Nelson Eddy: Operatic Arias and Concert Songs
Arias and songs by Mozart, Haydn, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Schubert, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saëns, Massenet and Bizet.
Pearl GEM 0092 (F) (AAD)  TT: 70:06  

American baritone Nelson Eddy (1901-1967) is of course best remembered for the series of films he made with Jeannette MacDonald in the 1930s and '40s. But prior to Hollywood, he enjoyed an active, successful career on the opera and concert stage and always took great pride in that period of his life. In fact, if one is to believe some of his public statements, he was far prouder of his work in classical repertoire than in the medium that brought him the greatest fame and financial reward.

Nelson Eddy, born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1901, moved to Philadelphia while still in his teens. There he studied voice, first with the famous American baritone, David Bispham.  After Bispham’s death in 1921, Eddy continued his vocal studies with Eduardo Lippe and William W. Vilonat.  In December 1924 Eddy made his operatic debut, singing Tonio in a Philadelphia Civic Opera production of I Pagliacci. His final operatic performance occurred in 1935, when he sang Amonasro in a staging of Aida that also starred Elisabeth Rethberg, Giovanni Martinelli, and Ezio Pinza (not too shabby company!)  In between, Eddy pursued a career notable for its number and variety of performances. Here is just a partial listing of roles he sang mentioned by Tony Watts in his informative liner notes for this Pearl release: Rigoletto, Amonasro, Lescaut, Gianni Schicchi, Abimelech, Wolfram, Donner, Gunther, Orestes, Jokanaan, Gurnemanz, Peter (Hansel und Gretel), Manfredo (L'Amore dei tre re), Harlekin (Ariadne auf Naxos), and the Drum Major (Wozzeck). Concert repertoire included Haydn's Creation, the title role of Mendelssohn's Elijah, and Four Serious Songs of Brahms.

This new Pearl CD features Nelson Eddy recordings of opera, oratorio and song repertory  made between 1939-42.  The disc begins and ends in rather uninspired fashion. First are bland performances of Figaro's two arias from the first act of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. Eddy's renditions offer little in the way of dramatic involvement or idiomatic projection of da Ponte's Italian text. The disc concludes with rather pedestrian versions of two operatic arias (in this case "Vision fugitive" from HÈrodiade and the "Toreador Song" from Carmen). Here, the nasal quality of Eddy's vocalism is further accentuated by the French language (particularly with his rather idiosyncratic approach).  In between, however, there is much to enjoy. Matters improve considerably with two arias, in English, from Haydn's Creation. Here he seems more in his element, delivering performances of far greater intensity.

English-language versions of arias from Die Meistersinger and Tannh”user are also quite engaging, the latter demonstrating Eddy to be a singer capable of elegant, poised vocalism.  His beautifully sung renditions of two songs by Richard Strauss (Allerseelen and Zueignung, sung in German) are among my favorites on this disc.  Songs by Schubert, Mussorgsky, and Tchaikovsky (again in English) follow. The Ave Maria displays exemplary legato. Eddy was never known as a particularly compelling vocal actor, but he has a fine time with Mussorgsky's satirical Song of the Flea. A fervent rendition of Tchaikovsky's None but the Lonely Heart rounds out this portion of the disc.  There is also much to enjoy in Eddy's elegant renditions of Tchaikovsky's Don Juan's Serenade and  Danse macabre by Saint-Saëns, both sung in French. The aforementioned HÈrodiade and Carmen arias serve to conclude the recital.

Transfers by David Lennick are first-rate. In addition to the essay by Tony Watts, the liner notes provide information about dates and locations of the various recordings. No texts or translations are included.  Fans of Nelson Eddy will most certainly want to acquire this disc. Others may also wish to investigate the lesser-known side of a singer who was for a time a major force in the American entertainment industry.