Farrell (under contract with them, and indeed she recorded one of the best “Abscheulichers” ever made on a recital disc, but since she wasn’t a native speaker Walter wasn’t interested) nor Ingrid Bjoner, Inge Borkh or Sena Jurinac satisfied.

Finally he worked with Gré Brouwenstijn and agreed to use her. A similar search transpired for Marzelline (with rejects including Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Irmgard Seefried and Rita Streich!), with Wilma Lipp the eventual winner. Jon Vickers was rejected also, and they were trying to make arrangements with James McCracken when Walter fell ill (December 1961, only months before his death) and cancelled the whole thing.

EMI has had many Italian opera proposals cancelled or perhaps rerouted, including a Floriana Cavalli/Alfredo Kraus Tosca (early ’60s), a Caballé Attila (late ’70s) and both Tosca and Trovatore for Régine Crespin. Another EMI Trovatore-that-never-was comes from the early ’70s, when Giulini planned to lead Miss Caballé, Shirley Verrett and Piero Cappuccilli. I suppose they never found a suitable Manrico. Also in the early ’70s, Decca booked session time for a premiere recording of Britten’s Gloriana with Dame Janet Baker as Elizabeth, but either the mezzo decided she didn’t want to do it after all or (more likely) the ailing Britten just wasn’t going to be up to conducting it.

Richard Tucker must have been annoyed when he learned that RCA was recording every note of Les vêpres siciliennes but kept cutting back plans to record a complete La juive with him. (That LP of scenes with Martina Arroyo and Anna Moffo represents everything they recorded.) But he should have counted his blessings, for in the late ’70s, RCA completely abandoned three big projects, two of which were slated for James Levine. One was a Don Giovanni for Sherrill Milnes, Leontyne Price, Miss Caballé, Judith Blegen and Stuart Burrows.

I’ve heard it said that one problem here was Miss Price’s insistence that her then-boyfriend Cesare Siepi be cast as the Don, but who knows? The other story is stranger still: a planned Gioconda with Renata Scotto, Tatiana Troyanos, Mr. Domingo and Mr. Milnes evaporated, only to be replaced (that is, using the planned studio time) by an EMI Bohème with the same conductor, soprano and baritone! And the non-Levine project was a Butterfly with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Mr. Domingo, which disappeared when the forgetful tenor stepped into Neil Shicoff’s place on the CBS/Maazel recording . . .

Other 1970s RCA troubles involve the ever-fascinating Anna Moffo, who told Opera Monthly a decade or so ago that she couldn’t wait to record Tosca (a set RCA actually planned in the ’70s), an aria recital and God knows what else — she was also once named in connection with proposed recordings of Alzira (with Franco Bonisolli and Mr. Cappuccilli) and Lodoletta.

A few bel canto disappearances now. A Sony Puritani with Edita Gruberova and (I think) Chris Merritt was promised several years ago; then we learned that Luciana Serra would be singing Elvira instead. I don’t think the record was ever made. Philips announced its own Puritani in the 1970s, to star Cristina Deutekom, but it too never appeared. Similarly, an Erato Semiramide with Miss Caballé and (I think) Martine Dupuy may have been recorded, but if so it was never approved for release.

Miss Caballé and Mr. Carreras had hopes of late ’70s recordings of Forza (Spanish Columbia) and Adriana Lecouvreur (Philips), but neither happened. (Mr. Carreras taped his Alvaro on an unhappy DG/Sinopoli recording.) And there were Puccini plans too: a recent bio tells of two Butterfly recordings (one with Pavarotti) nixed before the one with her husband, Bernabé Martí, was made (she evidently felt that doing the opera without him was like cheating on him!), and evidently an early ’70s Pavarotti/Glossop/Karajan version “failed to materialize for a complex variety of reasons.”

