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Juan Antonio Muñoz "Juan Herrenz" (Italy)

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La Forza Del Destino: Bayerisches Staatsorchester (Fisch) [Blu-ray] [2016]
La Forza Del Destino: Bayerisches Staatsorchester (Fisch) [Blu-ray] [2016]
Dvd ~ Martin Kusej
Price: £14.99

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “La Forza del Destino” and the manipulative power of religions, 10 Mar. 2016
This performance can be considered as a reference on account of the quality of the vocal material involved and because the daring staging of Austrian Martin Kušej is rich in meaning within the context of the global challenges of today. He proposes a reflection on war, on vengeance and also on the mark of guilt which ends with the joie de vivre and the expansion of passions. In the intimacy of Calatrava, his is a post-Bauhaus picture of a Fascist neatness which then contrasts with the chaos of battles, the abyss of misery and the sexual stampede after triumph or failure. In this context, religion, instead of being a consolation is both an escape and the tomb of humanity; the chapel wherein Leonora hides is made out of huge crosses and in one of them, just for a moment, Don Álvaro seems crucified by his fate.

The move of the action to the 20th century (and up to our days) seeks to comment on current aspects of war, with erotic splinters of a sadomasochistic nature when describing the behavior inside military camps and racism as the protagonist of the opera, Don Álvaro, is presumably an Inca mestizo with noble blood. But the bottom line is that Kušej calls into question that the central theme of the opera is “fate” and he suggests that the tragedy —social and familiar— is due to the manipulative power of religious institutions. Neither Christianity nor Islam are spared.

The staging adds one discovery after another, particularly with the plummeting views of the guerilla hideouts (one has the impression of looking from the top of a hole into an underground cave), the ascension into heaven of Leonora in the mind of Don Álvaro and the “multipurpose” table that serves to make love, to fight, as a refuge for pilgrims and also to die.

It is hard to imagine nowadays a better Leonora —clearly more lyrical than spinto— than that of Anja Harteros, who evokes Callas in her scenic abandonment and who raises her transparent singing and astonishing naturalness in such a demanding opera for sopranos. The Don Álvaro of Jonas Kaufmann is simply huge, with a brilliant voice, skillful in handling nuances and halftones, capable of irrigating with emotion each word and with a scenic talent that allows him to go through savage violence, tenderness, contained anger and the pursuit of mystical ecstasy. His version of “La vita è inferno” is memorable, as also the duets with Leonora in the First Act (of high voltage) and with Don Carlo di Vargas, in another admirable performance of baritone Ludovic Tézier, whose song line and artistic maturity place him in the best tradition of great Verdian baritones. From his most lyrical material, Tézier attacks the dreaded “Urna fatale” with the certainty of a Leonard Warren. His encounters with Kaufmann are of an enervating and explosive vocal and scenic tension.

Asher Fisch conducts expertly, although at times with a too overwhelming sound. The version chosen is that of Milan 1869, with the adaptation of Franz Werfel, who places the grand scene with Preziosilla midway through the third act, as in the 1862 St. Petersburg version. This order was premiered in Dresden in 1926, under the conduction of Fritz Busch, and that same year in Munich with Karl Böhm on the podium.

Verdi: Aida
Verdi: Aida
Price: £14.99

9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Radames, Radames, Radames !, 9 Oct. 2015
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This review is from: Verdi: Aida (Audio CD)
Antonio Pappano creates a sound space without frontiers where voices can live in intimacy and also in midst of the masses (few operas have as many “asides” as this one), thus accepting the difficult mixture proposed by the score which is so hard to balance. His conduction enthralls us with the colorful encounters, the haziness, the internal vibration and constant unrest of the atmosphere. If the scene at the Temple of Vulcan —extremely well accomplished— puts all this together in the contrasting levels of heroism and prayers, the preludes to Acts I and III lead us to an iridescent musical environment that takes us through undulating roads towards sensuality, mysticism and human passions that here come into play, both frantic and subterranean. The building constructed by Pappano has an architecture full of details that suddenly converge on a hall of amplified sound.

