This concert, recorded
live more than a half century ago, is
a real treat for lovers of Puccini’s
music and especially for lovers of great
singing. The occasion was of course
that on this very day, November 29th
1954, it was 30 years since Puccini
died. Italian Radio decided to invite
three of the best fairly young singers
of the day to perform with the Radio
Symphony Orchestra, led by house conductor
Alberto Paoletti. The sound is hardly
top-drawer, but there have been many
recordings from about the same time
sounding much worse. By happy coincidence
the three singers are on tremendous
form and though I have heard them on
loads of regular recordings I can’t
remember them singing so gloriously.
The very first aria,
from Gianni Schicchi, finds Giuseppe
Taddei in his element. He was a great
Falstaff for several decades and has
all the verbal acuity and all the colours
plus a superb, powerful voice. It reminds
me of his close contemporary Tito Gobbi
and I remember the saying that the Italians
gave Gobbi to the world but kept Taddei
for themselves. Then comes a typically
ardent, full-throated version of Rinuccio’s
aria from the same opera, by Di Stefano.
Here, before the decline that started
just a couple of years later, he is
thrilling and beautiful. And even better
is his Rodolfo. "Your tiny hand
is frozen" is delivered with such
warmth and affection that even a heart
of stone would melt. Here he is a threat
even to Björling and he ends the
aria so exquisitely in pianissimo.
It has been said that
Renata Tebaldi was not one of nature’s
Mimis, her voice being too grand, too
matronly. Not so here. This is marvellous
lyric singing, spinning a thin pianissimo
thread through most of the aria until
she gradually expands the voice at the
climax before scaling it down again
to the beautiful inwardness that few
sopranos have been able to surpass.
Both here and in the duet with Di Stefano
that follows, she is a young, frail
girl. Both singers are really sensitive
until at the end they let go at full
throttle, something that the audience
obviously appreciates. The fourth excerpt
from La Bohème, the duet
that starts act IV is again wonderfully
sung, the dark steady tones from Taddei
having the true Italian ring.
Even more than Mimi,
Butterfly was a role that nominally
wouldn’t suit Tebaldi. This frail teenage
girl is not what we hear in Tebaldi’s
monumental spinto tones, but much of
the singing is indeed very scaled down,
very soft, maybe not girlish but youthful.
Here she surpasses both her younger
and older self in the two complete studio
Di Stefano again impresses
in Calaf’s first aria from Turandot,
but still more impressive is Taddei
in the arias from Il Tabarro
and La fanciulla del West, showing
his complete understanding of the predicament
of the two characters. He was indeed
one of the great singing-actors of his
or any day and it is a pity that he
never got the opportunity to record
regularly for the leading companies.
In the 1950s he sang on many Cetra recordings.
He took part in three Mozart operas
for EMI, was a tremendous Scarpia in
Karajan’s first Tosca and there
are a few more. The present disc is
a golden opportunity to hear him at
The four excerpts from
Manon Lescaut, sung by Tebaldi
and Di Stefano also contain some wonderful
singing. Indeed, this hour long concert
is a pleasure from beginning to end.
It was first released on LP in 1982
and the programme notes from that issue,
by the legendary Rodolfo Celletti, who
died recently, are reprinted in the
booklet as an In Memoriam. And
as always his comments are illuminating.
There are fine role photos of the singers,
among them a really nasty Taddei/Scarpia.
And lo and behold, the sung texts are
also printed – in Italian only.
Since the sound is
quite acceptable this disc can be confidently
recommended to anyone who wants to hear
these three great singers in their prime.