Handsome of figure
and possessor of a lovely baritone voice, Lawrence Tibbett (1896–1960)
was a remarkably popular figure in his prime, from 1925 to 1940.
He left behind a good recorded legacy of his major roles as
well as appearing in some of the complete operas recorded live
at the Metropolitan opera house. He also was adept at musical
comedy, recording items from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess
having been coached by the composer and appearing on Broadway.
Very late in life he sang in Harold Rome’s musical Fanny
based on the Marcel Pagnol books.
was a Californian, son of a sheriff. Starting out in amateur
theatre and operetta he trained initially in Los
Angeles. He moved to New York in 1922 to further his studies and made his Metropolitan Opera debut
in 1924. By the 1940s he started to have a vocal crisis and
though he continued singing, his glory days were over.
disc opens with a remarkably dramatic account of ‘Largo al factotum’. From the start, Tibbett’s beauty of tone is noticeable;
he had a distinctively fine grained lyric baritone, with a pleasantly
dark timbre. But also worthy of comment is his attention to
the words and sense of drama. Rather remarkably, for a voice
which seems a dark baritone, he takes the voice very high in
the baritone’s chest register, giving him a good wide range
without an appreciable sense of strain, but with a characteristic
increase in intensity.
is followed by ‘Eri tu’, which not only confirms the beauty
of his instrument but also shows that his voice was just made
for the great Verdi baritone roles. He carries this style of
singing over into his Wagner, performing the excerpt from Tannhäuser
with great lyricism and sense of line eschewing the sense of
drama that bigger voices have brought to the role.
all these arias Tibbett gives strong dramatic performances,
but more than that he creates character and story. In both the
excerpt from Faust and the toreador’s song from Carmen
he creates a fully three-dimensional character, rather than
giving a gentlemanly account of just the notes.
Boccanegra was one of Tibbett’s great roles. Here we are given
his duet with his daughter Amelia and the Council Chamber scene.
Alan Blyth, in the Gramophone, rather rated Rose Bampton’s performance
as Amelia but I was less convinced finding her voice sometimes
lacking in focus. Tibbett is well supported, though, by Giovanni
Martinelli, Leonard Warren and Robert Nicholson.
core of this disc, is the sequence of four items from Otello
giving us a very clear notion of Tibbett’s Iago. With his open,
frank delivery it is no surprise that Tibbett’s Iago manages
to persuade Otello, but in his fine delivery of the Credo Tibbett
manages to convince us of Iago’s true nature. These excerpts
give us a glimpse of Martinelli’s Otello, but the great tenor
does not seem to have been in the best of voices.
classic items on the disc are completed by the Prologue from
Pagliacci and the Te Deum from Tosca both sung
with the singer’s fine sense of line and smooth golden tones.
also appeared in contemporary pieces. Deems Taylor’s The King’s Henchman and Louis Gruenberg’s The Emperor
Jones are not really known today, but Tibbett delivers the
extracts with a remarkable dramatic intensity. The first extract
from The King’s Henchman could come from a Broadway show,
but the second is a remarkably dramatic piece of melodrama given
with 200% commitment by Tibbett. The item from The Emperor
Jones is delivered by Tibbett using the sort of voice and
accents which imply that he played the role black-faced. Again
it is highly intense and melodramatic with a strong Negro spiritual
some reason, the catalogue is not currently overburdened with
discs devoted to this fine singer. Anyone interested in singing
will find this recital highly rewarding. The transfers all sound
as if they have been done with minimal interference. I cannot
recommend the disc too highly.
see also Review
by Jonathan Woolf