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  Classical Editor: Rob Barnett  
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The Gigli Edition Volume 3: Camden and New York Recordings 1923-25
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864) L’Africaine, ‘O paradis’
Alfredo CATALANI (1854-1893) Loreley, ‘Nel verde maggio’
Georges Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893) Romeo et Juliette, ‘Ange adorable’ (Lucrezia Bori, soprano); ‘Ah! Ne fuis pas encore’ (Lucrezia Bori, soprano)
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921) ‘Canto del cigno’ (A vocal treatment of Le cygne from Carnaval des animaux)

Friedrich von FLOTOW (1812-1883) Martha, ‘M’appari’
BUZZI-PECCIA. ‘Paquita’. ‘Povero Pulcinella’
DENZA. ‘Funiculi, funicula’
DE CURTIS. ‘Sentinella’. ‘Sto penzanno 'a Maria’. ‘Good-bye, Marie’
CARNEVALI. ‘Come, love with me’
TAGLIAFERRI. ‘Mandulinata a Napule’
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1868) L’Elisir d’amore, ‘Quanto e bella’; Lucia di Lamermoor, ‘Tombi degli avi miei’. ‘Tu che a Dio spiegasti l'ali’
DE CRESCENZO. ‘Quanno ’a femmena vo’
DI CAPUA. ‘Maria, Mari’
Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957) (tenor)
Victor Orchestra/Rosario Bourdon and Nathaniel Shilkret
Recorded in New York and Camden, New Jersey
Bargain Price.
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110264 [67.34]


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Gigli had debuted at the New York ‘Met’ in November 1920, a month before Caruso’s final, pain-ridden, performance. With the latter’s premature death, the following summer, at only 48, the search was on for a successor, particularly for the Italian and French lyric repertoire.

Gigli’s first Victor recordings had quickly followed his ‘Met’ debut. Like the ‘Met’ the Victor Company saw the singer as Caruso’s natural successor and began recording him singing arias from the roles he had just sung, or was about to sing, at that theatre. On this disc his powerfully sung ‘O paradiso’ (tr. 1) was set down a month before he sang the role on the ‘Met’ stage. His performance catches a baritonal hue to the voice as he deepens the tone for an aria and part that require a fair amount of vocal heft. Recorded the following day, his rendering of the brief but lovely aria from Catalani’s ‘Loreley’, is lighter and more lyrical of tone with the final note strong and well held (tr. 2). The two duets from Gounod’s Romeo and Juliette (trs. 3 and 4), recorded in March 1923, commemorate the ‘Met’s’ revival of the opera the previous autumn.

Gigli’s diction is admirable even if his French does not match the standard that Caruso attained in his later years. Gigli’s phrasing and honeyed legato is a delight here although, unlike others, I find Bori rather tweety, albeit tasteful. However, the singers do not finish together at 3.45 of tr. 3.

An arrangement of ‘Le Cygne’ (tr. 5) is a rarity that Gigli treats very seriously, the arrangement lying well for his middle voice. Elsewhere, as with Caruso’s later recordings, Victor feature their tenor in a selection of Neapolitan songs which were very popular in recitals at that time. Fortunately for the collector there is not much overlap with Caruso’s recordings of this genre. Gigli, like his great predecessor, treats them to his full range of expression, smooth legato, plangent tone and elegant phrasing. But when it comes to the delights of Gigli’s vocal art, they are best heard in Flotow’s ‘M’appari’ (tr. 6) and the Donizetti arias (trs. 14-17) the performances alone being well worth the price of the disc.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of this issue is that the recordings span Victor’s March 1925 changeover from acoustic to electrical recording. Also, as Mark Obert-Thorn, the restorer, points out, there is a distinct difference in sound between the New York venue (trs. 5, 8, 9, 19 and 20) and the discs cut at Victor’s headquarters at Camden, New Jersey. Both venues are featured using both recording techniques. Certainly one gets the impression that the new process, and microphone technology, caused Victor some problems and purists might prefer the sound of the acoustic tracks (trs. 1-9) at this early stage of electrical recording.

Much of the material on this CD has already appeared as part of Romophone’s version of Gigli’s recordings. However, Mark Obert-Thorn has revisited those restorations for this Naxos issue with both minor and major improvements evident to make an enjoyable record of the singer at a critical stage of his burgeoning career. An interesting and enjoyable issue.

Robert J. Farr



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