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In 1955, the recording team at Decca/London went to Belgrade and Zagreb in what was then called Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Croatia, respectively) to record seven nineteenth-century Russian operas by five composers, featuring the soloists, chorus and orchestra of the Belgrade National Opera. The Decca Eloquence label in Australia has recently reissued these seven recordings on CD for the first time. While these performances are generally considered also-rans nowadays, when they were new they were the first complete recordings of Russian operas that were readily available in the West (remember, these were the Cold War years), not to mention being in good sound and in most cases in stereo, and your presenter Mike Leone is an ardent fan of all of them. In this short survey Mike will play excerpts from all seven recordings, focusing on the singers who figured most prominently in them, in hopes of introducing attendees to some of these singers and in some cases to the operas themselves.
As for our presenter, Mike Leone overcame the trauma of being given, at the tender age of six years, a 78rpm RCA Victor recording of the love duet from Tristan und Isolde, with Kirsten Flagstad and Lauritz Melchior, only to be bitten by the opera bug once and for all shortly after turning twelve. His real introduction to the art form was the Royale recording of “the complete arias” from Carmen (no Habanera?) with Cloe Elmo. He later acquired a 99-cent Mercury sampler disc that included Callas singing “Dei tuoi figli la madre” from Medea. The first “real” opera record he bought was an abridged version of Orfeo ed Euridice with Rise Stevens, under Pierre Monteux, on RCA Victor that he got off the record rack at a Western Auto near Baltimore for $1.99 in 1963. His devotion to the art form since that time, whether in the theater, on records (from cylinders to USB drives), or in live broadcasts, has been unwavering, and eventually he even came to love the aforementioned Tristan love duet recording. He has written articles on opera, including assorted reviews of recordings and a memorial tribute to Mario del Monaco for Immortal Performances in Austin, Texas (not the one in Canada), and between 1989 and 1991 he presented opera programming on Pacifica radio station KPFT in Houston, including a Joan Sutherland retrospective on the occasion of her retirement. At the beginning of his opera-going career he saw a number of performances at the Baltimore Civic Opera, where he often got to see Rosa Ponselle, the company’s Artistic Director, taking curtain calls with the cast. Since moving to Texas, he has seen performances at Houston Grand Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, the Dallas Opera, the San Antonio Opera (Rienzi) and the Ft. Worth opera (Gioconda). Growing up, he always thought that traveling far from home just to see opera was a shocking extravagance, but recently he has found himself attending performances of Thais at the Los Angeles Opera, the Ring in Seattle, Les Huguenots at the Paris Opera, and I masnadieri and Die tote Stadt at La Scala. He will be adding a notch on his belt in May when he plans to see Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Dutch National Opera in Amsterdam. He is currently in his fifteenth season of being a chorister at Houston’s Opera in the Heights, where he has sung in operas ranging chronologically from Orfeo ed Euridice to Candide. Over the years he has sung a few minor parts, including Sciarrone (his only named part so far) and the Jailer in Tosca. He is especially excited about the company’s upcoming performances of Eugene Onegin, which will serve as his fiftieth production with the company and his first time to sing in Russian. His VRCS “debut” was presenting Eleanor Steber’s 78rpm recording of “Vilja” at the 2014 Favorite Records program, which later ended up on the 2015 Annual VRCS CD, and this is his first time to present a full program to the VRCS. This fellow deserves to be welcomed with open arms!
FRIDAY, MARCH 6, 2020 (THE FIRST
This page last revised 3/6/20 2:50 AM EST
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