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A while ago, I watched “Risë Stevens in Opera and Song,”
another DVD released on the KULTUR label. This series
contains televised performances by great artists from
the “Voice of Firestone” radio and television broadcasts,
which were popular during the 1950’s and early 1960’s.
This 96-minute disc consisted of VHS transfers from two
volumes devoted to mezzo-soprano
Risë Stevens (1913-2013). After her Metropolitan
Opera debut in 1938, she sang there frequently for
the next two decades, receiving special acclaim
for her interpretation of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.”

All of the “Voice of Firestone” episodes I’ve seen have
featured faux dramatic scenarios provided for the
singers and members of the Firestone chorus;
however, a few of the operatic numbers
Madame Stevens performed were done “concert style,”
in front of the Firestone Orchestra. Presumably,
this footage dates from broadcasts aired between
1951 and 1962. Howard Barlow shared conducting
duties with Wilfrid Pelletier.

Madame Stevens performed art songs, such as
Franz Schubert’s well-known “Ave Maria,”
“To the Children,” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, as well
as numerous Broadway tunes by Victor Herbert,
Jerome Kern and Rodgers & Hammerstein,
to name a few. The operatic excerpts were primarily
from Bizet’s “Carmen” and Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns’
“Samson et Delilah.” As usual, the Firestone Orchestra
was given a couple of solo performance opportunities,
including popular orchestral music from “Carmen”
and the “Bacchanale” from “Samson et Delilah.”

Demonstrating a solid voice from top to bottom,
Madame Stevens displayed a particularly impressive
lower end, as she sang in French, German and English.
Sometimes, her enunciation left a bit to be desired,
but overall, I was quite impressed. Of course,
allowances must be made for the television sound
quality of that era! I also found it odd that the
announcer continued to refer to her as a soprano,
instead of as a mezzo-soprano.

Nevertheless, this DVD provided me with an opportunity
to see and hear Risë Stevens perform in a variety of
musical genres, during much of her vocal prime.
Therefore, it’s worth watching, especially for
vocal aficionados.