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Bach Aria Group
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Jan Peerce

Frank Drake wrote (March 15, 1995):
Jeff Mora wrote:
< Changing the subject slightly - When I was in college (1959-1963), I have wonderful memories of the Bach Aria Group making an annual visit to the University of Arizona. I think, but I'm not sure, that Jan Peerce, was one of the soloists. Could any of the opera-l'ers confirm or deny that Peerce sang with the Bach Aria Group? >
Absoutely; I saw them on tour at Oberlin in the 60s. He appears on recordings they made for Decca (domestic, not Decca/London)

 

Bach Aria Members

William Fregosi wrote (March 16, 1995):
Not only was Jan Peerce a member of the Bach Aria Group, but also Eileen Farrell and, if memory serves, Adele Addison. In terms of voice, technique and taste, it was a pretty classy group.

I have just encountered another classy group on a Sony release of a 1956 Salzburg Don Giovanni. Siepi, Corena, Grümmer, Della Casa, Simoneau, Frick, Berry and Streich under Mitropoulos. This is like a festival of song and while I have always revered Grümmer for her beauty and purity of tone, the fury with which she heat welds "Or sai chi l'onore" to the back wall of the Festival Theatre WHILE maintaining that tone has to be heard to be believed. The sound is very clear and present. If anyone is looking for a DON G of the highest quality, this one is an easy winner.

 

Bach Aria Group

Mike Richter wrote (March 16, 1995):
I believe there was some variation in the instrumental makeup of the Bach Aria Group, but the vocalists were constant as I recall. Alphabetically:

Julius Baker (flute)
Robert Bloom (oboe)
Eileen Farrell (soprano).
Norman Farrow (bass-baritone)
Maureen Forrester (contralto)
Bernard Greenhouse (cello)
Lois Marshall (soprano)
Jan Peerce (tenor)
Carol Smith (alto)
Paul Ulanowsky (piano)
Maurice Wilk (violin)

I wonder if those performances and recordings were the only times that Peerce and Farrell sang together? In the opera house, it would seem to have been unlikely.

Mike Richter wrote (March 17, 1995):
Joseph So replies that I omitted the names of Maureen Forrester and Lois Marshall from the list of participants in the Bach Aria Group. If so, I should not be forgiven: they are particular favorites of mine, and unlike Peerce and Farrell were insufficiently recognized in their prime.

Forrester recorded well, but too little; her Handel LP's with Stich-Randall, Alexander Young, and others are worth ferreting out and a recital LP with Part o, parto should be on CD and accessible to all. She also recorded Bach cantatas (all on Westminster), and proved at least competitive with Watts and others of greater fame in the U.S.. Interestingly, I found her voice live to match that on recording in all respects.

Marshall's recordings are fewer and less notable today than they were in an era when baroque style was either hoch-romantisch or nymphs-and-shepherds. Despite the impact of polio, she maintained a respectable concert career and sang a satisfying Konstanze for Beecham. The voice was bright and clear, somewhere between Kirkby's and Ameling's in timbre.

Where Forrester is still performing occasionally (we discussed her career recently on-list), I believe that Marshall has been off the stage for a few years. From recording and other sources, I was unaware that either had been in the Group; I would be interested in the years when they were active and whether any recordings were made with them.

 

Lois Marshall & Bach Aria Group

Robert Jones wrote (March 16, 1995):
Eileen Farrell was not the only great soprano allied with the Bach Aria Group. Farrell was replaced by the Canadian soprano Lois Marshall, an extraordinary artist whom I always regarded as one of the truly great singers of her era. Marshall took over the soprano arias for the Group, later moved downward and had a second career with them as their mezzo.

Marshall was a choice soprano for Toscanini and Beecham (her audition for Toscanini indicates her versatility: Mozart's "Et incarnatus est" and Puccini's "In Questa Reggia"), and she recorded both Handel's Queen of Sheba and Constanza in Mozart's Seraglio for Beecham. It was a large, rather soft-grained voice that could be thrilling "live" but sounded merely "lovely" on records. Marshall used it to great effect in her recitals, where her emotional power was invariably of awesome proportions. She sang little in opera (Mimi, Ellen Orford, Ariadne), for she had a severe limp from a childhood bout with polio that made physical movement difficult..

There were few singers whom I really would have climbed mountains and swam rapids to hear, but Lois Marshall was one of them. Maybe the only one. I often wondered what happened to her. Maybe some Canadian listers will let me know?

