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(Robert Merrill talks about Jussi Björling in an interview for Swedish Television in 1977)
Baritone Robert Merrill and Tenor Jussi Björling were good friends, and it shows in the music.
They came from very different parts of the world (Merrill from Brooklyn, NY and Björling a Swede), but their distinct voices came together perfectly when the music started.
The RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra was an American studio orchestra founded in 1940 by the RCA Victor record label to make recordings.
Under the RCA label, Merrill and Björling recorded five classic tenor-baritone duets:
La forza del destino, “Solenne in quest’ora”, Giuseppe Verdi
Noise is coming from the soldiers. Alvaro rushes to the assistance of an officer (who is Carlo in disguise) who has been attacked by a swindler. The two become friends, but they do not know their real identities.
Don Carlo, “Io l' ho perduta! Qual pallor”, Giuseppe Verdi
Don Carlo confesses his (unhappy) love for his stepmother Elisabeth, the French princess. She was promised to him in marriage but has been taken by his father, Philip II, King of Spain. Rodrigo enters, expressing his concern for the oppressed people of Flanders, and the scene ends in a fiery duet where both swear to live and die together in the cause of freedom.
Otello, “Si, pel ciel”, Giuseppe Verdi
Now that Otello is convinced of Desdemona’s guilt, he swears an oath of revenge, and Iago joins him (this is the only recording of Björling in this role)
La bohème, “O Mimì, tu più non torni”, Giacomo Puccini
Rodolfo and his painter friend Marcello try to work, but they can’t stop feeling nostalgic about their girlfriends, Mimì and Musetta, who have left them and found wealthy lovers.
Les pêcheurs de perles, “Au fond du temple saint”, Georges Bizet
The story of The Pearl Fishers revolves around a love triangle between Zurga, the leader of a fishing village (on the coast of Sri Lanka), his old friend Nadir, and the priestess Leïla. On their last adventure, they find themselves at a temple where they see Leïla leading the prayers. Both fall in love with her; but, knowing she could destroy their friendship, they pledge never to let their friendship be threatened again.
You can listen to all five duets below.
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