The most spectacular of the 21 operatic excerpts on this two-hour collection of Bell Telephone Hour telecasts is the last and longest--Joan Sutherland singing the Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor--more than 13 minutes... more » of incredible vocalizing, still as fresh and technically dazzling as it was when it was televised in 1962, shortly after her Metropolitan Opera debut in that role. In a sense, video recording was not Sutherland's best medium. She was not a great actress or a conventionally beautiful woman, but the video representation of her slightly awkward stage presence makes her vocal grace and agility sound all the more impressive. Equally historic is a scene from Boris Godunov melodramatically sung by George London shortly after his triumphant Bolshoi debut in that role (though one wishes he had been allowed to sing it in Russian for his American audience). A discovery of sorts is Risë Stevens's performance of a long monologue from Natoma, a long-forgotten opera by Victor Herbert. Leontyne Price looks very young and extraordinarily talented in selections from Il trovatore and Aida; Birgit Nilsson produces great sounds in music from Turandot and Götterdämmerung. The list could go on much longer. The names on the cover of this disc are (except for the unfortunate absence of Maria Callas) virtually a who's who of the leading Metropolitan Opera singers of the late 1950s and early '60s. It would be pleasant to have Galina Vishnevkaya, Christa Ludwig, Cesare Siepi, and Walter Berry as well, but their careers blossomed elsewhere and we must be thankful for what is here--thankful, in particular, that there were once programs on commercial network television that presented material of deep and permanent value. --Joe McLellan« less
"As a young opera fan living in a small town in the 1950's and `60's, I eagerly, and impatiently waited for the periodic Bell Telephone Hour television presentations, many of which included the opera stars of the day in arias or scenes. Now, in the age of DVD's, videos, and Live From the Met, it may be difficult for a newer opera fan to understand the impact these performances had when they were originally broadcast. What is not difficult to understand is why the performers on this DVD were counted among the international stars of their generation. These are world-class performances, captured, for the most part, when the singers were at the peak of their careers.Yes, some of the hair-styles and evening gowns are very dated and some of the acting edges toward semaphore, but it is important to remember that when these performances were broadcast, most opera singers did not have established television technique. They were accustomed to standing on a stage at a great distance from an audience and emoting physically as well as vocally. Rather than criticizing the lapses into histrionic excess - and there really not that many - today's viewers should be amazed that the presentational style is as natural as it is. Several scenes, Sutherland's technically astonishing and dramatically impressive Mad Scene and Price's intense, gorgeously sung Trovatore aria are fully staged with costumes and elaborate sets; others scenes are in concert form, with the singer in evening dress standing in front of abstract backgrounds or orchestra. Ultimately, however, it is the singing that should, and does, take center stage.
Here is an opportunity to hear a fresh-voiced, dramatically-engaged Birgit Nilson singing one of her signature arias, In Questa Reggia (watch what she does with the cape part of her gown!), to hear Leontyne Price, whom some have called the perfect Verdi singer, in excerpts from two of her acclaimed portrayals, and to hear the lush voice of Eileen Farrell in Isolde's Liebstod. The camera work in Farrell's performance is exceptionally close, catching the depth of feeling in her eyes.
Although the performances are weighted toward sopranos, there is excellent work from tenors Franco Corelli and Richard Tucker as well as from baritone's Robert Merrill and George London who sings an intense scene from Boris Goudonov in English. (One can not help but wonder, in retrospect, if Russian was deemed inappropriate for an American television audience at the height of the cold war.) In one of the few duets (there are no larger ensembles represented here), Simionato and Vickers "eat the scenery" in admirable Italianate style in their Amneris, Radames scene. The performance by mezzo Rise Stevens is a double bonus, first because there are not as many preserved examples of her performing, and second, because her selection, from Victor Herbert's Natoma is an operatic rarity. Hearing this haunting music performed by a top-notch performer like Miss Stevens will undoubtedly send some opera buffs to the internet to look for more of both.As an introduction to opera and operatic style, as a retrospective of singers from the second half of the 20th century, or as sheer entertainment, this DVD is a "must." (By the way, navigation is very easy so that one can watch the whole DVD in sequence, or select scenes, one at a time.)"
Treasures from some of the greatest singers of the early 60s
jim_sf | San Francisco, CA United States | 02/01/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Here are two hours of treasures from the Bell Telephone Hour, aired from 1959 to 1966. These are complete scenes and arias, most staged with costumes and sets typical of 60's television. It contains a dazzling array of opera superstars, many performing scenes from their signature roles: Tebaldi (Butterfly), de los Angeles (Boheme), Richard Tucker (Pagliacci), Corelli and Crespin (Tosca and Ballo), Di Stefano (Manon), Simionato and Vickers (Aida), London (Boris Godunov), and Moffo and Gedda (Traviata).Joan Sutherland gives a stunning performance of the mad scene from Lucia from the year of her Met debut. The scene is complete from Lucia's entrance to her death, and if there were nothing else on this DVD, this alone would be reason enough to run right out and buy it. Leontyne Price brings her rich, dark voice to D'amor sull'ali rosee (Trovatore) and Ritorna vincitor (Aida), reminding us why she owned these roles thoughout her career. Birgit Nilsson shines In questa reggia (Turandot) and the immolation scene (Gotterdammerung). What a thrill to see Sutherland, Price, and Nilsson in their prime, singing roles for which they set the standard. And what a thrill to see the under-recorded Eileen Farrell singing Isolde's Liebestod, though whoever thought to dress her somewhat like a nun in a pillbox hat and veil should be dealt with severely.On the down side, some of the acting is of the silent movie variety, but that is easily forgiven given the quality of singing. Robert Merrill and Roberta Peters mar otherwise fine vocalism (Dunque io son from The Barber of Seville) with some pretty competitive mugging, playing more to the camera than to each other. And Rise Stevens sings a rather dull and very long scene from Victor Herbert's Natoma. Still there is a lot to love here. If this DVD is your cup of tea, take a look at Great Moments in Opera from the Ed Sullivan Show too."
