The Complete Salomea Krushelnytska
and Elena Ruszkowska Selected Recordings

52052-2 (2 CDs)  | $ 36.00


The Complete Salomea Krushelnytska
Salomea Krushelnytska (1872–1952) simply has one of the most beautiful dramatic soprano voices on record. The voice has strength and a dusky tone coupled with a mastery of phrasing. She had a remarkable career. It was rumored Krushelnytska could learn a part of a new opera in two days, and develop the character of a role in another three or four. In 1902 she won the hearts of Parisians in Lohengrin. In 1906 she enchanted the audience at Milan’s La Scala in Richard Strauss’s Salome conducted by Arturo Toscanini. Her rendition of the title role of the Brescia Madama Butterfly in 1904 contributed to Butterfly’s admission to the world repertoire. In addition, she created the role of Salome at La Scala’s premiere in 1907 as well as the role of Elektra in 1909. She also sang at the world premiere of Romani’s Fedra (1915). She was to settle in Milan, yet a visit to her birthplace, Lvov, in 1939 precluded her return to Italy. She taught at the conservatory in Lvov, where she had begun her illustrious career. This two CD set is complete, including her rare G & Ts, Fonotipias, and four electrical Columbias.
CD1 (79:05)
Gramophone and Typewriter Limited
Warsaw, ca. 1902
1. MEFISTOFELE: L’altra notte (Boito) 3:10
  (398z) 23355  
2. Piosnka dudarza, Op. 18, No. 2 (The Piper’s song) (Paderewski) 3:26
  (399z) 23365  
3. Ti rivedrò! (Tosti) 3:14
  (400z) 23356  
4. HRABINA: Zbudzić się ułudnych snów (Wake up from bad dreams) (Moniuszko) 2:33
  (401z) 23357  
5. Kołysanka: Na ramię mi rzuciła splecione rączęta (Lullaby: In my arms he rested) (Mlynarski) 2:29
  (402z) 23358  
6. Amore (Tosti) 2:56
  (403z) 23359  
7. HALKA: Gdyby rannym słonkiem (I wish I were a lark) (Moniuszko) 3:05
  (404z) 23368  
8. Lasciali dir tu m’ami (Quaranta) 2:58
  (405z) 23360  
9. PEER GYNT: Solveig’s Song (Grieg) 2:38
  (406z) 23361  
10. TOSCA: Vissi d’arte (Puccini) 2:33
  (407z) 23362  
11. MEFISTOFELE: L’altra notte (Boito) 3:58
  6 November 1906; (XPh 2212) 39921  
12. ADRIANA LECOUVREUR: Ecco, respiro appena…Io sono l’umile ancella (Cilea) 2:52
  6 November 1906; (XPh 2213) 39922  
13. Lasciali dir tu m’ami (Quaranta) 3:13
  6 November 1906; (XPh 2214) 39920  
14. LA FORZA DEL DESTINO: Pace, pace mio Dio (Verdi) 4:42
  6 November 1906; (XXPh 2215) 74025  
15. LA WALLY: Ebben? Ne andrò lontana (Catalani) 3:21
  8 November 1906; (XPh 2224) 39919  
16. Ti rivedrò! (Tosti) 2:21
  8 November 1906; (XXPh 2225) 74026  
17. Capelli d’oro (Oddone) 2:21
  8 November 1906; (XPh 2226) 39909  
18. Si dice (Quaranta) 3:58
  8 November 1906; (XPh 2227) 39908  
19. AIDA: Ritorna vincitor…I sacri nomi di padre (Verdi) 6:14
  11 November 1907; XPh 2849 and XPh 2849) 92086 and 92087  
20. ADRIANA LECOUVREUR: Ecco, respiro appena…Io son l’umile ancella (Cilea) 2:51
  12 November 1907; (XPh 2854) 92088  
21. ADRIANA LECOUVREUR: Poveri fiori (Cilea) 3:15
  12 November 1907; (XPh 2853) 92089  
22. Si mes vers avaient des ailes (Hahn) 2:09
  12 November 1907; (XPh 2862) 62265  
23. PEER GYNT: Solveig’s song (Grieg) 2:44
  12 November 1907; (XPh 2863) 62264  
24. LORELEY: Da che tutta (Catalani) 2:35
  20 March 1912; (XPh 4813) 92939  
25. MADAMA BUTTERFLY: Un bel di vedremo (Puccini) 3:17
  20 March 1912; (XPh 4816) 92940  
CD2 (79:50)
Milan (continued)
1. DIE WALKÜRE: Ho jo to ho! (Wagner) 2:05
  20 March 1912; (XPh 5269) 92937  
2. DIE WALKÜRE: War es so schmählich, was ich verbrach? (Wagner) 3:17
  20 March 1912; (XPh 4815) 92938  
3. L’AFRICAINE: Di qui si vede il mare (Meyerbeer) 3:16
  20 March 1912; (XPh 4817) 92941  
4. L’AFRICAINE: Quai soavi concenti (Meyerbeer) 2:59
  20 March 1912; (XPh 4818) 92942  
U.S.A., ca. 1928
5. Wiwcy moi wiwcy [Pastusza pisnia] (Shepherd’s song) 3:20
  (108887) 27132-F  
6. Czerez sad vinohrad [Diwocza pisnia] (Beyond the orchard, the vineyard) [Girls’ song] 3:01
  (108888) 27132-F  
7. Oi, de ty idesz, de ty poidesz [Prykoliskowa pisnia] (Oh, you go, you leave) [Prikolisko song] 3:18
  (108889) 27133-F  
8. Oi, letily bili husi [Rozpletyny] (Oh, white geese were flying) [Rospletini]* 3:22
  *Rospletini is a place
(108899) 27133-F
Selected Recordings, Gramophone Company Limited
9. STABAT MATER: Inflammatus (Rossini) 3:27
  27 April 1909; (1813c) 053250  
10. LA FORZA DEL DESTINO: La vergine degli angeli (Verdi) 3:28
  24 April 1909; (1807c) 053237  
11. ERNANI: Ernani involami (Verdi) 2:43
  23 April 1909; (13110b) 53568  
12. AIDA: Dessa, ei si turba… Ohimè di guerra (Verdi) 3:21
  1 November 1909; (1863c) 054274  
13. AIDA: Fu la sorte dell’armee... Ebben, qual nuovo fremito ... Ah! Pietà ti prenda (Verdi) 10:19
  with Bianca Lavin de Casas, mezzo-soprano
1 November 1909; (1860C, 1861C, and 1862C) 054272, 054273, and 054276
14. AIDA: Fuggiam gli ardori inospiti (Verdi) 4:21
  with Carlo Barrera, tenor
21 April 1909; (1790C) 054254
15. LA GIOCONDA:Là attesi e il tempo colsi… L’amo come il fulgor del creato (Ponchielli) 3:23
  with Bianca Lavin de Casas, mezzo-soprano
1 November 1909; (1864c) 054271
16. TOSCA: Ora stammi a sentir…Non la sospiri (Puccini) 3:17
  with Egidio Cunego, tenor
2 November 1909; (1868c) 054268
17. TOSCA: Qual occhio al mondo (Puccini) 3:34
  with Egidio Cunego, tenor
2 November 1909; (1866c) 054269
18. TOSCA: Vissi d’arte (Puccini) 3:09
  2 November 1909; (1865c) 053243  
19. TOSCA: Senti, l’ora è vicina…E non giungono (Puccini) 5:33
  with Egidio Cunego, tenor
2 November 1909; (1867c and 13830b) 054270 and 54413
Warsaw, ca. 1921
20. HALKA: Gdyby rannym słonkiem (I wish I were a lark) (Moniuszko) 4:06
  (2-40036) P.64657b  
21. Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2 (Chopin) (arranged by Theresa Tosti) 4:19
  (xxWa 84) AA 53099  

