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Beniamino Gigli - The Gigli Edition, Vol. 7
Beniamino Gigli (tenor), Dusolina Giannini (soprano)(Mascagni); Orchestras/John Barbirolli, Eugene Goossens, Nathaniel Shilkret; La Scala Orchestra/Carlo Sabajno
Recorded in London, New York and Milano 1931 - 1932
NAXOS 8.110268[72:44]

Paolo TOSTI (1846 - 1916) Goodbye;
Jules MASSENET (1842 – 1912) Manon: "Instant charmant ... En fermant les yeux;
Arthur SULLIVAN (1842 - 1900) The Lost Chord;
Paolo TOSTI: Addio;
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924) La bohème: "Che gelida manina";
Charles GOUNOD (1818 - 1893) Faust: "Quel trouble inconnu … Salut, demeure";
Georges BIZET (1838 – 1875) Les pêcheurs de perles: "Je crois entendre encore";
Moises SIMONS (20th Century) Marta;
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860 - 1909) Quisiera olvidar tus ojos;
SANDOVAL (?) Eres tu;
DE CRESCENZO (?) Triste maggio;
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 - 1988) Sadko: "Chanson Hindoue";
Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 – 1945) Cavalleria rusticana: "Tu qui, Santuzza?" (w. Dusolina Giannini)); Cavalleria rusticana: "No, no, Turiddu" (w Dusolina Giannini);
Franz SCHUBERT (1797 – 1828) Ständchen;
Louis NIEDERMEYER (1802 - 1861) Pietà, Signore;
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792 – 1868) Stabat Mater: "Cujus animam";
Ernesto DE CURTIS (1860 – 1926) I’ m’arricordo ‘e te; ‘A canzone ‘e Napule;



This disc covers the years 1931 and 1932 and might be regarded, together with the next disc in this complete series, as the period when Gigli was at his best. The voice had lost nothing of its youthfulness but some more power had been added. At about this time he was planning to go back to Europe after more than a decade at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. One of the sessions represented here is for RCA made in New York, but otherwise he recorded from now on for HMV in, mainly, London and Milan. His well known vices and virtues are of course present here too, but whatever you think of sobs and intrusive "h"-s they are worth enduring, considering how fabulously well he sings in all other respects. There are quite a lot of popular songs here, not only the traditional Neapolitan fare. I could of course spend the rest of this evening writing in depth of each of the tracks but I will withstand that temptation and point to some really outstanding numbers.

Of the opera arias, all are classics and they remained in the catalogue until the end of the shellac era in the early 1950s.The Manon aria is sung in an exquisite half voice with perfect breath control, Rodolfo’s "Your tiny hand is frozen" is delivered with obvious affection and apart from a few not too distracting sobs the singing is exemplary with a glorious high C. He ends it with a wonderful pianissimo, marred by a last "di-hi".

Since the cover photo also shows Gigli as Rodolfo I can’t resist relating an episode, which I probably read in Gigli’s memoirs. He was singing La Bohème at Covent Garden in 1938, Vittorio Gui conducting. In the first act he, the poet, burns his play in the stove and some minutes later, when he is singing his famous aria, he suddenly hears crackles and sees smoke pouring forth from the stove. While still singing he empties a bottle of water over the flames, but to no avail, so he signals to the wings, interpolating "Please, fire" Please, fire!" in the aria and gets a jug of water but not even that is enough. While Mimi keeps things going in her aria, Gigli rushes out in the wings and gets a whole bucket of water – and that defeats the flames. And then he is back in his role, joining Mimi for the concluding duet. And not a note was missed! The next day one of the morning papers had the headline "Gigli puts fire into La Bohème!"

Faust’s Cavatina was a long-standing favourite with Gigli and again he is so marvellous with that half-voice, so effortless. He sings it in Italian of course, but that hardly matters, just as little as it does in the even more famous Romance from the Pearl Fishers. This is seamless legato singing that has probably never been superseded, possibly equalled – but not often. Nicolai Gedda in his 1953 recording, singing in French, is even more stylish. His 1961 version, from the complete recording is just as good, not quite as honeyed and, believe it or not, I heard him singing it in Stockholm at a concert celebrating forty years since his debut at the Royal Opera. His debut was in April 1952, so he was 67 when I heard him and was still singing with the freshness of a 27-year-old. Do try, however, to find an Arte Nova disc (74321 85297 2) with Zoran Todorovich. That is indeed legato singing! He does a couple of very good Puccini arias, as well – plus a few that are not quite on that level.

But back to Gigli there is also the Chanson Hindoue from Rimsky-Korsakov’s Sadko, and again it is magically sung, in French for once. The dramatic verismo singer is also represented on this disc in the long duet between Turiddu and Santuzza from Cavalleria rusticana. Here the dramatic Dusolina Giannini is at her vibrant best, obviously inspiring Gigli to one of his most intense performances, and here his singing is practically free from excessive histrionics.

On the lighter side we get not only Tosti’s Goodbye, but also a hitherto unpublished take of the song, sung in Italian. The differences are minimal. Interesting it is to meet Gigli in a trio of Spanish songs, sung in Spanish. These songs were set down during his last New York session and he is lively, arduous, playful. Albeniz’s Quisiera olvidar tud ojos is in fact a vocal version of the famous Tango. His Ständchen is probably not the last word in stylish Schubert singing, but of its kind it is very endearing. His dynamic shadings are so precise, so exquisite, but they never for a moment sound calculated. He is obviously singing straight from the heart.

All nineteen tracks on this disc have something valuable to offer, with the possible exception of Pietà, Signore, where there is really too much of intrusive "h"s, and I got a feeling that the as usual exemplary audio restoration engineer, Mark Obert-Thorn, felt the same, since he left a few very audible clicks on this track.

With a good note by Alan Blyth, generous playing time and full documentation this can hardly be bettered. Those who are collecting this series should of course buy this one with confidence, those who are not yet collecting it could just as well start here.

Göran Forsling

See also reviews by Robert Farr and Jonathan Woolf

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