A completist’s dream,
this. As Producer and Audio Restoration
Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn puts it, ‘The
aim of this series is to include every
Gigli recording released at the time,
as well as every published alternate
take and, wherever available, unpublished
takes.’ A fascinating undertaking indeed,
and one that yields massively interesting
results. It breathes the aura of a labour
of love conscientiously undertaken.
It makes for fascinating
listening, too, with several items presented
in multiple versions. Running through
the whole is the constant of Gigli’s
magnificent instrument. Everything sung
in Italian, of course, whether of Italianate
origin or not. That said the opening
Bizet item does not suffer at all. The
famous ‘Pearl Fisher’s Duet’ matches
Gigli with De Luca. Immediately it becomes
apparent that surface noise is at a
very acceptable level. The actual arrival
at ‘Del temio’ is a real musical blossoming
out; the ensuing music has real intensity;
both Gigli and De Luca sing as if their
lives depended on it! This is an intense
reading; if only the rest of the opera
was musically up to the standard of
this excerpt! There is a fluency to
this (the conductor is Rosario Bourdon)
that is most appealing.
Next up are two versions
of the same excerpt from La Gioconda,
Enzo Grimaldo, Principe di Santafior!’.
De Luca again partners, here in commanding
form both times. Gigli is supremely
dramatic, massively powerful, singing
the typically Italian lustier moments
for all they are worth. For take 2 I
actually listened more to De Luca, who
seems more involved that time round
The next seven tracks
are taken from Lucia, the first
six all dating from one day (December
12th, 1927), the seventh
(an ensemble) from four days later.
Actually, the very first except (‘Tombe
degl’avi miei’) shows Gigli at his most
meltingly lyrical. Flourishes are superbly
negotiated. A well-behaved chorus graces
‘Giusto cielo, irispondete!’; Pinza
is confident and imposing.
But the most ringing
high notes yet come with ‘Tu che a Dio
spiegasti l’ali’ (and with them tremendous
voltage towards the end, after the honeyed
legato of the opening). This is a peaceful
track that rises naturally to an imposing
Perhaps just as well
to separate the Donizetti repetitions
by presenting two groups of three, rather
than juxtapose then a la Ponchielli
here (it would become tiring otherwise).
Track 7 is an unpublished alternative
to the earlier ‘Tombe egl’avi miei’.
Perhaps Gigli is even more expressive
in recitative here, and his ‘float’
at around 1’50 seems to linger in the
memory … differences in ‘Tu che a Dio
spiegast l’ali’ seem minimal (resting
on the sobbing, perhaps?!). The Lucia
excerpts close with the Act 2 ensemble,
‘Chi mi frena in tal momento?’ (only
one take of this). Actually, Gigli is
almost upstaged by Amelita Galli-Curci,
whose soprano is just so pure,
her pitching so spot-on, easily the
brightest star in a veritable constellation
of stars (check out the listing!). This
is astonishingly beautiful, the clear
highlight of the whole eighty minutes.
The famous Quartet
from Rigoletto, ‘Bella figlia d’amore’,
is heard in two takes from December
16th, 1927. Again, Galli-Curci
is present, as are Homer and De Luca.
Gigli’s legato is superb, and one is
aware of the power held in reserve as
he sings. The only minus point is that
at the high point it does rather sound
as if all these superstars are trying
to outdo each other … It must be admitted
that Gigli sounds slightly less healthy
in the second take on the disc (track
The Ambroise Thomas
excerpts reveal Gigli’s affinity for
this music. His phrasing in ‘Ah non
credevi tu’ is supremely sweet (only
some sickly portamenti in the violins
detracts), while there is a decidedly
interior aspect to ‘Addio, Mignon, fa
core’. Meyerbeer’s ‘O paradiso’ (from
L’africaine) provides a fitting
climax to this small group.
These Naxos issues
would be incomplete, of course, without
a couple of songs to round things off.
Here two De Curtis numbers do the trick.
Voce ‘e notte is introduce by
some strings bathing in syrup before
Gigli takes us into a different universe.
His belief in this repertoire suffuses
every note, and it is this that carries
the music through.
A wonderful issue,
in all. The use of only two songs, which
are used to round off the recital, helps
the more substantial feel that the programme
has. A very highly recommended snapshot
of Gigli as he was in New York in the
years 1927 and 1928.
see also review
by Jonathan Woolf