Divine Diva

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The last golden age of singers, the 1960s, produced an embarrassment of vocal riches, particularly among sopranos. Sutherland, Nilsson, Farrell, Caballe, Freni and Price were at their peaks. So was a young Italian-American woman from Wayne, Pa. named Anna Moffo. So popular was this, her debut album, that it came to be known as "The Beige Album," named for its tawny cover. Moffo was just 28 when she recorded this recital in 1960, but her artistic interpretation and impressive vocal fireworks suggested someone more seasoned.

Moffo’s voice was sensuous, youthful and radiant. Her svelte figure, upswept hair and impeccable fashion sense only added to her romantic allure. She covered a vast repertoire, from the lyric soprano roles to the high-flying colaratura showpieces. She also sang operetta and pop standards without a hint of condescension. She was dazzling in the coloratura repertoire, as is amply apparent on this superb reissue. She ascends to a high E-natural in Delibes’ "Bell Song" and Rossini’s "Bel raggio lusinghier," and handles the fioritura with aplomb. Her "Jewel Song" from Faust is quite possibly the most beautiful on record, capped by a prolonged and thrilling B-natural.

But the lyric selections are perhaps even more remarkable for the way Moffo penetrates the text. As the timid slave girl Liu in Puccini’s Turandot, she sings "Signore, ascolta" and "Tu che di gel sei cinta" with affecting tenderness. She sculpts the flowing musical line exquisitely in Micaela’s aria from Carmen, projecting the character’s innocence and vulnerability. Although it’s not the definitive interpretation, "Mi chiamano Mimi" from La Bohême is invested with fitting lyrical sweetness.

Serafin was a top-notch operatic conductor, and he saw to it that the Rome Opera Orchestra provided a strong but unobtrusive accompaniment. One can only guess why RCA took so long to reissue this treasure. But waiting for a delayed pleasure makes its arrival all that much more satisfying.

George Bulanda writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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