Jan Neckers on Recently Reissued Historicals: December 2007

Moreover, the conductor is
a good ëroutinierí and thatís all that can be said. Nowadays one
doesnít accept anymore the truncated versions of yore with almost half an
hour of music missing. Still as a memento of three important and fine
American singers or as an alternative to more famous recordings this is a set
not to be despised lightly. Anna Moffo may not be plumbing the tragic depths
of Callas but the voice is sweet and fresh and shimmering with youth. The
coloratura is fine too just before the turning of the B.S Age ( = Before
Sutherland) and the top is strong though the high E at the end of ìSempre
liberaî is clearly the end of the voiceís extension. The scooping which
would mar many of Moffoís later recordings is still absent. One easily
believes (if one shouldnít know the real facts) that here is a young
soprano probably not more than a few years older than Violetta and thus
utterly credible. Mr. Tuckerís sound may be not to everyoneís taste but
he has a strong personal timbre and good top notes (indeed, Previtali allows
him to drown the other singers in the ensemble at the end of act 2). His
Alfredo however relies too much on sheer vocal force. He is not unstylish but
piano and pianissimo are not in his dictionary. Those sounds he clearly
reserved for his many fine recordings of popular love songs (so did Lanza)
which probably tapped something deeper in his musical mind. As always Robert
Merrill is a tower of strength; delivering every line with unfailing beauty
and roundness of sound. And alas, also as always, not a single phrase remains
stuck in oneís memory. One would offer a lot of money nowadays to hear such
a baritone in the house but a bit boring he remains.

Franco Bonisolli: Recital.

Arias from Puccini, Giordano, H‰ndel, Leoncavallo, Cilea, Ponchielli,
Verdi, Donizetti, Massenet, Lehar, Sieczynski.

Myto 1 MCD 066.339

A worthy souvenir of the tenor, warts included. Myto doesnít give us a
date or a place when the recital was recorded. Judging from the sound of the
voice Iíd say between 1983 and 1988. And I donít think Bonisolli would
have sung ìWien, Wien, nur du allein (Vienna, Vienna, you alone)î in
letís say Rome or Madrid. Anyway this is vintage Bonisolli; a singer who
succeeds in leading the listener into ecstasy or rage due to his vocal
strengths or his unmusical sounds. Preferably, all in the same aria. Take
ìE la solita storiaî. Bonisolliís voice exemplary caresses and suits
the dreamlike story until itís time in the second strophe for sobbing,
guffawing and interpolating an ugly high B (listen how Bjˆrling succeeds the
same B without sounding vulgar). The tenor once more charms the listener in
ìCielo e marî until his intonation becomes suspect and he glides in and
out of the right key. ìUn di allíazurriî is at least sung homogenously;
which means everything chopped up, shouted and suiting the tenorís own idea
of rhythm and tempi. And then he surprises us with a fine ìOmbra mai fuî;
brilliantly encores with ìWienî and gives us a magnificent high D in Land
of Smiles. And which other tenor was ever so crazy to end a long evening with
ìDi quella piraî ? The end result therefore is a mixed bag though one has
to admit this was a real voice. Nevertheless Iëve a gut feeling that in the
end Bonisolli knew his timbre was not the most sensuous and realized his top
notes didnít have the cutting edge of that other Franco. Therefore
Bonisolli used some extra musical means to draw attention.

Richard Wagner: Tannh‰user.

Hans Beirer (Tannh‰user), Sena Jurinac (Elisabeth), Martti Talvela
(Landgraf), Janis Martin (Venus), Victor Braun (Wolfram), Jeff Morris
(Walther). Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch.
Recorded live 1967.

