The first disc covers a wide range of composers, from Tchaikovsky through Verdi and Puccini, to Wagner. The second disc focuses on the operas of Richard Strauss, perhaps the composer with which Ms. Rysanek was most closely identified.
The enclosed booklet features two articles by Peter Dusek. The first, briefer one covers the specific performances included in the set, while the longer essay amounts to a biography of the singer’s professional career. Not too long into the first of these articles, Dusek, as translated by Steward Spencer, refers to Rysanek and her partner in the Eugene Onegin final duet as “two great singing actors.” For those fortunate opera lovers who attended Ms. Rysanek’s live performances, the recordings on this set will undoubtedly bring back many memories of her imposing, incisive theatrical abilities. But as an audio experience, only so much of Ms. Rysanek’s acting ability can be discerned here. And frankly, whether it is the Tatiana of 1955 or the Kostelnicka of 1991, Ms. Rysanek’s voice was not favored by recording equipment. At least some of the drama of her top notes extends from the evident strain of accomplishing them. The body of the voice suggests substantial weight, with a slight tendency to feel just under the note. Although she appears to have had great affection for Italian opera, her Aida, Tosca, and Santuzza, as heard here, would probably be best enjoyed by fans tuned into her dramatic perspective.
Her 1985 Ortrud, however, finds her resources well-matched to the demands of the role, as does her Kundry. There are many such moments on the second disc of Strauss excerpts, including a truly scary final scene from Salome. Rysanek’s Chrysothemis, to Birgit Nilsson’s Elektra in 1965, has more edge and tension than is typical in performers of the role, which arguably makes the ties between the two sisters stronger.
Perhaps the key track here for understanding Rysanek’s artistry is the Marschallin’s act one monologue from Der Rosenkavalier. Rysanek’s coloring of words and phrases creates a vivid portrait of the woman’s state of mind, proud and yet openly emotional. Nonetheless, over the 25 minutes of the scene, your reviewer’s ears tired of Rysanek’s tone and the sense that any extended note never quite hits the center of the pitch.
Again, Dusek’s booklet essay gives the point of view of so many who cherished this artist, and it is surely for them that Orfeo has produced this handsomely packaged set, with its many enjoyable photographs of Rysanek in her key roles. If such fans have not already acquired this set, they are urged to seek it out.
image_description=Leonie Rysanek Live Recordings 1955-1991
product_title=Leonie Rysanek Live Recordings 1955-1991
product_by=Leonie Rysanek et al.
product_id=Orfeo d’Oro 696072 [2CDs]