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Enduring vocal splendor: a magical evening with Teresa Berganza

Teresa Berganza gave her first New York recital in 13 years recently at Carnegie Hall. Thirteen years is a long time in a singer's life. Had the voice changed? Other singers have emerged on the scene who may have replaced the absent artist so that the general public could even have forgotten her.

All these questions were at least thought of during Miss Berganza's utterly magical evening. The voice has lost none of its beauty, its roundness. Her ability to get under the surface of each song and project the mood and the music are virtually unique in the recital world today (now that Elisabeth Schwarzkopf has retired).

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Yet Carnegie Hall was not exactly crammed to the rafters. Apparently the musical public does forget after a while, but those gathered were vociferous fans who made up in rousing applause and apparently deep-felt outpourings of affection what they lacked in sheer numbers. And their feelings were radiantly reciprocated.

The program ranged from Pergolesi and Vivaldi, to Brahms, Faure, Respighi, and Falla. It was well balanced, showed off the full range and color of her lyric mezzo voice, and the uncanny ability she has for projecting the specific drama of each song. The larger roles have not tarnished the instrument, because her technique is so secure, her judgement so keen.

This is especially remarkable when one considers that since Miss Berganza's last appearance here, Fredrica von Stade's career has blossomed and peaked, often in roles excelled in. Von Stade can sell out halls as she did twice (with the same program) last spring in Alice Tully Hall (soon to be a digital release on CBS Masterworks). But that recital also revealed that the young American mezzo has alarming voice problems. Interpretively, her potential has not flowered: Her earlier gentility has settled into mere girlishness, with a mannered, fussy style of interpretation. The voice has not filled out to match her ambition. Many of the roles she has performed are beyond her vocal endowment , though she tries them anyway. Her misguided career could be turned around though it seems unlikely that will happen.

Miss Berganza's expansions have been cautious, and the fruition of that caution is an instrument and a talent unabused by the ravages of overambition and poor judgment. She is capable of unfolding Brahms and Offenbach with equal attention to detail, albeit to necessarily different ends. Her Falla ''Seven Popular Songs'' were ideally interpreted. She has the warmth to make the quasi-operatic Respighi songs live. And in a selection from Offenbach's ''La Pericole'' (one of eight encores), she was the effortless mistress of hall-filling charm unmarred by and cuteness. Her ''Habanera'' in ''Carmen'' captured that femme fatale (which her recent DG recording does not).

In fact, her recordings of late have been limited to early Spanish literature , though her account of the Falla songs is included on an enchanting album with guitarist Narciso Yepes. Some of her finest moments are not on records to be heard in this country. Perhaps this is why she did not fill Carnegie Hall.

But surely word of mouth will prevent this sort of thing from happening the next time she comes to Carnegie. The absence of this splendid performer is cruel and unusual punishment in a day when good recitalists and great voices are very difficult to come by.

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