Myto 3 CDís 3MCD 062.325

When the Bundesrepublik came back into the fold of peoples and the
Deutsche Mark started soaring due to the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle)
the great prima donnaís started to perform in Germany again. We owe two
important live performances by Renata Tebaldi to this phenomenon. As they
were broadcasted all over Western Europe I watched both of them almost 50
years ago. I was so disillusioned when I discovered Tebaldiís Otello was
not Del Monaco but the unknown tenor Hans Beirer. The gentleman had already
many years of strenuous roles behind the belt but no recording firm had ever
thought of offering him a single record. He was almost completely unknown to
people outside the profession. Not without reason as his voice was second
rate and his sense of Italian style owed more to bawling Siegmund than to
singing Riccardo. Soon afterwards I became a subscriber to Opera Magazine
where his name regularly popped up. I couldnít understand why he was
allowed to sing in a temple as La Scala. Nowadays when we see things in a
more historical perspective reasons for his Scala performances are more easy
to explain. Like all other major European theatres La Scala was slowly
dumping old traditions; one of them singing opera in a language the audience
could understand. This Tannh‰user was one of the first productions to be
sung in the original German (as late as 1974 Jenufa was still performed in
Italian).Another reason for the German version was the fact that no major
Italian tenor could be found to sing the role of Tannh‰user. Gone were the
Wagner-days of Gino Penno, Mario Del Monaco (Lohengrin at La Scala) or
Giuseppe Di Stefano (Rienzi in the same theatre). So Beirer came in and at
first the sound is not a thing of beauty; dry, unattractive timbre,
resemblance with 70year old Rudolf Schock. But at the end of Act 1 the voice
becomes more powerful while he never roars. During the rest of the
performance he has found his Vickers-sound; beefy but with some shine on it.
In short a real pro who absolutely knows how to pace. The same is noticeable
in the long bonus scene from Siegfried recorded at San Carlo two years later
(he was 58). There is not much lustre in his dialogue with Mime but when the
forging song is there, so is the voice. As could be expected Sena Jurinac is
a splendid Elisabeth. With her warm Slavonic sound (half-Italian, half
German; combining the best of two worlds) she succeeds in making Elisabeth
less virgin and more woman. Only at the top of the voice is the sound a bit
frayed as she too was already a veteran of many operatic wars. Janis Martin
is not especially erotic and in her clear light sound one already hears a
soprano struggling to come out. In fact, on record Jurinac sounds more
sensuous than Venus. Martti Talvela is an imposing Landgraf and Victor Braun
delivers an excellent ode to the evening star. He too didnít have much of a
recording career and his big voice easily fills La Scala; at the same time
showing warmth and charm. Sawallisch is sympathetic to his singers, never
rushing them in what is after all a voice-wrecker for the tenor. It comes as
a surprise though that the La Scala chorus sounds rather tame, less incisive
and powerful than usual. Then one remembers that this generation was asked to
sing for the first time in a completely foreign idiom.

Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto.

Margherita Rinaldi (Gilda), Luciano Pavarotti (Duca), Piero Cappuccilli
(Rigoletto), Nicola Zaccaria (Sparafucile), Adriana Lazzarini (Maddalena),
Plinio Clabassi (Monterone). Orchestra and Chorus of the RAI-Torino conducted
by Mario Rossi. Recorded live 1967.

Myto 2CDís 2MCD 064.330

This RAI-performance reminds me of a 1969 performance at De Munt in
Brussels with almost the same cast. Cappuccilli and Rinaldi sang their
Rigoletto and Gilda while Luciano was the duke (Luciano Saldari however was
not a Pavarotti). The singers on this radio-performance are as excellent as
they were in the theatre; filling the recording with well-focused sound and
convincing vocal acting. Still a good evening in the theatre can sometimes
fall a little bit flat when one relives the experience without the visual and
aural surroundings and this is a prime example. Piero Cappuccilli is his
well-known self; letting forth a stream of perfect sound in that brown colour
only the real Italian(ate) baritone possesses. From top to bottom the sound
is rock firm and he has a splendid G at his disposal as proven by the end of
ìSi vendettaî. Iíve seen and heard him countless times and he was
always excellent and yet I think he was the Italian answer to Robert Merrill:
a wonderful voice which rarely moved you (unless he sang his magnificent
Boccanegra) or made you go back to his recordings. Margherita Rinaldi
doesnít put a foot wrong. She had a clear ëvirginalí voice easily
sailing to a D without the sharper edge of lesser Italian sopranos in this
repertoire. Of course Myto gambles on Luciano Pavarottiís appearance in the
cast. He studied the role with Tullio Serafin, a real singerís conductor
who nevertheless according to Philip Gossettís book on performance
tradition, didnít have much feeling or interest in historical belcanto.
Pavarotti is splendid. He had been singing for six years and the overtones of
a young and fresh voice are still there while the vocal technique is now very
secure (the one chink in his vocal armour is his lack of a true piano). But
Maestro Rossi is a Verdi-conductor in the Serafin-tradition: well-chosen
tempi but no interest in the original score and preferring the provincial
traditions. By 1967 all recorded Rigolettoís already had the Dukeís
cabaletta which is completely cut here. And singers already knew that
ìParmi veder le lagrimeî and the duet ì E il solî had important
cadenzas. None of it can be heard here though the tenor recorded them
officially only a few years later. The rest of the cast is interesting.
Plinio Clabassi (the former Mr. Rina Gigli) can still curse impressively as
Monterone but his colleague Nicola Zaccaria is dull as Sparafucile. And that
not everything Italian was gold is proven by Adriana Lazzarini. Several times
I experienced her performances myself while visiting Italy and the hollow
sound on this recording is exact as I remember her.

