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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Salomea Krusceniski [Соломія Крушельницька]

Salomea Krusceniski was born in what was then Lvov, Poland, (today it is Ukraine) in 1872. . She studied at the Lviv Conservatory and made her debut in 1892, as Leonora in Donizetti's La Favorita, at the opera house of Lemberg. Further engagements followed quickly in Odessa, Warsaw, and St Petersburg. In 1898 she sang in Italy for the first time, as Leonora in La Forza del Destino. She enjoyed great success and was invited to sing in Rome, Naples, and at La Scala in Milan. In 1903 she settled in Milan because of political disturbances involving Poland and Ukraine. At La Scala, her Aida was a triumph, and a triumph in Madama Butterfly followed quickly. Her career soon took her abroad; to Spain, Portugal, and South America. Her repertoire eventually came to include 60 roles. She went on to have a very successful concert career, and from 1944 until 1952 she taught singing at the Lviv Conservatory. She died in 1952.* There are good biographies on the web, easily consulted.

Krusceniski's name is known to many opera lovers, especially in Italy and Eastern Europe, but she remains, for many Americans, a discovery yet to be made. I know that my acquaintance with her, via a recording of "Ritorna Vincitor," was a revelation, to say the least. More of a shock. I have seldom heard a more effective encapsulation of dramatic emotion in a piece of music. I can think of no better introduction. This is a 1907 recording, and you will need to adjust the volume for best listening. Be patient with the loading of the recording. It take over 20 seconds for it to engage:

I find that absolutely thrilling! It is not easy to explain. We enter here into the mystery of style, conviction, emotion, and musical art, in exactly the same way we do with Maria Callas. The style is perfect, and the musicality exemplary; she always sings, she never shouts. Her approach is always lyrical and musical, but the effect is more striking by far than if someone declaimed without consideration for the music. In that regard she is, like Callas, a great tragedian. That so much emotion can survive, intact, for 103 years, after having been recorded on laughably primitive equipment, is proof positive of her perfection of technique, musicality and style. I still struggle today to describe the effect this ancient recording had on me the first time I heard it.

A good way to judge the quality of Krusceniski's voice comes, curiously, from an even older recording. This recording of "Solveig's Song," from Grieg's Peer Gynt, was, amazingly, made in 1902! Yet, because of the piano accompaniment, and, apparently, the horn placement, her voice comes through as clearly as if it had been recorded electrically. This recording contains two versions of the song. Just listen to the first, the 1902 version, as it makes the point convincingly. Again, be patient with the loading of the takes 30 seconds to engage:

Amazing recording, isn't it? The quality of the voice, in 1902, when she was 30 years of age, is truly superb—a solid column of sound, from top to bottom, well modulated and flawlessly produced.

Finally, a very popular aria—"Un bel di, from Madama Butterfly. Krusceniski was one of the first interpreters of this role, and she was much admired by Puccini for her portrayal. Notice the extremely smooth musicality of her presentation, the intense emotion (of the non-screaming kind!) and a shorter high Bb at the end than current tradition would have it. Like famous high notes of all kinds—"Celeste Aida," "Di Quella Pira," "Salut, demure...," "Che Gelida Manina," and any coloratura soprano aria ending on or above C natural—one singer's triumph quickly becomes another singer's challenge. Before the days of "tradition," however, we tend to hear music as it was written and, often, as coached by the conductor himself. Puccini actually went to these performances, after all, and it is bound to be the case that he spoke to the singers about their roles. "Un bel di" is written in 3/4 time, and the final Bb is written for only one measure. Now audiences feel cheated if it does not extend for another 8 measures into the 2/4 time of the next scene!

A musically immaculate and thrilling piece of singing! Some things have been gained since 1912, but much has been lost.

*If you find yourself fascinated by this extraordinary singer—as I was—please permit me to refer you to the Youtube Channel of Tim at"dantitustimshu" (Better write it down, it's not easy to remember). Tim—a brilliant musical scholar and record collector—has the best collection of Krusceniski records to be found, and has thoughtfully collected them into a playlist, where they may be consulted. I am further indebted to him for the historical and biographical notes that appear at the beginning of the article. Also, for general reference, I refer the reader to: "subito - cantabile: A site for collectors of Great Singers of the Past" (


JD Hobbes said...

I was not familiar with her. What a nice discovery! Once again you have found something worth sharing with us all. Her expression is wonderful.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much, Mr. Hobbes. Yes, she's a superlative singer, a real artist.

corax said...

WHY do we not know more about these artists? simple xenophobia? laziness about learning other languages and alphabets?

in any case, you've done it once again and we are grateful to you!

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you so much, my friend, for your comment. I don't know, to be honest, why our knowledge of the artists of Eastern Europe is so limited. Possibly xenophobia, as you suggest, peppered with a healthy dash of the entanglements of late 19th and early 20th century history. The horror story that was Russia, Ukraine, and points west was enough to drive isolationist America scurrying to its farms and plains, head-in-sand. And also, there was no Youtube! We scoot around all over the world electronically now, and it is a matter of touching a few keys to be in Russia, let us say, whereas then a great effort would be required to actually see anything going on beyond the end of our noses.

