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8.110729 - TAUBER, Richard: Opera Arias (1919-1926)

Richard Tauber: Opera Arias, volume 1

Opera Arias, Volume 1 (1921-1925)

From the mid-1920s until his death on 8th January 1948, and even to this day, operetta and ballads have remained, primarily through his recordings, Tauber’s most widely remembered repertoire. From the outset nurtured on loftier music he instinctively brought to more popular genres his impeccable musicality (an excellent pianist, he was an even better conductor) and that outgoing, optimistic, indefinably Viennese warmth of tone most comparably reflected in the playing of Fritz Kreisler. Based from the mid-1930s in London, where he was rated a creditable actor if unlikely matinée-idol, Tauber starred in a small clutch of films, while scores of best-selling titles from operetta, shows and films recorded for Parlophone established his voice in popular perception as the quintessential romantic tenor, rivalled only by Gigli and McCormack in their own respective spheres. It has, however, already been noted that, operatically speaking, Tauber began and ended with Mozart, and indeed, after more than thirty years of intense musical diversification, he turned full circle when, in 1947, at the age of 56, and miraculously unimpaired vocally by terminal illness, he delivered his final Ottavio in Don Giovanni at Covent Garden.

Richard Denemy Tauber was born out of wedlock to theatrical parents in the Austrian town of Linz on 16th May 1891. Always interested in singing, he at first showed no great propensity for it, and while his joint talents for piano and composition were nurtured at the Conservatory of Frankfurt-am-Main, his burning ambition was to become a conductor. After a period of vocal study with Heldentenor Karl Beines in Freiburg, however, the die was cast, and already by 1912 he was offered a contract by the Wiesbaden Theatre, of which his father was director. He opted instead for a further year’s study with Beines and in March 1913 made a more high-profile solo début at the Neues Stadt-Theater in Chemnitz, as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte. A few days later he sang Max in Der Freischütz, an opening which virtually overnight secured him a five-year contract with the Dresden Royal Opera.

Tauber’s first Dresden contract ran from 1st August 1913 to 31st July 1918 and his début, as the Prince in Auber’s Masaniello on 31st August, marked the start of an association which would last, notwithstanding contractual interruptions in favour of opera and operetta appearances elsewhere, until 1926. Soon renowned as that rare thing among tenors, a musician, he was ever in demand as a stand-in for indisposed colleagues and his (essentially lyric tenor) repertoire as represented on disc, over sixty operas by forty-odd composers, is as notable for its diversity as for its vocal accomplishment. In 1915 he sang Bacchus in Strauss’s Ariadne at 48 hours’ notice, after one piano run-through with the composer, and by the time he made his earliest records (June 1919) critical acclaim throughout Europe and a reputation as a fast study had preceded him. The legacy of his operatic recordings wins and disarms criticism, for in virtually every item one hears the ingratiating Tauber timbre, and in consideration of the rich and ringing middle- and upper middle registers and those tasteful and superbly-managed half-voice effects to high B flat, any slight queries as to his "top" range now seem mere quibbles.

During his début Dresden season of 1913 Tauber sang his first Wilhelm Meister in Mignon, a rôle he would repeat variously until 1921 and one in which the impeccable legato and easy production to high A (forte and piano) may readily be appreciated. In 1914 he sang Lorenzo in Fra Diavolo and in 1915 his first Jeník in The Bartered Bride, harmonising sublimely with the Marùenka of his Dresden-born colleague Elisabeth Rethberg (1894-1976). 1915 also saw his first Alfredo in La traviata, a rôle to which he was audibly well-suited and which, apart from an early attempt at Fenton in Falstaff in 1913, was to provide his only entrée to Verdi. During 1916 his rôles included Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia (both the coloratura and easy runs in the Figaro duet sound just as fluent in German translation) and Mathias in Emmanuel Kienzl’s Evangelimann and in 1917 he sang his first Lensky in Eugene Onegin (subtly nuanced, this was clearly another part most thoroughly at one with his voice and style of production).

Tauber did not perform everything he recorded from opera. Although he sang supporting rôles in four Wagner operas, Die Walküre was never for him. Neither, curiously enough, was Flotow’s Martha, although he twice recorded Lionel’s aria, this, the earlier, lowered a tone into the more congenial E flat minor, nor Korngold’s Die tote Stadt, although his recordings from them, including the duet with Lotte Lehmann (1888-1976) are classics of their kind - nor even, perhaps not so surprisingly, such a "blood-and-thunder" work as Wolf-Ferrari’s Jewels of the Madonna. He was, however, in his element in other operas spawned by the wave of early twentieth century realism and his repertoire encompassed Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana and four popular landmarks by Puccini. Of these Butterfly was the earliest he took on, in 1914, and the verve he applies to Pinkerton’s impassioned Farewell (here he also doubles in Sharpless’s interjections) carries him easily up to some vibrant top-notes. The others were La Bohème, first in 1920: even shorn of its conventionally-observed high C, Rudolph’s Act 1 Narration is still a model of sustaining and phrasing). Tosca followed in 1920, and Turandot, where he created Calaf in the German première of 1926. Whereas it had effectively ended by 1928, culminating in a justly celebrated series of Florestans to the Fidelio of Lotte Lehmann, Tauber’s career in opera, uninterrupted until his first encounter with Lehár (Frasquita, in 1922), remains legendary among tenors for its consistent quality.

Peter Dempsey


Ward Marston

In 1997 Ward Marston was nominated for the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for his production work on BMG’s Fritz Kreisler collection. According to the Chicago Tribune, Marston’s name is ‘synonymous with tender loving care to collectors of historical CDs’. Opera News calls his work ‘revelatory’, and Fanfare deems him ‘miraculous’. In 1996 Ward Marston received the Gramophone award for Historical Vocal Recording of the Year, honouring his production and engineering work on Romophone’s complete recordings of Lucrezia Bori. He also served as re-recording engineer for the Franklin Mint’s Arturo Toscanini issue and BMG’s Sergey Rachmaninov recordings, both winners of the Best Historical Album Grammy.

Born blind in 1952, Ward Marston has amassed tens of thousands of opera classical records over the past four decades. Following a stint in radio while a student at Williams College, he became well-known as a reissue producer in 1979, when he restored the earliest known stereo recording made by the Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1932.

In the past, Ward Marston has produced records for a number of major and specialist record companies. Now he is bringing his distinctive sonic vision to bear on works released on the Naxos Historical label. Ultimately his goal is to make the music he remasters sound as natural as possible and true to life by ‘lifting the voices’ off his old 78 rpm recordings. His aim is to promote the importance of preserving old recordings and make available the works of great musicians who need to be heard.

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