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Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 – 1924) Concerto per Puccini
Gianni Schicchi: Ah, che zucconi; Firenze è come un albero fiorito
La Bohème: Che gelida manina; Si, Mi chiamano Mimi; O soave fanciulla; In un coupe? ... Con pariglie e livree
Madama Butterfly: Un bel di vedremo
Turandot: Non piangere Liù
Il Tabarro: Nulla, silenzio
La fanciulla del West: Minnie, dalla mia casa
Manon Lescaut: Tutta su me ti posa; Manon, senti amor mio; Sola, perduta, abbandonata; Fra le tue braccia
Renata Tebaldi (soprano), Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor), Giuseppe Taddei (baritone)
Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma della Rai/Alberto Paoletti
Recorded live on November 29th, 1954 at RAI Auditorium in Rome, to commemorate 30th Anniversary of Giacomo Puccini’s death.
WARNER FONIT 5050467-7215-2-4 [60:56]

 

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 recordings.

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 his best.

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.

Göran Forsling



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