Pappano also sustains the implicit theater of voices, core of this artistic force that is opera. Anja Harteros is not the spinto soprano one has in mind for Aida, on account of a somewhat narrow middle, but her Ethiopian princess is perfectly well designed. Her careful song joins the versatility of her accents, through which she manages to capture the confusion of the character, her anguish, her haughtiness. She outlines a fearful Aida, a contradictory lover who betrays, at times treacherous, at times angelical. Formidable rival in the plot and also in the vocal and scenic proficiency, Amneris is the opulent and vigorous mezzo Ekaterina Semenshuck, with low tones that are a public menace with lewd emphasis and who knows how to make the transition from the anger of the working class to the impotence of one who cannot make herself loved. Baritone Ludovic Tézier is a fine singer incapable of attempting against music, and therefore his Amonasro never shouts; his fierceness is never histrionic. He is successful even when he transfers ambiguity to this loving father who is, above all, an uncompromising and inflexible king. Bass Erwin Schrott isn’t Nicolai Ghiaurov or Matti Salminen, but serves with authority as Ramfis. One must pay attention to the Sacerdotessa played by Eleonora Buratto, whose current repertoire includes Adina (L’Elisir d’Amore) and Micaela (“Carmen”), but perhaps may someday sing the main role of this opera ( a truly fledgling spinto?).

In the vocal level, the greatest success of this version is the Radames of Jonas Kaufmann, dramatic and lyrical alike, more of a lover than a hero, himself controversial. The great German tenor knows how to reconcile ardor and refinement, and —artist of a superior level— manages to instill into the optimism of his character worrying and dark forebodings. His “Celeste Aida” is anthological due to the impalpable abandonment of his singing and the B flat dreamt of by Verdi, in mezza voce and morendo, conveniently avoided by most tenors. His whole performance —beyond the depth of his low tones and the insolence of his high tones— is a fabric of details and inflections, such as the diminuendo introduced in “il ciel de’ nostri amori come scordar potrem?”, or that sweet half-voice with which he travels over “O terra addio” with Harteros.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2015 11:25 PM BST

Nessun Dorma: The Puccini Album
Nessun Dorma: The Puccini Album
Price: £9.99

63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
“Nessun dorma” (Sony, 2015), the remarkable new album of Jonas Kaufmann, unfolds in at least three senses. These are that Puccini’s music is composed for the theater, that there is an evolution in his way of composing and that a true artist —like the Bavarian tenor— can update the interpretative conception, remaining true to the style.

Here we are before a Jonas Kaufmann that overwhelms us with his dark and baritone-like voice, with sparkling high notes, offering a generous and noble song. A singer for whom the voice is the vehicle of a huge scenic personality, who assumes in each phrase the weight of the drama, to the point of going beyond operatic conventions. It’s as if he had embodied the words that an already ageing Giacomo Puccini wrote to a friend: “God Almighty touched me with his little finger and told me: ‘Write for the theater, remember, only for the theater’, and I have obeyed the supreme mandate”.

Kaufmann could certainly act without singing, and that magnetism of his dramatic implication is felt throughout the record. The voice is also exposed in a wasteful manner but, strange to say, never boastfully, because his main concern is for nuance and detail: it’s his training in the world of the Lied applied to Puccini. A Puccini in which we discover the attention to scapigliatura, to the Verdian world, to the heritage of the belcanto expanded by Verdi and even to French melodicism.

All of this because the album —with Antonio Pappano, probably the best Italian opera conductor today, conducting the orchestra and choir of the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia—, makes a non-chronological tour of all Puccini titles, from the early “Le Villi” (1884) to the posthumous “Turandot” (debut in 1926). Kaufmann refrains from singing “Suor Angelica”, for obvious reasons.