Joseph So wrote (March 17, 1995):
You've touched a subject dear to my heart! Marshall indeed is a very special artist and a 'national treasure'. She continued to sing into the 80's as a mezzo. She teaches voice (though recently retired) at the opera division of the University of Toronto, and one occasionally sees her at musical events. The last time I saw her was last June, when she gave the tribute to Teresa Stratas on the occasion of the awarding of an Honourary Doctorate of Laws on Teresa at the University of Toronto. I got to speak briefly with Marshall and she was as wonderful and warm and human as ever. Her strength and dignity in the face of personal adversity (childhood polio severely affected her lifelong ambition to be an opera singer) is inspirational. Even though she is largely forgotten today, I urge those who are interested in finding out about this artist to seek out her recordings. There is a recently reissued CD on the SM5000 (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) label. In addition to the Constanza Bob mentioned, she also recorded a collection of English songs, a Winterreise(!) and Die Schone Mullerin late in her career as a mezzo, a collection of opera arias (including In questa reggia!). She appears in a video singing Beim Schlafengehen from the Four Last Songs with Glenn Gould at the piano. There is also a complete Eugene Onegin where she sings the nurse, opposite Thomas Allen (Onegin) and Kathryn Bouleyn (Tatiana), dated 1981 from the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. There are probably other things which I have forgotten. Perhaps the most memorable event is the concert in honour of her retirement from the stage around 1986 or so, when at the end, she came on stage and sang "An die Musik", so full of meaning, dignity and humility. There was not a dry eye in the house.

 

Jan Peerce - Handel CD

Phil Campanella wrote (April 12, 1995):
Jeff Mora wrote:
< FYI -I found what appears to be a newly released CD set of Handel's Judas Maccabaeus, featuring Jan Peerce and Martina Arroyo, conducted by Thomas Scherman with the Vienna State Orchestra. Mary Davenport, David Smith and Lawrence Avery are the other soloists. VOX CDX 5125 (2 cds). No date of the recording is given. IMHO The singing is wonderful and the sound is excellent. >
We may have to go down in"authentic movement" flames together, Jeff, but I have to agree with your opinion. I've had a copy of this on LP for many years. I think Peerce is terrific on this. He sings with total conviction and great style. It may seem operatic and ninteenth century to some, but it still gives me a thrill. Peerce, aside from his opera career, was, from 1951 to 1964, tenor soloist with the Bach Aria Group. The ensemble included soprano soloist Eileen Farrell and provided many in this country with their first taste of the Cantatas.

 

VOXBOX CDs: Pricing alternatives

Wayne J. MacPherson wrote (November 4, 1995):
In light of our recent discussions about CD ripoffs (older mono recordings released at full price, etc), I was delighted to come across an effort by one company to give us "our money's worth" in an economical fashion.

VOXBOX has a series of 2-fer-1 CDs; I bought the two sets at $8.99 each - so four CDs for under $20.00. One recording had been recommended many months ago on this list: a recording of the Bach Aria Group (including Maureen Forrester,Lois Marshall, Richard Lewis, Norman Farrow, as the singers with William Scheide as Director and Samuel Baron, flutre; Robert Bloom, Oboe, Oscar Shumsky, Violin; Yehudi Wyner, organ. Conductor is Brian Priestman).

On two CDs they have: Cantata BWV 102 ("Herr deine Augen sehen nach dem Glauben") and Cantata BWV 3 ("Ach Godd, wie manches Herzeleid", the Sinfonia for Two Solo vioins and Strings, arias from cantata BWV 182, BWV 42, BWV 32, BWV 205 (a duet), 132, 120a (Wedding Cantata) - one aria from each cantata and three choruses from Cantatas BWV 138, BWV 109, BWV 115.

The second CD is a complete recording of Handel's Judas Maccabaeus with Jan Peere and Martina Arroyo; Thomas Scherman conducting the Vienna State Opera Orchestra.

Both sets have good documentation, including translations for the Bach. The Handel is a better buy for timing: one with 70:59, the other 65:00. The Bach only has 45:41 and 46:00; I guess we don't have to worry about bad sidebreaks. :-)

VOXBOX also had a series of Cincinnatti Symphony Orchestra historic recordings, including a couple with Thomas Schippers. Mostly orchestral but there was a Rossini Stabat Mater (I forget the soloists). Admirers of that orchestra will have more to say about that particular series. But again the price - two cds for the price of one - is attractive.

There are no recording/performance dates for either CD set that I purchased.. Since Scherman, the conductor of the Handel, died in 1979, I'm assuming that this recording pre-dates 1979. :-)

 

Seth McCoy dies

Somebody wrote (January 26, 1997):
Today's Times had an obituary for Seth McCoy, a tenor who sang for years with the Bach Aria Group and who made his Met debut fairly late in life (age 50).

 

Tucker/Peerce

Kenneth Wolman wrote (October 24, 1997):
Bob Rideout wrote:
< Saith Der Bobolink.... It is not my intention to do a rerun of "Family Feud" but it also seems that Jan Peerce can use a little PR around here. Heaven's knows, his brother in law gets enough to go around, and around, and around. >
I have (relatively) clear memories of seeing/hearing Peerce in the early Sixties in Lucia and Forza. The former was opposite Sutherland the Saturday after she made her Met debut, at which the tenor had been Tucker. Peerce was superb. It was not the warmer sound of Tucker, in fact there was a tone to it that I can only call a "hard nasality," but his performance as Edgardo was every bit as good as Tucker's the week before, i.e., superb.