CD 1:
Accompaniment: Tracks [1-18, 22-23] accompanied by piano; Tracks [19-21, 24-25] accompanied by orchestra
Languages: Italian [1, 3, 6, 8, 10-21, 23-25]; Polish [2, 4-5, 7, 9]; French [22]

CD 2:
Accompaniment: Tracks [1-4] accompanied by orchestra; Tracks [5-8] accompanied by folk ensemble; Tracks [9-19] accompanied by orchestra conducted by Carlos Sabajno; Track [20] accompanied by orchestra conducted by Artur Rodzinski; Track [21] accompanied by harp and cello
Languages: Italian [1-4, 10-19]; Ukrainian [5-8]; Latin [9]; Polish [20-21]


Producer: Ward Marston

Audio Conservation: Ward Marston

Audio Assistance: John R. Harris

Photographs: Girvice Archer, Charles Mintzer, and Jakub Puchalski

Booklet Design: Takeshi Takahashi


Marston would like to thank Paulina Anderson Dinitz, Ramona Fasio, Lawrence F. Holdridge, Peter Lack, Robert Tuggle, and Richard Warren for their help in the production of this CD release.


Selections are re-recorded from copies in the collection of the Estate of Sir Paul Getty, in the collection of Harry Glaze, and in the collection of Lawrence F. Holdridge.

The following selections are re-recorded from copies in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Laurence C. Witten II in the Yale Collection of Historical Sound Recordings, Yale University Library:
CD 1: Tracks [1, 2, 4-7, 9]

Discographic material was taken from:
“Salomea Kruszelnicka” from the Record Collector, Vol. 18, No. 4, by Eduardo Arnosi and R L Autrey, February 1969, pgs. 75-88

His Master’s Voice/La Voce del Padrone, complied by Alan Kelly, 1988, Greenwood Press, Inc., Westport, Connecticut, U.S.A.

The Fontipia Catalogue 1904-1939, CD ROM, published by Historic Masters, Ltd.

The Polish Divas

At the beginning of the 20th century audiences at the major Italian theaters were mainly interested in new operas of the verismo school, with frequent large doses of Wagner; they even managed to digest the operas of Richard Strauss. The queen of verismo herself, Gemma Bellincioni, introduced Salome in Italy, creating the role at the Teatro Regio, Turin, on 23 December 1906, the composer conducting. She subsequently sang the role over a hundred times, even though, in the opinion of a rival soprano, Amelia Pinto, “not having any voice, she exaggerates and completely alters the character.” There had been a battle between Turin and Milan as to which city would have the honor of the first Italian performances; Toscanini managed to trump Turin by presenting Salome at a public dress rehearsal at La Scala on 22 December, the day before the Turin premiere. The official Milan first night was on 26 December, with Salomea Krusceniski (as she styled herself in Italy) making her Scala debut in the title role; according to Gatti-Casazza she was “a very interesting Salome and better than all the others.” In 1909 she created Elektra in Strauss’s opera for La Scala, becoming the first great, historical soprano to sing both roles.

