Maria Cebotari’s star flashed across the operatic firmament, then was rudely extinguished by her early death at the age of 39 in 1949. During the 1930s and 1940s, the Romanian-born soprano was one of the best-loved and most popular sopranos of the day, who scored a considerable success in films as well as in opera. Glamorous, lively, impassioned, she portrayed all her roles with a total involvement that can be heard on her records. She was discovered by Fritz Busch, who encouraged and promoted her career at Dresden, where she created the role of Aminta in Die schweigsame Frau, expressly at Richard Strauss’s wish. She then moved to Berlin where she expanded her repertory to take in such taxing roles as Turandot and Salome; she sang the latter to great acclaim during the Vienna State Opera’s 1947 visit to Covent Garden, where she had previously appeared (1936) with the Dresden company as a charming Sophie and Zerlina. In 1947 she also sang the final scene of Ariadne under Beecham at the London Strauss Festival and recorded the same passage with the same conductor for RCA.
She recorded quite extensively for Electrola before the war, then for HMV after it. All but two of the titles here are from the later sessions, all of them taking place in Vienna. Never before issued here is a thrilling ”Or sai chi l’onore”, probably made at the same session as the admirable ”Non mi dir”, both conducted by Karajan. In these, and in ”Dove sono”, she reveals her Mozartian credentials in strongly limned, vibrant singing, not always technically perfect but always individual in utterance. The same can be said of her ebullient account of Frau Fluth’s aria and Saffi’s ”So elend und so treu”. Marguerite’s waltz doesn’t suit her. Butterfly certainly does; it was one of her most important roles and she encompasses all Cio-Cio-San’s sad illusions in a moving ”Un bel di” and her fatal desperation in ”Con onor muore”. But the best of her HMVs was undoubtedly her finely moulded, expressive and eventually soaring account of Ariadne’s Monologue, sensuously accompanied by Karajan. The record first appeared a month after her death, a fitting memorial to an endearing artist, whose nearest counterpart today is her fellow Romanian, Julia Varady, who conveys the same sort of wholehearted conviction in a similar repertory.
The two La boheme items come from Cebotari’s earliest sessions in 1932 and show the fresh charm of the voice; so does the duet with the ardent Wittrisch. As the disc runs for only 54 minutes room could easily have been found for other of her early records, for instance her splendid account of Violetta’s scene and/or the love duet (with Ernst Groh) from Butterfly and some of her lovely records of song, such as Albaieff’s The Nightingale and Arditi’s Il bacio, but what we have is enough to confirm Cebotari’s place among the immortals.’