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Tito Gobbi operas arias, rec. 1942-53.

Tito Gobbi
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)

Don Giovanni:
1. Deh vieni alla finestra [2:12]
Le nozze di Figaro:
2. Non più andrai [3:38]
3. Aprite un po’ [2:51]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792–1868)

Il barbiere di Siviglia:
4. Largo al factotum [4:54]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797–1848)

L’Elisir d’amore:
5. La donna è un animale … Venti scudi! [7:34]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813–1901)

Don Carlos:
6. Convien … Per me giunto [3:46]
7. O Carlo ascolta … Io morrò [4:12]
8. Vanne … Credo in un Dio crudel [4:26]
9. Era la notte [2:56]
La forza del destino:
10. Urna fatale [3:37]
La traviata:
11. Di Provenza il mar [4:49]
12. Pari siamo! [4:12]
Un ballo in maschera:
13. Alzati ... Eri tu [7:16]
Ruggiero LEONCAVALLO (1858–1919)

14. Buona Zazà del mio buon tempo [2:05]
15. Zazà, piccolo zingara [2:38]
16. Si può (Prologue) [7:58]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858–1924)

La fanciulla del West:
17. Minnie, dalla mia casa [2:48]
Francesco CILEA (1866–1950)

18. Come due tizzi accesi [4:07]
Tito Gobbi (baritone)
Nicola Monti (tenor)(5); La Scala Orchestra/Umberto Berrettoni (1, 6, 7, 14, 15, 17, 18); Philharmonia Orchestra/James Robertson (2, 3, 8, 10); Orchestra/Alberto Erede (4, 9, 16); Rome Opera Orchestra/Gabriele Santini (5); Philharmonia Orchestra/Walter Susskind (11, 12); London Symphony Orchestra/Warwick Braithwaite
rec. July 1942 (1, 6, 7, 14, 15, 17, 18); 2 February 1948 (4, 9, 16); 14 March 1950 (2, 3, 8, 10); 24 September 1950 (11, 12); 30 September 1950 (13); June 1953 (5)

Some singers impress through large voices with thundering fortissimos and brilliant top notes, others with the extreme beauty and seamless legato. There’s a third category with less than first class voices but instead deep musicality and the ability to make the music – and the texts! – come alive. Tito Gobbi definitely belongs to this third category. His was not a particularly big instrument. At climaxes his voice did not expand effortlessly to that all-embracing sound that made for example Leonard Warren or Ettore Bastianini so impressive. Instead one hears how the voice strains and loses quality and the uppermost notes tend to become constricted, sometimes verging on ugliness. This can even be heard on his earliest recordings from 1942 when he was not yet 30. For this reason I could make a long list of baritones from roughly Gobbi’s time and up to the present day that were/are his superiors when it comes to vocal brilliance. I won’t list them but I think anyone with some experience of listening to opera and song recordings from the last 65 years or so will be able to make a similar list. Whereas many of these other baritones have already fallen more or less into oblivion or will do in the future, I am sure that Gobbi will always remain alive through his recordings – even when there is no one left who has heard him in the flesh.

Listening through the five quarter hours of music on this disc, recorded when he was still young or at the most early middle-aged, one hears evidence en masse that here is/was a great interpreter of music, not just a singer. Of course it is unfair to under-estimate his qualities as a singer. The Don Giovanni serenade, The Don Carlo arias, Iago’s Era la notte and Germont’s Provence aria from La traviata are all masterly examples of great singing with smooth, well equalized and extremely beautiful tone and exquisite phrasing. The Traviata aria in particular is psychologically superb: when faced with Alfredo’s anger and despair and realizing that Violetta has left him for another, Germont normally – on stage as well as on records – sings his aria as a feature number, directed towards the 1500 people in the audience. Gobbi’s Germont is confident: he puts his arm around Alfredo’s shoulder, doesn’t raise his voice but talks soothingly about the beauty of the landscape in Provence to cool his son’s temper. But here, as well as in the other arias mentioned, he stays mainly within a dynamic range from pianissimo to mezzo forte: the scope of a very lyrical Lieder singer. In more dramatic and expressive arias, where he also incorporates nuances from forte to fortissimo the tone loses some of its attraction. This matters little for listeners who are after the truth behind the music and the texts. Evil, anger, despair, contempt, defiance is seldom represented with honeyed voice and expressionless features. What makes Gobbi stand out is his ‘oral face’; it is easy to imagine what he looks like when impersonating Iago.

His Figaro – both Mozart’s and Rossini’s – is a lively and good humoured character. Listening to his three arias (tr. 2-4) one instinctively sees his warm personality – though spiced with both irony and calculation. Iago’s Credo is a masterly portrait of malice, even morbidity. Gobbi sings, or so it sounds, through the corner of his mouth. A chilling experience. His Rigoletto is tortured and suffering, his Renato in Un ballo in maschera is venomous but reveals so many mixed feelings in an unusually nuanced portrait. Tonio’s prologue from Pagliacci is one of the most grateful scenes for a dramatic baritone and few latter day baritones have managed to be so expressive. Simon Keenlyside on last year’s Gramophone awarded recital is perhaps the one who has come closest. Surrounding the prologue are a handful of relative rarities. The Fanciulla and L’Arlesiana arias are expertly sung but it was the two Zazà arias that really caught my attention. His vocal qualities include the perfect legato – but his fortes were pinched even in 1942. Musically these arias are notably fine. These and a couple of others from this opera suggest that it would be well worth reviving once in a while.

Tito Gobbi went on to make complete recordings of many of the roles represented here (Barbiere, Don Carlos, Otello, Traviata, Rigoletto, Ballo and Pagliacci), and they are indispensable. It is however great to have these arias recorded when he was at his freshest vocally and already deeply inside the characters.

The transfers of the original 78 rpms are excellent and one can admire the young Alberto Erede’s vivid handling of the orchestral introduction to Pagliacci. Alan Bilgora’s liner notes are highly readable and are complemented by an extensive bibliography.

As with other recent issues in the "Prima Voce" series this disc should be an obligatory purchase for anyone seriously interested in great singing.

Göran Forsling




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