I’m also told that EMI had Karajan booked for Lohengrin sessions with Jussi Björling (!!), Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Maria Callas (as Ortrud!!!!), but Mr. Björling’s death put paid to everything; if you believe this story, I guess the Kempe Lohengrin (with Jess Thomas, Elisabeth Grümmer and Christa Ludwig) resulted a year or two later. Other Karajan plans were of course destroyed when the conductor died, but evidently late in the game he had met and liked Aprile Millo, whom he wanted for Donna Anna (!) and Elsa (!!), plus an aria record (!!!) He’d talked to Vinson Cole about Fidelio (no doubt with Janet Perry as Leonore), and Mirella Freni turned him down for Rigoletto (as she’d already done for Turandot and Ballo).

The early 1980s brought talk of a Hoffmann (for Philips, I think) with Alfredo Kraus and Agnes Baltsa (as Giulietta, one may safely presume!) under James Levine’s direction. (Dame Margaret Price was talked of in connection with a Philips Hoffmann at some point too — as Antonia?) This too never appeared. The Philips Hoffmann with Araiza (first announced as a Deutsche Grammophon project — ah, these PolyGram confusions!) featured a rather good Giulietta in Cheryl Studer. About seven years ago, a Canadian opera magazine revealed a variety of recordings as “in the works” for this soprano, including Massenet’s Manon opposite Plàcido Domingo.

Is the Sinopoli Arabella planned with her, Angela Maria Blasi and Bryn Terfel (also for DG) ever going to happen? What about the Sawallisch Ariadne auf Naxos or the Haitink Die Liebe der Danaë (both EMI proposals, the latter a sad gap in the catalogue since it has yet to receive a complete commercial recording)? I’m doubtful about either, at least with Miss Studer; ditto for the Met Rosenkavalier with her (for DG, of course), Kathleen Battle, Anne Sofie von Otter and Kurt Moll. (When that Rosenkavalier was announced, they also talked of a Falstaff with Kathleen Battle’s Nannetta. I’ve heard nothing of it since.)

On the other hand, the DG/Cheryl Studer recording of Der fliegende Holländer finally became available after an appropriate seven years in limbo, and the same label’s Rigoletto (Pavarotti/Levine) just hit the shelves. The rumor was that Ms. Studer just couldn’t finish “Caro nome,” perhaps owing to an unannounced pregnancy, but somehow she seems to have managed it now — maybe by splicing in notes from other DG recordings?

Deborah Voigt goes from strength to strength onstage but keeps losing record projects through no fault of her own. Sir Georg Solti’s death put paid to the long-debated Decca Tristan remake; forever discussed in the ’80s as a Jessye Norman-Plàcido Domingo project (though James King was once the tenor and, more recently, Mr. Domingo named Hildegard Behrens, Maria Ewing (!!!) and Cheryl Studer as potential Isoldes), it was finally established for Miss Voigt and Ben Heppner, but now .

Similarly, the Decca/Dohnànyi Ariadne has been “on” and “off” and “on” again, most recently with Miss Voigt and Natalie Dessay attached. Keep your fingers crossed! But don’t hold your breath for the Met Forza, which everyone showed up ready to tape — except the tenor, Mr. Pavarotti, who hadn’t learned his role and cancelled both the record and the revival, leaving Roberto Scandiuzzi (Padre Guardiano) with a big check and no performances (since he could hardly have been expected to sing Sam or Tom in Ballo) and Miss Voigt without this chance to record her Leonora di Vargas.

Also unhappy is the news that plans for EMI to record Die tote Stadt with Miss Voigt and conductor James Conlon were eliminated when DG (?) considered making their own with Jane Eaglen. And whatever happened to the RCA/Sir Colin Davis Parsifal (Miss Voigt, Mr. Heppner, Mr. Terfel, Sergei Leiferkus and Jan-Hendrik Rootering)?

Other recent cancellations: an EMI Troyens with Mr. Alagna (Carmen has taken its place in the plans), a Decca Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (so much for the company’s complete Weill project!) and of course the Dohnànyi Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (though apparently the rumors about having a hard time finding a tenor to play Siegfried aren’t the half of it). Did William Christie ever make that Entführung for Erato?

Most mysterious of all are the complete sets which were begun or even finished but have never been issued. In a class by itself here is the 1958 Decca/Serafin Mefistofele, begun with Giuseppe di Stefano but left incom-plete when the tenor abandoned ship. The Faust scenes were redone (or, in the case of the Helen of Troy scene, done for the first time) with Mario del Monaco, but everything else was left as it was (as even the CD release shows, with acoustic shifts from scene to scene). More bizarrely still, Decca released an additional excerpts LP of the di Stefano scenes!

