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Ralph Moore "Ralph operaphile" (Thetford, Norfolk, UK)
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J. Strauss - Die Fledermaus / Te Kanawa, Gruberova, Fassbaender, B?r, Vienna Philharmonic, Previn by Kiri Te Kanawa, Edita Gruberova, Olaf B?r, Brigitte Fassbaender, Wolfgang Brende (1991) Audio CD
J. Strauss - Die Fledermaus / Te Kanawa, Gruberova, Fassbaender, B?r, Vienna Philharmonic, Previn by Kiri Te Kanawa, Edita Gruberova, Olaf B?r, Brigitte Fassbaender, Wolfgang Brende (1991) Audio CD

4.0 out of 5 stars Some lovely things nearly scuppered by Previn sleepwalking, 20 Jun. 2017
A poor, lethargic overture from Previn - despite the fact that he is conducting the VPO, who must surely have known that they were being directed by a conductor who didn't really empathise with the idiom - provides an unpromising start to this (potentially) most vivacious and uplifting of operettas.

Matters improve greatly with the entry of Richard Leech's mellifluous, ringing tenor so it's a pity that Wolfgang Brendel shouts and blusters and even when he is singing straight his tone is gravelly; vocal elegance is restored by Olaf Bär as Falke. For the most part, however, lightness and charm are sacrificed to too broad a manner. The joy and delight of this recording is Kiri Te Kanawa's Rosalinde; she is in complete command of the role both vocally and dramatically, so it is a pity that she is accompanied so lugubriously by Previn; if only we'd had a conductor of the calibre of Karajan, Kleiber, Krauss, Danon or Böhm at the helm. All of those conductors in their studio recordings inject the kind of lilt and swing into proceedings that for the most part elude Previn for long stretches.

Some critics and punters are very exercised by the decision of the production team to maintain background party noise throughout Act 2, suspended only during Te Kanawa's bewitching "Klänge der Heimat,". I can't say I find it that intrusive and it adds atmosphere, as intended. The highlight of this Act is Brigitte Fassbaender's turn as Orlofsky: her louche, masculine tones are ideal for portraying him - although of course you can also catch that performance in Boskovsky's studio recording and four more live versions, three of which are conducted by Kleiber. Gruberova is an accomplished if rather mature Adele with something of a beat in top notes - and I have never much cared for her squeezed and piping tones and Brendel does more barking.

In the end, despite its flaws this recording offers much pleasure but cannot compete for vivacity and sheer elan with the best in the catalogue.


Strauss: Die Fledermaus
Strauss: Die Fledermaus
Offered by WORLD WIDE MEDIA MARKET
Price: £22.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Some lovely things nearly scuppered by Previn sleepwalking, 20 Jun. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Strauss: Die Fledermaus (Audio CD)
A poor, lethargic overture from Previn - despite the fact that he is conducting the VPO, who must surely have known that they were being directed by a conductor who didn't really empathise with the idiom - provides an unpromising start to this (potentially) most vivacious and uplifting of operettas.

Matters improve greatly with the entry of Richard Leech's mellifluous, ringing tenor so it's a pity that Wolfgang Brendel shouts and blusters and even when he is singing straight his tone is gravelly; vocal elegance is restored by Olaf Bär as Falke. For the most part, however, lightness and charm are sacrificed to too broad a manner. The joy and delight of this recording is Kiri Te Kanawa's Rosalinde; she is in complete command of the role both vocally and dramatically, so it is a pity that she is accompanied so lugubriously by Previn; if only we'd had a conductor of the calibre of Karajan, Kleiber, Krauss, Danon or Böhm at the helm. All of those conductors in their studio recordings inject the kind of lilt and swing into proceedings that for the most part elude Previn for long stretches.

Some critics and punters are very exercised by the decision of the production team to maintain background party noise throughout Act 2, suspended only during Te Kanawa's bewitching "Klänge der Heimat,". I can't say I find it that intrusive and it adds atmosphere, as intended. The highlight of this Act is Brigitte Fassbaender's turn as Orlofsky: her louche, masculine tones are ideal for portraying him - although of course you can also catch that performance in Boskovsky's studio recording and four more live versions, three of which are conducted by Kleiber. Gruberova is an accomplished if rather mature Adele with something of a beat in top notes - and I have never much cared for her squeezed and piping tones and Brendel does more barking.

