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The legendary baritone Leonard Warren stars in this live 1952 performance from the New Orleans Opera, with Hilde Gueden and Eugene Conley. Digital audio mastering by Roderick Evenson.
[1999, Mono, 2-CD, 115 minutes]
Opera in Three Acts
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave,
after Victor Hugo's Le Roi S'Amuse
Rigoletto - Leonard Warren
Gilda - Hilde Gueden
Duke of Mantua - Eugene Conley
Maddalena - Maritte Muhs
Sparafucile - William Wilderman
Monterone - Norman Treigle
Borsa - John Patterson
Marullo - Warren Gadpaille
Count Ceprano - Ernest Barnum
Countess Ceprano - Elaine Weber
A Page - Frances Vella
New Orleans Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Walter Herbert, conductor
(Live performance, April 1952)
From his debut at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera in 1939 until his death in 1960, baritone Leonard Warren was acclaimed as one of America’s preeminent operatic artists. Among his greatest characterizations were his signature role of Rigoletto, and his Macbeth, Simon Boccanegra, Falstaff, Count di Luna in Il Trovatore, Tonio in Pagliacci, Carlo in La Forza del Destino, Scarpia in Tosca, and Iago in Otello. Warren’s dedication to perfection was legendary. As critic Paul Henry Lang of the New York Herald Tribune wrote," [Leonard Warren’s] voice and singing were the triumph of the oldest and most profound traditions of the lyric stage.
Warren’s untimely death at the age of 48 marked the end of an exceptional career that included performances in the world’s foremost opera houses, including over 600 appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, as well as with other American companies, most notably San Francisco, Chicago, and New Orleans. Internationally, Warren performed on the leading operatic stages of Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, and Russia.
Warren sang the role of Rigoletto in 142 performances, of which 89 were at the Metropolitan Opera. He performed his first Rigoletto in Buenos Aires on June 11, 1943. On less than a day’s notice, he replaced an ailing Lawrence Tibbett and made his Metropolitan Opera debut as Rigoletto on December 18, 1943, at the Met’s matinee performance. It marked the first of nine Met broadcasts of Rigoletto in which Warren would star.
Warren returned to the New Orleans Opera on three later occasions: in 1953 as Don Carlo in La Forza del Destino, in 1956 in the title role of Falstaff, and in 1958 as Count di Luna in Il Trovatore. Of these, VAI Audio has issued the 1956 Falstaff on CD - an important addition to the Warren discography, since it is one of his few major Verdi roles which he did not record commercially. Warren recorded Rigoletto in 1950 (the first complete opera recorded by RCA Victor) but, regrettably, that studio performance has not been issued in CD format. Therefore, we are especially fortunate that VAI Audio has released this April 1952 public performance of Rigoletto, as authorized by the New Orleans Opera Association. At the time of this performance, Warren was 41 years old and at the peak of his vocal and artistic resources.
BARRETT CRAWFORD, President
Leonard Warren Foundation
Along with Leonard Warren, the New Orleans Opera assembled a strong supporting cast for this performance. Hilde Gueden (1917-1988) sings Gilda, the role in which she had made her Metropolitan Opera debut just months earlier. The Austrian soprano studied at the Vienna Conservatory and made her debut in operetta at the age of 16. Her operatic debut took place in Zürich in 1939, as Cherubino. Though her career was primarily centered at the Vienna State Opera, she appeared with some regularity in the United States, and sang with the Metropolitan throughout the 1950s. Gueden’s golden-age qualities - crystalline tone, perfect intonation, exquisite musicianship - make her an ideal match for Warren in their scenes together.
Eugene Conley (1908-1981) was another artist new to the Metropolitan at the time of this performance, having made his debut there in 1950 as Faust. The Massachussetts-born tenor began his career in 1939, as a radio singer, and made his operatic debut the following year as the Duke in Rigoletto at the Academy of Music, Brooklyn. He was one of the most popular American tenors of the period; in addition to his radio performances, he appeared frequently on the Voice of Firestone television series. Conley was not the subtlest of singers, but his robust tone and ringing high notes make him well suited to the role of the hedonistic Duke.
Marietta Muhs (Cosenza) (1923-1996) sings the role of Maddalena with sure technique and compelling passion. Muhs was a New Orleans-based mezzo-soprano who sang many fine performances with the company, encompassing 20 roles over a period of 24 years. The performance also features two charismatic basses at the start of their careers: William Wilderman (as a thunderous-voiced and tense Sparafucile), and New Orleans-born Norman Treigle, who lends his usual depth of spirit to the thankless role of Monterone.
The performance is under the direction of Walter Herbert, who served as the New Orleans Opera Association’s first General Director from 1943 to 1954. In addition to bringing the greatest voices of the era to New Orleans, Herbert established a high musical standard for the company; his conducting is distinguished by attention to musical detail and a keen sense of dramatic pacing.
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