So, following up on my Maria Callas experience earlier this week, I made some use of that stupid free trial of Apple’s subscription service (I have also enjoyed the odd Patricia Petibon album and some Fauré, but I swear, I’m going to wean myself off this thing by the time the trial period ends) to listen to a few recordings of Renata Tebaldi. She sang a lot of Verdi, which is fine by me, but also Puccini and a lot of other verismo stuff that that I have little taste for.
I found a collection of bits of opera recordings of hers from the 1950s – some Verdi, some Puccini, and some other things that I had never listened to, e.g. excerpts from Adriana Lecouvreur and La Wally both of which operas are I suspect not as much in fashion as they were a generation or two ago. Possibly there is a good reason for this. (Some things do remain in fashion, however. Between Tebaldi and my Sondra Radvanovsky Verdi CD, which would be worn out by now if CDs and/or digital files could wear out, I have certain sections of La Forza del Destino nearly committed to memory at this point. I think that Ms. Radvanovsky needs to record a few more recitals, yes?)
Tebaldi doesn’t have Callas’s take-no-prisoners approach to either music or drama. That said, this collection of excerpts does offer a sense of what die-hard fans of older recordings are talking about when they refer to the style or standard of opera performance of the 1950s and 60s. There is something about this that sounds different than very recent performances of this material, though I would be hard pressed to articulate precisely what.
Which raises another question – if there truly was some kind of golden age for certain types of opera so many decades ago, when did it end? Most of the singers associated with that time had retired by the 1970s – perhaps then. Or is this just a simple case of rolling nostalgia, and there are folks out there who talk up the performances of the 1980s?