The first four tracks are dedicated to “Manon Lescaut” (1893) and its Renato des Grieux. It opens with a dreamlike “Donna non vidi mai”, in which the illusion for the recently met loved one unfolds in words such as “carezzare” or “susurro gentil”; next is the duet from the second act (with a sensitive and heated Kristine Opolais), with the explosion of passions, the recriminations of “O tentatrice” (Oh, temptress), the laments of “Più non posso lottar” (I can fight no more), the triumph of erotic satisfaction of “Nel l’occhio tuo profondo io leggo il mio destin” (a phrase that resists many interpretations and can be translated as “In the depth of your eyes I can read my destiny”) and up to the post-coital choking of “Dolcissimo soffrir” (“Sweetest suffering”, a wink to the “small death” or to the “sweet death”). Kaufmann sings desire from an aristocratic point and then progresses to the anger of Des Grieux in “Ah Manon, mi tradisce il tuo folle pensier” (¡Ah! Manon, your crazy thoughts betray me) and the impossibility of fleeing: “Io? Tuo schiavo e tua vittima discendo la scala dell’infamia” (I? Your slave and victim descend the stairs of infamy). It ends with the great scene of Des Grieux in the third act, “Ah! Non v’avvicinate”, with the vehement declamation, the candor of supplication and the climatic B (Si) that disarms everybody.

Already in that last fragment we find a song that travels between the declamation of a speech and the lyricism of an aria, which defines the vocal focus of Puccini for “Le Villi” and “Edgar”. Kaufmann turns “Torna ai felice dì”, from the first one, into a scene of nostalgia spurred at all times by terror. In the case of “Edgar” (1889), “Orgia, chimera dall’occhio vitreo... O soave vision” it is an example of broad and expansive music, invigorated by the declamatory Verdian style and —what a mixture— with clear influence of the Massenet of “Herodiade” (“Vision fugitive”). Rodolfo of “La Bohème” (1896), who was an important character for Kaufmann during his years in Zurich, is nowadays not a role cut out for him, due to the path his voice has taken, but it is remarkable how he undertakes “O soave fanciulla” beside the cautious Mimi of Opolais, melting in phrases such as “Sarebbe dolce restar qui. C’è freddo fuori” (It would be nice if we could stay here. It’s cold outside) or with the insinuating question “E al ritorno?” (And when we return?). “Tosca” (1900) —Kaufmann’s Cavaradossi is textbook— is represented by “Recondita armonia”, which comes with the “losing himself” of the conclusive “Sei tu”, which almost nobody respects. In “Madama Butterfly” (1904), the tenor almost makes us forget the material of which is made the despicable Pinkerton and he addresses with emotion his “Addio fiorito asil”.

A magnificent role for Kaufmann is Ramerrez/Johnson of “La Fanciulla del West” (1910), who sings “Una parola sola” with an enormous intensity that electrifies and excites us in “la mia vergogna” (my shame); he then turns “Ch’ella mi creda libero e lontano” into an almost religious prayer. Moreover, the revelations that Pappano deducts from the powerful orchestral score are surprising. “La Rondine” (1917) offers a playful interlude with “Parigi è la citta dei desideri” to then go to the tough arms of Michele in “Il Tabarro” (1918), a role that the tenor has not yet sung on stage and in which he would be perfect: his “Hai ben raggione” has all the anger of the proletarian cry of dissatisfaction and resentment he experiences after the words “it is best not to think, to bow your head and bend back”. One wonders what the baritone of the leading role of “Gianni Schichi” (1918) could do faced with a tenor who sings the part of the adolescent Rinuccio as Kaufmann does. It is certainly not a role for him, but what a magnificent voice to exalt Florence, Giotto and the Arno! It’s like a treat. Kaufmann gives it to himself and also to the public.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 20, 2015 1:13 PM BST

Don Carlo: Salzburg Festival (Pappano) [Blu-ray] [2014] [NTSC]
Don Carlo: Salzburg Festival (Pappano) [Blu-ray] [2014] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Antonion Pappano
Price: £10.42

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A “Don Carlo” of reference, 3 July 2014
“Don Carlo” (Verdi) is the opera that no one can imagine, as each performance seems unique; it is very difficult to find a staging of the complete work. There are almost as many “Don Carlo” as there are stagings of it. There are even changes between the version of the première in Paris, in 1867, and those performed two days later. There are also the “editions” of 1872, signed in Naples, and those of 1884 (made for Vienna) and 1886 (Modena). This last one excludes the ballet. Nowadays, there is generally a distinction between the French version of 1867 and the Italian one of 1884, with libretto by Zanardini and De Lauzieres.