In the end, despite its flaws this recording offers much pleasure but cannot compete for vivacity and sheer elan with the best in the catalogue.


Opera Arias
Opera Arias
Offered by westworld-
Price: £6.98

5.0 out of 5 stars There's only one Kiri, 20 Jun. 2017
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This review is from: Opera Arias (Audio CD)
Recorded exactly forty years ago as I write, this Mozart recital is a timely reminder of what a miracle Kiri Te Kanawa's voice when it appeared on the scene in the early 70's and continued to dominate its Fach of Mozart, Strauss, the lighter Verdi and Puccini heroines and French opera and song, with successful ventures into many other areas, for a generation.

My Amazon colleague Malverns has already written an apt and humorous account of this CD and it was his review in combination with the recent of demise of the conductor here, Jeffrey Tate, which prompted me to look it out.

Creamy, pure, effortless and plangent of tone, this would surely have been the soprano of Mozart's dreams when he wrote these lovely operatic and concert arias. Te Kanawa became better known for singing Donna Elvira rather Donna Anna but she shows here that she can tackle her two big arias with great expressiveness and a heavenly evenness in her vocal production. There is never an ugly change of register or a bump in legato, just a big, smooth, soaring sound - the voice that drew such plaudits as the Countess in "Figaro". The heft of the voice up top can be surprising, too; Kiri was no tweety canary.

She has preserved her voice a very long time by virtue of never forcing and continues in her early 70's to sing in concert, testimony to the excellence of her technique. Another pleasing aspect of her art is that her voice was always so individual and instantly recognisable without there being any unwelcome reason for that distinctiveness.

As Maverns, says, treat yourself to the ultimate cream tea of sopranos.


Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq d'Or
Rimsky-Korsakov: Le Coq d'Or

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An odd confection with a bonus for connoisseurs, 20 Jun. 2017
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It's a rum'n, this last opera by Rimsky Korsakov. As is so often the case with his operas, Rimsky is far more absorbed by the exotic musical-narrative potential of the fairy tale than he is in psychology or character development, so much of the time it is somewhat reminiscent of a pantomime or G & S without the jokes. It doesn't help that this 2 CD set is the product of a poor transfer from LP's (complete with pops and clicks) in turn taken from a home stereo recording on tape; balances and volume levels are inconsistent and erratic, and the sound itself is mushy. There is a lot of coughing, some of it very inconsiderate and very close to the mike. The text is in English couplets translated from the original Russian, delivered with admirable clarity by Treigle and Sills in a souvenir of what was evidently a very entertaining NYCO production, recorded in 1971.

I have never quite understood the esteem Norman Treigle enjoys in his fans' eyes; it probably has a lot to do with his premature death and histrionic abilities as a singer actor - but in terms of sheer voice he was quite ordinary. Sills was obviously phenomenal but doubtless more captivating on stage than we can hear. A comparison with the only other recording available on CD from the Sofia National Opera on Capriccio reveals far better sound and singing either equal or superior to the New York production. Certainly buffo bass Nikolai Stoilov has a richer instrument than Treigle and surprisingly, to my ears, makes rather more of the comedy in his parody of the dim-witted Tsar Nicholas II, even though he is singing in Russian. Tenor Lyubomir Dyakovski copes even more successfully than the valiant Enrico di Giuseppe with the ridiculous demands of the role of the Astrologer, with its sustained high tessitura, top D's and even an E natural.