Vincenzo Bellini: I Puritani.

Virginia Zeani (Elvira), Mario Filippeschi (Arturo), Andrea Mongelli
(Giorgio), Aldo Protti (Riccardo), Vito Susca (Gualtiero). Orchestra and
Chorus of The Teatro Verdi Trieste conducted by Francesco Molinari Pradelli.
Recorded live 1957.

Bongiovanni 2 CDís GB1195/96

As alternatives to official recordings go, this is one that can be
recommended. The radio sound was not state of the art, even at the time, but
it is the orchestra that suffers most. And the singers, all used to a healthy
dose of Verdi and Puccini, will probably not earn kudos by Philip Gossett for
their immaculate belcanto style. But voice and voice and voice again we get
in generous doses. Best of all is Virginia Zeani of course. Together with
Olivero and Gencer she may thank pirates for helping her name into the
pantheon of sopranos. The fifties were her great years and what a shame she
didnít get more official recordings. From the first measure on one listens
spellbound to the magnificent Rumanian. She may not be the great vocal
actress Callas was but neither has she the sour sounds the American soprano
made, even in her good days. Zeaniís voice is personal, throbbing with
emotion and utterly fearless in the high register. Whenever possible and
preferably at the end of an ensemble she takes the higher option and sends
the audience into a delirium. As a coloratura she is no Sutherland as she was
not raised in classical belcanto with its ornamentations but her involvement
is so much greater than the Australian and she knows how to float her voice
without becoming sugary. Indeed, it seems to me that Zeani combines the best
of Sutherland and Callas. Enter Mario Filippeschi; known from his Pollione
with Callas when not in his best voice (his recitals on Bongiovanni culled
from live performances are far better). The voice is a bit unyielding,
lacking suppleness for Bellini and has a slightly whining quality. One should
not expect subtleties or even a great singing technique. There is no messa di
voce as on the legendary ìA te o caraîrecordings by Alessandro Bonci and
Giacomo Lauri-Volpi. But if you like your tenors to have metal, even pure
steel, and squillo and stamina in the voice this is the man to go for. The
top notes are splendid and he is breathtakingly efficient when during
ìVieniî he sails together with Zeani to a stunning high D (he was 50).
Another veteran is Bass-baritone Andrea Mongelli. He too was a popular house
singer throughout Italy though almost unknown elsewhere. He saved the
recording of the early EMI-Fanciulla when he stepped in at the last moment
for Tito Gobbi. His Riccardo is authorative and warm and the voice sounds
homogenous from low to high in this bass-baritone role. Aldo Protti too,
another big voice, is not the first baritone one thinks of in this
repertoire. He is used to big outbursts of sound and though his emission is
very easy one feels his phrasing is a little bit stiff. But he has reserves
of power and typically for the time a fearless top. He easily takes the high
G in his cabaletta (one verse only) and one hears he still has a few notes in
reserve. Therefore when Mongelli and Protti meet in their big duets, all
stops go out and the house almost becomes hysterical. One doesnít associate
Francesco Molinari Pradelli with Bellini and his is not the most subtle
reading. He is nearer to Un Ballo or Trovatore than to Bellini but how could
he otherwise with such powerhouses of voices in front of him ? This Puritani
is a worthy testimony to a gone tradition, though not for Bellini puritans.
It may not be fare for every day. But Iím sure we would screech our heads
off if we would get a performance like this one now and then.

Gaetano Donizetti: Lucia di Lammermoor

Renata Scotto (Lucia), Carlo Bergonzi (Edgardo), Mario Zanasi (Enrico),
Plinio Clabassi (Raimondo), Mirella Fiorentini (Alisa). Orchestra and Chorus
of NHK conducted by Bruno Bartoletti. Recorded live Tokyo 1967.

