BerganzaThe wonderful Spanish mezzo Teresa Berganza celebrates her 81st birthday next week and “Trove Thursday” gets the party started with a rare live 1970 broadcast from the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires of Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algeri starring Berganza as Isabella. 

Berganza began her career in 1957 and made her U.S. debut just a year later as Isabella with the Dallas Opera where two nights later she famously sang Neris in Cherubini’s Medea opposite Maria Callas and Jon Vickers. It seems she then didn’t return to the U.S. opera scene until 1962 when she appeared for the first time with Lyric Opera of Chicago as Cherubino and made her NYC debut with the American Opera Society in La Cenerentola (she also sang Italiana with that group at Carnegie Hall later that same year).

Over the next eight seasons, Berganza sang regularly in U.S. opera houses including just fifteen performances at the Met as Cherubino and Rosina; her Barbiere holds the distinction of being the first opera ever videotaped at the Met. It was shown on Japanese television in early 1969 but I’ve never seen clips nor heard that a copy still exists.

Most of Berganza’s American opera appearances during that time stemmed from her core Mozart-Rossini repertoire but she did also appear in Chicago as Concepción in L’Heure Espagnole and Ottavia in L’Incoronazione di Poppea (pirate recordings exist of both) and Miami saw her only performances in Mignon opposite Mady Mesplé and Juan Oncina. After Dorabella in 1970 in San Francisco she disappeared from opera here for more than a decade before returning for her controversial take on Carmen in both Chicago and San Francisco.

Berganza was among the first singers I became fond of when I started to investigate opera. As a teen, I borrowed many of her recordings from the public library; favorites included the Sutherland-Bonynge Alcina, a pair of Archiv LPs on which she sang the Stabat Mater of both Pergolesi and Alessandro Scarlatti with Mirella Freni (another early crush), and especially La Clemenza di Tito opposite the fleeting Maria Casula under István Kertész.

I tried several times to hear her live. She was scheduled to sing Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’été in 1984 with the Cincinnati Symphony, a program later to travel to Carnegie Hall. I dutifully purchased tickets but she withdrew and was replaced by Maria Ewing who sang quite a lovely performance in her place. Soon after moving to New York, I saw Berganza was scheduled to sing a recital at Alice Tully Hall; again I bought tickets but again she canceled.

I always found her rich voice and effortless coloratura stylish and appealing and only much later learned that some listeners find her dull. Those used to the brash, extroverted Italiana of Marilyn Horne may find Berganza’s smaller-scaled Isabella overly modest. It was a role she sang rarely and after this production in Buenos Aires she performed it just once more—a run under Claudio Abbado (a frequent collaborator) of the Jean-Pierre Ponnelle production which opened the 1973-74 season at La Scala.

Rossini: L’Italiana in Algeri
Teatro Colon, Buenos Aires
21 July 1970

Teresa Berganza: Isabella
Valeria Mariconda: Elvira
Tota de Igarzabel: Zulma
Renzo Casellato: Lindoro
Wladimiro Ganzarolli: Mustafa
Renato Cesari: Taddeo
Ricardo Catena: Haly

Francesco Molinari-Pradelli: Conductor

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

Italiana, last week’s Giuramento and all previous “Trove Thursday” fare remain available from iTunes or via any RSS reader.

Photo: José Luis