Krushelnytska was popular in Italy between 1896 and her final retirement from the stage in 1920. She and her sister Anna, a contralto, had gone to Milan for further vocal study with a certain Signora Crespi. It is a pity that she made so few records. Her repertoire was eclectic, with a strong bias towards contemporary music; this, together with the fact that she dropped Aida, one of her most famous roles, after 1907, suggests that she may have been having some difficulties with her voice. In 1910, after singing Loreley at the San Carlo, she gave a concert of 18th-century arias in Naples. In 1924 she gave a series of recitals in Italy (and several other countries) in which she was accompanied at the piano by the composer Castelnuovo Tedesco. Her Naples program included arias by Monteverdi, Bassani, and Lotti; an aria of Ilia from Idomeneo; and songs by Rachmaninov, Moussorgsky, Gretchaninov, Martucci, Ferro, and Mompelio.

Seeing that they were all pupils of Valery Wysocki, it is not perhaps surprising that the three Polish divas Krushelnytska, Ruszkowska, and Korolewicz-Wayda sing on records with a similar and excellent technique. They all have the round and lovely tone and unforced production that earlier generations of singers had aimed at; most of their Italian contemporaries were producing more strident and unsteady tones in the name of dramatic declamation. An older Polish dramatic soprano who thrills us on early records, Teresa Arkel (1861-1929), although also trained at the Lemberg Conservatorium, sings quite differently, sometimes producing (though not in her marvelous G & T record of “D’amor sull’ali rosee”) the squally and tremulous tones eschewed by Krushelnytska and Ruszkowska. In Italy, only Giannina Russ (especially on her 1903 black G & Ts) and Angelica Pandolfini (who had been trained in Paris) had their kind of fresh, silvery yet warm tone. Both Krushelnytska and Ruszkowska exhibit a rather light and unobtrusive, fluttering vibrato that is mostly absent from Korolewicz-Wayda’s singing. This kind of vibrato is caused either by a faulty breathing method, by a slight excess of breath pressure, or by a “backward” placing of the voice. To our ears it does not detract from the attractive quality of the singing of either of these ladies, though in the 18th century it would have been more harshly criticized. Korolewicz-Wayda has a more solid technique and firmer legato that the others, with perfect fusion of the registers and every note well-placed, but her timbre is perhaps less luscious that Krushelnytska’s and less pearly than Ruszkowska’s.

Records seem to suggest that Kruschelnytska had a more “important” sounding voice than Ruszkowska, of imposing volume and with a greater richness in the medium register, where she sometimes displays an almost mezzo-soprano quality. Ruszkowska’s voice is purer in quality, more homogeneous throughout its extensive range, more a lyric than a dramatic soprano, though in almost all her records she successfully sings what we think of as “dramatic soprano” material. This should remind us of Verdi’s dictum in an 1892 letter to Ricordi: there is no such thing as a “dramatic soprano”. After all, Patti sang Aida even at La Scala. Ruszkowska preserved the youthful freshness of her timbre up to her last recording session, while Kruschelnytska, on her electrical recordings, sings well but with an over-ripe, matronly sound.

The records of Salomea Kruschelnytska

From Fred Gaisberg’s diary for 1900 we learn that on 16 April he attended a performance of Halka at the Polish National Opera House: “The prima donna Krusceniski was excellent … She is a great favourite.” Later that week she “agreed to come to the studio they had set up in the hotel to make records”. (Quoted from Jerrold Northrop Moore, A Voice in Time, the Gramophone of Fred Gaisberg, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1976, p. 49.) There is today no trace in the catalogues of any 1900 recordings by Kruschelnytska–they would have been zinc-etched 7 inch Berliners.

Although Krushelnytska’s Warsaw G & Ts of 1902 are variable in sound quality, they make an impressive set offering distinguished singing in varied styles, and original red label copies are rightly treasured by collectors. They present her voice at its freshest. By the time she began to record for Fonotipia in Milan only four years later there had been some slight wear and the timbre, still lovely, is not quite so pure as in 1902. They were recorded shortly before the Battistini Warsaw set and are equally delightful, with the added advantage that Krushelnytska enjoyed the services of a superior accompanist!

“L’altra notte” from Mefistofele has a slightly experimental air, as though the singer were not quite sure whether she had promised to sing both stanzas or only one. She confuses the words at one point and the pianist seems to want to go on after she has finished. All this is typical of early recordings. The recording horn seems to catch the golden tones of her voice with success. Considering how difficult it is to sing well, it is surprising how many fine records have been made of this aria (Bellincioni, Alda, Raisa, and Callas, to name but four, have also left us memorable versions) and Krushelnytska’s version is among the best. It is clear after listening to the other records in the set that here she is deliberately adopting a dark tone, singing slowly and tellingly, using less portamento than most of her contemporaries, but with a generous use of rubato. Her florid singing is accomplished, her trill–strangely, on the uncomfortable “I” vowel–finely articulated. (In her Fonotipia record she trills on the “O”.)

Her skill in tempo rubato serves her well in her compatriot Paderewski’s song “Piosnka dudarza”, Op. 18, No. 2, an attractive piece. She does not manage the high A flat pp as indicated, but certainly produces a lovely, floating sound.

As she was famous in Poland for her interpretations of Moniuszko’s operas, it is interesting to hear her splendid performances of the arias from Hrabina and Halka. In the former she is forced to use her chest register, as the tessitura frequently descends to C and B below the stave, and the sound is fairly impressive while not being quite free and forward. In other records of the set she tends to produce lighter “mixed” notes whenever she has to go below E, first line. In the beautiful aria from Halka she sculpts the arches of the melodic line in a thrillingly vibrant sound, reminding us of Sembrich’s exciting performance, though her voice is fresher in timbre than the older soprano’s.

