The Czech soprano Jarmila Novotna made few recordings but had a long and illustrious career. She made her debut in 1925 at the age of 17, in no less a role than that of Violetta and retired in 1956 at the age of 49. No doubt some will remember her for her appearance in the Hollywood movie The Great Caruso in which she played the diva Maria Selka.
This disc collects together recordings selected by Novotna herself and taken from her own collection, and shows the voice still firm and true in 1956, when the recording of Rusalka’s Song to the Moon (with piano) was recorded.
The disc doesn’t, however, get off to the best of starts as, to my ears, the voice sounds strained in the upper reaches of Smetana’s Lark Song from The Kiss (also with piano), which was recorded in 1926. Nor do I find her Cherubino particularly characterful, though the voice itself is quite lovely here and sounds more comfortoble in this tessitura, as it is in Pamina’s arias, though she dosen’t quite find the pathos needed for Ach ich fühls.
For me the most treasurable items are the piano accomapanied Songs of Lidice (Czech Folk Songs) which exploit her rich middle voice. The voice is also beautifully captured in a 1945 recording of the the folk song, Umrem, umrem, this time with orchestra and chorus, but arguably best of all is the vocal arrangement of Fibich’s Poème, a piece I know from my teenage years, when I used to play it on the piano, which is deeply felt and eloquenty performed.