I keep returning to Rimsky's more obscure operas in the attempt to deepen my appreciation for them. I find much of the music's combination of naive, folksy charm and complex, colourful orchestration entertaining, yet I am ultimately usually left feeling vaguely disappointed. It's almost as if Rimsky steadfastly refused to conform to the sensible rules for constructing a successful opera; I am told it helps to be Russian. There is the customary generous helping of ballet, dances, choruses and pageantry which might be pretty music but contribute to the static nature of what's on offer. The main soprano role is odd in that the Queen of Shemakha does not appear in the First Act and is present for a few brief minutes in Act 3, so must deliver all the coloratura thrills in Act 2. Sills is rather hard of tone but her virtuosity is compelling and she has some lovely melodies to trill. I am a fan and happily surrender to her showmanship. The audience loves her, applauding her set pieces vociferously and at length. However, it must be admitted that Elena Stoyanova in the rival Capriccio set is no slouch either; her singing is mightily steady, pure and impressive.

As is so often the case with Gala, the generous bonus could be considered to be of greater value than the main fare. It is a 1951 recording in clear mono of the Rimsky rarity "Mozart and Salieri", treating the imaginary and melodramatic scenario of the latter inviting the former to dinner in order to poison him (shades of "Amadeus", of course). Vocally and psychologically it is in another, higher league - and, for some, perhaps musically, too? The little pastiche references to Mozart's music are neat and clever. Its two man cast comprises two of the greatest Russian singers ever - no; two of the greatest singers, full stop/period - in bass Mark Reizen and tenor Ivan Kozlovsky. It is a very different offering from the "Golden Cockerel" and I found it considerably more absorbing both musically and dramatically even without the Russian text and regret that Rimsky did not mine that seam of invention more often.


R. Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie/Mahler: Adagio (Symphony No.10)
R. Strauss: Eine Alpensinfonie/Mahler: Adagio (Symphony No.10)
Price: £6.28

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb double bill, 20 Jun. 2017
I have a great enthusiasm for this, the last of Richard Strauss’ tone poems and have some dozen versions on my shelves. The latest addition to my collection was Mariss Jansons’ superb recording – his fourth - on the BR Klassik label, but in truth I could endorse at least half a dozen more as “best”, including those by Karajan, Kempe, Shipway, Mehta, Maazel and Thielemann. Now I may unhesitatingly add this super-bargain Alto release to that list, not least for the sumptuousness of the sound and the virtuosity of the youthful orchestra.

It is still the case that in some quarters this score is derided as prolix, flashy and meretricious: “musical onomatopoeia” being one of the more scornful dismissals I have heard, and “jejune travelogue” being another, although it seems to me that one might just as easily tar the “Pastoral Symphony” with the same brush. Opprobrium towards this work and accusations that the composer had a weakness for bombast are hardly new phenomena; in his excellent accompanying notes, James Murray quotes Strauss’ librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal as having a poor opinion of the music Strauss had composed up until the start of their collaboration and of lamenting that the composer had “such a frightful bent towards triviality and kitsch.”

Needless to say, I do not share this disdain for “Ein Alpensinfonie” and apart from thoroughly enjoying the many recordings I own, I also love to hear this grandest of orchestral showpieces live, as I did last year at the Royal Festival Hall with the LPO under Jurowski. I find the sheer impact of this huge piece really thrilling when it is played with this degree of zest and commitment and indeed am hardly acquainted with a poor recording of it; its discography has been very felicitous. We are all the more fortunate to be able – for the time being at least – to count upon the continued funding of the European Union Youth Orchestra, following the intervention, in response to widespread protest at the prospect of its disbandment after forty years of existence, of the EU President, Jean-Claude Juncker.

The sound quality is first-rate although there is some evident deliberate boosting of solo instruments at key points, such as the organ at the conclusion, and this foregrounding is not entirely natural. Special praise is due to the twenty horns who play flawlessly and of which a band is atmospherically positioned for the “offstage” hunting passage. It is fascinating to remember that while Strauss was engaged in writing this gargantuan tone poem, he was simultaneously working on the most intimate and chamber-like of his compositions, “Ariadne auf Naxos”; the orchestration of those two contemporaneous works could hardly be more different. The 130 members of the EU Youth Orchestra play with razor-sharp precision and generate the most extraordinarily rich sonority, with plenty of sheen on the strings and a rich, deep bass line.

