Rita Gorr Sings French Opera = Rita Gorr, sop./ Orch. du Theatre National de l’Opera/ Orch. de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire/ Andre Cluytens/ Georges Pretre – Guild

Rita Gorr Sings French Opera = GLUCK: Alceste: “Divinities du Styx”; Iphigenie en Tauride: 4 Arias; Orphee et Eurydice: “Malheueux, que je fait?; J’ai perdu mo Eurydice”; CHERUBINI: Medee: 5 Arias; BERLIOZ: La damnation du Faust: “Autrefois un Roi du Thule”; “D’amour l’aredent flame”; MASSENET: Werther: “Werther! Werther!. . .Ces letters. . .ah! je les relis sans cesse”; SAINT-SAENS: Samson et Dalila: “Printemps qui commence”; “Samson, recherchent ma presence. . .” – Rita Gorr, soprano/ Orchestre du Theatre National de l’Opera/ Orch. de la Societe des Concerts du Conservatoire/ Andre Cluytens/ Georges Pretre –  Guild GHCD 2411, 79:49 (7/15/14) [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Rita Gorr (nee Maguerite Geirnaert, 1926-2012) of Belgium possessed a powerful, spinto soprano voice capable of both dramatic and lyric expressiveness, a fascinating cross between Birgit Nilsson’s metallic, Wagnerian clarion projection and the pathos-laden sweetness achieved in the best moments from Maria Callas. In the course of this fine collation of French operatic repertory, we tend to forget Knappertsbusch wanted Gorr for Das Rheingold in Munich, and she appeared in Bayreuth in 1958-1959.

With the National Theater Opera Orchestra and the Conservatory Concert Society Orchestra under Andre Cluytens and Georges Pretre, respectively, Gorr proves herself a dominant force in the music of Christoph Gluck, particularly in her 1959 rendition of Orpheus’ lament for his lost Eurydice. But Gorr’s opening foray into “Divinities du Styx” easily challenges Callas for sultry breadth of expression in the face of underworld furies. Gorr’s range and smoky timbre well suit her characterization of Iphigenia, for which she remained famous, her voice easily flowing into the mezzo tessitura while catapulting upward to through two octaves. 

“Clarity and obvious intelligence” defined critical reactions to Gorr’s reading of Cherubini’s Medea – here in excerpts from 1962 under Pretre and assisted by Guy Chauvet as Jason – that confirm the demand for “a voice like a clarion and a frame of adamant gold. . .as well as. . .grandeur of expression ere the creation of the composer can be rightly fulfilled.” The duets with Chauvet resonate with thrilling power and quivering malice, especially when Medea addresses her doomed children. Recall her justification for their destruction from the Euripides play proper: “It’s not that I loved my children less; I merely hated my husband more.”

The better part of 30 minutes, for the last five selections, Gorr and Andre Clutens share microphone in music by Berlioz, Massenet, and Saint-Saens, recorded 1959-1960.  The throbbing melodic line and Gorr’s firm vocalism make the Berlioz aria, “Autrefois un Roi du Thule” irresistible, girded by viola obbligato Pierre Ladhule. English horn player Robert Casier accompanies Gorr in the plangent “D’amour l’ardente flame,” quite a voluptuous rendition.

The dark strains of Massenet’s Werther may have in Gorr too much luster in her Marguerite, but the sense of dramatic pathos is to French opera what Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades is to the Russian.  Lastly, Gorr inscribes with Cluytens in 1959 two arias of her Dalila that compare well with her recording with Jon Vickers and Georges Pretre of the entire opera. A broad restraint characterizes her femme fatale, a marked tendency to control her prey by insinuation rather than by overt sexuality.  A passionate and sensuous artist Gorr remains, an enduring example of the Beligan-Flemish vocal art at its best.

—Gary Lemco

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