Then I got to see him as Don Alvaro opposite Farrell and Colzani. I don't know if this is true, but the word was that this Saturday night Alvaro was Peerce's first venture into the role, and he was to all reports over sixty at the time. You couldn't put an age on that voice: he did everything right out there, except that the massive Colzani looked like Hillbilly Jim next to Peerce, and the physical contrast was sort of funny. The singing, however, was not.

Much later, I got to see a film made in Israel late in Peerce's life, when he was nearly 80, of him singing with Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic. It was all operatic "standards": not a free pass in the lot. And although the pure beauty of the voice was largely gone, what was NOT gone was the technique, breath control, and intensity, that made it miraculous. Secure top notes, legato, attacks. He had everything.

He even, I heard, sang a Don Ottavio sometime in the early/mid Sixties and did a much better than creditable job of it.

His early work was, I believe, with something called the Bach Aria Group, along with Frances Yeend and George London. The technique of classical as well as cantorial singing appeared to stand the man we standees called "Yankele" in good stead.

And to hear him on the Toscanini recordings...his work in the Lombardi trio, on the 9th Symphony, Traviata, Rigoletto Act III, and that fantastic delivery in the Hymn to the Nations.... I'm ranting.

 

Jan Peerce/Bach Aria Group

John Stege wrote (October 24, 1997):
Earlier today Ken Wolman remarked on Peerce's participation in concerts and recordings by the Bach Aria Group in the late 40's and early 50's. Thanks for reminding us.

He's especially fine in Cantata BWV 60, "O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort" (RCA LM6023, recorded 1953/54): forceful, elegant, and focused, singing the role of "Hope" with total conviction and beauty of tone.

It's a wonder, this cantata--a mini-drama dialogue between "Fear" (sung by Carol Smith) and "Hope," with arioso interjections from the "Holy Spirit" (Norman Farrow) punctuating "Fear's" final recitative, and an other-worldly final chorale, "Es ist Genug." Diverse talents have appreciated the work, ranging from Oskar Kokoschka who based a suite of etchings on it to Peter Sellars who staged it.

 

The Divine Eileen

Patrick Giles wrote (Februay 13, 1998):
I have little to add to the eloquent postings on Miss Farrell. I only saw her live once, in a very late recital. Though diminished in size and less fully enameled (judging from recordings) the voice I heard that night was simply glorious. Thanks to a good Opera-L friend, I recently sat down to listen to a number of her broadcasts--and was again floored by the majestic, agile flood of sound she could produce. It had an inherent nobility and classical perfection. But what she lacked was that dramatically expressive quality that Callas was then (and forever, through her records) teaching us to expect in all music. Miss Farrell's Gioconda is a powerfully sung, moving portrayal, but it doesn't have the minute, musical and characterological insightfulness Callas' has (even in the second recording). She also was not a very idiomatic singer--but in MEDEA, she blazes with complete conviction. It wipes out even Callas for me. (But then, I could say the same about Sills' Lucia. Callas was not definitive all the time.)

I'll bet Miss Farrell was superb in Bach, who demands an almost anonymous religious fervor straitjacketed in the toughest Baroque technique. (She was certainly splendid in the Handel MESSIAH.) I know she sang and recorded with the Bach Aria Group, but have been unable to find any of the LPs. (None, to my knowledge, made it to CD.) Does anyone know how to get copies of them? And does anyone have Miss Farrell's address? I believe she lives with one of her daughters in New Jersey...

 

Eileen Farrell

Michael D. Barclay wrote (February 14, 1998):
This is the first posting I've made with emotion. Otherwise I've largely functioned as a fact machine, something I've done as a "professional opera lover" for 45 years. I grew up in NYC and followed my beloved Eileen from the Bach Aria Group to The Old Met and then to the very end of her public career.

Here is some Farrell lore I've never shared. When she first got her Alceste costumes she stormed into Bing's office as said"@@@@@!!!!!! I look like a super Kotex!"

I never new if the "low notes" fable is just that, but knowing her as I did I'm more than willing to believe it. When I was 14 a dear old friend and I searched out her home in Staten Island early on Christmas Eve, rang the doorbell, told her we loved her and were invited in for milk and cookies. She was in her bathrobe and it was 1 PM.

She was still in her bath robe when I came to do a formal interview with her in 1971 at the Airport Marriott in Oakland, CA. She was here for two Wagner concerts and in spectacular voice. In the middle of the interview for my radio show, The SuperArt, there were innumerable interuptions caused by telephone calls from fans and friends. Then the alarm on her TV went off. "Oh, s t, they think I'm stealing their damned TV again." It was 2 PM and there were eight carts of dirty dishes from innumerable room service visits. She'd been in the room 14 hours!