Her two Tosti songs were both originally composed to English texts, but she sings them in their Italian versions (and not in Polish, as sometimes listed in discographies). “Ti rivedrò” was originally “Bid me good-bye”, whereas “Amore” was “Come to my heart” and dedicated to Mrs. Ronalds, the famous American society hostess in London who was also the dedicatee of Sullivan’s “The lost chord”. Kruschelnytska sings both with charm and lovely tone, opting for the mezzo-soprano key of D flat for “Amore”, but her Fonotipia record of “Ti rivedrò” is even better. Mlynarski’s song “Kolysanka”, with its echoes of Anton Rubinstein, begins with a particularly lovely phrase. Quaranta’s “Lasciali dir tu m’ami” is a thrilling piece of declamation and very well recorded. It was obviously a favorite of hers, perhaps for Stecchetti’s words: “T’ho dato tutto. Il canto, / La gioventù, l’amore...” (“I have given you everything. My singing, my youth, my love....”).

One can hear the lovely quality of her voice particularly well in “Solveig’s song”, which she sings lightly and with cleaner attack than elsewhere, probably because she needs to keep a supple line for the coloratura passages. “Vissi d’arte” is slightly disappointing: there is an attempt at interpretation but the phrasing does not seem particularly distinguished and the vibrato is not fully under control.

Kruschelnytska seems in better voice in her second Fonotipia session on 8 November 1906 than in her first of 6 November, when perhaps she had not sufficiently warmed up her voice, or was she nervous? In “L’altra notte” and “Io son l’umile ancella” her singing is mostly grandly authoritative, if not typical of her best, but we notice occasional cracks in the tone and some stumbling attacks.

The “close miking” of Fonotipia’s recording shows the richness of the timbre in “Lasciali dir tu m’ami” but also reveals some flaws. The tone tends to “splinter” on lower medium notes. However, this is a marvelous performance: her impassioned singing, with good diction and floating tone, leading up to a superbly controlled crescendo, suggests her impact in the theater.

Her style in “Pace, mio Dio” is an idiosyncratic mixture of ancient and modern. Her rounded and floating emission, her placing of breaths to enable her to “carry over” phrases, and her lavish use of tempo rubato (there is some change of tempo in almost every bar!) place her firmly among 19th century singers, but she is “modern” in her sparing, though eloquent use of portamento. Even though her voice is not at its freshest, she expresses the alternating urgency and hopelessness of Leonora with such tragic nobility as to make this one of the very best recordings of this difficult aria, and a fascinatingly original one. She maintains the overall shape of the aria despite the slow tempo and the constant slowing down and speeding up. Only the first word is disappointing, for the crescendo and diminuendo on “Pace” are only suggested. The coda is omitted for lack of time.

On 8 November we find her in wonderful voice. Despite Toscanini’s partisanship of Catalani there are not many records of “Ebben? ne andrò lontana” from La Wally in the acoustic record catalogues, and it would be difficult to imagine a better performance of this now popular aria than Kruschelnytska’s. As in all her best operatic recordings she manages to suggest the atmosphere of the scene in her tone, which is responsive to her imagination; the opening phrases are delivered in a dark, covered timbre which opens out into a brighter sound with Wally’s mounting despair. Her voice is beautifully supported on the breath, enabling her to employ a wide range of dynamic contrasts, which not all singers bothered about in the recording studio. In the impassioned finale the high B natural, in head voice, does not seem completely successful, but it is likely that she stepped back from the horn at this point to avoid “blasting”. (Ester Mazzoleni reported that the Fonotipia recording engineers made her actually turn her back on the horn when she came to the high notes!)

Tosti’s waltz “Ti rivedrò” is one of the loveliest records in the Fonotipia catalogue. In contrast to the preceding matrix, the Wally aria, here her tone is warm and caressing, charmingly seductive. She gives us a lesson in how to sing a waltz, and her mastery of rhythm and rubato serve to remind us that, after all, she is a compatriot of Chopin. If her attack is not always as clean on lower middle notes as it is on the higher, in compensation she is precise in her articulation of the mordents. The same charm is evident in “Capelli d’oro”, a great song record in the same class as Graziella Pareto’s “O bimba bimbetta” or Galli-Curci’s “Crépuscule”. Her high standard of accuracy of execution, together with her cello-like legato and delicate expression, are typical of the artistic finish expected from the performances of great singers in the salon of a hundred years ago. “Si dice” is another example of her distinguished and aristocratic singing of a pretty trifle, varied and pointed in its expression. If we ask ourselves why luminaries of the operatic stage rushed to record songs by Oddone, Quaranta, and the like, these charming records are the answer: how much more agreeable they are, upon repeated listening, than any bleeding chunk from Strauss’s Elettra or Pizzetti’s Fedra would have been, and how many more copies they must have sold! Kruschelnytska’s singing of “Si dice” is quite a tour de force; after some charmingly neat and pointed “patter” singing in a resonant half-voice, she allows her tone to expand thrillingly in a climb up the scale in full voice.