There is very little variation in the timings of the various versions with which I am acquainted and everything I look for in a satisfying performance of this work is present here, from the mysterious, brooding B flat minor pedal which opens it, to its resumption at the close. The A major diapason depicting sunrise is magnificent, as is the great, weighty C major climax of “Auf dem Gipfel”. The serene clarinet and bassoon solos before the storm section and the flutes and piccolos imitating eagles’ cries are wonderfully pictorial and there is a really joyous swing to the melodious passage, taken at a suitably brisk pace, conjuring up the flowery meadows where the cows graze. The more discordant and disturbing sections suggestive of dangerous moments on the glacier and the ferocity of the storm are played with remarkable unity and precision. Indeed, the whole piece is played with great verve and momentum such that there is never any danger of it fragmenting into an episodic series of vignettes; Judd presides over a truly cohesive narrative.

As if all this were not enough, the bonus of Mahler’s orphaned Adagio is riveting, beginning first in almost leisurely style but gradually generating a great and inexorable cumulative tension. The strings sing and the nine-note chord makes a chilling impact before the movement subsides into the poised delicacy of the coda, which unfolds beneath the unearthly beauty of the strings keening stratospherically on a high, floated C sharp – magical.

(The recording date is wrongly stated as 1979/80 on the back cover of my review CD; the booklet insert, which says 1991/2, is presumably correct.)

[This review also posted on the MusicWeb International website]


Kiri Te Kanawa: Canteloube: Chants d'Auvergne, Vol. 1
Kiri Te Kanawa: Canteloube: Chants d'Auvergne, Vol. 1
Offered by ReNew Entertainment
Price: £9.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Headily beautiful, 18 Jun. 2017
Kiri Te Kanawa's languidly beautiful way with these songs, with lush accompaniments by the recently deceased Jeffrey Tate and the excellent ECO, is assuredly not the only way to perform them, but this gorgeous recital has its place alongside livelier, earthier, perkier versions by de los Angeles, Frederica von Stade, Netania Davrath and Anna Moffo.

On the single CD issue, you get only the first three of the five series of songs here, whereas Davrath gives us them all on a double album (unless you buy the single CD issue on the "Alto" and "Vanguard" labels), which amounts to the first sixteen songs, but you can also find the complete double album. The songs are very varied and by no means without liveliness, despite Kiri's gentler manner. Moffo's selection with Stokowski is even briefer than her single CD - only seven songs.

You hear this lovely singer in her absolute prime, her voice caressing these songs in the sweetest fashion and certainly injecting them with feeling where necessary, as in the operatically tragic "La delassaïdo" ("The Forsaken Shepherdess").

As a bonus, you get Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas brasileiras No. 5", showing off Te Kanawa's cantilena and purity of tone to maximum advantage, accompanied by Lynn Harrell's dreamy cello playing.


Canteloube: Chants d'Auvergne / Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No.5
Canteloube: Chants d'Auvergne / Villa-Lobos: Bachianas Brasileiras No.5
Price: £10.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Headily beautiful, 16 Jun. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Kiri Te Kanawa's languidly beautiful way with these songs, with lush accompaniments by the recently deceased Jeffrey Tate and the excellent ECO, is assuredly not the only way to perform them, but this gorgeous recital has its place alongside livelier, earthier, perkier versions by de los Angeles, Frederica von Stade, Netania Davrath and Anna Moffo.

On the single CD issue, you get only the first three of the five series of songs here, whereas Davrath gives us them all on a double album (unless you buy the single CD issue on the "Alto" and "Vanguard" labels), which amounts to the first sixteen songs, but you can also find the complete double album. The songs are very varied and by no means without liveliness, despite Kiri's gentler manner. Moffo's selection with Stokowski is even briefer than her single CD - only seven songs.

You hear this lovely singer in her absolute prime, her voice caressing these songs in the sweetest fashion and certainly injecting them with feeling where necessary, as in the operatically tragic "La delassaïdo" ("The Forsaken Shepherdess").

