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The Gigli Edition - Volume 5 - The New York Recordings 1927-28
Georges BIZET (1838-1870)

Les Pecheurs de perles, Au fond du temple saint (with Giuseppe De Luca, bar)
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886)

La Gioconda, Enzo Grimaldo, Principe di Santifior (with Giuseppe De Luca, bar)
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1868)

Lucia di Lamermoor: Tombe degl’ avi miei; Giusto cielo, rispondete (Ezio Pinza, bass); Tu che Dio spiegasti l’ali (Ezio Pinza, bass); Chi mi frena in tal momento? (Sextet; with Giuseppe De Luca, bar. Ezio Pinza, bass. Amelita Galli-Curci, sop. Louise Homer, alto. Angelo Barda, ten.)
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)

Rigoletto, Bella figlia del’amore (Quartet; with Giuseppe De Luca, bar. Ezio Pinza, bass. Amelita Galli-Curci, sop. Louise Homer, cont.)
La Traviata, De, miei bollenti spiriti
Ambroise THOMAS (1811-1896)

Mignon, Adieu Mignon
Mignon, Ah, non credevi tu
Giacomo MEYERBEER (1791-1864)

L’Africaine, O paradiso
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

Cavalleria rusticana, Viva il vino spumeggiante
Ernesto DE CURTIS (1875-1937) Voce’e notte. Canta pe’ me!
Beniamino Gigli (tenor)
Recorded in Liederkranz Hall, New York and 16 West 64th Street, New York (Manon), November and December 1927; January, May and December 1928
Accompanied by the ‘Victor Orchestra’, cond. Rosario Bourdon (trs. 1-3 and 14-19) and Metropolitan Orchestra, cond Giulio Setti (trs. 4-13)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110266 [79.06]

I grew up in a home where a large acoustic gramophone, complete with wind-up handle, dominated one corner of the living room. The nearby sideboard housed the family collection of 78rpm records. Although there was a set of Horowitz competing with Toscanini to finish Tchaikovsky’s B minor concerto, most of the 10-inch and 12-inch shellac discs were of operatic and vocal items. There were records of Chaliapin, Dawson, McCormack, Schipa, Pons and a clutch of British singers performing in English. The latter were on HMVs cheaper Plum label whilst the famous international singers such as Gigli (1890-1957) were to be heard on the premier Red label. These Red label discs retailed at 9 shillings and 6 pence, or 45 pence in today’s money. Peanuts by today’s values, but in those far-off days a skilled working man earned around 5 pounds sterling per week of 45 hours. Whilst the Red label was considered HMVs premier priced label there was another at twice the price, no less! One issue on this White label, DQ102, had the performance of the Rigoletto quartet found on this issue (tr.11) with the sextet from Lucia (tr.10 here) being on the second side. After much saving and sacrifice this White label issue arrived in our household. We marvelled at the lyric beauty and legato of Gigli’s voice as he launched the opening phrases of Bella figlia del’amore and his expressive nuances in the sextet on the second side of the record. We had to be careful that even with a new thorn needle for every playing, that our luxurious White label 78, with its less than four and a half minutes per side, wasn’t soon worn out. Whilst we marvelled at De Luca’s Rigoletto it was not until the arrival of the Cetra LPs of the complete work (now on Fonit Cetra) that we realised that some of the bite of the drama was lacking in the lovely singing. This lack is less evident in the Donizetti, partly because of the nature of the piece and the opera itself. The young Pinza’s sonorous, tuneful and well supported voice can be heard in the sextet and also in Giust cielo (trs.5 and 8) and Tu che a dio (trs. 6 and 9). The scene is repeated on this CD from different takes of an extended part of the final scene of the opera. It is labelled Act 3 here, but is really scene 3 of act 2. This scene starts with Edgardo’s Tombe degl’ avi miei (trs. 4 and 7) and concludes with his death at the end of Tu che Dio spiegasti l’ali (trs. 6 and 9). These three tracks give thirteen and a half minutes of this final scene and show Gigli at his lyrical, expressive and dramatic best in a role he sang 21 times at the Met. He doesn’t over agonise when he hears that Lucia is dead. His vocal expression says it all without losing its lyrical beauty. Similar vocal strengths are heard in his joyful Brindisi from La Traviata (tr. 14) and in Meyerbeer’s O paradiso (tr. 17) and when more heft is needed, as in Cavalleria rusticana, it is there in abundance without any strain or loss of legato or line.

The Temple Duet (tr.1) sounds a little strange in Italian and is hardly idiomatic. The Gioconda duet, Enzo Grimaldo, Principe di Santifior, with De Luca (trs. 2 and 3) is interesting for its comparison with the recording of Gigli with Tito Ruffo that is found on Vol. 4 of this series . Although older than Ruffo, De Luca is firmer, smoother and clearer than his younger compatriot; Gigli responds similarly.

Mark Obert-Thorn’s has remastered this collection to improve on his work previously issued on Romophone. The sound is certainly far superior than we ever got from the White label issue, even when it was played on a Garrard 301 deck, a lightweight stylus and via a Briggs designed amplifier with its two KT 66s in push-pull. Some golden ears reckon CD spoils the sound of the original. I don’t know which planet they live on particularly when the remastering is of the quality found here. At £5 when a skilled man’s wage is well over £200 pounds per week the price really is peanuts. Where else could you pay peanuts and mine gold like this? Whatever else you buy in this or any other remasterings of 78rpm discs, buy this issue and listen to great singers and particularly one of the greatest tenors of the 20th century.

I heard Gigli live when he was over sixty. His singing still retained so much of the qualities outlined here. It is singing of a standard rarely heard since and I don’t hear it in any of the tenors around today.

This CD should be in every opera lover’s collection. I cannot recommend it highly enough for its inherent quality no matter my personal experiences of listening to the original 78s all those years ago.

Robert J Farr


see also reviews by Colin Clarke and Jonathan Woolf

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