LEONARD WARREN • Leonard Warren (bar); Various supporting artists • NIMBUS 7939 (2 CDs: 152: 00)
VERDI Un ballo in maschera: Eri tu. Il trovatore: Il balen . . . Per me ora fatale (with Nicola Moscona). Simon Boccanegra: Dinne,perche in ques’eremo (with Astrid Varnay).Read moreRigoletto: Pari siamo, Cortigiani vil razza. La Forza del Destino: Solenne in quest’ora (with Jan Peerce); Morir! tremenda cosa . . . urna fatale (with Raymond Keast); Invano, Alvaro (with Jan Peerce). Aida: Ciel! mio padre (with Zinka Milanov). Otello: Credo in un Dio crudele; Era la notte. Falstaff: È sogno? O realtà? trad Blow the man down. The Drummer and the Cook. Haul-A-Way Joe. The Drunken Sailor. A-Rovin’. Low Lands. Shenandoah. Rio Grande. SPEAKS On the Road to Mandalay. GERMAN Rolling down to Rio. SPROSS Gunga Din. DEKOVEN Recessional. DAMROSCH Danny Dever. MCCALL Boots. TOURS Mother O’Mine. KERNOCHAN Smuggler’s Song. Songs for Everyone WARD America the Beautiful. MOLLOY Love’s Old Sweet Song. OLCOTT Mother Machree. BALL A Little Bit of Heaven. GUION Home on the Range. KERN Ol’ Man River. STEFFE Battle Hymn of the Republic
I have purposely listed the contents of this release since devout Fanfare readers and Warren fans have probably read the article written by James Miller, “Remembering a Singer Who Shouldn’t Be Forgotten” in Fanfare 23:6, including a review of the two-disc set issued by the Leonard Warren foundation. There is also a two-disc Romophone CD of the complete Victor recordings, so almost all of the material on this release has been previously available.
In his article Miller states that he only heard Warren live once. I heard him 10 times in different operas between 1943 and 1956. His reputation as the Verdi baritone of his era seemed well earned to me, since eight of the operas in which I heard him live were by Verdi. I can attest to the fact that his voice was powerful and he possessed brilliant high notes. He was, of course, a product of a time when the world of opera was dominated by conductors, whom Verdi called tyrants, and when bel canto had been replaced by both verismo and Wagnerian concepts of music drama. Even Verdi’s works were subjected to musical butchery and although all of his operas are in the bel canto tradition, they were subjected to what was actually a verismo style. Fortunately, Warren refined his approach as a result of his studying with Giuseppe de Luca, one of the last bel canto baritones. Warren’s ability to modulate and sing softly was wonderful in contrast to the tenors who sang with him and usually shouted and bellowed. That contrast is evident in the two Forza duets with Jan Peerce.
Happily for us, he sang the duets on this disc with two excellent sopranos: Astrid Varnay, in the duet from Simon Boccanegra, in which Warren’s pianissimo final “Figlia” is simply marvelous; and Milanov, who is also fine in the Aida duet. Warrren’s excellent interpolated high note at “Leonora mia.” in the recitative to “Il balen” is a trademark of his, but unfortunately he doesn’t sing the high note in the aria softly as Verdi intended it to be sung. Warren had such a large voice that he often found it difficult to focus the tone. I agree with Mark Mandel who, in a review of a Warren recital in Fanfare 16:3, wrote: “Throughout his career the tone tended to spread and could take on a peculiar hollow quality.” Thus arias like “Pari siamo” from Rigoletto and the “Credo” from Otello, which demand a dark firm tone, are not the best representations of his interpretations.
The second disc represents the other side of Warren’s vocalism. He was able to scale down his huge voice on the songs that he sings. His recording of the sea shanties is very fine; however, in most of these songs he is somewhat over-dramatic, and his version of A’Rovin in particular lacks the rhythm and spirit that, for example, Oscar Natzke provides. He sings a truncated version of On the Road to Mandalay—the verse about the Burma girl is omitted. Tibbett’s recording is far superior. And I am not fond of his slow, careful version of Danny Dever. Again, I prefer Tibbett. But I am aware that there are those who, because of the beauty of his voice, are admirers of his style.
Warren began his prominence at the Metropolitan in 1943 when, because of World War II, there were no Italian baritones on the Met Roster. Tibbett was in his declining years, and only Alexander Sved and Robert Weede were competing for Verdi roles. Not until 1947 did Giuseppe Valdengo debut there; then Enzo Mascherini in 1949; and Paolo Silveri in 1950. Later, in 1953, Ettore Bastianini sang at the Met, and Tito Gobbi debuted in 1955. In retrospect, Warren was fortunate in his timing in becoming the premier baritone in America. He died when he was still at the height of his powers. Any lover of great singing should collect all the Warren recordings that are available. The sound on this release is excellent, and biographical notes are provided. Buy it!