There’s also that complete Ermione which was slated for commercial release until Rockwell Blake deep-sixed it, complaining about the microphone placement — somehow Lyric/Legato got their hands on that, and they’re meant to have the Pesaro Riccardo e Zoraide (with June Anderson and Bruce Ford under Riccardo Chailly) Decca dropped after Chris Merritt pulled out. One last group of Karajan items first. Fans love to exchange names of the ladies put forward for his Norma (in one soprano role or both) — Agnes Baltsa, Lella Cuberli, Helen Donath, Mirella Freni, Barbara Hendricks, Elena Obraztsova, Katia Ricciarelli and no doubt others. But few know that sessions were actually started with Miss Ricciarelli as Norma, Miss Freni as Adalgisa and José Carreras as Pollione. I don’t know how much was recorded before Karajan became ill.

Some years before, he’d made a similar start on Don Carlos, recording about an hour for Decca with Plàcido Domingo, Miss Freni and Christa Ludwig, but there I don’t know what happened. And Karajan’s is but one name attached to those early ’50s Bayreuth recordings, some of which have appeared on pirate labels (with a thing or two, like Tristan scenes and Walküre Act Three, from major labels), of legendary repute. Will Decca release those 1951 cycles under Karajan and Knappertsbusch, or is it true that the masters were destroyed?

Another Don Carlos begun but never finished was the DG/Abbado set planned in Italian — with Miss Ricciarelli, Miss Obraztsova, Mr. Domingo and Renato Bruson — that got redone (in French, thanks to Mr. Abbado’s pleading with DG) when the Russian mezzo was shipped home under KGB suspicion.

A few years before that, Mr. Abbado got another opportunity when the ever-temperamental Carlos Kleiber cancelled an in-progress Bohème (with the Scala forces in Milan, plus Ileana Cotrubas and Mr. Domingo) altogether after one of the minor principals was delayed in Milanese traffic; Mr. Abbado agreed to make a Verdi Requiem with the orchestra (and dreadful chorus) in the time DG had booked. Were Miss Ricciarelli and Nicolai Ghiaurov were already there to sing Musetta and Colline? (I can’t imagine Shirley Verrett, the Requiem mezzo, had anything to do with that Bohème, but who can say?)

Shall we ever see the RCA recording of Strauss’ Die schweigsame Frau, which was allegedly in the works or even in the can as of a few years ago, starring the dream-team of Edita Gruberova and Kurt Moll? (I seem to recall Deon van der Walt mentioned for the tenor part too . . .)

According to Galina Vishnevskaya, she and her husband, Mstislav Rostropovich, had recorded the first act of Tosca with Zurab Sotkilava and the baritone Klenov, but the denunciations of various colleagues brought the rest of the project to a halt. (Said colleagues included three who were making their own Tosca — Milashkina, Atlantov and Mazurok — and two pure careerists — Nesterenko and Obraztsova.) But at least she got to record an entire Tosca when DG made one with her and Franco Bonisolli. Contrast Anita Cerquetti, legendary for having but one commercial recital and opera (the aforementioned Gioconda, slated for Renata Tebaldi). The rumors are true, though: Miss Cerquetti did indeed begin a Decca recording of Norma with Giulietta Simionato and Mario del Monaco, and at least the scenes with Adalgisa were taped (though never released, of course).

For a long time, the biggest mystery of all was Carlo Maria Giulini’s La traviata for DG. It starred Rosalind Plowright, Luis Lima and Juan Pons, and fans used to debate hotly whether the set got off the ground at all. Well, the recording most certainly did take place — there was a session report in High Fidelity in the late ’80s — but obviously it has never appeared. Evidently Mr. Giulini, who had insisted on Miss Plowright for his Traviata, refused to allow DG to release the recording, but I don’t have his specific reasons (though I’ve also heard the entirely credible report that Miss Plowright had Act One Trouble . . .)