, January 2001
"Jussi Bjoerling recorded the role of Des Grieux in the 1950s for RCA with Licia Albanese as Manon, and that set has always had many fans. Indeed, it's hard to fault his performance there--the exquisite tone, the right-on pitch, a seeming interest in what's going on, etc. are all in evidence. Well, this broadcast, from the 10th of December, 1949 tops it--and pushes the other competition out of the way at the same time. Giuseppe Antonicelli, a forgotten member of the Met's conducting staff at the time, leads a taut, veristic reading of the score, while nonetheless allowing Bjoerling to linger over high notes when he ought to and otherwise underlining Puccini's early gift for melody. Kirsten doesn't exactly sound young and impetuous as Manon (Albanese always sounded even older), but much of her singing is gorgeous and as the opera progresses, so does her involvement; indeed, her last act (even with a bizarre cut in the middle of 'Sola, perduta, abbandonata') is very moving. Bjoerling was occasionally accused of being cool but I dare anyone to find him so here: He's positively frantic in Act III and distraught in IV, all the while singing like an angel. Wow!"