fifty years these three recordings have been regarded as the
versions of Il trittico.
on 14 December 1918 at the Metropolitan the three one-acters
didn’t exactly conquer the operatic world in a single stride.
They have however been fairly regularly performed. Gianni
is probably the most frequently seen. Today
they are firmly established as standard works. On gramophone
they have had a somewhat chequered history.
EMI Classics recordings had the market more or less top themselves
from the beginning. Then came Decca’s set in the early 1960s,
conducted by the reliable Lamberto Gardelli and with Renata
Tebaldi in all three female leads. Sonically Decca outdid
EMI – only Gianni Schicchi
was in stereo. They still
sound excellent, which was confirmed when I last year bought
the budget-price box with nine Puccini operas from the 1950s
and early 1960s – all of them with Tebaldi.
many other respects they are also worth owning. Like the
EMI set they were recorded in Italy, with the Orchestra and
Chorus of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and with Italian
singers in all the roles. The exception is Robert Merrill
who sings Michele in Il tabarro.
who sings the all-important title role in Gianni Schicchi
was born in Geneva in Switzerland to an Italian mother and
a Turkish father. Thus he was at least half-Italian. He is
regarded as perhaps the greatest buffo bass in the Italian
repertoire since the war. He adorned many opera recordings
in the 1950s and 1960s, often singing cleverly worked-out
comic comprimario roles. There were also serious roles like
Il Re in Aida
and Rodolfo in La sonnambula
Gianni Schicchi was a dream role for a man with his capacity
and he never misses a point – not once. At times he adds
a point or two and his general style is larger-than-life.
I really don’t mind. However Tito Gobbi’s leaner voice and
more sophisticated approach may be more in line with what
Puccini expected. Both singers are masterly in their use
of the words and they sing with obvious face. In the other
heavy baritone role, Michele in Il tabarro
is up against Robert Merrill, possessor of one of the most
beautiful voices of his or any time. Besides that he was
also a powerful actor. For sheer vocalism Merrill is without
peer but this is also an important character role and even
though Merrill wrings every drop of intensity out of the
music his is a more generalized reading. Gobbi, on the other
hand, creates a deeper character with more individuality.
In the tenor department Giacinto Prandelli is a well behaved
Luigi on the EMI set. He is maybe not as sappy as on some
other recordings of the period – his Rodolfo a few years
earlier against Renata Tebaldi is probably his best assumption
on record. Decca has Mario Del Monaco in the role and where
Prandelli is a bit strained at climaxes Del Monaco is totally
uninhibited. The price you pay is in his reading being rather
devoid of nuance. Decca has Tebaldi as Giorgetta. Hers was
the epitome of a beautiful grand Italian lirico spinto voice.
She has all the necessary power. The French soprano Margaret
Mas, whose only complete recording this seems to have been,
is nowhere near her in vocal excellence but scores in a higher
degree of dramatic involvement.
Rinuccio is sung by the Catalan tenor Carlo
Del Monte, who at about the same time was an auspicious
Alfredo opposite Victoria de los Angeles in La traviata
He has a fine voice but to my mind he goes over the top.
In this role I prefer Decca’s Agostino Lazzari. His is
a smaller, more lyrical and brighter voice. The main attraction
of Gianni Schicchi
, by the side of Gobbi, is Victoria
de los Angeles as Schicchi’s daughter. I can’t imagine
a lovelier Lauretta and O mio babbino caro
never been surpassed … and definitely not by Tebaldi on
the Decca set. Much though I admired her during the last
45 years she was not the girlish type – which los Angeles
could be. Even though she pours out golden tone it is the
frailer sound of Victoria de los Angeles that stays in
frailty also characterizes her Suor Angelica. She is truly
angelic throughout the opera – angelic and human. This sounds
like a contradiction in terms but is the only possible way
of describing her singing. Again Tebaldi has to be ranked
second best, but anyone being second best after Victoria
de los Angeles is still a marvellous singer. The Princess
is powerfully sung by Fedora Barbieri. Choosing between her
and her Decca counterpart Giulietta Simionato is like choosing
between apples and pears. They are different but excellent
- the two supreme Italian mezzo-sopranos of the day. Fiorenza
Cossotto was still at the outset of her career when the EMI
set was recorded. In the role of Suor Genovieffa we hear
the bright and vivid tones of Lidia Marimpietri, who makes
this character stand out.
should be said that the many comprimario roles in all three
operas are generally well cast. Tullio Serafin conducts Suor
with loving care. Gianni Schicchi
theatrical flair and more vivid sound than the previous operas.
EMI are consistently discarding librettos in their booklets
and they leave it to the customers to download them or print
the pdf files that are available on CD 1.
are several other sets of Il trittico
more modern recordings. I haven’t heard them all and have
concentrated on the two vintage sets discussed above. Good
and reliable though the Decca set is I find that the readings
of Tito Gobbi and Victoria de los Angeles tips the balance
in EMI’s favour. This is still the