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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924)
Turandot: Lyric Drama in 3 Acts (1924)
Libretto by Giuseppe Adami and Renato Simoni, after Gozzi and Schiller
Emperor Altoum of China - Armando Gianotti (Tenor)
Princess Turandot - Gina Cigna (Soprano)
Liù - Magda Olivero (Soprano)
Calaf - Francesco Merli (Tenor)
Timur - Luciano Neroni (Bass)
Ping - Afro Poli (Baritone)
Pang - Gino del Signore (Tenor)
Pong - Adelio Zagonara (Tenor)
A Mandarin - Giuseppe Bravura (Baritone)
Chorus and Orchestra of the E.I.A.R. Turin/Franco Ghione
Recorded in Turin, 4th - 15th September 1938
Turandot (excerpts)
Act I - Signore ascolta

Liù - Maria Zamboni
Recorded 1926
Act I - Non piangere, Liù

Calaf - Aureliano Pertile
Recorded 24th January 1927
Act II - Olà, Pang! Olà Pong!

Giuseppe Nessi, Emilio Venturini, Ariste Baracchi
Recorded 11th May 1927
Act II - Ho un casa nell'Honan

Giuseppe Nessi, Emilio Venturini, Ariste Baracchi
Recorded 15th February 1929
Act II - O mondo, pieno di pazzi innamorati!

Giuseppe Nessi, Emilio Venturini, Ariste Baracchi
Recorded 11th May 1927
Act II - Gravi, Enormi Venerandi

La Scala Orchestra and Chorus
Ettore Panizza (Conductor)
Recorded live at La Scala, 29th November 1926
Act II - In questa reggia

Turandot - Eva Turner
Recorded 28th April 1928
Act III - Nessun dorma

Calaf - Aureliano Pertile
Recorded 24th January 1927
Act III - Tanto amore segreto
Act III - Tu che di gel sei cinta

Liù - Eidé Norena
Recorded September 1932
Act III - Diecimilia anni al nostro Imperatore (fragment)

La Scala Orchestra and Chorus
Ettore Panizza (Conductor)
Recorded live at La Scala, 29th November 1926
NAXOS 8.110193-94 [2 CDs: 78.53, 73:08]



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This was the first complete recording of "Turandot", recorded in 1938 by Cetra (a company founded to promote Italian music and musicians). Everyone involved in the recording was used to radio and studio recording and the cast was one of the best available.

The Turandot, Gina Cigna (1900 - 2001) was a French soprano who studied with Emma Calvé and made her debut at La Scala in 1927 as Freia in "Das Rheingold". She went on to become the leading spinto soprano in Italy, singing also at the Met and at Covent Garden. She sang the title role in "Turandot" around some 500 times. Her main rival in the role was Eva Turner. The year before this studio recording was made, live recordings were made at Covent Garden performances of "Turandot" with Eva Turner and Giuseppe Martinelli conducted by John Barbirolli. Only excerpts were recorded, but we do have the complete riddle scene which can make an interesting comparison with the present record.

Cigna's Princess Turandot is no ice-cold maiden. Her vocal quality (her voice has a rather quick vibrato) combined with her passionate delivery make Turandot into an angry, all too flesh and blood figure. I suspect this is partly Cigna making the most of her assets. Reading reviews of her other performances you gather that she rather divided critics and tended to powerful, elemental performances without worrying too much about stylistic niceties. One can see Cigna's type of Turandot developing into some of the more modern recordings where soprano's opt to make the Princess obviously flesh and blood, the ice dissolving well before the Puccini/Alfano climax.

Eva Turner on the other hand had few limitations in vocal power. She capitalises on the power and focus of her voice, giving us the definitive truly icy Princess and in the live excerpts from Covent Garden she is truly thrilling.

Magda Olivero's Liù is rather more warmer voiced that I expected, though the soprano was famous for her Tosca and Adriana. She can slim her tone down admirably, and makes quite an affecting Liù. In her death scene she shows a welcome element of steel in her fragile vocal line.

The Calaf, Francesco Merli, was one of the principal tenors at La Scala in the inter-war years. He has a rather robust voice, giving one cause for pleasant surprise at the quality of the higher lying passages. Quite an elegant performer, he turns in a well shaped performance of 'Nessun dorma'. Less visceral, perhaps, than Martinelli on the live Covent Garden recording, but with a better sense of control and line. It is interesting to compare Merli's performance with Pertile's 1927 recording which is included in the appendix. Both have a similar somewhat elegant quality, but Pertile's performance is marred by suspicious tuning.

The Timur, Luciano Neroni, is described as one of the leading basses of his generation. The recording just does not always do justice to his rather dark voice, but he makes a noble contribution at Liù's death in Act III. It is also difficult to judge Armando Giannotti as Altoum. Much of his contribution sounds as if it was recorded in another room, still he is effective enough in his small roles. Giuseppe Bravura, alas, does not make the requisite impact in his short, but important, solos as the Mandarin.

Franco Ghione was not one of the great Italian conductors. But he is a safe pair of hands, especially in the fraught atmosphere of studio recordings of such large forces. Perhaps the climaxes lack visceral excitement, but they are admirably coherent compared to some early recordings. On first hearing, the recording seems to be barely able to contain the large forces in the major ensembles. But on repeated listening, I was amazed at how much detail is audible.

The second CD is filled up with a series of fascinating archive recordings. These include 'Signore ascolta' sung by the original Liù, Pertile in two of Calaf's solos, excerpts from Act II sung by three members of the original cast, two live fragments from La Scala and Eva Turner's 1928 studio recording of 'In questa reggia". These provide a fascinating insight into the performance of "Turandot" in Italy between the wars.

Robert Hugill



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