“From the 1930s through the 1950s the two leading tenors at the Bolshoi
were Ivan Kozlovsky and Sergei Lemeshev. It is said that they were
friendly colleagues despite the fact that there were fanatically
partisan fans of each one (as there were with Callas and Tebaldi, who
were less friendly). Lemeshev had the richer voice, with a liquid
beauty at its core. Kozlovsky perhaps had the more daring imagination,
a greater willingness to take interpretive and vocal risks. Both were
truly great singers, and both were unknown to most opera lovers in the
West because of Soviet restrictions on international travel during much
of that period. Elsewhere in this issue of FANFARE I review a recording
of LAKMÉ with Lemeshev and Nadezhda Kazantseva.
This recording, like the LAKMÉ, cannot be recommended as anyone’s basic,
or only, PEARL FISHERS. The fact that it is sung in Russian is
sufficient to put it far outside the mainstream, and the dry monaural
broadcast sound from 1950 would further make it a specialist’s choice.
But for that specialist, along with listeners who cherish great voices
and great vocal artists, this is urgently recommended. Lemeshev sings
the role of Nadir sensitively, with a variety of vocal colors and
shadings, plus genuine dramatic engagement. Kazantseva is a lovely
Leila, her bright soprano never turning hard, sailing through Bizet’s
music with ease and a flowing legato. The two are lovely in their big
duet, beginning with Nadir’s ‘De mon amie’
On the podium Onissim Bron brings a light touch to the score. He may
well have been a French specialist in Russia at the time, as he leads
the gorgeous WERTHER that Kozlovsky recorded around the same time
[OP0512]. The Zurga and Nourabad are adequate, no more and no less.
The booklet contains an essay about Lemeshev and Kazantseva, along with
a plot summary. The bonus material, roughly 37 minutes of Tchaikovsky
sung beautifully by Lemeshev, adds to the value of this important
release. The Tchaikovsky ROMEO AND JULIET duet, by the way, is a sketch
the composer wrote for an opera he never completed, and is based on
themes from the famous ‘Overture-Fantasia’. Lemeshev and soprano
Maslennikova are thrilling.
After reviewing this (an online purchase) I discovered that the Gala
release is now out of print. Aquarius, however, which has reissued many
Russian recordings in high quality transfers, has now made this same
PEARL FISHERS available (AQVR 394), and is available from Norbeck,
Peters, & Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org). Some of the filler is
different, but the wonderful Tchaikovsky ROMEO AND JULIET duet remains.
I have complete confidence that the Aquarius transfer is at least as
good as Gala’s, and quite possibly better.”