Program: PUCCINI: La Boheme Act I Finale; VERDI: La Traviata: Libiamo, libiamo. . .Un di felice; Ah, fors‚ e lui. . .Sempre libera; Pura sic come un angelo. . .Dite alla giovine; MOZART: Don Giovanni: La ci darem la mano; GOUNOD: Romeo et Juliette: Helas! Moi, le hair! DONIZETTI: Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor
Performers: Anna Moffo, soprano/ Richard Tucker, tenor (Puccini)/ Nicolai Gedda, tenor (Verdi)/ George London, baritone (Mozart)/ Sandor Konya, tenor (Gounod)/ Gino Bechi, baritone (Traviata film)/ Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra and Chorus/ Donald Voorhees/ Orchestra of the Rome Opera House/ Giuseppe Patane (Traviata film)/ Rome Symphony Orchestra and RAI Chorus/ Felice Cillario ((Donizetti film)
Studio: VAI DVD 4383
Video: 4:3 full screen, color & B&W
Audio: PCM Stereo and Mono
Length: 82 minutes
Anna Moffo (1932-2006) achieved superstar status, especially in Italy, for her brilliant coloratura style, which complemented her natural beauty and fluid stage acting. I met Moffo only once after a recital, where she complimented Leopold Stokowski for his advice in their work on music by Villa-Lobos, Cantaloube, and Rachmaninov. Her second marriage, to producer David Sarnoff of RCA, did much to insure her commercial success. The VAI tribute captures the glamorous singer, who sang Violetta fewer times only to Licia Albanese – in both TV concerts and in operatic cinema. Moffo pairs up with several male musicians of equally powerful stature, not the least of whom is Richard Tucker, whose smooth elegance as Rodolfo in La Boheme (1961) makes sparks fly, even though as a romantic matinee idol Tucker cut a rather bourgeois figure. After having been courted by Alfredo (a dashing Nicolai Gedda), Moffo’s Violetta (1962) has a passionate monologue and a thrilling, albeit temporary, rejection of real passion in her Sempre libera. Both high notes and repeated patter notes have resonance and sustained tone. Maybe more head than chest tone, but the aerial virtuosity is elegance itself.
We immediately segue into George London’s Don Giovanni courting Zerlina. A confrontation between sexual prowess and demure modesty, the music has the singers a sixth apart, then they proceed to diminish their emotional distance to a third. London’s and Moffo’s voices merge sumptuously while the strings laugh at them both. We transition to a black and white kinescope from 1963 of Tucker and Moffo again interpreting their Rodolfo and Mimi from La Boheme Act I, introduced by actor Robert Preston. Here, Tucker is less stiff dramatically, though the lyricism of his delivery is the same, munificent and cleanly articulated. Moffo’s Mimi combines repressed worldliness and sexual energy. The camera pulls in close for her passionate recollection of spring and April’s sunny embrace. Her trill on the flowers’ perfume, with flute accompaniment, is liquid silver. Tucker breaks into O soave fanciulla with ardent, swelling passion, the orchestra already culminating their discovered love, an Italian Tristan.
The Gounod excerpt (1967) celebrates the 100th anniversary of the opera, and the balcony scene with Sandor Konya (in color) drips with purples, pinks, and somber browns. Konya looks like young Van Heflin and Moffo like Maria Callas. Nice camera work from above in profile of the star-crossed lovers. Konya’s O Night Divine proves quite resonant, his tessitura dipping into high baritone range. The camera shoots upward to Juliet’s recitation on tomorrow, when she will send for Romeo. She prays his love is serious, avoiding love’s follies. Konya mounts to the balcony, and they embrace, imploring in their canzonetta for night to stay a bit longer, literally the same prayer from us Moffo aficionados.
The first of the two films directed by Mario Lanfranchi (Moffo’s first husband) the 1968 La Traviata with Gino Bechi’s fine declamation as the elder Germont, urging Violetta to spare his son the pains of unwise love, especially as affects the marriage of Alfredo’s sister. Bechi reminds me of actors Paul Henreid and Fritz Weaver. Moffo plays Violetta as a mature woman completely scorched by the revived flames of passion. “But men are often fickle,” admonishes Germont, and Bechi plods into a funereal march of unsanctified amours. Moffo sings the part made up much as Tebaldi had been, chastely ornamented. She sighs of her despair against a window whose frames are frosted over but for one clear pane of glass.
The Lucia (1971) sets the tone early, the chorus intoning that Lucia looks as though she has arisen from the grave. A lavish set in an armory-like hall has military guards to Moffo’s right as she hears Edgardo’s voice in her deranged mind. Moffo is the Vivien Leigh of opera, a combination of Ophelia and Lady Macduff. Her “Phantasma” rings with horror. Her eyes widen at “the incense is burning” as Lucia plays out her imagined nuptials. Nice mezzo-voce from the chest. Her duets with the flute solo match two natural warblers, although such empty-headed virtuosity is least to my taste. Better when Moffo reengages the melodic line per se, without the concessions to La Scala bravura. Lucia exits into the daylight, even as her mind embraces the darkness. She casts away her life, seeking peace in heaven. Lanfranchi shoots the scene as if Moffo were Batwoman in her cape; then the forces of doom, intoned by the male chorus, rush at her as she enters a garden courtyard. It is obvious that Moffo synced the voice to the outdoor choreography, which plays like an operatic MTV. She ends by singing directly in the center of a tree trunk, then falls lifeless to the ground.
— Gary Lemco