An essential acquisition for opera lovers.
Iit's good to have such a document of Ljuba Welitsch's singing so readily available both to veteran listeners and to a new generation of operaphiles. The Bulgarian soprano’s voice was more Slavic than Italianate - bright and clean, rather than lush and sweeping, the timbre warmed by a narrow but even vibrato. One wonders, however, whether the processing has shortchanged her deeper sounds - we don’t hear the darker colors audible in, say, the Columbia-Sony recording of the Met Fledermaus. The resulting clarity is refreshing in repertoire that usually falls to Big Honking Dramatics, without sacrificing the required intensity or passion.
Salome was perhaps the role for which Welitsch received her widest acclaim. Its distinction lay in the soprano’s ability to project over Strauss's large orchestra while maintaining a youthful, age-appropriate timbre. What I found most striking, however, was how easy it all sounds. There's never a sense that Welitsch is pressing or fighting through the mass of instrumental sound. The voice simply soars, clarion and expressive, over the churning orchestra - it's something to hear.
Welitsch came by a generous Slavic temperament naturally, and her stylish renditions of the Tchaikovsky selections are only slightly compromised by her singing of them in German translation. As in Salome, she sounds convincingly youthful but has sufficient resources to fill out the broad phrases; her manner is impulsive, though I can imagine a more mercurial Tatyana. The big Weber scene, too, goes with a nice variety.
Welitsch's clear tones might seem an odd match for Verdi and Puccini. But the Ballo Amelia, on this showing, must have been a fine role for her. Both arias are full of feeling, and the Morrò, where the soprano outlines the phrases with a haunting purity, is unabashedly glorious. The cadenzas are smooth and assured, with the top note cleanly attacked each time, and no clumsy register shifts on the way down. The Aïda, on the other hand, disappoints: it’s all shallowed-out vowels, with no depth or warmth, and the legato not fully bound. Perhaps Welitsch was uncomfortable with Josef Krips's temperamentally foreign conducting, which offers little more than efficient, musical traffic direction. The Tosca duet is lively and well-sung, with Richard Tucker an ardent partner; conversely, Welitsch’s bar-by-bar tempo changes in the aria, though well-intentioned, seem a bit much.
The operetta selections are fun. Rosalinde was a big Welitsch role at the Metropolitan, in Howard Dietz's Broadwayish English translation; here, she clearly finds the original German more comfortable, though she doesn't quite sing all the notes in the downward chromatic run. I rather enjoyed her no-nonsense Vilja, forthright and lustrous, unencumbered by any need to manufacture "diva moments". It's the Millöcker-Makeben concoction, though, that most strongly conveys the Viennese atmosphere.
The soprano’s rather brief career trajectory - she debuted in 1936, and the voice was all but spent by 1953 - suggests technical faults. For all the brilliance and "cut" of Welitsch's top, when the tessitura stays high - the final pages of Non mi dir; the rise to high C in Ma dall'arido stelo; the concluding phrase of the Fledermaus "Csardas" - the singing is strained and throaty. And, as can happen with such forwardly positioned voices, there's a tendency to drift sharp, although never damagingly so - Tucker tactfully corrects the pitch at one point in the Tosca scene.
I’d say this collection is an essential acquisition for opera lovers.
Stephen Francis Vasta, Musicweb-international.com