“Ritorna vincitor” is a souvenir of one of her most famous roles, a vivid interpretation with an exciting musical tension in the vocal line. She instinctively hurries at the impassioned moments and lingers over reflective passages. She is near enough to the horn for some naughtily audible intakes of breath to have been recorded. Her singing here is in the grand Italian tradition of the late 19th century, rather like Arangi-Lombardi in her complete recording of the opera, but with an even better voice and technique. She manages to be vibrant, warm, and touching in “Numi, pietà” without any exaggeration.

Few great prima donnas of that day sang Adriana Lecouvreur because of some quarrel between Cilea and the publisher Sonzogno. Kruschelnytska sang the role at the San Carlo and at the Costanzi, Rome. She brings out all the pathos of “Poveri fiori” with a beautifully sustained climax in which she is able to intensify her tone without any harshness. Neither of her recordings of “Io son l’umile ancella” seems to me to be among her best; in the orchestrally accompanied version she sings more smoothly but rather loudly with fewer shadings than usual, and she interpolates a vulgar verismo sob on the last word, “morrà”. (Of course she sings the original 1903 version; in the two later editions Cilea changed the setting of one word, “mite”, and authorized the loud high A flat at the end instead of the original mezzo-forte.)

If this were not a complete Kruschelnytska I should have voted for the omission of “Si mes vers avaient des ailes”, a song familiar to collectors in superb performances by Melba, Sembrich, and Teyte. Kruschelnytska apparently does not know the rules of French pronunciation in song (how strange, in a Polish singer! She must have been familiar with spoken French since her childhood). Her voice is unsteady, her vibrato uneven, and her chest register sounds ugly and no longer well-blended with her medium register. “Solveig’s song” goes much better, though the short space available on the record makes it necessary to hurry the pace. Her neat execution of the florid passages and the loveliness of her tone pay tribute to the excellence of her training.

Her aria from Loreley, extremely silly music, is a beautiful piece of singing. Despite the apparently increased weight of her medium range she preserves the flexibility for neat florid work. She is in very good voice again at this session, and the aria from Madama Butterfly, which is the record of hers that most people will be curious to hear, is a worthy souvenir despite the short cut. Her attack on the first note, G flat, a well-known test for all sopranos, is as beautiful as we have come to expect from her. She uses more portamento here than in some other arias, in suitable style, and her tone is haunting at the beginning, triumphant at the climax. Other sopranos have recorded this aria with more shadings and “effects”, but this is a well-judged and winning performance. In the final scene of L’Africana, then an opera in the everyday repertory, she has very little competition on gramophone records, and her performance is superb. The Meyerbeer singer must be gifted with the ability to maintain a good legato line and to observe the composer’s minutely detailed instructions about shading, and Kruschelnytska is equal to the challenge. Her light and even vibrato may well be similar to that of Marie Sasse, creator of the role. Her manner is of the grandest, though she no longer seems to have the ideal lightness for the quicker passages of declamation in “Quai celesti concenti”.

Kruschelnytska was a famous Wagner singer and it is nice to have two souvenirs of her Brünnhilde in La Walchiria. She sings the battle-cry in the true Italian style, in measured tempo with good legato, refraining from any hint of the “Bayreuth bark”, declaiming the middle section with humor as well as thrust, and reaching easily to a high C in head voice. Even better is her quite lovely singing of Brunnhilde’s plea, “Tanto fu triste”, in which she again shows her ability to match her tone to the feel of the music. In this slow and stately passage her lower notes come out better than usual, and in the powerful climax one can imagine her dominating the orchestra in the theater with unfailingly lovely tone. However, in a review of her creation of Pizzetti’s Fedra at La Scala in 1915, the magazine Musica (1 April 1915) commented: “Kruceniski’s (sic) talent dominated admirably: her every movement appeared perfectly calculated, her every gesture appropriate, only her voice did not seem powerful enough.” Her great days in opera were drawing to a conclusion.

In 1928 Kruschelnytska made electrical recordings of four very oriental-sounding Ukrainian folk songs for American Columbia. She had long before given up the operatic stage but her busy concert career had obviously kept her voice in good shape. Although her tone is now what the Italians call “chioccia” (hen-like) it is not actually unpleasant and the upper notes have preserved some sheen; everything is perfectly supported on the breath. On the last side, “Oi, letili bili husi” she suddenly sings with much more feeling and contrast, making a worthy conclusion to an unfortunately short list of recordings by this historic and interesting soprano.

Elena Ruszkowska and her records

Helena Zboinska-Ruszkowska, as she was known in her native Poland, was born on 23 April either in 1877 or 1878. After completing her studies with Wysocki in Lemberg (L’viv) she seems to have had further tuition in Italy. She made her concert debut in 1897 and her operatic debut as Marta in Flotow’s opera at Count Skarbek’s theater in Lemberg, where she sang for two years, then appearing in Warsaw and Cracow. She was heard in Vienna in concert in 1904 and then as Aida in 1906, reappearing in Vienna in 1914. Her successful Italian career began at La Scala, Milan, in 1908, where she sang Gutrune in Il crepuscolo degli dei (with Litvinne, Giraud, and Bellantoni), Iguamota in Franchetti’s Cristoforo Colombo (with Mazzoleni, Amato, and De Angelis), and Elena in Mefistofele (with Alda and Chaliapin), an excellent trio of secondary roles for a debutante. She was announced as Aida at La Scala in a series of performances with different singers for the Verdi centenary in 1913, but it is difficult to determine whether she actually appeared.

