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Henry Fogel
Fanfare, November 2011

Naxos’s reissue of the original recording of Menotti’s finest opera (not only do I think so, but so did Menotti) is particularly welcome since RCA kept it locked away in its vaults for decades, and because it is a sizzling performance.

Charles H Parsons
American Record Guide, September 2011

…Schippers was an advocate of Menotti’s music and a sincere interpreter as well. The dramatic tension is stunning. The unidentified chorus and orchestra are presumably from the Broadway production.

There is no doubting the sincerity of the singers. While not the greatest singers in the world, they more than fulfill their assignments. There is much beauty in Ruggiero’s singing, a rich, fruity voice and a heartfelt portrayal. Poleri’s unique voice borders on the ugly; but the ferocity, the power of his singing is overwhelming. Michele’s savage aria ‘I know that you all hate me’ is raw drama. Lane’s sumptuous Desideria and Lishner’s solemn priest are the best singing.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Henry Fogel
Fanfare, July 2011

The Saint of Bleecker Street is, at least in my view, Menotti’s finest work. It is filled with memorable tunes, starting with Annina’s big aria, and including duets, ensembles, and a smashing tenor aria as well. The story is engrossing—set in New York’s Little Italy, pitting religion and Annina’s deeply spiritual and pure nature against her brother’s hatred of religion and what it stands for, and also pitting his love affair with Desideria against his excessive, and perhaps unnatural, love for his sister. The music underlines the emotions of the story and the characters, and Menotti’s post-Puccinian and Straussian expressionism fits the libretto perfectly. There is very little note-spinning here; the inspiration level is high throughout.

There is a modern recording on Chandos (9971), which was reviewed both by John Story and me in Fanfare 26:1. John was positive, I was enthusiastic—and on reflection and after being able to compare the Chandos with this reissue of the classic 1955 RCA performance, I am inclined to think he was more right than I. The Chandos is a very good performance. As the only available recording of this work for some years, it was extremely valuable. But despite more modern, stereophonic sound, and despite better overall orchestral execution, the fact is that the Chandos does not have the punch of this performance.

Part of that is Thomas Schippers, a friend and colleague of the composer and as wonderful an advocate as any composer could ask for. But there is also the singing of the leads here, each of whom is truly superb. The combination of fine singing and unremitting intensity from the three principals is quite remarkable. Gabrielle Ruggiero’s Annina is totally believable, and her stigmata aria shakes you to the core. Her performance may be the strongest reason for preferring this to the Chandos. Julia Melinek’s Annina does not throw caution to the winds in quite the same way as Ruggiero, nor does Melinek’s singing match Ruggero’s in tonal sheen and glow. Gloria Lane’s Desideria conveys both the love she feels for Michele and the dismissive anger that wells up in her because of his attachment to his sister. I cannot imagine a better Michele than David Poleri; his fury in the duet that ends with his killing of Desideria is completely believable. His voice has a lovely glow about it here.

All of the supporting singers are superb, and Schippers molds everything into a sweeping, unified whole, a performance of inevitability and unceasing momentum. The monaural sound is clear and well balanced, a little dry by modern standards, but that actually helps clarify the diction. Naxos does not provide a libretto, but there is a detailed synopsis track-by-track, and that along with the crisp diction makes a printed text unnecessary.

Menotti’s quite odd “madrigal fable” The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore is a fine filler. Schippers’s recording from 1957 is a superb performance, featuring an outstanding group of New York musicians and singers. The ancient tone of the work, despite the fact that its grammar and harmonic language are undoubtedly 20th century, is lovely and fitting for this work, which is a thinly disguised allegory where the artist gets back at his critics.

Mark Obert-Thorn’s transfers are exactly what we have come to expect from him: honest, deeply musical, and natural. I have the RCA LPs of The Saint of Bleecker Street, and found listening to these CDs every bit as satisfying. This will be fighting for space on my Want List at year’s end.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2011

To describe The Saint of Bleecker Street as an American make-over of Puccini should in no way detract from this verismo opera. That came as part of his Italian family upbringing, and having tasted considerable acclaim, it did in his later career generate media hostility as America increasingly looked towards its own musical identity. Setting The Saint of Bleeker Street in New York’s ‘Little Italy’did nothing to wipe away the description of ‘second-hand Italian opera’, and by launching it on Broadway in 1954 seemed to be distancing himself from the opera establishment that had given him his early success. The story surrounds Annina whose scared hands give the local community the belief that they represent the wounds of Christ on the cross. Her brother, Michele, regards the surrounding religious community to be leading her astray, and asks her to leave the area with him. It is a request that becomes more urgent when he kills his girlfriend after she suggests he has an incestuous love for his sister. Annina, now convinced that she has sacred powers, wishes to become a nun, but illness has already overtaken her, and, having taken the veil, she dies. The two discs are completed by The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore, a symbolic story of life through three differing parts, and maybe Menotti’s view of his own life. It was conceived for chamber chorus, ten dancers and nine instruments. Both works are given by the original performers, apart from the inclusion of conductor, Thomas Schippers, for the second work. It had been intended for him, but existing commitments had prevented him from directing the world premiere. Sadly the booklet gives no information on artists that will be strangers to the majority of potential buyers. Gabrielle Ruggerio is a suitably fragile Annina; David Poleri a lyric tenor whose two big outbursts are suitably disturbing; Gloria Lane, who enjoyed a big operatic career, is suitably powerful as girlfriend, Desideria; while Leon Lishner is the sonorous bass in the part of the Priest, Don Marco. The 1955 and 57 recordings are good for the period.

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