Episode 75. Lenora Lafayette (BHM2021 III)

Episode 75. Lenora Lafayette (Black History Month 2021 III)

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Every so often I discover a singer who had previously not come under my radar, but who simply blows me away with their voice, artistry, and communicative powers. Such an artist is the Baton Rouge-born African American soprano Lenora Lafayette (1926-1975), historically important as the first Black artist to perform at Covent Garden. Relocating to Basel shortly after finishing her training under Dusolina Giannini at Juilliard, Lafayette encountered early career success in Switzerland, winning the Geneva Competition and making a highly successful debut at the Basel Opera as Aida, a role which, along with Madama Butterfly, she performed hundreds of times. And yet, despite enormous career success in Europe, she was never able to establish herself in her native country. Her recorded legacy is slim but revelatory: an Aida in German under Clemens Krauss; a 1958 BBC recording of Frederick Delius’s opera Koanga; and a single commercial recording of Puccini duets with Welsh tenor Richard Lewis under the baton of John Barbirolli, who also led her Covent Garden debut. All of these precious documents are sampled on this episode. She was struck down with cancer in her early forties and died prematurely at the age of 49. And yet listening to her recordings, one is struck by the emotional power of her utterance, the firmness of her vocal technique, and the bloom of her exquisite voice. Lenora Lafayette deserves a place among the greatest singers of her generation.

RECORDINGS HEARD IN THIS EPISODE

Giuseppe Verdi: O Vaterland [O patria mia] (Aida). Lenora Lafayette; Clemens Krauss, Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks [München 1953]

Giacomo Puccini: Vogliatemi bene (Madama Buttterfly). Lenora Lafayette, Richard Lewis; John Barbirolli, Hallé Orchestra [1958]

Dusolina Giannini (1902 – 1986)

Eduardo di Capua: O sole mio. Dusolina Giannini; Orchestra conducted by George Byng [1928]

Clemens Krauss (1893 – 1954)

Giuseppe Verdi: Die unsel’ge Worte [L’insana parola] (Aida). Lenora Lafayette; Clemens Krauss, Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks [München 1953]

Georgine von Milinkovič (1913 – 1986): just hanging around

Giuseppe Verdi: O sag, warum auf’s neue bist so traurig [Ebben qual nuovo fremito] (Aida). Lenora Lafayette, Georgine von Milinkovič; Clemens Krauss, Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks [München 1953]

Josef Gostič (1900 – 1963) as Radames

Giuseppe Verdi: Entfliehn aus diesem Lande… Dort im jungfräulich grünen Wald [Fuggir… Là, tra i foresti vergini] (Aida). Lenora Lafayette, Josef Gostič; Clemens Krauss, Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks [München 1953]

Frederick Delius: The hour has come (Koanga). Lenora Lafayette; Stanford Robinson, BBC Symphony Orchestra [London February 1958]

Frederick Delius (1862 – 1934)

Frederick Delius: Hail to thee, mighty Prince [La Calinda] (Koanga). Lenora Lafayette; Stanford Robinson, BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus [London February 1958]

Lawrence Winters (1915 – 1965)

Frederick Delius: I hear a far-off cry (Koanga). Lawrence Winters, Lenora Lafayette; Stanford Robinson, BBC Symphony Orchestra [London February 1958]

Frederick Delius: Ah, tell me where Koanga bides [Final Scene] (Koanga). Lenora Lafayette, Lawrence Winters, Robert Thomas; Stanford Robinson, BBC Symphony Orchestra [London February 1958]

Richard Lewis (1914 – 1990)

Giacomo Puccini: Taci, taci, tu il cor mi frangi (Manon Lescaut). Lenora Lafayette; Richard Lewis; John Barbirolli, Hallé Orchestra [1958]

Giacomo Puccini: O soave fanciulla (La Bohème). Lenora Lafayette; Richard Lewis; John Barbirolli, Hallé Orchestra [1958]

The winners of the Geneva Competition pictured with Ernest Ansermet: L to R: Mattiwilda Dobbs (1925 – 2015) [shared first prize]; Teresa Stich-Randall (1927 – 2007) [shared second prize]; Jennifer Vyvyan (1925 – 1974) [shared first prize]; Ernest Ansermet (1883 – 1969), and Lenora Lafayette (1925 – 1974) [shared second prize].

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