This major title of the Verdian production lives within a tapestry of contradictions: the plot gathers historical characters, but they are all at the service of an idea that is not interested in the real story; at the time of the première the composer was accused of being influenced by Meyerbeer and Wagner, but the score is an example of the most profound and complex Verdi, and although it demands a great show, its soul is to be found in the more intimate scenes. To all of the aforesaid, we have to add that, despite the love conflict, it is a political opera that shows a hard-hearted king (Filippo II di Spagna) who is finally willing to speak of freedom and to open up his heart to a rebel (Rodrigo de Posa), and challenging the interference of the Catholic Church in State decisions.

There still remains love, here betrayed, as well as desire: Elisabetta di Valois marries Filippo although she is in love with his son, Carlo; Filippo loves and suffers on account of a woman who he knows is in love with his son; Carlo loves his “madre” (mother), as he calls Elisabetta, and makes the love conflict he has with his father compete with the differences he has with him in terms of government; the Princess of Éboli loves Carlo and that is why she ends up by denouncing Elisabetta. The best term to describe the relationship between Carlo and Rodrigo is “bromance”; their unbeatable friendship is demonstrated with Posa’s immolation. He and Carlo wish a freedom they have never lived; they seem to love each other in that desire for freedom.

There are various aspects that allow us to say that this is a “Don Carlo” of reference. Staged in Salzburg in 2013, it is the version in five acts of the Italian translation, without the ballet but with the scene in the third act in which Isabel and Éboli exchange dresses, which is not to be found in most of the record editions. Peter Stein —theatre director who founded the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, a cutting-edge company of the German theatre— opts for a staging with traditional elements based on a careful work of the actors, oozing with questions about the nature of the conflicting private relationships, but which also takes a stand on the variegated political and religious conflicts addressed by the libretto. It supports their work with a functional and naked staging, with delicate allusions to the Spain of the 16th century; lights that render suggestive twilight pictures, especially for the solitude of Carlo and for his duets with Isabel and Rodrigo; a luxurious wardrobe with Diego Velázquez as reference, and a sextet of singers who know that having a voice is not enough.

From the pit, Maestro Antonio Pappano conducts with passion and manages to capture the shadows inhabiting this difficult score, achieving sonorous climaxes in the crescendo of the love duet between Carlo and Isabel in the first act, in the ambiguous passion that consumes Rodrigo, and in the huge concertante of the Auto da Fe. The Infante of tenor Jonas Kaufmann is a dispossessed and melancholy prince, a vulnerable and sickly hero rendered light and shadows through a dark and burnished voice that disturbs with its tenderness and beauty, and dazzles with its masterly use of the messa di voce. Anja Harteros sings an Elisabetta di Valois who is pure nobility in the attitude and rigor in the phrasing, features that are also to be found in Thomas Hampson (Rodrigo de Posa), whose vocal enamel is not the same of recent years, but is a sensitive and musical artist like few others. Ekaterina Semenchuk —natural successor of the Obraztsova and Borodina lineage— imposes her Éboli through a voluptuous and intense singing, while two unparalleled veterans, basses Matti Salminen (a master of declaimed singing) and Eric Halfvarson (terrifying), render the confrontation between Filippo II and the Grand Inquisitor into a lesson in theatrical tension.

Juan Antonio Muñoz H.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 4, 2014 8:01 AM BST

Schubert: Winterreise
Schubert: Winterreise
Price: £14.99

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jonas Kaufmann in “Winterreise”: Relentlessly seeking rest, 26 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Schubert: Winterreise (Audio CD)
“Winterreise” (D 911), Franz Schubert’s cycle (1797-1828) on poems by Wilhelm Müller, is a musical drama that can be read as the story of a young man, desperate on account of a lost love who travels through a winter landscape, and also as the discovery of the desolation of a man, expressed in the description of the climate, finding the ultimate realities. It is, therefore, a cycle about death, perceived as longing and rest. Death, in this case, replaces what has been lost; the further the young man distances himself from his love, the further he distances himself from his life. A really deep sea in 24 songs; an open sea of feeling.

