By the Editor
Recently in a small Lublin music shop that has yielded several happy discoveries on various visits, I acquired a disc of opera arias by Teresa Żylis-Gara that included some tracks by this great Polish soprano that were new to me. A highlight of the recording, on the Polskie Nagrania label, is Tatyana’s Letter Scene—so radiantly sung by surely one of the finest Tatyanas ever that I immediately began to wonder whether any of her complete performances of Yevgeny Onegin had ever been recorded (a Met matinee, perhaps?). Never a household name outside Poland, Żylis -Gara still enjoyed an important international career, including at Covent Garden but above all at the Met, and it is a sad indictment of the major record labels that none ever signed her up for an exclusive contract. (When Hugh Canning half-jokingly said to me that he wondered whether Teresa Kubiak, the somewhat less radiant Tatyana on Solti’s Decca recording, hadn’t been signed up by mistake, perhaps he had a point: maybe a secretary somewhere got their Polish-soprano Teresas confused, with the result that we were deprived of what could have been a great recording of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.)
So far, Żylis -Gara is still to feature in the Met’s new archival series on Sony and, though I live in hope, I’ll be pleasantly surprised to see her name appear there. As our review of the latest batch shows (pp. 1397-9), the emphasis seems to be on starry names already widely recorded, and perhaps they have to be recognizable even to the marketing departments at Sony or the Met to qualify for inclusion. How else to explain the Franco Corelli Don Carlos that David Shengold calls ‘often musically disgraceful’, or such other recent disastrous choices as Lily Pons’s Rosina?
Even if the Glyndebourne label’s recently-issued 1965 Rosenkavalier (which enshrines Żylis -Gara’s gloriously sung Octavian) was really prompted by the presence of Montserrat Caballé’s Marschallin, there are sounder artistic choices on show here and behind the series in general. This is Caballé’s only recording of the role, and the label’s earlier release of the 1963 Pelléas et Mélisande captures two distinguished French artists, Denise Duval and Michel Roux, who are not exactly over-represented in the catalogue. Some other big-name archival material from Glyndebourne is irresistible: who would not be interested in the young Pavarotti’s 1964 Idamante, also released last year?
While we wait to see what happens to the seemingly stalled ROH Heritage Series, a new collection called Great Singers Live from the BR Klassik label (the recording arm of Bayerische Rundfunk) also promises some treasures. The first three recordings showcase Margaret Price, Mirella Freni and Nicolai Ghiaurov, and a Lucia Popp disc is just out—all paying ample tribute to these artists’ celebrated strengths but also featuring some rare and previously unreleased material from Munich’s famous Sonntagskonzerte.
Much as one wants to see these labels digging up treasure of the less obvious kind, there is of course a commercial imperative here. Sony is not the only one that needs to sell as many copies as possible, and even in well-funded Munich, BR Klassik must be asking whether the public will buy recordings of (say) Sabine Hass if they can have Margaret Price. It’s clear again that the future for historic recordings is online via downloads. I’ve just been alerted to www.operadepot.com and, yes, Żylis -Gara is there, singing an Anna Bolena that will be a good antidote to the Met’s Anna Netrebko, already shown at a cinema near you.
Opera, November 2011