Romanian Herlea (1927), was actually born Herle, and had one of my favourite operatic voices. He began his studies in Bucharest, and was soon invited to Rome, to study with Giorgio Favarett. As a young singer, he won competitions in Prague , Geneva, and Brussels. He returned to Bucharest, to become the leading baritone of the city’s opera house. His roles encompassed all of the Italian repertoire.
In those days, it was not easy to go beyond the iron curtain, but his voice was so magnificent that he was courted by alla Scala, Barcelona, Covent Garden, Vienna, Berlin, Salzburg, Paris, and of course Moscow. He was a member of the MET roster for three years.
His characterizations were never of great insight, but is voice was velvety, plangeant, powerful, gleaming, and endearing all at once. He also had both wonderful legato (for Verdi) and fleeting coloratura (for Barbiere, which he performed over 550 times).
Here he is as Rossini’s Figaro:
Herlea recorded quite a bit; virtually the entire Italian canon. However, with a few exceptions (notably a Traviata with Virginia Zeani) most of his studio recordings were on the Electrecord label, which (while none of the recordings are entirely weak) was unable to recruit singers of his calibre. Many of his recordings have been re-released on budget labels.
Listen to his electrifying Rigoletto:
Unfortuanately, Herlea never sang with Callas. A Tosca, was planned, but Callas withdrew, and Herlea’s Scarpia was partnered by Caballe’s (worthy) Tosca. But what a partnership Callas-Herlea would have been!