It's good to finally have the original recordings of three of Menotti's most important Broadway operas -- The Consul, The Medium, and The Telephone -- available on CD. The Medium and The Telephone formed a double bill that played for 212 performances in 1947. The Consul, the composer's first full-length opera, frequently considered his most effective work, won a Pulitzer Prize and a New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, and ran for 269 performances. The composer was intimately involved in the original productions, so these recordings, as flawed as they are in their audio quality, and by Gala's sloppy production values, have real authority. The sound in The Consul, originally released by Decca, is not too bad, except that here is an occasional tape flutter or bleedthrough or blip that wasn't audible on the LPs. The voices have a strong sense of presence, sometimes at the expense of the orchestral sound. The performances are chilling; Patricia Neway may be unsurpassed as Magda Sorel. The passion and power she brings to the role are devastating, heartbreaking; "To This We've Come" is searingly intense. Gloria Lane is also especially satisfying as the Secretary, and Cornell MacNeil as John, Marie Powers as the Mother, and Andrew McKinley as Nika Magadoff are memorable. Lehman Engel conducts the unnamed theater orchestra with urgency and a sure grasp of the subtle tempo variations Menotti's music requires to breathe. The performance is slightly cut (as it was on the LPs), but the only really significant cut is the end of Act II, after Magda's big aria.
Like Patricia Neway's Magda, Marie Powers' Madame Flora in The Medium is the stuff of legend. Her portrayal is wonderfully complex: monstrous, terrifying, cruel, manipulative, sentimental, and ultimately pathetic. Powers doesn't have the finesse or expressive range of Regina Resnik on the Columbia LP release, but she's like a force of nature, and this is a performance that's not to be missed. Evelyn Keller is affecting as Monica, and as the clients, Beverly Dame, Catherine Mastice, and Frank Rogier are just about ideal. Emanuel Balaban's conducting is perfectly paced; at times the music sounds absolutely unhinged, creating just the kind of disorientation that makes the opera so effectively creepy. In The Telephone, Marilyn Cotlow is splendid as the flighty Lucy, and Frank Rogier's earnest Ben is her perfect foil. Balaban's comic timing is superb. The perky little overture is entirely missing, though, through oversight or incompetence, so it still remains for a complete version of the performance to be available on CD. The performances of The Medium and The Telephone were taken directly from LPs, and there is some low-level surface scratchiness.
The Italian version of The Medium must have been included primarily as filler for the third disc. The live 1957 performance, featuring Gianna Pederzini as Madame Flora and Graziella Sciutti as Monica, and conducted by Nicola Rescigno, has very little to recommend it. Rescigno's conducting is frequently off; his inept pacing and skewed sense of balance drain the life from the opera. Pederzini gives an uneven performance, but Graziella Sciutti is an appealing Monica.
This release is important both for its documentary value as a record of the three Broadway performances and because of the extraordinary quality of those performances. A must for anyone with an interest in the history of opera in America.