he tape used for this release is a composite of two June 1975 performances, one conducted by Caldwell (the company’s founder and artistic director) and one conducted by Mr. Scott. The sound is mono, the volume is all over the place, there is sometimes a mild echo, and sometimes the voices are not as clear as one would like. (I once owned a superior-sounding stereo tape of an entire Scott-led evening. If only that would come out on CD.) VAI’s booklet contains only a track index-most unfortunate, given the opera’s unfamiliarity. Despite these problems, lovers of great singing and bel canto repertory should own this.
Troyanos’s Romeo is stunning. The rich, smoky mezzo sound so uniquely hers is very much in evidence. Her technique is phenomenal, and there is a palpable excitement in her singing. Gentle lyric passages like Romeo’s death or the preceding aria are beautifully sung and guaranteed to move many listeners. Sills made a commercial EMI recording with Janet Baker and Nicolai Gedda, yet to be released on CD. That contains superb work from Sills, but Baker despite some fine singing doesn’t seem at ease as Romeo.
Sills puts such joy into her work no matter what she is singing, and she is wonderful on VAI too. Bel canto works seemed to come naturally to her. In Boston, the then 46-year-old prima donna assoluta sounds amazingly youthful and fresh-voiced (despite an occasional hard edge to her tone). She and Troyanos blend very well with each other in their scenes together and sound as if they believe heart and soul in this very unShakespearean tale. “Visceral” can be an abused word, but it certainly applies to the singing of these two artists.
Joseph Evans handles his brief moments in the spotlight with style and assurance; and there is laudable work from the supporting singers, chorus, orchestra, and conductors, despite a rough spot every now and then. I know I will be listening to this quite often. Unique singing by two unique, irreplaceable artists.