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Essential Shirley Bassey Standard: "Moon River." When you ask people, "What's the greatest pop song you know?," Henry Mancini's 1961 anywhere-but-here classic is often the answer. Bassey doesn't invest the lyrics with the ache in the heart that Nancy LaMott, Barbra Streisand or even Audrey Hepburn did. But for sheer vocal intensity, she sets fire to the song in a way that's all her own, with a brilliant, wide-open sound that carries its own meaning with it. At the end, as one climax follows another, the voice becomes so powerful that it's almost impossible to stay in your seat, passively listening. spacer See Scott Barnes's tribute to Bassey, "24-Karat Diva." 

Essential Sondra Radvanovsky Primer:  Verdi Opera Scenes with Constantine Orbelian and Philharmonia of Russia (Delos). There's a fortuitousness to Radvanovsky's career, and this 2009 album shows that off: the cover girl filled in for a famous yet mercurial soprano at the eleventh hour, and her participation required her to perform — dauntingly — in a live recording session, in Moscow, alongside genuine Russian celebrity Dmitri Hvorostovsky. The risk yields great return. She and Hvorostovsky have a palpable dramatic chemistry together, especially in Simon Boccanegra's recognition scene. Listeners can get a sense of Radvanovsky's warm, refulgent tone as she sings some of her calling cards — Amelia in Un Ballo in Maschera and Tosca. (Don't take the album title too literally; there are works by Puccini, Mozart and Dvořák on it too.) spacer Sondra Radvanovsky speaks with F. Paul Driscoll in "Sweet Sound of Success." 

Essential Mary Martin Moment: "Mississippi Mud," from The Ford Fiftieth Anniversary Show (both audio and video available on VAI). When the two queens of Broadway, Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, joined forces for this unforgettable thirteen-minute medley, telecast live on both NBC and CBS on June 15, 1953, Merman generated by far the most electricity. But Martin's stage charm shone through, as she responded freely and naturally to everything her partner did. (Merman, on the other hand, kept her eyes on the road.) Martin's most memorable bit — "Mississippi Mud." When she gets to the line "Jes' like a cow chewin' on a cud," you'll know why, decade after decade, theatergoers flipped for her. spacer See "There's Something About Mary."  

Essential Regina Resnik Recording:  Carmenwith Thomas Schippers and the Suisse Romande Orchestra (Decca). Every now and then, you hear a Carmen who sounds like she actually smokes cigarettes. That's what you get when Regina Resnik unleashes her dusky, earthy mezzo in the habanera. Resnik cuts a harder Carmen than most; the seguidilla is convincing in its coyness, and maybe a little vulnerable, but marked by forcefulness. Her cues seem to come from Schippers, who leads a fascinating reading of the score: the rhythm couldn't be tighter; the dynamics are so severe that parts of the music could be confused for Beethoven; and the articulation often seems outright violent. Also, the rest of the cast, which includes Mario del Monaco and Joan Sutherland, may interest you. spacerOPERA NEWS says goodbye to Regina Resnik in "Obituaries." 


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