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The Complete Martini & Rossi Concerts 1952-1956
Ebe Stignani (mezzo) 1  
Giuseppe Di Stefano 2
Margherita Carosio (soprano) 3
Giulietta Simionato (mezzo) 4
CD 1
Giuseppe VERDI 
Un Giorno di Regno: Un giorno dolce nel core - Piu che i vezzi e lo splendour [8.41] 1
Giacomo PUCCINI  Turandot: Nessun dorma [3.11] 2
Camille SAINT-SAENS Sansone e Dalila: S'apre per te il mio cor [6.47] 1
Gaetano DONIZETTI La Favorita: Ah mio bene [7.28] 2
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Oliviero de Fabritiis
rec. Turin, 8 December 1952
Pietro MASCAGNI Iris: Apri la tua finestra [2.05] 1
Gioacchino ROSSINI Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Una voce poco fa [6.37] 3
Umberto GIORDANO Andrea Chenier: Come un bel di di maggio [3.03] 2
Vincenzo BELLINI La Sonnambula: Ah! non credea mirati [4.21] 3
Giuseppe VERDI La Forza del Destino: O tu che in seno agli angeli [6.24] 2
Giacomo PUCCINI Madama Butterfly: Un bel di vedremo [3.52] 3
Vincenzo BELLINI I Puritani:  Vieni fra queste braccia [5.57] 2,3
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Oliviero de Fabritiis
rec. Turin, Teatro Carignano 9 November 1953
Giuseppe VERDI Un Ballo in Maschera: Ma se m'e forza perderti [5.27] 2
Gioacchino ROSSINI L'Italiana in Algeri: Pensa alla patria [5.54] 4
CD 2

Umberto GIORDANO Andrea Chenier: Un di all'azzurro spazio [5.07] 2
Gioacchino ROSSINI Tancredi: Di tanti palpiti [6.32] 4
Giuseppe PIETRI Maristella: Io conosco un giardino [2.42] 2
Gioacchino ROSSINI Il Barbiere di Siviglia: Una voce poco fa [5.12] 4
Giacomo PUCCINI Turandot: Nessun dorma [6.22] 2
Gioacchino ROSSINI La Cenerentola: Nacqui all'affanno [5.57] 4
Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano della RAI/Nino Sanzogno
rec. Milan, 26 November 1956
BONUS TRACKS: Giuseppe Di Stefano

Mutteti de lu Paliu: Uje, Uje [3.47]; Chiovu: Abbalatti [2.27]; Cantu a Timuni [2.12]; A la barcillunisa [2.33]; A la vallelunghisa [3.13]
RCA Victor Orchestra
Renato Cellini
rec. New York, RCA Studios, 12 December 1950
Gaetano DONIZETTI Don Pasquale: Com'e gentil [2.34] - OBA 7724
Argeo Quadri, dir.
rec. Milan HMV Studios, 15 June 1951
Giuseppe CIOFFI: Na sera 'e maggio [4.44]
Raoul La Vista, dir.
rec. Mexico City, 22 June 1952
Osman PEREZ-FREIRE: Ay, Ay, Ay [3.38]
Salvatore CARDILLO: Core 'ngrato [5.31]
Raoul La Vista, dir.
rec. Mexico City, 29 June 1952
GREAT OPERA PERFORMANCES GOP 66.361 [69.53 + 62.37]
 


In 1948, Rudolf Bing marvelled at the way Giuseppe Di Stefano treated the diminuendo high C from Gounod's Faust.  The artistry with which Di Stefano, then making his Metropolitan debut, resolved the note from forte to the barest of pianissimos was the most beautiful sound Bing had ever heard from a human throat which is wonderful if singing was all about pianissimos.
 
There are many examples of Di Stefano's artistry to enthuse over in this album of Martini and Rossi concerts between 1952 and 1956.  He was in his element then and was part of the golden operatic trio that Walter Legge had cultivated from the ravages of post-war Europe.  There was Maria Callas, Tito Gobbi and himself.  Callas was on the verge of acquiring the legendary status she still enjoys. Gobbi had been a firm favourite with audiences since his debut in 1935 and Di Stefano had been trumpeted as the new Gigli: the voice of the century. 
 
By 1964 it all came crashing down. Like a pack of cards lacking proper foundations his beautiful lyric tenor voice started developing flaws that could probably have been avoided.  Listening to these recitals is an eye-opener because one can hear how his voice was being produced in a live environment without the benefit of a studio recording where faults can be rectified and problems overcome.  He rather naively attributed his vocal problems to an allergy from the rugs he'd installed in his Milan apartment in the mid-1950s.  By then he was living a jet-setter's life-style - if jets were prevalent then ... but you know what I mean - and his flawed vocal quality was already affecting his performances.
 
Some experts blame his downfall on a lack of good judgement in singing roles heavier than his lyrical voice could sustain.  In fact, most of the arias on this album are no heavier than a lyric tenor would be expected to sing.  There are no Des Grieux, Count Almavivas or Ferrandos here.  Listening to this album clearly reveals that his 'lyricism' takes a back seat whenever he tries to sustain a note roughly higher that an F above middle C.  The voice tightens which indicates he is not using the air in his lungs efficiently.  As a consequence sometimes the pitch of the note is not achieved and if this misuse is allowed to continue, long term damage to the vocal mechanism can occur.  A good example of this forced projection affecting the pitch of the note is in the second of the Nessun Dormas (on CD2).  Here he reaches for the B flat that is the climax of the aria which he can't quite place properly; realising this, he abandons it for a lower note.  In a studio recording the aria would have been repeated until an acceptable version had been sung.
 
Which begs the question: why was this allowed to happen?  Who knows.  What I do feel, however, is that his vocal tutor should have realised there was a problem, taken measures to start developing Di Stefano's lower notes and perhaps have him singing baritone roles.  Even as a tenor his middle notes are quite lovely and he could feasibly have become a much sought-after Verdian baritone.  This could have extended his artistic life by a few years.
 
What about the rest of this double CD album?  Well, I wish I could be more optimistic.  There is substantial evidence of what I call 'needle echo' in the transition from what I presume were 78s to digital format.  This is especially noticeable when the ladies go for a high note or when the chorus clashes with the soloist and orchestra.  The best of the ladies is Giuletta Simionato. Unfortunately Signora Carosio's voice suffers from deficiencies in the recording techniques current at the time. These distorted most treble voices from Melba to Galli-Curci, while Ebe Stignani who retired from the operatic world six years after her appearance in this recital, should have thought about retiring earlier.
 
To give Di Stefano his due I enjoyed his renditions of the Italian canzone/folk-songs  probably because there was a noticeable lack of high notes and he was allowed his head in terms of tempi and style.  This allowed him to give vent to his obvious passionate nature.  His Core 'ngrato alone is almost worth the price of admission.  As for being the tenor of the century, I remain to be convinced.
 
Randolph Magri-Overend

 

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