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for the article. I heard Salomea in “Ritorno Vincitor” and I was very impressed. But I didn’t know that other videos of her are available. Now I see that she was a brilliant singer and a tragedian (I totally agree about it). Judging by her photos, she was a beautiful woman and her appearance suited roles very well. I imagine what it was like to hear and to see her in theater.
“Un bel di” gave me shivers just like the best performances of Maria Callas do. Of course , her singing was so expressive because of genuine emotions. Emotions don’t work without skills though.


Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much indeed, my friend, for an excellent comment. Yes, I totally agree with you. Chills up the spine, or shivers, is a good way to describe what this amazing woman can do, even through the mist of a century, with ancient recordings. And you are absolutely right that emotions not contained within the framework of great artistry simply do not work. That's what we comically refer to as "chewing the scenery:)

Jing said...

Another wonderful introduction to a singer totally new to me. Your sharing of your first reactions to hearing her recording of "Ritorno Vincitor" strike me as what is so special about what you have offered us with your blog; that is, your wonder at what is at the very heart of music - especially opera. Somehow it is the mystery that when a singer of genius performs, all the obvious talent, training, and artistic integrity (all the "sine qua nons," in fact)somehow are transcended, and we are in the presence of the beauty of human artistic expression - the overflowing of life itself, really. We sing because we cannot contain the life within us, life that must be shared. You lead us so well to that point, with your profound commentaries, and then allow us into your own heart - your own appreciation, wonder and gratitude. So thank you, yet again, Edmund.

You inspired me to further reading about Krusceniksi's life and career, and I learned that she ended her days where she began - in Lviv. With the rise of the soviet state, she was forbidden to travel, so she remained at the conversatory there as a teacher. She received many honors and proved to be beloved by her students. On a personal note, some years ago, I spent several days in Lviv. It seemed to me an enormously charming, sophistocated, culturally rich city, pleasant and friendly. I hope that, despite the unheavals and dislocations of our age, she was able to live happily and peacefully.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much for your comment, my friend. You make an excellent point, one not commonly made or appreciated by most, and that is that what we see and hear, as a final result, is the glorious sum of all the unknown parts, which have been transcended. The performance of an artist is a classic example of the mystery of a finished product being greater than the sum of its parts. Who, listening to a great pianist, stops to reflect on the years and years of exercises, the seemingly endless coaching, performing in contests, working day on night on touch, lift, legato, discreet and effective use of the sustaining pedal, and on and on and on? It is, as you indicate, no different for a singer. And all these parts must come together before the artist can BEGIN to say something! Yes, she was wonderful. How interesting that you have visited Lviv. To the best of my knowledge, she had a very happy retirement. She is adored to this day in Ukraine, where contests, buildings, postage stamps, etc., all bear her name and image. She worked right up until the year she died, so she seems to have enjoyed health in old age. Thanks for an excellent comment.

LWS said...

The only real disappointment is that there are so few recordings of her available. A big thank you must go to dantitustimshu for making these recordings available and thank you again Mr. St. Austell for drawing my attention to yet another opera great who I would otherwise be ignorant of.

These recordings do seem of exceptional audio quality for the time.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thank you very much for your comment. Yes, she is not nearly as well known in the Americas as she is in Eastern Europe and Italy. She was a wonderful soprano, and I certainly share your appreciation for what Tim, at dantitustimshu, has done in collecting these hard to find recordings. He is a superb historian and collector. Thanks again for your comment.

monitort said...

All of her recordings have been published on CD by Marston.

Isn't her correct name Krushelnytska?

Anyway, she had one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard. Truly one of the greatest dramatic sopranos on record.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Thanks for the information on the recording! Most helpful. You know, I looked and looked to see if I could get a standard spelling of her name. Only the Ukranian rendering, in Cyrillic, seems to be accurate, and that's hard to read in Latin script. You can find it 3 ways, depending on whther you are reading Russian, Russian Translit, Ukrainian, or English. We can take our pick, I guess:-) Thanks for comment, very much to the point.

Anonymous said...

Dear Sir Edmund,

please permit me to quote your excellent article in the description of my newest YouTube video "Vissi d'arte - Salomea Krusceniski 1902".

My compliments.

Edmund St. Austell said...

Why yes, I would be flattered! Thank you!

Gerhard Santos said...

MOLTO BELLO!!! Thank you Sir Edmund for sharing this Very interesting Biographical information. Have a Grateful weekend! More Blessings to come and *GOD BLESS*

Elaine Heinz said...

To be more precise I should note that Salomea Krusceniski [Соломія Крушельницька] was born in a little village of Belyavintsy (RUБелявинцы / UKRБілявинці) in 1872 and died in 1952 in Lvov (Lviv). There used to be a little museum in her memory at Belyavintsy.