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 video...it 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" (http://www.cantabile-subito.de)
at 11:02 AM