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Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948)
Andrea Chenier (1896)
Maddalena di Coigny – Maria Caniglia (soprano)
Andrea Chenier – Beniamino Gigli (tenor)
Garlo Gerard – Gino Bechi (baritone)
Countess di Coigny – Giulietta Simonato (mezzo-soprano)
Madelon – Vittoria Palombini
Bersi – Maria Huder
Roucher – Italo Tajo
Fouquier –Tinville – Giuseppe Taddei
Mathieu – Leoni Paci
Fleville - Giuseppe Taddei
The Abbe – Adelio Zagonara
L’Incredibile - Adelio Zagonara
Majordomo – Gino Conti
Dumas – Gino Conti
Schmidt – Gino Conti
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala Opera House, Milan/Olivero de Fabritiis
Recorded Milan November 1941 by La voce del padrone
Umberto GIORDANO (1867 – 1948)

Andrea Chenier (excerpts)
Giacomo Lauri Volpi (tenor)
Recorded 1941
Antonio Cortis
Recorded 1930
Cesare Formichi (baritone)
Recorded 1927
Claudia Muzio (soprano)
Recorded 1935
Francesco Merli (tenor)
Recorded 1928
Aureliano Pertile (tenor)
Recorded 1930
NAXOS 8.110275-76 [2CDs: 53.41+74.53]

 

This recording was made during the Second World War. Italy was the only country recording complete operas for commercial release at that time. Gigli was in his 50s at the time of the recording and his voice no longer had the sheer honeyed beauty that it does in his early recordings. But what is remarkable is how much has survived and how lovely the tone can be. The experience gained over the years has enhanced his expressiveness in such roles as this. Gigli turns in a magnificent portrait of the revolutionary poet, Andrea Chenier. His arias based on recitations of the real Chenier’s poetry are some of the high points of the opera; Gigli gives a fine dramatic performance. Unfortunately, it is rather self indulgent as well; full of sobs and intrusive aspirates and emphasis at the beginnings of phrases. These are all Gigli trademarks and one must accept them with the good points as they make up the whole singer, but they do rather give Chenier a self-pitying air.

With such star recordings, what can too often happen is that the remainder of the cast are just not of the same quality. But happily this is not the case here. The recording company surrounded Gigli with a strong cast and the result has a dramatic flair that is very appealing, despite whatever cavils I might have about details of a particular singer’s performance.

As Maddalena, Maria Caniglia is moving and dignified. There are moments when she sounds a little stiff, where I would have liked more flexibility; but she makes the aristocratic Maddalena a moving figure. As the villain of the piece, Gerard, Gino Bechi is simply tremendous. He was under 30 when the recording was made. His voice itself has a burnished quality and he gives a grippingly dramatic performance as the complex Gerard. Simply thrilling. Unfortunately it was not to last, and by the 1950s much of the beauty of his voice had diminished.

What rather gives this recording its special quality is the depth of the casting in the minor roles. Maddalena’s mother, the Comtesse de Coigny is played by Giulietta Simionato who went on to sing Adalgisa and Amneris opposite Callas at Covent Garden in 1953. Giuseppe Taddei, who went on to become a renowned Rigoletto and Scarpia, sings a number of minor roles as does Italo Tajo. Maddalena’s maid, Bersi, is sung by Maria Huder. Whilst not a really big role, Bersi has a significant part to play in the plotting and Huder does well, though in the opening of the important scene at the beginning of Act II, she sounds a little taxed by the role’s tessitura.

Despite its set numbers, the dialogue and the concerted scenes are very important in the opera and with such a cast the opera really comes to life. Listening to it is a very satisfying experience. Usually, such historic recordings are of great interest but not really a primary, library recording. Here, Ward Marston has made a magnificent job of the transfer so that, with such a dramatic performance from a superb cast, I recommend this recording to everyone. It also has the added advantage of an appendix containing a selection of arias from the opera recorded by such artists are Lauri Volpi, Claudio Muzio and Pertile; all fascinating historical documents.

Robert Hugill

 



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