Historical recording of the highest level
jim_sf | 11/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a true five star historical recording. The only phenomenon missing here is La Divina and Marilyn Horne. But I am thrilled to hear all the other brilliant opera stars of the late 50 to early 60. I think the sound and the picture is more than adequate. The key here is the historical importance of this remarkable collection. Although I am an on again off again Sutherland fan, I have to say she surpassed my wildest dream in her mad scene here(recorded in 1950? she looked 30ish). Let me just say that this display of coloratura is stunning, it is so sublime, so close to perfection in its accuracy. Just listen to the cadence at the end of the mad scene from "Lucia di Lammermoor", and see what you think. My guess is your jaws will drop, as mine did. Pay special attention to her coloratura skills, and the top notes (above high C? at least). With such bravura, and loveliness of tone, always intact, I have to say that this is the single most bewitching highlight of this extra important collection.Birgit Nilsson, the quintessential Wagnerian soprano of her time,sings the Immolation scenefrom "Gotterdamerung",splendidly. There is no one around these days who can sing this demanding music with such confidence and ease. Yes, her voice can be cold at times, but accuracy and size of voice is of the highest importance in Wagner in my opinion. I don't think anyone will disagree with me that Nilsson had no rivals in her long career as a dramatic soprano. Her version of the aria from Turandot was fabulous, precision in every respect. Not much emotion, but then, that's Nilsson for ya. Leontyne Price, a true candidate for the most beautiful voice of the last 50 or so years, was sumptuous in the aria from Travatore. Her voice is like a flag waving. Its vibrato is so captivating. And her tone quality is like no other. I have to say her high notes are as good as it can get, on the same par as Caballe's or Sutherland's. The Ritorna vincitor is very dramatic. It is thrilling, moving, and powerful. Quite a lot to say about a single interpretation of a single aria. but Leontyne was an artist of the highest caliber.Corelli's rendition of the aria from Tosca was moving. Typical of Corelli, it's full of pathos and he really liked to hold the top notes. But his highlight here is the duet from "Un Ballo in Maschera." Sorry, but he certainly outshines Crespin here. The high notes were vibrant and full. He really was the tenor of his day. Fabulous high notes, much better than Pavorotti, most certainly.Of course, there are many more highlights here, certainly Eileen Farrell's moving Liebestod and Tucker's heart breaking Vesti la giubba. As you can see, this is a very special collection of some of the best moments of documented opera history."
Absolutely worth it!!
voicebox | 06/24/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I love this DVD! The picture is not so great, but I don't care, the remastered sound is sooo much better than the VHS or when PBS shows this footage. Sutherland is amazing! Farrell's artistry is unsurpassed! Leontyne and Tebaldi are beautiful! Even Corelli does some of his best vocal moments. The only disappointment for me was Regine Crespin and that Rise Stevens didn't do a selection from Carmen, because she is one of my favorite mezzos along with Tatiana Troyanos (who is not on this DVD). Did I mention Birgit Nilsson? She makes it all look so easy, including a fabulous high C! I would buy this DVD just for Farrell and Sutherland! This is a great find! Most of the singers are in their prime. This is one of those worthy investments or splurges, however you like to think of it!!"
Wonderful Historical Document!
P. R. Marchesano | Philadelphia PA | 05/25/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 2-hour collection of scenes form the very fine Bell Telephone Hour Broadcasts contains enough evidence of a decade of historically superb operatic performance. I lament the lack of singing of this quality today!If for no other reason, a video documentary of Sutherland's Mad Scene from Lucia from early in her career (1961-the year of her Met debut) is enough reason to buy this DVD. The only early video document of her immortal interpretation of this role is a valuable asset-the only other performances are from late in her career. Two scenes from Madame Butterfly with Renata Tebaldi in quite fine voice add to the value of this collection. Follow this up with the rarely documented performance of "Liebestod" from Eileen Farrell and what more can you ask for? Farrell is amazing-magnetic! Her extraordinarily eyes and magnificent voice draw you completely into the scene. This is the earliest clip (1959) and is a beautiful document of this highly underrated and magnificent singer.On technical merits, one has to balance the sound and video quality with the source. Compared to the VHS releases of some of these clips (there is some duplication from earlier VHS release, but also a lot that was never released before), the sound and picture are incredibly improved. However, they don't compare to modern sound and video. So what! TV sound was in its infancy as far as broadcasting orchestra and opera. There aren't any performers today to compare to these legends. I agree with another reviewer on the weak performances of Merrill and Stevens, but with the likes of Corelli singing Tosca, there is so much more good than ordinary. If only there were still such programming available today. I can look past the 1960s sets and costuming and can understand the limitations of early TV sound to see the value in this collection. I don't think my collection would be complete without this DVD."