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Beniamino Gigli - The Gigli Edition: Volume 11
Milan, Berlin and Rome recordings 1941-43
NAXOS 8.110272

Francesco CILEA (1866 - 1950) L’Arlesiana: E’ la solita storia; Giacomo PUCCINI (1858 - 1924) Manon Lescaut: Ah! Manon, mi tradisce; Pietro MASCAGNI (1863 - 1945) Lodoletta: Se Franz dicesse … Ah! Ritrovarla; Umberto GIORDANO (1867 - 1948) Andrea Chenier: Un di all’azzurro spazio; Pietro MASCAGNI Isabeau: Non colombelle! … Tu ch’odi lo mio; E passera la viva creatura; Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901) La forza del destino: La vita e inferno – O tu che in seno; Giovanni MILITELLO (? - ?) Ninna nanna grigioverde; Tenerezza; Ernesto TAGLIAFERRI (1889 - 1937)/Nicola VALENTE (? - ?) Passione; Giuseppe CIOFFI (19th /20th Cent.) Tre rose; Georges BIZET (1838 - 1875) Carmen: Quels regards! … Parle-moi de ma mère – Votre mère avec moi … Ma mère, je la vois (with Rina Gigli, soprano); Evemero NARDELLA (19th/20th Cent.) Surdate; Giuseppe CIOFFI ‘Na sera ‘e maggio; Vincenzo VALENTE (1855 - 1921) Troppo ‘nnammurato; Dino OLIVERI (? - ?) Son poche rose; Ruggero LEONCAVALLO (1858 - 1919) Pagliacci: Si puo? ( Prologue); Karl MILLÖCKER (1842 - 1899) Der Feldprediger: Nur ein Traum, flücht’ger schaum aber doch; Cesare Andrea BIXIO (20th Cent.) Cinefollia; Dimmi tu, primavera
Beniamino Gigli (tenor)
La Scala Orchestra/Umberto Berrettoni (tr. 1 – 8, 13 and 14), Giovanni Militello (tr. 9 and 10), Orchestra/Dino Oliveri (tr. 11 and 12, 15 – 18), Prussian State Orchestra/Bruno Seidler-Winkler (tr. 19 and 20), Orchestra and Chorus of the Rome Opera House/Luigi Ricci
Recorded in Milan 14th – 17th June 1941 (tr. 1 – 8), in the Conservatorio Milan 23rd November 1941 (tr. 9 and 10), in Milan 20th – 24th February 1942 (tr. 11 – 18), in the Electrola Studios, Berlin 10th August 1942 (tr. 19 and 20), in Rome 29th June 1943 (tr. 21 and 22)

With volume 11 we have reached the stage where Romophone’s Gigli series had to be discontinued. This means that these transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn, prepared in 2001, appear here for the first time. The sound is what we have come to expect from Gigli’s voice, which was ideal for recording, leaping out of the speakers with stunning realism. Obert-Thorn points out that the "’whistle’ which can be heard at the ends of some of the Italian sides is a result of the cooling of the vax matrices before the recording had finished being inscribed". It didn’t disturb me but it is worth mentioning.

These recordings were made in the middle of WW2, when Gigli’s activities were limited to Italy and Germany with the odd appearance in the Balkans. His voice was still in premium condition although, as readers who have followed this series will know, it had darkened ever so little but more importantly gained in power. Gigli was always an intense performer, sometimes going over the top with sobs and histrionics, but what remains in my memory is the burnished intensity of his delivery. Looking back through my notes I read time and again "intense!!" with sometimes an added comment concerning "the glorious voice being as intact as it was ten or more years earlier". There are no surface scratches – a rarity among tenors after so many busy years in the trade. Gigli was wise to choose repertoire according to the status of his voice, and his half-voice is as magical as before. Listen to the first track, Cilea’s E’ la solita storia, which he studied with the composer, whom he convinced that he should sing an unwritten B natural at its close. The first eight tracks are all opera arias that, with the exception of the Chenier aria, he hadn’t tackled before on record. It was at this time that he finally felt ready for Canio in Pagliacci, a part he had recorded almost ten years earlier. He recorded Alvaro’s third act aria from La forza del destino (track 7-8) in what has to be counted as one of his best recordings. On stage he rarely appeared in this part but the cover photo shows him as Alvaro at Teatro Colón in 1933 and as late as August 1950, when he was 60, he sang three performances in the Arena di Verona. It is also good to have the rarely heard arias from Mascagni’s Lodoletta and Isabeau.

In 1941 he undertook Don José in Carmen for the first time and shortly afterwards recorded the first act Micaëla – José duet with his daughter Rina. Hers was never an important career and the recording shows why, for there is very little of the tonal beauty that her father possessed in abundance. On the other hand she is quite careful with nuances. Gigli is his glorious self. Something of a curiosity is the disc he set down in Berlin in 1942 with music that he had already recorded for the soundtrack of a film. What is presented here is the Electrola recording, where he sings the baritone prologue from Pagliacci. One misses some of the darker sonorities of a baritone voice but otherwise it is a perfectly valid interpretation, sung with his customary identification. The Millöcker aria, sung in Italian – as is also the Carmen duet – has a great deal of Viennese "Schmaltz".

The rest of the disc is filled with generous helpings of popular songs, not all of them in the top league of the trade, but as always Gigli lavishes gold even on some ditties and makes them sound better than they are. The conductor Oliveri’s Son poche rose (track 18) should be mentioned for the exquisite mezza-voce end. The two concluding Bixio songs are gloriously sung but I could have lived without the participating chorus.

To Gigli admirers this is a self-recommending issue and Alan Blyth’s liner notes are as always a good read. Newcomers to Gigli are better advised to start with volumes 7 and 8, but presumably they will end up buying the whole series anyway.

Göran Forsling



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