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Caruso Great Opera Arias
Giacomo PUCCINI
(1858-1924) Recondita Armonia; E lucevan le stelle (Tosca); Che gelida manina (La Bohème); Donna non vidi mai (Manon Lescaut)
Giuseppe VERDI
(1813-1901) Ora per sempre addio (Otello); O tu che in seno agl’ angeli (La forza del destino); Questa e quella; Ella mi fu rapita (Rigoletto)
Umberto GIORDANO
(1867-1948) Amor ti vieta (Fedora) Un di all’ azurro spazio (Andrea Chenier) Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1857-1919) No! Pagliaccio non son (I Pagliacci) Mattinata; Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Salut, demeure chaste et pure (Faust); Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) Una furtiva lagrima (L’Elisir d’amore);Georges BIZET (1838-1875) La fleur que tu m’avais jetée (Carmen)
Arrigo BOITO
(1842-1918) Dai campi, dai prate (Mefistofele)
Enrico Caruso (tenor)
Austrian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gottfried Rabl
Vocals recorded 1902-1913 in Milan, Camden and New York; orchestra recorded in Vienna, April 2002 AAD/DDD
BMG CLASSICS 74321 98651 2 [56’07]

All Caruso fans, or indeed all lovers of great singing, will be familiar with the much-released items on this disc. What will make them do a double take (as I did) will be the heading ‘Caruso – The Digital Recordings’. It is in fact part of a series from BMG that aims to try and give us the famous tenor in ‘modern sound’. Many companies have tried their own various tactics to present the great singer in more acceptable sound, probably the most successful being Nimbus, whose ‘Prima Voce’ series cleaned up the crackle of many old recordings without too much technological intervention.

Where this differs is that BMG have actually separated the voice from the original accompaniments, and having filtered out the old orchestra or piano, have re-recorded an exact duplicate with a modern orchestra. The result is very odd at first, and the overall success is patchy, but at its best it is quite an amazing listening experience.

It has to be said straight away that the oldest recordings, dating from way back in 1902 (thus being some of the very earliest examples of primitive recorded sound) work least well. The opening item Amor ti vieta, famous for having the composer at the piano, has obviously given the engineers some problems. Filtering out the original piano must have been more difficult than the orchestra, and the wonderfully full, modern-sounding introduction is completely at odds with the distant, ‘doctored’ sound of the voice. Those collectors familiar with the original will recognise the same lustrous quality to the voice (he was in his prime here, which makes it more of a pity) but the two simply don’t go together. This is basically true of all the items from those earliest masters, which go from 1902 through to 1907, over half the disc,

Things improve dramatically when we get to recordings made from 1910 (Pagliacci and Otello) and there are two which take your breath away from 1913 (Rigoletto and Manon Lescaut). Recording techniques had obviously come on in leaps and bounds in the following decade, and these arias (all from Camden or New York sessions) show the voice still in its prime, but with tremendous presence and clarity. In fact, here the orchestra and singer go together so well that you could fool some people into thinking this was newly discovered material! Credit here must go to Gottfried Rabl and his excellent Vienna forces, who have to follow every quirk of phrasing, every shift in tempo and all the famous flexible rubato that were part of the singer’s tradition. The gear changes in Canio’s aria from Pagliacci put them on their mettle, and the result has wonderful panache and a real sense of unbuttoned verismo. The dark baritonal tones of Caruso’s Otello make one long to hear a complete rendition, and here the modern sounding orchestral backing really is a plus. He performs the Duke’s arias from Rigoletto with a superb sense of stylish swagger, the head voice rising thrillingly to the high b flat towards the end of Ella mi fu rapita. Best of all is Des Grieux’s gloriously youthful love song to Manon Lescaut Donna non vidi mai. Here we have a performing tradition again directly relating to the composer, with an almost improvisatory abandon and free-floating stream of Italianate lyricism that is not easily forgotten.

It’s difficult to really mention recording quality in this context, but the orchestral contribution is certainly first-rate, and whether you warm to this admittedly rather gimmicky idea will be personal. No texts are included, but the booklet note fills the listener in on Caruso’s legacy and this particular recording venture. As I find myself playing those few tracks time and again, I would have to conclude that this really is worth investigating, even for curiosity value. And that voice…..

Tony Haywood



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