Fidelio but with an unhappy ending, Bedrich Smetana’s stirring Dalibor opens 2016’s “Trove Thursday” in a 1968 German-language broadcast from Bavarian Radio.
Starring Met stalwart Sándor Kónya and the evanescent African-American soprano Felicia Weathers, it’s led by the great Czech conductor Rafael Kubelik.
When those who frequented the Met under Rudolf Bing go on (and they do go on) about those halcyon days, the Hungarian tenor is a singer whose name rarely seems to come up. In fact, he performed nearly 300 times over fourteen seasons with the company in New York and on tour (including four new production premieres) in a wide variety of roles from Parsifal and Bacchus to Radames and Calaf.
Although he made LPs of operettas and of highlights of Italian operas in German, he’s today best known for his Wagner heroes. Kónya recorded Lohengrin for RCA under Erich Leinsdorf but that performance is less well remembered (perhaps due to the loss of its intended Elsa, Leontyne Price) than two live Bayreuth performances available on CD, one from 1958 with Leonie Rysanek and Astrid Varnay, the other from the following year opposite Elisabeth Grümmer and Rita Gorr.
His Meistersinger, another Bavarian Radio performance under Kubelik, with Gundula Janowitz and Thomas Stewart, has recently become regarded as perhaps the best available version on CD
One of the very first opera records I owned was a birthday gift, London’s 3-LP Royal Family of Opera featuring many of the label’s stars in signature arias and ensembles. One cut that particularly caught the ear of an eager pre-teen was Manon’s “In quelle trine morbide” from Weathers’s Verdi-Puccini recital disk.Listening to it recently, I was again struck by its throbbing vibrancy.
But like another London artist, Elena Souliotis, Weathers was likely a case of “too much, too soon.” Chicago’s Lyric Opera was her major American house where during the late-1960s she sang such demanding roles as Renata in Prokofiev’s The Fiery Angel, Salome and Cio-Cio-San. Her Met career consisted of just one role, Lisa in Pikovaya Dama, in which she was generally dismissed as over-parted. She did Jenufa in San Francisco in 1969, but after 1970 her big American operatic career was pretty much over. Born in the same year and city as Grace Bumbry, Weathers then was still in her mid-30s; however, she did continue to perform, mostly in Europe, for years.
This Dalibor’s cast also includes Kubelik’s wife Elsie Morison as Jutta (or Jitka in Czech) and the superb bass Franz Crass as the jailer Benesh/Benes.
Smetana: Dalibor (in German)
Bavarian Radio, Munich
Milada: Felicia Weathers
Jutta: Elsie Morison
Dalibor: Sandor Konya
Veit: Horst Wilhelm
Wladislaw: Gerd Nienstedt
Benesch: Franz Crass
Budivoj: Heinz Friedrich
A Judge: Theodor Nicolai
Conductor: Rafael Kubelik
Smetana’s opera may be familiar to many from another German-language performance, a 1969 broadcast from the Vienna Staatsoper with Rysanek as Milada (with her sister Lotte at Jitka) with the Romanian tenor Ludovic Spiess as the doomed hero.
Both “rescue” operas, this week’s Smetana and last week’s Rossini, as well as all previous “Trove Thursday” offerings are available for download from iTunes or via any RSS reader.