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There are currently some wonderful compilation DVDs of this musical anthology show. I have one which pays tribute to classical pianists (including Jose Iturbi, Grant Johanssen, and Van Cliburn) and another celebrating the most renowned opera stars: Rise Stevens & Renata Tebaldi in 1959, Robert Merrill and Roberta Peters in 1962, Leontyne Price and Joan Sutherland in 1963. These shows were originally broadcast on NBC and recorded on color videotape as early as 1959. These tapes appear to have been dusted off and remastered and they now look and sound as crystal clear as a live performance. That's why this VAI DVD series is so precious. Many of these Bell Telephone clips appear on the cable access station Classic Arts Showcase, but I suggest buying the DVDs in order to see the full performances. There are Bell DVDs of opera singers, violinists, and I think even one with ballet dancers. This was the last avenue for commercially broadcast classical music, before it all migrated to PBS. Don't miss it.
Classical music lovers in the mid-20th century thrilled weekly to "The
Telephone Hour." That the series lasted for so many years under major
sponsorship demonstrates the general public's appreciation of musical art
during that period.
Opera divas like Birgit Nilsson, Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Helen Traubel, to mention a few, appeared under the orchestral baton of Donald Vorhees.
The series was always beautifully prepared and mounted. No one minded the black and white format, for that was the norm at the time. Entire families would regularly gather around the tv to experience superlative performances by major artists.
A few of these programs have been preserved and are available today on vhs. I have two of Ms. Traubel's programs and she is a joy to hear. She performs selections she rarely got to perform as the leading Wagnerian soprano of her generation -- such as Verdi, Mozart, right down to a Negro spiritual at the end.
Another "Bell" video I cherish (this one in color) is of Ms. Price, rendering an astonishing Nile Scene from Verdi's "Aida" and Cio Cio San's aria from Puccini's "Madama Butterfly." At "intermission" Vorhees interviews Price, with the program concluding with an aria from Verdi's "La Forza del Destino."
There was nothing on television in the classical arena more beloved by the public than "The Bell Telephone Hour," and those who have managed to obtain these programs today certainly have some rare treasures in their collections.
Soprano Birgit Nilsson is featured in a solo 45-minute opera recital, taken
from a Bell Telephone Hour color telecast.
Beginning with "In Questa Reggia" from Puccini's "Turandot," Nilsson demonstrates she can sing works other than Wagner with great effectiveness.
The air, "Come Unto Me" from Handel's "Messiah" is given a smooth rendition, and Rossini's "Inflammatus et Acensus" presents Mme. Nilsson paired with a strong chorus of mixed voices.
The ensemble performs Faure's lovely "Sanctus" from "Requiem" by itself, and Nilsson concludes the program with three favorite arias, "Pace, Pace Mio Dio" from Verdi's "La Forza del Destino," "Vissi d'Arte" from Puccini's "Tosca" and finally "Brunnhilde's Immolation" from Wagner's "Die Gotterdammerung."
This last rendering, along with an earlier "Elisabeth's Prayer" from "Tannhauser," clearly shows Nilsson's instrument being ideally suited to the Wagnerian repertoire. Not only does she excel in cutting through that composer's often heavy orchestration, but her true personality comes vividly to life in German heroines.
Donald Vorhees beautifully conducts the Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra in this collector's item, produced by Henry Jaffe. Kultur Videos is responsible for having preserved this treasure, and making it available for today's public.
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