In 1909 she sang at the Teatro Massimo, Palermo, and in 1910 made her first visits to Spain and South America. In September 1911 she sang Aida at the Teatro Dal Verme, Milan, with Ninì Frascani, Francesco Cigada, and the tenor Zinoviev and followed these in November with Leonora in Il trovatore, with Frascani, Gennaro De Tura, and Segura-Tallien; these Verdian performances were all conducted by Ettore Panizza. In December she repeated her Aida in Trieste, where she carried the performances to triumph “because she sings with great sweetness;” she seems to have eclipsed her partners Luisa Garibaldi and Augusto Scampini. She then went on to sing both Elena and Margherita in Mefistofele, replacing an indisposed Linda Cannetti at the last moment. “She sang exquisitely in the garden scene, and so dramatically in the prison scene as to merit the audience’s enthusiastic applause, which frequently interrupted the performance” (Orfeo, 3 March 1912).

In 1913 she sang at the Regio, Turin, in Cristoforo Colombo with Eugenio Giraldoni and as Elisabetta in Don Carlo with Frascani, Scampini, and Giuseppe De Luca, conducted by Panizza. While in Turin she sang at a charity concert at the Conservatoire, including the “Villanelle” by Eva Dell’Acqua, “Obstination” by De Fontenailles, and the Siciliana from I vespri siciliani; which she was obliged to repeat. Later in 1913 she sang in other concerts, including one at the Politeama Rossetti in Trieste with Stracciari, and another at the Teatro Alighieri, Ravenna, with Giuseppe Danise. She also appeared as Kundry in Parsifal with Giuseppe Borgatti in Bologna, where she returned in 1914 to sing Sélika in L’Africana with Bernardo De Muro. One of her last appearances in Italy was as Amelia in Un ballo in maschera in Padova in 1915. Later she was heard in Prague and Budapest, but after 1919 she confined her appearances to Poland, where she was leading prima donna of the Warsaw opera from 1919 to 1928. Her concert career continued for several more years, and she was active as a teacher. Her first husband was Marcel Zboinski, and then in 1907 she married en secondes noces the Austrian Dr. Ferdinand Seeliger. She died on 3 November 1948. Carlo Schmidl’s Dizionario Universale dei Musicisti (Sonzogno, Milan, 1926) is perhaps not the only reference work to confuse Ruszkowska with her compatriot, Elena Rakowska, wife of Tullio Serafin.

It is difficult to make a selection from her records, because they are all beautifully sung and well recorded. In April and November 1909 the Milan branch of the Gramophone Company recorded a series of ensemble records from Aida with what they optimistically thought of as “red-label” artists; at least 18 sides were published, and they are well recorded, splendidly conducted by Carlo Sabajno with a better orchestra than usual, and feature the first class Aida and Amneris of Ruszkowska and Bianca Lavin De Casas (the mixed bag of tenors and baritones are not, alas, up to this standard). This adventurous series–never publicized or marketed as a set–deserved more success and sales than it achieved. During the Aida sessions Ruszkowska also recorded an aria and four duets from Tosca in which her singing is of ravishing beauty. The Rossini “Inflammatus” and Verdi’s “La vergine degli angeli” were also part of this attempt to enrich the catalogue with a series of ambitious ensemble recordings, with what the labels boast of as La Scala chorus and orchestra.

With all their obvious technical limitations, vocal records conducted by such excellent musicians as Sabajno and Lorenzo Molajoli (his counterpart at Columbia) give us hints, often illuminating and, to young conductors today, very surprising, as to performance practice circa 1900, particularly with regard to tempo rubato. In comparison with post-Toscanini recordings, despite what often appears to be a hurrying to fit the music onto one side of a record, we hear a greater elasticity of rhythm and phrasing, making the music more effective and more moving than in most modern performances. One of the delights of collectors of more obscure 78 rpm records is to discover surprisingly vivid and compelling performances in which a classical singing style is united to individual phrasing and rhythmic flexibility on records by singers of lesser fame–Francesco Cigada in Ernani, perhaps, or John Harrison in Handel’s Jephtha.

In her ensemble records from Aida Ruszkowska sounds like an ideal interpreter of the role, and one so wonders why “La Voce del Padrone” did not record her in the arias and the few remaining ensemble passages. Her voice soars above the others in the first side, “Dessa!..Ei si turba” leading into Aida’s “Ohimè! Di Guerra fremere”, in which her superb rhythmic sense is very much to the fore. As Amneris, the Catalan contralto Bianca Lavin De Casas (born 1875) is a worthy antagonist, singing with incisive and sumptuously rich tones (she does miss one entry on this side). Her voice, like that of many of her Spanish contemporaries, is warm, open, and free from excessive vibrato–an “old-fashioned” Italian voice, in fact. As the company most unusually decided to dedicate three whole sides to the Act Two duet “Fu la sorte dell’armi”, Sabajno is able to proceed without hurrying, with enormous benefit to the singers, who can indulge in expansive phrasing to their heart’s content. To follow these records with the score is to realize how carefully Ruszkowska observes the composer’s directions, whereas the opulently voiced Amneris, while giving a good interpretation, is less meticulous. In the duet “Là… tra foreste vergini” Ruszkowska is sublime, easily realizing such instructions of Verdi’s as dolcissimo and estremamente piano. I doubt whether any lovelier version exists on records. Of course the Spanish tenor Carlos Barrera (born 1879) is something of a liability, spoiling our complete enjoyment of the duet. Without being so coarse and crude as Kurt Baum, who so clumsily accompanies Maria Callas in her lovely Mexico City Aida of 1950, Barrera is totally unable, from the rigidity of his voice and method, to sing with the grace and flexibility needed to bring out the contrasts demanded by Verdi.

