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Beniamino GIGLI (tenor) (1890-1957)
The Gigli Edition, Volume 4: Camden and New York Recordings, 1926-27
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)

Tosca ‘Recondita armonia’
Manon Lescaut ‘Donna’ non vidi mai’
La Bohème ‘In un coupe .. O Mimi tu piu non torni’ (Titta Ruffo bar); ‘In un coupe..O Mimi tu piu non torni’ (Giuseppe De Luca bar)
DRIGO I millioni d’Arlecchino ‘Notturno d’amore’
TOSELLI. ‘Serenata’
BUZZI-PECCIA ‘Torna amore’
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863-1945)

MARIOSanta Lucia lontana’
DE CRESCENZO ‘Romdine al Nido’
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) La forza del destino ‘Solenne in quest’ora’ (Tita Ruffo bar); ‘Solenne in quest’ora’ (Giuseppe De Luca bar)
Amilcare PONCHIELLI (1834-1886) La Gioconda ‘Enzo Grimaldo Principe di Santifior’ (Titta Ruffo bar)
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918) Mefistofele ‘Dai campi dai prati’; ‘Giunto sul passo estremo’
Teodoro COTTRAU (1827-1879) 'Addio a Napoli'
DONAUDY ‘O bei nidi d’amore’
Victor Orchestra/Josef Pasternack; Rosario Bourdon; Nathaniel Shilkret
Rec. New York and Camden, New Jersey in October and December 1926; February and October 1927
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110265 [67.15]

This is volume 4 of Mark Obert-Thorn’s to-be-completed survey of Gigli’s song and aria recordings not issued as part of complete opera sets. It is a curious, but interesting mélange. First points of interest are the repeats of earlier pre-electric (acoustic) recordings. By this date Victor were able to get a good balance between voice and orchestra, albeit that the strings of the latter often come over as thin and wiry (tr. 5). In respect of the singer’s voice the comparisons are more interesting. ‘Recondita armonia’ from Tosca (tr. 1) is one such remake. The role of Cavaradossi had, somewhat surprisingly given its demands in terms of tonal weight, been in Gigli’s repertoire since his earliest years on the stage. Whilst in the first recording the tone is markedly lighter and the vocal emission rather nasal, here it is given its full open-throated due with a much greater strength in the lower voice. I am also struck by Gigli’s tone in all these October 27th 1926 recordings which include ‘Donna non vidi mai’ (tr. 2), the Drigo aria (Tr. 3) and Toselli’s ‘Serenata’ (tr. 4, an unpublished version, and tr.5), in that the singer’s voice has a distinct baritonal. This colouration is absent in the recordings of 9th December, all Neapolitan Songs, where his tone is wholly tenorish and much lighter. Maybe a touch of a head cold or perhaps the influence of the role(s) he was concurrently singing at the ‘Met’ were influences.

Interesting also are the duets with Titta Ruffo, recorded on December 17th (trs. 10-12) and the repeats of the Puccini and Verdi with Giuseppe De Luca (trs. 16 and 17) set down a mere nine weeks later. Ruffo (1877-1953) had a big voice that he had used to the full and by 1926 this usage had taken some toll on his tone; the results of these sessions were not published for some years. Giuseppe De Luca (1876-1950) had used his fine-tuned and -toned vocal resources more circumspectly. This together with his musicality makes him an ideal partner for Gigli, drawing out the best of the tenor’s golden tone, elegant phrasing and vocal characterisation.

Ignore the baritones and compare Gigli at the start of the ‘Bohème’ duet (tr. 11 with Ruffo and 16 with De Luca). Also note that both start with ‘In un coupe’ not, as shown, ‘O Mimi, tu piu non torni’ at 1:55 later. The two Mefistofele arias (trs. 13 and 15) were repeats of pre-electric recordings with Gigli’s stronger lower voice and added control of legato being additional virtues to his honeyed mezza-voce. The purist policy of this series means that Cottrau’s more vigorous ‘Addio a Napoli’ splits these two related arias as the contents are presented in order of recording.

Mark Obert-Thorn notes that the contents of this volume were originally issued in 1996 as part of the Romophone label’s survey of Gigli’s Victor recordings. However, he also notes that ‘in remastering my original transfers I have tried to remove the clicks and pops that remained…and have made adjustments to the equalisation of each track’. The results are certainly very satisfactory to my ears with Gigli’s voice well caught and very little extraneous noise. Enthusiasts need not hesitate.

Robert J Farr

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

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