This disc is one of the first twenty, issued on the
Decca label, under the generic title ‘The Singers’. The series,
with another thirty in preparation, claims to present the artistry of
the greatest singers from first century of recording. The selection
of these first releases was made by the late John Ardoin and is somewhat
idiosyncratic in its choice of tracks from amongst the rich treasuries
of DG, Philips and Decca. More significantly, these discs are more than
merely sonic CDs but are enhanced for those with CD-ROM facility, to
include photo gallery, biographies and texts. If you lack a suitable
PC you get a booklet with brief essay and track listing, the latter
minus such basic information as to operatic character singing the aria!
The presentation aims to be different and unique, being a cardboard
case within a plastic slip case emblazoned ‘The Singers’
Born in 1915, Del Monaco’s career was interrupted
by the war after which it accelerated rapidly, culminating in his La
Scala debut as Andrea Chénier alongside Renata Tebaldi.
His virile, open-throated, powerful singing was matched by his stage
acting, and he became a favourite at both La Scala and new York’s Met
throughout the 1950s. He was signed up by Decca and during that decade
made many opera recordings often alongside Tebaldi. But what thrills
in a theatre doesn’t necessarily transfer to disc. What you don’t get
with del Monaco is elegance of phrasing, soft singing or vocal characterisation.
These facets of singing are much missed when it comes to repeated listening
and particularly when the stentorian tone becomes wearing.
In this ‘The Singers’ issue, del Monaco is heard at
his best in the heroic roles of Chénier (tk 1), Pollione
(tk 5) and particularly as Otello (tk 8) which he claimed to
have sung over 400 times. Perhaps the contradiction I find in del Monaco’s
singing is exemplified in the aria from Verdi’s Ballo in Maschera
(tk 7), where he starts with a good line and tenor tone, but ends all
power and no elegance.
As to the Wagner extracts, yes, he could have made
a fine heldentenor, but he would first have had to learn the style of
that fach, as Domingo has attempted. As it is, these extracts (tks 10-13)
would have been better left in the vaults as would his efforts with
Bizet’s Agnus dei, Panis Angelicus, Musica probita, and Tonight
from West Side Story. The repertoire choices on this disc are
highly idiosyncratic: the singer is better served on the Grandi voci
issue (Decca 440 407-2). The booklet essay is bland.
Robert J Farr