Tenor Jonas Kaufmann addresses this huge work from emotion and his wager renews each Lied for our time and works as catharsis. It purifies, in a sense. His many nuanced voice, to which he confers abysmal meanings, builds an environment that is essentially meditative and dreamlike, as if the “moment” in which it is produced were the one which precedes death, in which a whole life or the most important things in it are recapitulated. He insists on solitude and in the option to finish once for all.

“Gute nacht” (Good night) is the first poem and it begins with the word “Fremd”, stranger, because as such we come into the world and into love. Kaufmann reveals right from the start the state of dejection of the wanderer, whom he will move through pain and fury, showing the understandable weakness of his pleas, as in “Die Wetterfahne” (The Weather-vane): Was fragen sie nach meinen Schmerzen? (Why should you worry about my suffering?).

The piano, in the miraculous hands of Helmut Deutsch, draws the notes that describe “Gefrorne Tränen” (Frozen Tears) and Jonas Kaufmann resorts to alchemy in the question “Dass ich geweinet hab?” (Have I cried?) to tell us that he has done so and that the drops that fall from his eyes are so warm that they freeze “like the cold water of dawn” (“wie kühler Morgentau”). His voice seems that of a bass-baritone in “Ei Tränen, meine Tränen” (Oh tears, my tears), as it sinks into the depths —how low can he sing? — in “Des ganzes Winters Eis!” (All the Winter’s Ice). The use of appoggiatura in the words “Tränen” (tears), “Eise” (ice) and “Brust” (breast) highlight the intense perturbation of the young man.

Love gets mixed up with anger in “Erstarrung” (Numbness), and the proposed journey passes through the stations of annoyance-anger-pain-longing. Pain reigns and Kaufmann gives us to understand that the young traveler prefers to sing that pain because if he silences his suffering, who will talk to him about her? It is a way of seizing for himself, of owning, something that does not exist except in the wishes of his mind.
Schubert adopts Monteverdi in this cycle; his songs are the romantic reflection of the stile rappresentativo. “Der Lindenbaum” (The Linden Tree) may be the best expression of this, both because the declamatory style triumphs and because there is a dominant tone of remembrance. It is Helmut Deutsch’s piano that murmurs melancholy while Kaufmann comments “Du fändest Ruhe dort” (There you will find peace) and asks with his voice if it is possible to find happiness by reliving the past. The answer is “No”.

“Wasserflut” (Torrent) provides the contrast between the fluid vocal line and the restless piano. Helmut Deutsch, remarkable! There are beautiful ascending lines, made for the tenor’s lyricism, who finds a new climax in the word “Weh” (affliction). In “Auf dem Flusse” (On the river), he rebukes the “wild” (wilder) river that has become quiet and confusing when he asks “Mein Herz, in diesem Bache /Erkennst du nun dein Bild?” (Heart of mine, do you recognize your image in this stream?). “Rückblick” (Retrospect) shows the struggle between the lark and the nightingale —that once tormented Romeo and Juliet—, and here joy identifies itself with unreality. From the piano, Helmut Deutsch says that the dream will not happen; it is an “Irrlicht” (Will o’the wisp), title of the following song which tells us that “Every current finds its sea, / Every sorrow its tomb” (Jeder Strom wird’s Meer gewinnen, / Jedes Leiden auch sein Grab”.

There is weariness in “Rast” (Rest), where the piano once more begs for some hope until we get to “Frühlingstraum” (Dream of Springtime), with Kaufmann amid a dreamy meditation in which he sighs “Ich träumte von Lieb um Liebe” (I dreamt of love for love) just before “Einsamkeit” (Solitude) makes him become aware of the void. “Die Post” (The Post), with its implacable bar of silence after the first verse, confirms again the absence, a key to turn to for “Der greise Kopf” (The grey head), where the death wish is explicit: Wie weit noch bis zur Bahre! (How long now until the coffin!).

