It is good to have the three one-acters from Il trittico
issued separately, so that listeners can pick and choose. In the
case of the 1950s mono Trittico on EMI Classics, from which
this Tabarro comes, the three parts were recorded with
different conductors and various singers in the leading roles.
Gobbi also sang Gianni Schicci. Victoria de los Angeles was his
daughter Lauretta there, besides assuming the role of Suor Angelica.
On the Trittico closest in time to the EMI, Decca’s early
1950s recording, Lamberto Gardelli conducted all three operas
while Renata Tebaldi, slightly past her best, sang all three of
the heroines. That set, now available in a 15 CD box in harness
with all the other mature Puccini operas at a true give-away price,
is in stereo and good at that. Decca from the late 1950s were
always at the forefront sonically. The drawback may be that the
voices can seem too recessed in relation to the orchestra but
there is clarity and the dynamic range is impressive. The EMI
mono recording is small-scale in comparison but the voices emerge
well and no one need fight shy of the disc on sonic grounds. The
Rome Opera forces perform well under the rarely recorded Vincenzo
Bellezza. This late example of verismo becomes a chilling experience.
There is some excellent
singing in the comprimario roles. Piero de Palma, quite early
in his career, has more sap in his voice than he could muster
later and is as expressive as ever. Renato Ercolani in the wee
small role of song peddler is likewise good. Those two also
appeared on the Decca recording for which they swapped roles.
Plinio Clabassi is a sonorous Il Talpa and Miriam Pirazzini’s
grand mezzo-soprano is a pleasure to hear as Il Talpa’s wife.
But it is the three
main characters that count and the trump-card is Tito Gobbi.
He was at least as good an actor as he was a singer. His is
a constantly illuminating impersonation of the bargemaster.
This is evident from the initial everyday realism to the heart-rending
scene with his wife who rejects him, followed by his monologue
Nulla! Silenzio! and the final killing of Luigi. This
is masterly acting – and singing. The French soprano Margaret
Mas, whose only major recording this was, at the time just turned
thirty, lacks the creamy tones of Tebaldi but her voice has
character and a thrill of its own. Giacinto Prandelli was a
more regular guest at the recording studios singing, among other
things, Rodolfo opposite Tebaldi’s first Mimi. The owner of
a well-schooled, rather bright but not too big voice, he sings
a sensitive Luigi. Only in the ultimate love scene (tr. 8) is
on the Decca set are undoubtedly starry with Robert Merrill
singing Michele’s role superbly. However as an interpreter he
pales beside Gobbi. Tebaldi had retained most of her golden
tone but Margaret Mas, though occasionally a bit ‘screamy’,
is more involved. As for Luigi there is no denying that Mario
del Monaco has a glorious voice but little feeling for nuance.
Providing one can
accept the mono sound this is as good a version of Il tabarro
as one is ever likely to come across. As a bonus there is more
than twenty minutes’ worth of arias with Tito Gobbi, recorded
during the 78 era when he was at his freshest. All six arias
were included on a Nimbus disc with Gobbi that I reviewed less
than a year ago. I refer readers to that review
for comments on the music. I have done some comparative listening
and technically the transfers are practically inseparable.
Are you in need
of a recording of Il tabarro and feel you don’t want
to spend a fortune on it? Here is the answer. Instead of buying
a full price version you can have this one, which almost certainly
is musically superior, and still have money left for two bottles
of decent red wine.