Rosalind Elias, Mezzo-soprano (*1929)
Giuseppe Verdi: IL TROVATORE
Azucena's aria: "Stride la vampa"
Recorded 1959, Conducted by Arturo Basile
My personal opinion: Rosalind Elias - the versatile American mezzo-soprano. In more than forty years she appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in 687 performances: Main parts and supporting roles in the classic repertoire and in contemporary works. Employed in theater, radio and TV, Elias was an American institution. But because critics mainly pay attention to the migratory birds among the star-singers, overlooking the potential and immense diligence of ensemble members, Rosalind Elias was one of those artists always mentioned in passing.
Born in Massachusetts as the child of a Lebanese-American family, she received her first singing lessons in her teenager years. Although she appeared with the Boston New England Opera already in 1948, she completed her vocal studies in Rome at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia with bass Nazzareno de Angelis (1881-1962), a Toscanini favorite. Elias' Metropolitan Opera debut took place in 1954. The next forty-two years, New York became the heart of her artistic activity. She was involved in many saturday afternoon broadcasts and recorded commercially as well.
Rosalind Elias was always one of my preferred singers. The more I heard her, the more I began to appreciate her. Her voice was a sonorous instrument, rich and firm in tone, marked by a slightly tart note, luscious and never uncontrolled in dramatic moments - as we can hear, for instance, in the "Liber scriptus" from Verdi's MESSA DI REQUIEM (1960, Fritz Reiner) or in the unyielding demand to open the seventh door of BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE (1962, Eugene Ormandy). I have never heard her in breathy or guttural chest voice - note the tonal lowering on the last syllable of "donna s'avanza" in "Stride la vampa!" from Verdi's IL TROVATORE. The volume of her voice approached the dimensions of Ebe Stignani, her expressiveness reminded of Fedora Barbieri.
Rosalind Elias was an immense suggestive singer and a sensitive ensemble partner. As Maddalena in RIGOLETTO (1963, Georg Solti) she succeeds to give this minor role a profound character: Compassionate in dialogue with her villainous brother, tantalizing and seductive in the great quartet (with a young and fresh Alfredo Kraus). As Suzuki, Elias is a motherly confident to Anna Moffo's thin-voice MADAMA BUTTERFLY (1957). Elias' second Suzuki (1962) is a little modest towards the Cio-Cio-San of Leontyne Price, who was without any question a great Verdi soprano, but definitely not a credible Puccini teenager of "quindici anni". I find her ultimately unsatisfying and had expected more from Ms. Price ...
I've used the wording of a "slightly tart note", and perhaps none of Rosalind Elias' many roles came closer to this description than the sneaky courtesan Giulietta in Offenbach's LES CONTES D'HOFFMANN, a part she performed fifteen times at the Met and moreover at the Florida Grand Opera House in Miami (1980) in an odd Antonio de Almeida version, who claimed that his edition used the original conception. Hoffmann is the fifty-five-year old Nicolai Gedda, already Elias' partner in a 1959 Met broadcast. Now, twenty-one years later, their voices are no longer fresh, and Elias' Giulietta at the age of fifty-one sounds like the elderly aunt in Puccini's SUOR ANGELICA. We have to go back to the Met performance, which also gives us Gedda's best Hoffmann, five years before the unfortunate HMV large scale production with famous singers in wrong roles or bad condition. Gedda was also one of the 1958 premiere performers of Samuel Barber's abstruse VANESSA, in which Elias sang the unlucky Erika, still the most interesting among the work's ungrateful roles. "Her voice is finely honed, and her throat houses bands of steel ...", wrote Met chronicler Paul Jackson. That's all well and good, but thousands of Erikas can not replace a single Carmen. It's a pity that Rosalind Elias never had the opportunity to record Bizet's heroine. There is only a 1959 "Voice of Firestone" TV special with a few selected CARMEN scenes - not more than an unfulfilled promise ...
After her operatic years, Rosalind Elias made her Broadway debut 2011 as Heidi Schiller in Stephen Sondheim's FOLLIES. It was not her first musical experience. Already in 1984 she sang Mrs. Lovett in the New York City Opera production of SWEENEY TODD. The incomparable ones could never fall below their level ...