The interview was remarkable, especially as she described how in Wagner's music she made her voice into one of the orchestra's instruments and let the sound of the entire experience engulf her "like an ocean wave." We talked about her short Met career and she explained that basically Bing had "let her go" after the last seaat 39th St. There were NO OFFERS for 65/66 or 66/67 and that was the end of that! By Chapin's time she was no longer interested.

I heard her sing 30-40 arias from Bach's cantata's and masses, Rossini's Stabat Mater (an inflammatus is in circulation), the Verdi Requiem, Santuzza, Alceste, Gioconda, Forza, and the finest Maddalena in Chenier. She was a superb actress who in spite of her size became a gorgeous teenager in Chenier Act I, fluttering about with Bersi and was the most sincerely sorry Maddalena I've ever seen when she recognized Chenier's feelings. She felt his pain with sincerity. She and Corelli made a good pair but she was wonderful with Tucker, Peerce, Bergonzi, and even Barry Morrel (sp.?). The voice, unique in her prime belongs in a group with Flagstad, Norman, Harshaw, Varnay and a few others. It was a voice at its best in the 60's, large, rich, seemless, creamy, enveloping, supple, feminine and utterly natural. She sang recits as if speaking and no words were lost BUT no legato either--big, but there were bigger (Nilsson) and truth be told her high B's & C's were not its glory but the opulent middle and warm lower registers, a rare vintage port moving easily to a bright, light amber sherry. She wasn't a drinker so I wonder why I'm thinking wines.

She believed in pop and was the first truly successful cross over--she "did have a right to sing the blues", regardless of what the herd thought of her in such music stylistically. I treasure her Christmas album whose cover must have made every geneticist beam.

No, she shouldn't have used music at recitals--but she hated to memorize. She should have sung much more opera but her husband and kids came first and she didn't like to travel. She should have been the glory of the Met for 20 years. She would have been glad to be but Bing who is somehow achieving sainthood now that he's gone wasn't a soprano person--witness his firings--he was a tenor queen, a Corelli fan, and not really all that astute at casting. He owed us a Consul in the mid 50's with Farrell, he should have risked MEDEA with her, her Verdi repertoire could have easily encompassed innumberable Ballos, Aida, Elisabetta, the other Leonora, Desdemona (still a major fantasy), Stiffelio with Vickers about 1960. She would have been the Ellen Orford of Britten's dreams--her sung English was sooooo beautiful. She should have tried Tosca, Minnie, and Giorgetta. She could have sung the s t out of Mozart but shared Callas's distaste for the major roles. What an Elettra she might have made, and Vitellia. There was a huge repertoire for her outside Wagner had Bing some appreciation and IMAGINATION. SHE SHOULD HAVE REIGNED FROM 52-66 and then done a series of incomparable cameos for another ten years. What a tragedy for opera that she wasn't born in Munich or Paris or even London.

Happy birthday Eileen. You will never be forgotten for your humor, pluck, musicality and that incredible instrument. Instead of being queen of the Met you were merely a precious jewel in the hands of an incompetent martinet.

 

Eillen Farrell (not so long)

Mike Richter wrote (October 27, 1998):
Matthew H. Herrington wrote:
<<I have totally fallen in love with Eileen Farrell's voice. I had never really heard of her before (I wonder why). What are some of her best recordings? I am still in heaven after listening to her "Pace, Pace". I must hear some more. >>
Braden Mechley wrote:
< You'd be mad not to seek out more of this stupendous soprano's recorded legacy. Happily, she left a fair amount for you to sample, even if she only recorded two complete operas (technically, three complete operatic roles -- but more on that in a moment). >
I want to add to Braden's excellent list, but it will be frustrating in that most (or all) of the following appear not to have been transferred to CD and certainly are unlikely to be readily available.

1) For my taste, the later Wesendonck recording is good, but not up to her version with Stokowski - some of the most sumptuous Wagner I've ever heard.

2) On a Columbia (now CBS, hence Sony) LP entitled Arias in the Great Tradition, she delivers some of the most fiendish material written for the soprano with assurance bordering on disdain; it's also well recorded so that one gets at least a suggestion of the size of her voice.

3) Despite having a voice of Bruennhilde dimensions, her contributions to the Bach Aria Group and to excerpts of Messiah are not to be missed.

One may argue about the term 'prima donna assoluta', but not about Farrell qualifying for it. There is some material in the soprano repertoire which was not for her - Lucia for range, Carmen and (Rossini's) Rosina for style. But Eileen Farrell delivered - assuredly and musically - in a range of material fitting for the term assoluta. However, I get the feeling that she was only technically, not temperamentally, a prima donna.