“Die Krähe” (The crow) represents evil omens and brings death mixed up with the young man’s obsession with fidelity, and “Letzte Hoffnung” (Last Hope) reverses the meaning because we know that there is nothing to hope for; that is why the leaves float on falling and that is why the voice rises through the staff to fall immediately one octave. In “Im Dorfe” (In the Village), the barking dogs are the conflicting forces that assail in life, and “Der stürmische Morgen” (The Stormy Morning) is the perfect climate for the young man’s feelings, whose heart is torn by the “Täuschung” (Deception).

“Der Wegweiser” (The Signpost) is the song that raises the unanswered whys, expressing something which seems to come from Jonas Kaufmann’s own soul, fully portrayed in the phrase “Ohne Ruh’ und suche Ruh” (Relentlessly seeking Rest). The tenor himself, the same as the young wanderer, chooses hidden paths that others do not follow. When he gets to “Das Wirtshaus” (The Inn), the signs indicate that all the rooms have been taken; death still does not want him. What beauty in his voice when he says “Bin matt zum Niedersinken / bin tödlich schwer verletzt” (I am weak enough to lie, deathly wounded). That is why “Mut !” (Courage) comes next, sudden —and final— joy bound with some courage and strength. A decision to commit suicide? It is likely: “Will kein Gott auf Erden sein, / sind wir selber Götter” (If there is no God on Earth, / we ourselves are gods!”).

We must behold the beauty of “Die Nebensonnen” (The Phantom Suns), maybe because we cannot explain what those “Drei Sonnen” (Three Suns) the traveler talks about, mean. The symbol here is a mystery and the tenor, in a final stupor, begs for that “darkness where I will be much better” (Im Dunkeln wird mir wohler sein). It is what precedes the “encounter” with “Der Leiermann” (The Hurdy-Gurdy Man), where Kaufmann dominates with his tenderness and confirms his decision to let himself be taken away: “Will you accompany my songs with your lyre?” (Willst zu meinen Liedern / deine Leier drehn?”).
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 2, 2016 10:57 AM GMT

Sylvia Sass - The Decca Recitals
Sylvia Sass - The Decca Recitals
Price: £15.46

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great singer and amazing arias and songs, 7 Nov. 2011
Sylvia Sass sings the best "Lorelei" (Liszt) version of my experience. Really a great artist with a big repertoire and very personal voice material: her "D'amor sull'ali" is a mixture between Bellini and Verdi; her Gioconda, red and black, a song from the grave; her Norma, light from de Moon; her Giselda is like a saint who loves a man... Incredible. Sass was a great soprano.

Un Ballo In Maschera/Lucia Di Lammermoor (Lukacs, Sass)
Un Ballo In Maschera/Lucia Di Lammermoor (Lukacs, Sass)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing singer, 4 Aug. 2008
Where is now Sylvia Sass? Decca must put in scene her album "Dramatic coloratura". This album (Hungaroton) has beautiful pages: Willow Song, Ballo, Pace pace and the incredible Malibran's version for Lucia's mad scene. Great singer, moving, with a sensive parlar cantando...

Sylvia Sass
Sylvia Sass
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £12.86

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Meravigliosa, 24 Sept. 2007
This review is from: Sylvia Sass (Audio CD)
Una artista incredibile. Sua Lady Macbeth puo essere la migliore... e sicuro sua Giselda è la migliore. Anche grande come Turandot e Manon... Un avis rara che oggi non essiste.

Sylvia Sass: Arias/Orchestral Songs
Sylvia Sass: Arias/Orchestral Songs

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best Senta's ballad in the History, 7 Mar. 2007
Where is Sylvia Sass? An exceptional singer with a dramatic personality. Realy a great artist. Her pianissimi and the power of her proyection are amazing. She remains as the "new Callas'' but she has a lot of own: pathos, le sense de la parole, nuances.... Her Senta (Der fliegender Holländer) is the best of my experience and is superb her "Allmacht'ge Junfrau'' (Tannhäuser). Perfect and disturbing in "Wesendock Lieder'' and touching in "Morgen''...

Montserrat Caballe said of the hungarian soprano to pianist András Schiff: "Sylvia Sass is the most splendid opera singer I have even heard''. Not bad...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 30, 2012 10:10 PM GMT

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