the back cover of the CD case, James Murray writes: ‘In his
heyday Giuseppe Di Stefano quite simply possessed the most beautiful
tenor voice on the planet.’
Di Stefano’s reputation, and after the experience of listening
to this operatic recital disc, I am inclined to agree. The recordings
are all taken from the later 1940s and the early 1950s, when
the singer was in his prime. They come from a variety of sources,
including complete opera performances in which other artists
the performances are special, the recordings are more mixed.
But that was the nature of recordings during the period in question.
Some are decidedly scratchy, for example the opening Puccini
items from Tosca, but the vibrancy of the performances is ample
compensation. Of more concern is the balance in perspective
between voice and orchestra, which tends to put the voice very
much to the front with the orchestra somewhere behind: exactly
where varies from one example to the next. While Di Stefano’s
voice is special, it would be better heard in a perspective
that the composers intended.
chosen repertoire, of course, is the repertoire Di Stefano made
his own: Puccini, Donizetti, Verdi, Mascagni, with a dash of
French opera thrown in from Thomas and Massenet. And the programme
is completed by a group of Neapolitan songs which, if anything,
are most enjoyable of all.
about the collected artists is fully listed, but alas there
is little about the recordings except their year; there are
no dates or venues. On the other hand, the accompanying documentation
is well above average, since the booklet includes a perceptive
essay about Di Stefano (b. 1921), written by James Murray, and
short but useful programme notes on the various musical items.
Recital discs seldom fare so well as this in terms of documentation.
the age of the recordings requires a degree of tolerance on
the part of the listener, the vibrancy of the performances and
the imaginative choice of repertoire combine to make this disc
an appealing proposition. There are highlights galore. The Neapolitan
songs, including O sole mio, are magnificent, Che gelida manina
(La Bohème) is particularly fine if very centre-stage. And among
the less familiar items, the aria from Act III of Massenet’s
Manon is impressive enough to make anyone go out and seek a
recording of the complete opera.