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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème: Si, mi chiamano Mimì, Donde lieta uscì (1)
Alfredo CATALANI (1854-1893)

La Wally: Ebben, ne andrò lontano (2)
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)

Andrea Chénier: Ora soave ... la mamma morta (3)
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)

Mefistofele: L’altra notte in fondo al mare (4)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Le nozze di Figaro: Giunse alfin ... Deh, vieni non tardar (5)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

La Traviata: Teneste la promessa ... Addio del passato (6), Aida: O patria mia ... O cieli azzurri (7), Otello: Canzone del salice, Ave Maria (8)
GIORDANO

Andrea Chénier: Eravate possente, Vicina a te s’acqueta (9)
Renata Tebaldi (soprano), José Soler (tenor) (9), Ernesto Panizza (baritone) (9), Members of La Scala Orchestra, Milan (1-8), Turin RAI Symphony Orchestra (9)/Nino Sanzogno (1-4), Antonino Votto (5-8), Arturo Basile (9)
Recorded 1st March 1950 (1), 2nd March 1950 (2-3), 8th March 1950 (4), 8th May 1950 (5-6), 9th May 1950 (7-8), 25th May-2nd June 1953 (9), in Milan (1-8) and Turin (9)
WARNER FONIT 5050466-2953-2-3 [62:09]

Renata Tebaldi was a faithful Decca artist for practically her entire career. She did, however, in her earliest days, record two recitals for Cetra, both drawn on here, and take part in that company’s Andrea Chénier, which I have already reviewed for the site and from which we have two extracts to complete the compilation.

Since she was a very consistent artist there may be no pressing reason for non-specialist listeners to get to know her through these passable but elderly-sounding recordings rather than later Decca material, some of it in stereo. She left no youthful indiscretions, but nor does she reveal special qualities in her early years that were lost later. The aficionado will, however, find a lot of interest in comparing these with her later versions.

A comparison of this performance of "Sì, mi chiamano Mimì" with those in her two complete Bohèmes, under Erede in 1951 and Serafin in 1959, suggests a gradual refining, a leaving behind of sobs and gulps and similar tricks of the trade, a tighter control over portamento, and in general an increasingly "pure" art. It is interesting to note that this "voice of an angel", as it was dubbed, actually started out with a darker, heavier timbre – the reverse of what later happened with Scotto and Freni. In the three versions of "Donde lieta uscì" the differences are greater and show her responding to the various conductors. In the case of a recital record, a conductor is not expected to be the protagonist, so it may be no disrespect to Nino Sanzogno to say that he simply follows along. Nothing gets in the way of our enjoyment of a young voice in its first stage of beauty. All the same, it is striking how much point there is to everything under Erede, an urgent, passionate reading. While Serafin bathes everything under the rosy glow of memory, a touchingly restrained performance made possible by Tebaldi’s exquisite control of her vocal resources. I wouldn’t like to say which of the two I prefer, and it’s fascinating that both should come from the same singer.

So take this disc as a snapshot of the voice in its first glory. As regards repertoire, most of the operas from which these arias come were recorded complete later on – perhaps a little too much later on in the case of "La Wally". She made famous recordings of "Aida" and "Otello" under Karajan (and earlier ones under Erede) but – like Maria Callas – she made only one official recording of "La Traviata", a not very satisfactory affair under Molinari-Pradelli. (Another curious parallel is that live performances by both singers have survived directed by Giulini). She certainly brings the right pathos to the aria here. The piece from "Aida" shows that right from the start her top C was not her greatest point, and her top notes actually came more easily over the following decade. The one opera here which she did not record was "Le Nozze di Figaro". She took a few Mozartian roles during her career and surely the Countess, not Susanna, would have been her part in Figaro. Predictably, she is too heavy.

Obviously, all recordings of a great singer are necessary to her fans. Those who approach her for the first time will certainly get a good idea of her qualities even at this early stage, but I do recommend them to hear her more mature work first. As though to emphasise that this issue is primarily one for fans, the arias have been arranged neatly in order of recording, when listening logic might have placed the May 1950 sessions before those of March. Waffly notes and texts but no translations.

Christopher Howell



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