In Tosca, and especially in the two duets from Act One, Ruszkowska is perhaps even greater (in the duets from Act Three she seems not quite so familiar with the score, making one or two slips in the words). In all the wide range of recordings of this music it seems to me that only Muzio and Callas (and perhaps Lotte Lehmann) have rivaled Ruszkowska’s extraordinarily detailed and beautifully sung performance–like Maria Callas in 1964, she sings the music as though it were by Bellini. Her diction is so crisp and clear in what one might call the recitative sections as to put many of her Italian colleagues to shame. She sings “Non la sospiri la nostra casetta” with lovely tone and genuine charm, and here again she is able to distinguish between the different emphases demanded by Puccini, for example the light accent on “dall’imo dei franti sepolcreti” and the stentando–a discreet but heavier accentuation–on “e perfidi consigli”. These two sides from Act One both include an unfamiliar and rather startling “performance practice”: at the end of “Non la sospiri” Ruszkowska sails up to join the tenor on the high B flat at “Arde in Tosca un folle amor”, and in their second duet Ruszkowska and Cunego sing the last phrase “Ah! L’alma acquieta, sempre t’amo ti dirò!”, written for Cavaradossi alone, together in octaves. Both these effects are agreeable on the records, but one wonders whether anyone else was singing them in the theater at the time. The tenor Egidio Cunego (1882—1956) is a rather more accomplished singer than the more famous Barrera, but he is a typical heroic tenor of a decadent epoch: his high B flat and B natural are magnificent, brilliant and ringing notes, but the lower down the scale he sings the more wooden his tones become. He sings Cavaradossi’s music with ease, but without much charm. In “Qual’occhio al mondo” he does not hesitate to breathe between the first and second syllables of the word “audace”, sure that the soprano is covering him. He is unable to articulate the grace notes in “Amaro sol per te” but rather redeems himself in “Trionfal di nuova speme” in which he and Ruszkowska sing together in octaves with sure solidity of tone and pitch. Ruszkowska is at her limpid best in the last bars of “Amaro sol per te” and, considering the problems inherent in recording acoustically, she is marvelously vivid in her lightning changes of mood and voice for her instructions to Cavaradossi beginning “E non giungono…”

“La vergine degli angeli”, probably Ruszkowska’s best-known record, also contains an interpolated high note, a radiant B natural at the conclusion. This is another lovely piece of inspiring singing, the voice floating on the breath and the light vibrato perfectly even and under control. For the record of Rossini’s “Inflammatus” Maestro Sabajno wisely elected to record one stanza only to avoid a rushed effect (which slightly spoils the great record by Florence Austral and Barbirolli). In this notoriously difficult aria Ruszkowska’s attack is brilliantly clean, her high C thrilling–the extra high C at the end, included also by Gadski and other sopranos, was a traditional addition sanctioned by Rossini at the request of Clara Novello, when the Stabat Mater was given its first performances in Italy, conducted by Donizetti, at Bologna in March 1842.

When Ruszkowska recorded for Odeon in the late acoustic period she was still in complete command of her voice, now even more beautiful, the vibrato less in evidence. In the aria from Halka she does not articulate the gruppetti and other ornaments with the precision and audacious brilliance of Sembrich, but she exhibits a command of messa di voce and ease in sustained singing. It seems that Moniuszko’s music has gone out of fashion in Poland, and it is certainly not easy to sing, but very beautiful and effective when sung as Ruszkowska and her contemporaries knew how to do it. These last records almost seem to be a tribute to Poland’s two greatest composers, she tackles a simplified version of Theresa Tosti’s arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, with lovely, haunting tone. If the high B natural, taken softly, no longer comes easily, everything else in this record is pure delight.

©Michael Aspinall, 2006


Salomea Krushelnytska

Sometimes a great heroine and tragic figure in opera can seem indistinguishable from the singer performing the role. This happens when the artist consistently dedicates the beauty and power of her voice such that it fully serves the dramatic elements of the music she is singing. Likely this was the underlying sentiment felt about the great Ukrainian soprano Salomea Krushelnytska (1872-1952), both by audiences and prominent early twentieth-century collaborative musicians who deeply admired her vocal and acting abilities. Arturo Toscanini, for instance, was pleased to conduct her in several roles and secured an invitation for her to perform at the Metropolitan Opera (which never came to pass). Richard Strauss reportedly said that Krushelnytska’s interpretations of both title roles in his operas Elektra and Salome were “perfect.” Giacomo Puccini was deeply indebted to her for stepping in to rescue the title role in Madama Butterfly, therefore helping to revive the now famous opera after its disastrous debut. Critics in fact praised Krushelnytska’s stage presence as often as her dramatically inspired vocal realizations, whether she was singing the leading soprano roles in Italian, French, German, or Russian opera. Yet, the operatic repertoire did not exhaust the expressive elements of her art, and Krushelnytska subsequently focused on performing song literature and folk music in the latter part of her already full and rewarding career, which she finished-out as a teacher.