As a bonus, you get Villa-Lobos' "Bachianas brasileiras No. 5", showing off Te Kanawa's cantilena and purity of tone to maximum advantage, accompanied by Lynn Harrell's dreamy cello playing.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 18, 2017 8:02 AM BST


Berlioz - Les Nuits D'Ete / La Mort De Cleopatre
Berlioz - Les Nuits D'Ete / La Mort De Cleopatre

5.0 out of 5 stars Two great singers do Berlioz proud, 13 Jun. 2017
As a Berlioz devotee, I have long counted this among my favourite Berlioz recordings since CDs arrived on the scene and a recent re-acquaintance with it reminded me why. Kiri Te Kanawa's purity of tone and exploitation of a surprisingly resonant lower register combine with a really sensitive response to the lovely texts in a manner which belies the accusations of her detractors that she is a bland, canary voice. I am merely wondering why I have not previously got around to reviewing one of my desert island discs. The vocal attractions of this recital are complemented by the excellence of Barenboim's direction. He is in my estimation amongst the most inconsistent of conductors and some of his recent outings have been very disappointing, but he has long had an affinity with Berlioz and this is one of his happiest recordings from the point of view of sonorities, balance, tempos and phrasing; there is even some welcome and appropriate hint of Gallic acerbity in the woodwind.

Jessye Norman, whose sumptuous, rolling voice could hardly present a greater contrast to Te Kanawa's creamy and crystalline sound, gives a magnificent account of what I have long thought of as one of Berlioz's most compelling compositions - despite its rocky reception and long rejection. She is suitably overt and demonstrative as the doomed and desperate pharaonic Queen - surprisingly so for an artist who could at times come across as rather reserved and stately - then again, she was always good at portraying noble queens and suffering aristocracy.

This is by no means my only, or even preferred, recommendation for either work: I would not be without Janet Baker in both and much enjoyed Karen Cargill's recording despite the leanness of Ticciati's conducting; in the songs alone I esteem Leontyne Price, Eleanor Steber, Victoria de los Angeles, Vesselina Kassarova, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Frederica von Stade, Yvonne Minton and several more - although I have no time for the much-vaunted account by Régine Crespin, whose soprano I find gritty and whose manner strikes me as detached. But you are in safe hands here.


Les Nuits D'Ete / Cleopatre
Les Nuits D'Ete / Cleopatre
Price: £20.61

5.0 out of 5 stars Two great singers do Berlioz proud, 13 Jun. 2017
As a Berlioz devotee, I have long counted this among my favourite Berlioz recordings since CDs arrived on the scene and a recent re-acquaintance with it reminded me why. Kiri Te Kanawa's purity of tone and exploitation of a surprisingly resonant lower register combine with a really sensitive response to the lovely texts in a manner which belies the accusations of her detractors that she is a bland, canary voice. I am merely wondering why I have not previously got around to reviewing one of my desert island discs. The vocal attractions of this recital are complemented by the excellence of Barenboim's direction. He is in my estimation amongst the most inconsistent of conductors and some of his recent outings have been very disappointing, but he has long had an affinity with Berlioz and this is one of his happiest recordings from the point of view of sonorities, balance, tempos and phrasing; there is even some welcome and appropriate hint of Gallic acerbity in the woodwind.

Jessye Norman, whose sumptuous, rolling voice could hardly present a greater contrast to Te Kanawa's creamy and crystalline sound, gives a magnificent account of what I have long thought of as one of Berlioz's most compelling compositions - despite its rocky reception and long rejection. She is suitably overt and demonstrative as the doomed and desperate pharaonic Queen - surprisingly so for an artist who could at times come across as rather reserved and stately - then again, she was always good at portraying noble queens and suffering aristocracy.

This is by no means my only, or even preferred, recommendation for either work: I would not be without Janet Baker in both and much enjoyed Karen Cargill's recording despite the leanness of Ticciati's conducting; in the songs alone I esteem Leontyne Price, Eleanor Steber, Victoria de los Angeles, Vesselina Kassarova, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Frederica von Stade, Yvonne Minton and several more - although I have no time for the much-vaunted account by Régine Crespin, whose soprano I find gritty and whose manner strikes me as detached. But you are in safe hands here.


Bizet: Carmen
Bizet: Carmen
Offered by worldcollectabilia
Price: £4.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Traditional gung-ho style - hardly Gallic but still exciting, 12 Jun. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Bizet: Carmen (Audio CD)
My first difficulty in posting a review for this recording was to persuade Amazon to remove and de-link my reviews for, other different recordings of the same opera. To be clear, this is for the 1963 Schippers on Decca.

