ORFEO International


January 2007

ORFEO 1 CD C 138 851 A

On Grace Bumbry’s 70th Birthday on 4 January 2007

Grace Bumbry was still in her mid-twenties when she caused a sensation at the 1961 and 1962 Bayreuth Festivals as a “black Venus” in a performance notable above all for its dazzling vocalism and brilliant acting. But whereas many another singer who has been launched prematurely on an international career has subsequently failed to live up to that initial promise, Grace Bumbry – who was born in St Louis in 1937 and who studied with Lotte Lehmann – remains active on the world’s concert platforms to this day, pursuing a career no less spectacular now than it was at the outset. Grace Bumbry
Grace Bumbry
Foto: Christian Steiner
By the 1960s she was one of the leading dramatic mezzo-sopranos of her day, appearing as Carmen under Karajan and as Eboli under Solti. In 1970, her Salome in Richard Strauss’s opera of the same name excited audiences at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, encouraging her to take on more and more soprano roles, including such high-risk parts as Tosca and Norma. The recital that she recorded for Orfeo with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra under Stefan Soltesz shows that her voice, far from revealing any signs of wear and tear, was unlimited in its resources. Here she is heard not only in show-stopping numbers from some of the roles that she sang onstage but also in arias that have always been the preserve of genuine prima donnas capable of performing them to thrilling effect both vocally and interpretatively even when they are divorced from their dramatic context. This is true, for example, of “Depuis le jour” from Gustave Charpentier’s Louise and “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” from Catalani’s La Wally, in which the performer is required not only to produce a flawless and seamless legato while singing pianissimo but to be capable of building to a great dynamic climax. The penetrating and radiant high notes associated with the Italian term squillo that are heard in Leonore’s famous aria from La forza del destino, “Pace, pace, mio Dio”, and in “Suicidio” from Ponchielli’s La Gioconda draw the listener irresistibly into their powerful sway. In spite of her increasing conquest of the soprano repertory, Grace Bumbry was none the less able to retain her rich-toned middle register, as is clear from “Divinités du Styx” from Gluck’s Alceste, an aria that acquires hochdramatisch qualities reminiscent of Kirsten Flagstad’s recording of it. The fact that Grace Bumbry was also able to shine in excerpts from two rarely heard operas, Massenet’s Le Cid and Gounod’s Sapho, attests to the abiding and immediate fascination of her artistry. Long may she live!