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The Gigli Edition: Volume 6 - New York Recordings (1929-30)
Beniamino Gigli (tenor)
Recorded in Liederkranz Hall New York and RCA Victor Studio New York in January 1929 and December 1929; December 1930
Accompanied by the ‘Victor Orchestra’. Cond. Bruno Reibold (trs. 1-2) and, Rosario Bourdon (trs. 3-17)
Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110267 [66.51]


Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812-1883)

Martha, M’appari
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)

La Gioconda, Cielo e mar!
Georges BIZET (1838-1870)

Les Pecheurs de perles, Je crois entendre encore (sung in Italian)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1868)

L’Elisir d’amore, Una furtiva lagrima
SEISMIT-DODA Notte lunare
Luigi DENZA (1846-1922) Se Occhi di fata
Stanislao GASTALDON (1861-1939) Musica probita
Ernesto DE CURTIS (1875-1937) Carmela.
KREISLER Vecchio ritornello
Emanuele NUTILE (1862-1932) Mamma mia, che vo’ sape
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

I Lombardi, Oh non piu dinanzi al cielo
Attila, Te sol quest’ anima



Caruso’s abrupt departure from the New York Met at the end of 1920 left a massive gap in their tenor array. The great man had opened every season except one since 1903. Gigli (1890-1957) was one of several tenors available to fill the gap. His performance as Andrea Chenier on March 7th 1921 was rapturously received and convinced Gatti Casazza, the General Manager, that Gigli was Caruso’s natural successor. Consequently he was chosen to open the 1921-1922 season later that year and installed as premier tenor on the house roster.

Following his injury from falling scenery the week before, Caruso had haemorrhaged whilst singing Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore on 11th December 1920 and had been unable to complete the performance. Although the role of Nemorino was ideally suited to Gigli’s voice and stage persona, the superstitious Gatti Casazza didn’t schedule the opera again until 1930 when Gigli enjoyed the expected considerable success. He recorded the aria Una furtiva lagrima on the second of a two-day session on December 19th 1929. In the sleeve note William Ashbrook extols Gigli’s singing of the aria (tr. 7). On the contrary, I find Gigli’s tone unusually heavy and somewhat throaty as I do the following Se by Denza recorded at the same session (tr. 8). The long-breathed elegant phrasing, honeyed mezza voce and well supported lyric tone I expected in Una furtiva lagrima are found in Ponchielli’s Cielo e mar recorded the day before (tr. 4). In the halcyon recording days of the 1930s it wasn’t unusual for a star tenor to fit in appearances on the stage of a major opera house during weeks when he was also in the recording studio. I don’t know if Gigli had sung a recital or a performance on the night of the first of those two days, was cooking a virus, or was just out of sorts. I wonder whether Graeme Kay in his ‘Beniamino Gigli, A Life in Words and Music’, feels the same. He chooses Gigli’s singing of the aria Quanto e Bello from L’Elisir to illustrate his narrative of the 1930 performances (CD 2. trs. 20 and 21 of that issue). (LINK to my review).

Elsewhere on this disc Gigli’s singing of M’appari (tr. 3) is particularly fine. Also exemplary are his Musica probita (tr. 9) and Carmela (tr.10). These are among several Italian and Neapolitan songs that featured regularly in his recital concerts and where his diction and play with the words of his native language is a delight. The two Verdi trios constitute unusual repertoire for the record buying public of the time. Gigli had sung the trio Oh non piu dinanzi al cielo from I Lombardi in several of the Met Sunday night concerts that were a feature of the theatre at that period. In this trio (tr. 14 and alternative take tr. 15) Gigli shows himself an ideal Verdi stylist with open-throated expressive singing. Of equal interest is the sonorous tone of the young Ezio Pinza who matches Gigli with well-characterised expressive singing. Pinza finds no trouble with the higher tessitura of the baritone role of Forresto in the Atilla trio Te sol quest’ anima (trs. 16 and 17). Rethberg is a little light of tone for these early Verdi extracts, but she and Gigli hit a fine high B in unison at the end of the I Lombardi trio.

Although he was not to know it Gigli’s career at the Met was drawing to an acrimonious close. It was to be propitious that he made his belated Covent Garden debut in 1930, a period when he was at the height of his vocal powers. Apart from my minor reservations about Una furtiva lagrima, this excellent CD remastering by Mark Obert-Thorn provides an ideal opportunity to hear Gigli in his golden vocal period. Strongly recommended.

Robert J Farr

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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