Due to the combination of great artists with homespun
nostalgia, I’ve always enjoyed watching the
“Voices of Firestone” series. “Jussi Björling: In Opera
and Song” was no exception to this trend. It was
released on DVD during 2004, under the KULTUR label.
The 65-minute program was filmed in black and white,
and featured the great Swedish tenor performing
operatic arias, art songs and popular songs.
Björling (1911-1960) was accompanied by conductor
Howard Barlow and the Firestone Orchestra. Occasionally,
they were joined by the Firestone Chorus. Stage sets
were typically provided for each number, and Björling
was joined by his wife, Anna-Lisa Björling (1910-2006),
in a performance of “O Soave Fanciulla,” a duet from
Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.” We were also treated
to Mme. Björling’s rendition of “O Mio Babbino Caro,”
from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”
In addition, Howard Barlow (1892-1972) led the
Firestone Orchestra in one of the “Hungarian Dances”
by Johannes Brahms, along with an excerpt from
Alexander Glazunov’s “The Seasons,” and a popular
arrangement of the main tune from the first
movement of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Sixth Symphony.”
The members of the Firestone Chorus were in
appropriate costumes for each dramatic scenario, and
they also performed a rendition of Krenzer’s
“Prayer of Thanksgiving.” Commercials from the era were
included, adding to the “time capsule” atmosphere.
As for Björling? I was treated to his beautiful, effortless
singing of such pieces as “Neapolitan Love Song,”
by Victor Herbert, “Vesti la Giubba,” from Ruggero
Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci,” “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée”
(“The Flower Song”) from Georges Bizet’s “Carmen,”
and “Ständchen” by Richard Strauss, among others.
Björling truly had one of the great tenor voices.
Despite a relatively short lifespan, his career encompassed
1930’s through the 1950’s. If I were to offer any
criticisms at all, they would be that his pronunciation
of consonants did not receive the same attention
devoted to his vowels, and his English pronunciation
wasn’t always “idiomatic.” Nevertheless, the sheer
beauty of his voice and his solid technique more
than compensated for these relatively minor shortcomings.
Presumably, these broadcasts were originally
televised during the 1950’s, thereby providing an
interesting perspective of the staging of musical
performances at that time. In essence, these
“Voices of Firestone” episodes were actually variety
shows, each featuring a main artist. By today’s
standards, the sound quality was primitive, but
as “vintage television,” it was a pleasure to watch.
I look forward to seeing more DVDs from this series.