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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)
Love Duets
La Boheme
O soave fanciulla [4.16]; O Mimi tu piu non torni [4.33]; Sono andati? [6.10]
Victoria de los Angeles (soprano), Jussi Björling (tenor), Robert Merrill (baritone)
Madama Butterfly
Love Duet [13.43]; Flower Duet [12.39]
Renata Tebaldi (soprano), Nell Rankin (mezzo), Giuseppe Campora (tenor)
Mario Mario [12.26]
Ah! Franchigia Floria Tosca [9.39]
Maria Callas (soprano), Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor)
Manon Lescaut
Tu, tu amore? [7.33]
Licia Albanese (soprano), Jussi Björling
Del primo pianto [8.13]
Inge Borkh (soprano), Maria Del Monaco (tenor)
RCA Victor Orchestra/Sir Thomas Beecham (Boheme) rec. 1956
Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Rome/Alberto Erede (Butterfly, Turandot) rec. 1950/55
Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Victor de Sabata (Tosca) rec. 1953
Orchestra of Rome Opera/Jonel Perlea (Manon) rec. 1954
ALTO ALC1009 [79.20]

With the elapsing of copyright on 1950s recordings, many people are looking at various ways re-issuing them. At best, this means that some recordings have now become available in budget transfers which are of excellent quality. Musical Concepts is one of these, issuing an interesting mix of re-mastered recordings. Their new releases page covers such items as Handel’s Judas Maccabeus, Sibelius’s complete piano music, a Viennese Festive mass of 1648 sung by the Yorkshire Bach Choir and Puccini’s Manon Lescaut with Albanese.
This latter recording features on another new disc, this time billed as Puccini Love Duets. In fact the duets included are not all love duets; Puccini didn’t really write that many; he seemed to be more interested in problematic relationships. But what we have is an attractive selection of duets from 1950s recordings, some of which can rightly be considered classics.
The first three tracks come from the classic 1956 recording of La Boheme conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham, with Victoria de los Angeles, Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill. With an English conductor, Spanish soprano, Swedish tenor and American baritone, this was an unlikely candidate for classic recording, but classic it has remained.
Here, we get O soave fanciulla, Mimi and Rodolfo’s first duet, O Mimi tu piu non torni, the final act duet between Rodolfo and Marcello, and Sono andati, Mimi and Rodolfo’s final duet. The first thing that has to be said is that I find the sound of these transfers a little hard. I have heard other transfers which are far kinder to de los Angeles’s voice, particularly at the end of the first duet with its magical ending where the lovers walk off, Mimi singing her top C with the other students in the background. Here it comes over as a little less than magical, but it is to be hoped that most listeners will have a transfer of the full recording in the library somewhere.
The disc is very well filled (79 minutes) which might explain why Sono andati does not run on to the end of the act but it does seem strange to finish without actually hearing Mimi’s death scene, lovely though the actual duet is.
The next three tracks are from Madama Butterfly, taken from Tebaldi’s 1950 recording with Alberto Erede. Tebaldi went on to record the opera again, with Serafin conducting and with Bergonzi as Pinkerton. This latter recording is definitely the one to go for if you want Tebaldi as Butterfly. Here Giuseppe Campora makes a decent Pinkerton in the Love duet, but you can’t disguise the fact that Tebaldi is not a lyric soprano. Her Love Duet is far too dramatically voiced for my taste, also the transfer again makes her upper register seem a little hard. The second duet is the Flower Duet, not strictly a love duet as it takes place between Butterfly and Nell Rankin’s Suzuki. Here both singers achieve a delicately attractive scaling down of resources and both duets are given in substantial excerpts (13 minutes and 12 minutes respectively).
Next comes Tosca, so of course we go for the classic 1953 de Sabata recording with Callas and di Stefano. We get the Act 1 and Act 3 duets, beautifully done. These recordings are so well know that there seems to be little to say.
Tu, tu amore comes from the 1954 complete recording of Manon Lescaut made by Licia Albanese with Jussi Björling, conducted by Jonel Perlea. Albanese makes a fragile sounding Manon, but there is no getting away from the fact that she was getting older and she is sometimes unsteady and lacks power in the lower register. Björling makes a fine Des Grieux even if one is aware that the role could be a little heavy for him.
Finally we get the closing moments of Turandot, with Inge Borkh as an attractive Turandot with a fine, focused voice with quite a hint of steel. Even so she manages to melt at the requisite moments. As her Calaf, Mario del Monaco is unsubtle and belts rather, but he has all the notes and a fine ringing voice. And this excerpt does go to the end of the act.
Many people will have complete versions of some of the recordings on this disc, but Alto has produced an attractive and well-filled disc which makes for good listening. It would be ideal for someone just beginning to explore Puccini’s music. But also of interest to a collector who does not possess these recordings in their library.
Robert Hugill


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