 

Eileen Farrell

Robert White wrote (October 28, 1998):
Several of the listers have covered her recordings reasonably well (anyone who is not bowled over by To this we've come should check with an audiologist PRONTO),

Farrell cancelled her Met tour appearance in FOrza (Dallas, 1962) and i saw the first of many Amara Leonoras (this one was with Peerce, Merrill, Hines). I subsequently did see Farrell in the documented Philadelphia performance (complete with false curtain-- but Philadelphia had a tradition of "catch as catch can" that extended to every aspect of the preparation except for the vigorous vocalizing of one or 2 singers in each cast (but oh how i treasure those evenings!!!!).

Farrell came to Dallas (whereI grew up) several times with the Bach Aria Group (Peerce again along with Carol Smith, Julius Baker, Norman Farrow). She was not the least bit prima donna-ish, and appreciated being able to have the music stand infront of her (though compared to the sight reading we see at concerts today, she was merely using as a crutch to her lazy memory, NOT her lack of study).

BUT for me the Farrell performance that will remain forever (and I believe not previously commented on) is her Act I Sieglinde with the New York Philharmonic with Bernstein, James King and I think (Michael Langdon, but don't hold me to that). King was on good form, but Farrell and Bernstein were absolutely overwhelming (Rysanek was in the audience). When Sieglinde intones "Siegmund!" at the end of Act I, you could not hear the New YOrk PHilharmonic. THe voice was so warm and all-encompassing that I thought this must have been what it was like in the golden age of Flagstad/Traubel/Melchior etc. Bernstein was an absolutely inspired partner (his Tristan recording is a memorable interpretation that is pretty much missing voices to fill it out, but this night in PHilharmonic Hall, there was no doubt we were hearing a historic performance. As a big fan of both Crespin and Rysanek, I've seen my share of memorable Sieglindes, but Farrell's was a special evening (sad that she never did the part or the Act 3 O hehrstes WUnder-- the absolute perfect voice for it-- she should have done a Traubel and sung the Brunnhilde/ Sieglinde exchange to herself)

No one has mentioned two other recordings that rank highly for me: Missa Solemnis (also with Bernstein) where her work (along with his of course) is so dramatic that you snap to attention right away, and her Messiah with Ormandy and the PHiladelphia ( when many of us loved the velvet cushioned approach to Handel (I'm a big fan of the Beecham too-- heresy deluxe. I believe this Mormon Tabernacle CHoir/:PHila Orchestra effort is still one of the largest selling albums in history.

And as I close I must mention 2 live Messiahs which have recently been brought to mind. Dallas Civic Opera in the Larry Kelly days did a concert Messiah in 1962 and 1963 as part of the opera season. Joan Marie Moyanagh (Glauce in the Callas Medea) was soprano both times,but 1962: Leopold Simoneau, Caterina Mancini (in ENglish as the mezzo!!!!!!), Ezio Flagello and 1963: Jon VIckers, Regina Resnik, Norman Treigle

I still remember both these performances 35+ years later. Mancini was in town for a most historically incorrect (anfar too long for this 16 year old) Incoranazione di Poppea with Patrice Munsel (!!!!), Ramon Vinay (Nero), Mancini (Ottavia), Zaccaria (Seneca), Bianca Berini (Arnalta) and Lidia Marimpietri (Drusilla). I've forgotten the others, but remember Munsel as being stretched by the demands back then. Mancini's Addio Roma WAS unforgettable as was her Messiah.

Time to finish preparation for Nozze tomorrow night.

 

Bach Aria Group

Patrick Giles wrote (October 28, 1998):
All these hosannas for Eileen Farrell remind me of an ancient quest: I've been trying to find recordings by the Bach Aria Group. Farrell was a member of this ensemble (as was Peerce). I once heard her singing with them on the radio (it was one of the records) and she was splendid.

Does anybody have copies of the Bach Aria Group recordings, or know someone who sells them? The NY LP vendors are tired of my asking for it!

Thanks for the help. . .

 

Maria Stader

DFT Ritter wrote (April 30, 1999):
I recall a NYPhil performance at Carnegie Hall...it had to be about 1961-2-3...with Stader standing on a box perhaps 8-10 inches high, next to a very good oratorio bass of the time, Norman Farrow [if I recall correctly, an original member of the Bach Aria Group]. Farrow stood about 6-and-a-half feet tall, and Stader still only was chest high on her colleague. I believe that her tiny stature and a smallish voice obviated an operatic career. Nevertheless her very focused and beautiful sound was remarkable. No, I don't think I'd want to have heard her Constanze in an opera house, cleanly sung as it was. But her "Jauchzett, Gott" was memorable, and I treasure her lp's of songs and an "Exsultate, jubilate" of real distinction.