Myto 2 MCD 065.337

This recording is an issue only for those who collect every CD with the
names of Scotto or Bergonzi on it. Is this a bad performance ? Far from it
but as NHK broadcasted it on Japanese TV there is a (rather expensive) DVD
available. So one can watch one of the four existing complete live
performances by one of the greatest tenors of the post-war period (the other
three being Aida, Elisir and Ballo while up to now nobody has ever thought of
extracting his 1968 RAI-TV Inno delle Nazione from the vaults). Such a rare
live visual document of tenor and soprano makes one more tolerant of the two
barbarous cuts; the Lucia-Raimondi and the Edgardo-Enrico duets which when
absent on record are unpardonable sins. Bergonzi himself had recorded only a
few years earlier (with Moffo-Sereni) a really complete Lucia but he was
notoriously sticking to Italian provincial habits. He was always rambling
about ìour great Verdiî when a producer didnít stick to utterly
conventional productions but the scores of that same ìgreat Verdiî
didnít mean much to him when he could cut corners. In 1966 he was almost
threatened with murder during a Dallas Rigoletto and he nevertheless refused
to sing even a single verse of ìPossente amorî; a cabaletta he had
recorded for DG. Therefore Iíd advise anyone to buy the DVD or the complete
RCAset. Not that this Tokyo-perfrmance is inferior. The tenor sings with his
usual ardour and feeling for the line. Of course in a live performance, the
small sobs are a little bit more pronounced but his final scene, as always
during the sixties, is a ëtour de forceí; an object lesson in belcanto
which every student should student for beauty of tone and exemplary
breathing. The bonus gives us some highlights from his first Werther in
Naples in 1969, sung in Italian. Bergonzi, an autodidact and one to leave
school too early, never learned another language than Italian and thus we are
deprived of some possible great performances of French opera. Nevertheless
Werther was one of the few roles (together with a Don JosÈ who is still
missing) he studied in the original language 4 years later. It is a pity Myto
didnít use that far more rare interpretation than the Naples one which has
already appeared on other labels.

Yes, I know the opera is called Lucia but Renata Scotto was never in the
same league as the tenor. She officially recorded the role in 1959 for the
short lived label of Ricordi (with Di Stefano-Bastianini). This is one of the
five or six live-recordings available, almost all of them better than the
early official recording. The voice grew and got more tragic undertones; the
phrasing became more interesting (owing a lot to Callas). Still she never
succeeded in overcoming completely one natural handicap. There is something
acid in her voice; a sharp edge which makes some listeners uncomfortable. It
is the sound non-operatic people always imitate to ridicule an operatic
soprano. Granted, as I witnessed myself often during her prime, it was less
obtrusive in the flesh but absent it never was. It is not very noticeable
here in ìRegnava nel silenzioî but as the performance continues it slowly
makes its appearance. Her coloratura in the madness scene is fine though one
nevertheless has more an impression of hard work than of natural talent. She
remains a lirico with coloratura facility lacking however the easy top. The C
in ìIl dolce suoneoî is short and slightly flat and so is the E in
ìSpargi díamore piantoî which ends in a small cry.

Baritone Mario Zanasi clearly thinks of Enrico as a kind of Amonasro. The
voice is excellent but the style is more than rough and ready. Singing to the
baritone means clearly to cling as long as possible to any high note on his
road. This is a one dimensional portrait of a villain in which there is no
place for mellowness, pity for the fate of his sister and remorse during the
madness scene. I suppose Plinio Clabassi still had it in him to be a good
Raimondi but as his big scene is cut there is not much to comment on. Angela
Marchiandi however is one of the most wretched Arturos to be found on record.
The singers conduct well and Bruno Bartoletti follows them nice and dry.
Mitigating circumstances are that he has to work with an orchestra not well
versed in this repertoire while his Japanese chorus is underpowered.

Jan Neckers

image_description=Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata
product_by=Anna Moffo (Violetta), Richard Tucker (Alfredo), Robert Merrill (Germont). Rome Opera Orchestra and Chorus condcuted by Fernando Previtali. Recorded 1960
product_id=RCA (Sony BMG) SKU: B000G759LC [2 Hybrid SACDs]