Krushelnytska was born in western Ukraine, just outside of L’viv (then Lemberg), in 1872. Her father was an Orthodox priest who was likely influenced by the rich liturgical music tradition of the Church as well as the singing traditions of Ruthenian and Carpathian culture. He therefore encouraged and supported his daughter’s musical training from an early age, allowing her to excel both as a singer and pianist. Krushelnytska sang in choirs, played in piano recitals, and in 1892, at the age of twenty, sang the soprano solo in Handel’s Messiah for a performance in L’viv. She studied at the Lemberg Conservatory with Walery Wysocki and later in Milan with Fausta Crespi. Krushelnytska made her operatic debut in either 1892 or 1893 in L’viv as Leonora in Donizetti’s La Favorita, a role composed for mezzo-soprano. Over the next several years, however, she exclusively sang soprano roles, including Leonora in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino, Elsa in Wagner’s Lohengrin, and Mimí in Puccini’s La Bohéme, performing in cities such as Odessa, Krakow, Tblisi, Parma, and in parts of Chile. From 1898 to 1902 Krushelnytska was the principal soprano at the Warsaw Imperial Theatre and was heralded by Polish audiences especially for her interpretation of Aida. In 1898 she also performed Aida at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg alongside Enrico Caruso, who was likely singing Radames for the first time.

Krushelnytska achieved ongoing operatic success throughout Italy, where she appeared and sang in numerous opera houses under the last name of Krusceniski. Once again, many critics especially praised her interpretation of the title role in Aida. (Noting the impact simply of her physical appearance, one critic wrote that when she first stepped on stage as the Ethiopian princess-slave, she looked like “an Egyptian bas-relief that had come alive.”) Over the next ten years, she extensively broadened her repertoire to include a variety of soprano roles in operas such as Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Die Walküre, and Götterdämmerung, Boito’s Mefistofele, Ponchielli’s La Gioconda, Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, Charpentier’s Louise, and Tchaikovsky’s Pikovaya Dama, to name a few. In 1904 Krushelnytska responded positively to a written request by Giacomo Puccini to sing Madama Butterfly, in spite of the opera’s failure at its debut in Milan. Krushelnytska embraced this new version to be given at the Teatro Grand of Brescia, which, as at the opera’s premiere, would be conducted by Cleofonte Campanini. Her interpretation of the role, as well as the opera itself, was a huge success at that performance and thereafter, and her revival of the tragic heroine earned her the enduring admiration and appreciation of the composer. Perhaps her re-creation of the role of Butterfly helped to compensate for the disfavor she had begun to encounter in Russia and Poland, two countries that had a history of forcing political control over the Ukrainian people. In 1903, for instance, Krushelnytska sang Ukrainian folk songs in St. Petersburg before an audience that included the Tsar, and this was interpreted as an anti-Russian act. Around that time she also spoke out publicly against Polish dominance in Western Ukraine.

Back in Italy, however, Krushelnytska’s career continued to thrive, especially as she was drawn to the truly dramatic, even disturbing, roles in some of the operas of Richard Strauss. She debuted at La Scala in 1906 singing the role of Salome, which was also that opera’s premiere in Milan. To the audience’s amazement and appreciation, she herself performed the Dance of the Seven Veils. Of one of her performances in that role, an Italian critic wrote: “[Krushelnytska’s] perversity of Salome was, thanks to her talent, enveloped in a veil of tulle that moderated admirably its crudity, without, however, losing its dramatic and expressive efficacious nature.” She also became known for her riveting portrayal of the title role in Elektra, among other performances singing the La Scala premiere of that role in 1909. Two years later she created the role of Lisa in Strauss’s Feuersnot.

In 1910, now living mostly in Italy and at the height of her career, Krushelnytska married an Italian lawyer named Cesare Riccioni, but chose to hold the actual wedding ceremony in Buenos Aires, where she enjoyed repeated operatic success and was deeply appreciated by local audiences and music critics. Among her triumphs there was the earlier 1906 production of Catalani’s La Wally, conducted by Toscanini. A critic for the paper la Prensa praised her in the title role as “above all an artist of great talent and heart, an interpreter as fine as her intentions are profound…it was not [Krushelnytska] on stage but Wally herself.” A few weeks later, also at the Teatro de la Opera in Buenos Aires, Krushelnytska sang Brünnhilde in Wagner’s Die Walküre, under Toscanini’s baton as well (which would be the last performances of this opera he conducted). Krushelnytska again was lauded for combining her great vocal skill with a thoroughly convincing portrayal of the character, such that whenever she entered on stage, “ a feeling of amazement spread throughout the house.” Later in 1910 Krushelnytska also sang the Buenos Aires premiere of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung.

Krushelnytska’s operatic successes continued into the beginning of the following decade, especially back in Italy. In 1915 she created and premiered at La Scala the title role in Pizetti’s Fedra. By this time, however, Krushelnytska had already decided to devote herself to the study of song repertoire and, as a result, dramatically curtailed her work in opera. Her last operatic performances took place in 1920, and in 1923 she began the next phase of her singing career as a song recitalist. Giving concerts in several countries, her repertoire was extensive, including Ukrainian folk songs, for which she accompanied herself at the piano. In 1928 Krushelnytska successfully toured the United States and Canada, appearing in recital on the North American continent for the first time. By 1940, after the death of her husband a few years earlier, Krushelnytska had retired from singing. A fateful trip to visit her place of birth during the Second World War caused her to remain behind the iron curtain for the rest of her life, where she taught at the Lemberg Conservatory.

Krushelnytska died in 1952 and was buried in Ukraine, where she is considered a great national figure. Krushelnytska’s achievements as a singer and dramatic interpreter at the beginning of the twentieth century certainly allow her a place of prominence on any list of great singers who unquestionably have advanced the art of singing and the dramatic interpretation of opera and song literature.

© Mark Bailey, 2006