 

Farrell, Nilsson, etc

Robert White wrote (December 19, 1999):
The previous postings all make some good pointsö Crutchfield was not the moderator to make the combination of Nilsson and Farrell work. The points about pre-interviewing as well as Farrell's personality (even in youth) should have signalled doing it a different way. Like so much today, way too much was 'riding' on this Singers Roundtable (in fact many of them turn out to be DUDS)

Farrell and Nilsson are among the greatest performers to have ever trod an operatic stage. That being said, most of Farrell's best work did not come on an operatic stage. I saw her four times live: Forza in Philly 1966 (with Corelli and preserved on CD)- she cancelled her Met tour appearance in Dallas in 1962 so instead of the incongruity of Peerce and Farrell (great friends from Bach Aria Group) we had Amara and Peerce (Lucine was actually a better Leonora), a recital in Dallas; the Bach Aria Group (again in Dallas) and Act 1 of Walkure with the NYPhil (Bernstein, J. King and I think M. Langdon). The Bach Aria evening was lovely (I was only 16 and loved the vigor these 4 singers brought to the music; purists would probably hate it) But that NYPhil evening. Oh my. What singing. Sieglinde was just a tad lower than Forza (well MORE than a tad) and a concert platform (after a radio mike) was probably her most comfortable venue. Of her natural endowments and potential there is little quibble (for the EMI/now Testament aria recital) as well as the Wagner excerpts (I particularly like her late Immolation and Wesendonk with Bernstein) but also the early stuff show that it wasnt just potential. Still so much of her was What might have been.

Nilsson was the unbelievably solid, witty, dependable singer who capped off a fine technique and talent with an electrifying upper register that seemed to leave the word 'compromise' out. While I enjoyed her Wagner (esp. Gotterdammerung) it was in Strauss where she really left the competition behind. As a college freshman I came to New York for two of the Salomes from Philly. WHAT SINGING. She actually trumped it a few years later with a concert one with the Chicago symphony with Solti and the Chicago brass making Levine sound like a mouse (not a criticism of either just making an aural comparison). BIrgit won, not with decibels (though trust me no ear trumpets were required) but with focus and clarion single minded thrust. Her Elektra and Dyers Wife also brought great great pleasures. The Turandot will go down like Melchior's Tristan as really sui generis-- not just one run but practically every performance.

ONe real commonality that Crutchfield touched on was the two ladies' capacity to be commanding. Farrell did it with the NYPhil ONSTAGE as she thundered 'Siegmund' at the end of Act 1.

Glad I saw them both, and grateful for the ENORMOUS contribution Nilsson made to THOUSANDS for operatic enjoyment for more than three decades (and her lagniappe at the Levine gala just further confirmation that she always knew what trumps were and when to play them.

 

Peerce in Russia

Houston Maples wrote (December 23, 2002):
Ed Rosen wrote:
< I believe that Jan Peerce was the first big name American opera singer to sing opera in Russia, in the mid to late 50's. He sang concerts, and appeared, I believe, in Ballo and Traviata. He also officiated at a Synagogue for Jewish services. >
Jan Peerce, reminiscing, says: "I went to Russia two times, first in 1956 - a marvelous experience! I passed muster, because my first concert was at Tchaikovsky Hall. Then if you make it with the critics, the public, the feinschmecker (tastemakers), they move you to the Conservatory. In Russia they want me to teach...Pavel Lisitisan - THAT'S a singer!" Elsewhere: "When - after seven encores - the house manager finally ordered the lights dimmed so people would start home I felt very, very good indeed. Back in the greenroom with music lovers and musicians crowding in to shake hands, one question kept popping up. Had I chosen the Bach aria with which I opened my program ESPECIALLY for my Russian tour? Was Bach known in America? As a proud and faithful member of New York's Bach Aria Group, I think I did manage to convince them that Bach played just as great a part in OUR music life.."

During his first visit Peerce sang two Rigolettos in Leningrad at the Kirov, two Traviata's in Moscow and two Masked Balls in Kiev. He was greeted rapturously everywhere. "After our second Rigoletto performance there was a party given in my honor. I returned home around one a.m. and had to leave the hotel the next day at seven a.m. to catch my plane back to Moscow. When my wife and I appeared in the lobby at an unearthly hour, we found to our amazement that the entire Rigoletto cast, headed by Konstantin Laptev and his wife, Anna, were waiting for us. They just wanted to see us to the airport for a final au revoir" ...(At the Bolshoi) "Mme. Firsova, an excellent lyric-coloratura, was Violetta and the beloved baritone Lisitsian, a great Russian favorite, was the elder Germont."

 

Bach Aria Group

Michael Barclay wrote (May 9, 2001):
Two and one half years ago you sent me a blank tape. That was before my accident, 6 months of hospitalization and then these last two years of improvement. I'm sure I remember what I was supposed to put on the tape but in the interim your excited note of 29 Oct 1998 was lost in a sea of correspondence.

It bobbed up to the surface again today as part of the first Spring Cleaning in three years, unfortunately without your address. As far as Karoline and I can tell your'signature reads Patrick Gily but that's only a guess. Since it first arrived I have been to Hades and back. Please forgive my slovenlyness and if you read this please send me your snail-mail address so I may send you your tape and a gift.