My second problem was to try to reconcile some really vituperative and absurdly negative one and two star reviews with what I hear. The problem with those who hate it must arise from their fixed idea that "Carmen" must be performed in an authentic, Gallic, Opéra comique style and refuse to recognise that an opera which so quickly became truly international also has a more robust performing tradition which permits a grander, more robust approach of the kind we find in superbly sung but frequently scorned, classic accounts by such as Karajan, Solti et al. Perhaps yet a third issue is the debate regarding how Carmen herself must be portrayed: as a strong, independent, resourceful woman who resists male oppression or, more traditionally, as something of a tart with a heart who might not get what she deserves but certainly invites it. (Cue complaints from feminists who will quote elderly white judges who think that drunk, scantily clad women must bear some responsibility for becoming victims; I digress and refrain from committing myself to any opinion at all in such a moral minefield). Abbado and Berganza championed the former interpretation and some found it cool and uninvolving. Callas sang superbly but portrayed a tigress supposedly without the allure some critics demanded. For me, Leontyne Price embodied some kind of ideal with her smoky tones and aural pout but I can also fully appreciate the more refined charms of such as Solange Michel and Victoria de los Angeles in their decidedly more restrained and ladylike portrayals for Cluytens and Beecham respectively.

The same argument can apply to the tenor: some run a mile screaming from the verismo, can belto style of the Don José we hear from Corelli and Del Monaco here and I agree that a truly French tenor like Thill, Vezzani or even the rougher Jobin are more in keeping with what Bizet surely intended - but then I remember that Don José is a violent, insecure mummy's boy with psychopathic tendencies - and suddenly Nicolai Gedda doesn't seem so apt after all.

So, as my old Latin teacher used to say, "You pays your money and you takes your choice" and I'll summarise the attractions and demerits of this set as I hear them. First, most people seem to agree that Schippers is a superb, energised and dynamic conductor, just as you might expect; he gets its considerable best out of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande which plays with great color and feeling. Secondly, the sound is first rate for 1963; it's crystal clear with John Culshaw producing special spatial effects such as the guard marching past from right to left and the crowd applauding the Toreador approaching atmospherically. Thirdly, the supporting cast is excellent, with a lively chorus, including a robust children's choir, several native speakers with good voices and a young Joan Sutherland singing Micaëla gorgeously, even if she isn't quite at home in French.

But to the three other principal singers, starting with Tom Krause as Escamillo. He is virile and cruel sounding but also rather crude and even a little unsteady, as the part clearly lies a shade high for his bass-baritone, so he lacks the ease and elegance that a true French baritone such as Robert Massard, or even an all-purpose Verdi voice like that of another Robert, Merrill, can bring to the role. He is audibly under strain and occasionally either sounds as if he is about to crack or even momentarily does so in his big aria. Of course his French and vocal acting are superb (he spoke seven languages fluently). Del Monaco still has plenty of voice and thrills simply by virtue of the size and sound, even if subtleties are few. His French is certainly not great - but the accent comes and goes and at times is passable. I still enjoy his gung-ho onslaught on the role, but Vickers, who also had a big, if very different, voice, was rather more varied as Don José.

Which leaves Regina Resnik. Some have accused her of sounding too "matronly". I don't buy that: she simply has a rich, tough, even husky mezzo with a strong lower register but that fits the more conventional concept of Carmen as tough and streetwise. She might be "chesty" (in every sense) but she's not frumpy; her mode is closer to that of Risë Stevens, Marilyn Horne and Elena Obraztsova. Her French is quite good except for her aspirating the "h" in "bohème. If you want a more ladylike Carmen, you know where to go.

So in the end, while this affords considerable pleasure for anyone receptive to the broader, more generic way with this opera, my personal favorite remains the later Maazel recording made for the film with Migenes-Johnson and Domingo, which for me represents something of a compromise between the two extremes and is as successful as Maazel's earlier recording with a quavery Anna Moffo and a bawling Corelli is a dud.


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