In nearly two-and-a-half years “Trove Thursday” hasn’t featured music by a Spanish composer until today when it presents Falla’s La Vida Breve in a live concert version with Victoria de los Angeles, one of the country’s greatest singers as Salud. 

From the initials of the title character of Mawrdew Czgowchwz, his glorious fable of divadienst, one might understandably but incorrectly assume who was the favorite real-life diva of its author James McCourt.

But in truth it was de los Angeles with whom he was first a devoted fan then a close friend of a prima donna nearly as versatile but far less flamboyant than his legendary oltrano. I was told that McCourt has written a biography of de los Angeles but his publisher at the time declined it so it unfortunately remains unavailable rather like Bruce Burroughs’s long-rumored book on Zinka Milanov.

But I suspect McCourt isn’t alone in cherishing de los Angeles; over the years I’ve heard and read many glowing stories of encountering her in the opera house or more likely in the concert hall as her opera appearances became fewer particularly in the US after she left the Met in 1961. But doing 16 performances of Flotow’s Martha in five months might sour anyone on an opera company.

Few leading postwar sopranos sang such a widely varied repertoire at the Met. Besides Marguerite, Micaëla, Manon and Mélisande, her celebrated French heroines, de los Angeles did the usual Mimis, Violettas and Butterflys in addition to Elisabeth in Tannhaüser and Eva in Meistersinger.

A notable broadcast of the latter conducted by Fritz Reiner with Paul Schöffler as Sachs has widely been circulated on LP and CD but it was first of only two performances of the opera she sang at the Met and there was but a single Elisabeth. One wonders if any other soprano anywhere in the world sang Rosina in both Il Barbiere di Siviglia and Le Nozze di Figaro in the same season?

After leaving the Met she continued to record opera including Les Contes d’Hoffmann and Werther. Her Bayreuth debut (along with Grace Bumbry) in Tannhaüser came in 1961 and there are well-known “pirates” of her 1965 Elsa from Buenos Aires (in which the chorus sings in Spanish) and a 1969 Charlotte from Madrid with Alfredo Kraus.

Her only appearances with the San Francisco Opera came in 1962 after leaving the Met as Donna Anna, Mimi (there’s a tape of this with Marilyn Horne as Musetta!) and Desdemona and she famously sang the latter in Dallas with Jon Vickers in 1968.

After a successful US opera return in her first-ever Carmen in Newark in 1978 she attempted the role again at New York City Opera a year later without success and canceled the remainder of her scheduled appearances there after just a single performance. It may have been her final staged opera appearance.

Although I admit I don’t listen to de los Angeles much these days, years ago she quickly became a fixture of my learning opera by grabbing LPs at the library. She was my first Mimi (the Thomas Beecham recording with Jussi Bjoerling) and Butterfly (the earlier version with Giuseppe di Stefano and Tito Gobbi).

However the one that still means the most to me is the Glyndebourne Barbiere conducted by Vittorio Gui. I have long since grown to prefer mezzos as Rosina but her sly and charming portrayal remains one of my favorites.

De los Angeles twice recorded this short two-act opera by Manuel de Falla which plays out rather like Moniuszko’s Halka: nice girl gets mixed up with the wrong guy who dumps her to marry another whereupon the shunned heroine dies! No Santuzza-revenge for Salud. I couldn’t find any references to de los Angeles having performed the role on stage and this is the only live performance by her of Falla’s opera that I’m aware of.

Falla: La Vida Breve
Royal Albert Hall, London
29 April 1973

Salud: Victoria de los Angeles
Grandmother: Ines Rivadeneyra
Carmela: Sarah Walker
Paco: Julian Molina
Uncle Sarvaor: Michael Rippon
Manuel: Robert Bickerstaff

French National Radio Orchestra
Saltarello Choir
English Bach Festival Chorus

Conductor: Jean Martinon

La Vida Breve can be downloaded by clicking on the icon of a square with an arrow pointing downward on the audio player and the resulting mp3 file will appear in your download directory.

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