 

Eileen Farrell

Teri Noel Towe wrote (March 18, 2002):
I forward this poignant message with the permission of Sally Bloom, the widow of the great oboist Robert Bloom, with whom Eileen Farrell sang in the Bach Aria Group for many years.

A call from Julie and Ruth Baker came just now, relaying the news from Brian Kellow that Eileen has been taken to a hospice, not expected to be with us much beyond a few more days. Apparently a lot of ailments have caught up with her and she has asked not to have any more rigorous treatment. She is being kept comfortable, they said. If you would like more information, Brian (who is theman who wrote her autobiography with her, if you remember--a writer for Opera News, etc.). Here is an excerpt from my history of the Bach Aria Group:

You have already read of the radio and television success enjoyed by Eileen Farrell; she was born in Willimantic, CT in 1920, the daughter of vaudeville singers, and received her early training with Merle Alcock and Eleanor McClellan. She was the soloist in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra and in the 1950s and 1960s she became one of the most frequent soprano soloist to be engaged to appear with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of the late Leonard Bernstein; she was also the frequent soloist with other major orchestras, a favorite of such conductors as the late Thomas Schippers. Also known for song and oratorio repertoire, she made her belated Met debut in 1960 singing Gluck, and remained on the Met roster for only six years. From 1971 to 1980, Eileen held the position as Distinguished Professor of Music at the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington. Eileen recorded the important film score for Interrupted Melody for which Eleanor Parker got an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 1955, lip-synching Eileen’s singing. She made several CDs singing the blues late in her career and her autobiography, ‘Can’t Help Singing’ was published in 1999 by Northeastern University. Married to a NYC policeman, the late Robert Reagan, Eileen has two children.

I will be thinking of her as I'm sure all of us will. I will let you know any information that I receive and would be glad to hear from you, too.

Warm regards,

Sally Bloom

 

Met Falstaff tomorrow/Parade/Farrell

Warren F. Michon wrote (March 26, 2002):
I will be at the Falstaff performance tomorrow night, sitting on my scooter in the row G of the Dress Circle with my neighbor Tom. I hope to see some of you. Falstaff and Otello are my two favorite Verdi operas. I wrote my Master's thesis on the musico-dramatic relationships in Falstaff.

Ron and I were at Parade on Friday last week. It was a disappointing performance of all three works. I saw it years ago and was thrilled. Friday night, Levine's conducting had no forward movement. I love Ravel's score for L'Enfant et les Sortileges, and know it very well. His was an uninspired reading. The singing in Les Mamelles and L'Enfant was only adequate. I think that it was a mistake to have the singers on the sides of the stage in the Ravel because they were very disconnected from the action of the actors and the dancers. Ruth Ann Swenson, however, sang the role of The Princess beautifully with just the right sound. I guess it was just a bad night for the cast. I blame the conductor. Maybe his sciatica was acting up.

I remember Eileen Farrell as Ariadne, with Mattiwilda Dobbs as Zerbinetta, in a concert performance by the Little Orchestra Society (I think) in Town Hall. It was one of the most incredible performances of the work I have ever heard. Farrell's voice was huge and the sound enveloped the audience. I had also loved her singing in the Bach Aria group. She will be sorely missed. IMO, after she lost weight, her voice was never as big and resonant. "Ten Cents a Dance" was one of my favorites of her "pop" selections.

 

BAG re-release

Neil Halliday wrote (December 15, 2004):
This 2 CD re-release entitled "The Art of Robert Bloom", available from www.bostonrecords.com , is a lovely collection of arias performed by the Bach Aria Group (1946-1980), featuring oboist R. Bloom.

Many other big-name soloists are featured, and the strengths (IMO) of a grand piano as a keyboard continuo instrument are ably demonstrated (although this was apparently controversial even in the 60's); I will comment on these examples as they come up in the next round of cantata discussions.

Speaking of soloists, the booklet quotes this comment from a reviewer of a concert, concerning the BAG ethos: "To paraphrase what the late Arturo Toscanni said, when he reproved a recalcitrant prima donna - in Bach the only stars are the stars in Heaven".

 

Bach Aria Group and OVPP

Neil Halliday wrote (December 16, 2004):
An interesting twist to the present discussion on OVPP is supplied by William Scheide's (founder of the Bach Aria Group) experience when, in response to public criticism, he sought to broaden his repertoire from just arias to include choruses, using his existing forces of about 9-12 performers including vocalists.

The following 'broadside' was received from a reviewer of one of the concerts:

"Having heard many cantatas in churches, in concert halls, on records - we also know how weak it sounds when a monumental chorus is performed by only nine people."

You can't please everyone! (However, my sympathies are with the sentiments of the reviewer....)

The booklet continues: "Of course, many musicologists today are making much of the fact that this "one on a part" performance is most probably how the cantatas were originally presented, something Mr. Scheide seemed to know decades before recent discussions."

My comment: Maybe he knew, maybe he didn't; his aim was to acquaint the music loving public of America with these (at the time) neglected works, and in this, he succeeded admirably, with the performances of selected arias drawing enthusiastic acclaim.

{The other criticism concerned the use of a continuo piano; Scheide eventually capitulated in favour of a portable organ. But the compiler of the booklet (oboist Bloom's wife) says this: "...may I take the liberty to say that, to my ear, it was a loss, and I ask you to consider the question from the aesthetic point of view".)

 

William H. Scheide's birthday

Teri Noel Towe wrote (January 5, 2005):
Tomorrow, January 6, is the 91st birthday of William H. Scheide, the founder and first director of the Bach Aria Group.

For the benefit of those who might want to send him birthday greetings, his e-mail address is: WHScheide@aol.com

Stephen Benson wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Teri Noel Towe] The best part about having a birthday on January 6 is that one gets to celebrate by listening to Part VI of the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), an experience that has become an essential part of my own b-day celebration. What a glorious way to start the day! It's almost as if Bach had written a piece of music expressly for that occasion.

Bradley Lehman wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Stephen Benson] Happy birthday, and if the magi bring you 12 great Bach items, let us know....

Aryeh Oron wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Teri Noel Towe] Best wishes for William Scheide's 92nd Birthday!

The Bach Cantatas Website includes a page of BAG's recordings: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Performers/BachAriaGroup.htm
The page was built with great help from Teri Noel Towe and David Sherr. I hope that nothing is missing.

Unfortunately, most of the recordings have never been released in CD form and therefore a major part of the public, me included, have never had the opportunity of listening to them. I hope that some day, in the near future, these important group of recordings will be released in toto in a magnificent box set with detailed liner notes as they deserve (similar to what Mosaic Records does with treasures from the vast world of recorded Jazz).

Ludwig wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Aryeh Oron] I thought that William died last year. Somewhere I saw such a notice but he is in my calender of remembrances.

John Pike wrote (January 6, 2005):
[To Stephen Benson] I see the BWV catalogue lists a BWV 248/VIa. It is incomplete and the libretto does not survive. The 1st movement is probably a Parody after BWV Anh I 10/1. All the movements (1-7) are the prototypes of BWV 248 VI - 54, 56, 57, 61, 62, 63, 64.

Maybe you could compose some libretto yourself as a Birthday Hommage cantata!

 

Bach Aria Group 60th anniversary celebration - 9/8/2006

Teri Noel Towe wrote (August 31, ):
60 years ago, in 1946, William H. Scheide held a series of auditions for vocalists and instrumentalists interested in becoming members of the performing group that he was forming, an organization known as The Bach Aria Group. He directed the Bach Aria Group for 34 seasons, before passing leadership on to Samuel Baron, who became the ensemble's flutist in 1966, after the last concert of the 1979 - 1980 season.

At the September meeting of The Vocal Record Collectors' Society, which will be held in the Basement Auditorium at Christ Church, Methodist, on the northwest corner of Park Avenue and 60th Street, in Manhattan, at 7:30 P. M. on Friday, September 8, 2006, Seth B. Winner and Teri Noel Towe, who are now in the 13th year of working on the conservation and preservation of the extraordinary run of private recordings of the Bach Aria Group's concerts that Mr. Scheide commissioned, will celebrate and commemorate the diamond jubilee of the founding of the Bach Aria Group by presenting highlights from Mr. Scheide's remarkable archive of concert recordings of the vocal music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The recordings, which have been transferred from pressed records, lacquers, and audiotape, document the artistry of an astonishing number of great singers, including a number of guest artists who never sang Bach except when they sang with The Bach Aria Group.

Seth and Teri will present recordings of such diverse vocalists as Marian Anderson, Erna Berger, Eileen Farrell, Norman Farrow, Lois Marshall (as a contralto!), Jan Peerce, Roberta Peters, Cesare Siepi, Carol Smith, Blanche Thebom, Jennie Tourel (as a soprano!), Benita Valente, and Cesare Valletti, recorded at Bach Aria Group concerts in Town Hall and in Alice Tully Hall between 1951 and 1979 and in Minneapolis in 1977.

The meeting on the evening of September 8 is open to all and is free of charge, but those who are not current dues paying members of the Vocal Record Collectors' Society are encouraged to make a voluntary contribution of at least $5 toward the rental of the auditorium and the maintenance of the audio equipment that is used at the VRCS meetings.

Membership in the Vocal Record Collectors' Society is open to all who are interested in recordings of the voice. Annual dues are $40, and the dues include a gratis copy of the VRCS's annual privately issued compact disc of rare, historic vocal recordings. For further information on membership, please visit the VRCS's home page at: http://www.collup.com/vrcs/vrcs.html.

 

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Robert Bloom (1908-1994): In Appreciation [Norman B. Schwartz]

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Last update: ýSeptember 7, 2006 ý17:13:36