Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
(Highlights: Non piangere Liu; In questa reggia; Straniero ascolta; Nessun Dorma; same extracts again for 10 May 1937 but adding Signore ascolta)
Eva Turner (soprano) - Turandot; Giovanni Martinelli (tenor) - Prince Calaf; Mafalda Favero (soprano) - Liu; Licia Albanese (soprano) - Liu; Giulio Tomey (bass) - Timur; Octave Dua (tenor) - Emperor.
Chorus of ROH; London Philharmonic Orchestra/John Barbirolli
Giovanni Inghilleri sings arias from Tosca (Te Deum), Otello (Brindisi), Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Largo al factotum) and Un ballo in maschera (Eri tu che macchiavi)
Orchestra and Chorus of Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/John Barbirolli
rec. live, Covent Garden, 5, 10 May 1937 (Turandot); Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1929. mono. ADD

With SJB 1032 the Barbirolli Society restore to circulation the much celebrated 1937 Turner-Barbirolli-ROH Turandot excerpts. Simultaneously they reopen the wound caused by the failure to record the whole thing. All true operaphiles must have this sequence in one version or another. You might have had it initially in EMI’s Historical label of the early 1990s: CDH 761074 2 but that was without the Giovanni Inghilleri arias.

As for the Puccini, as heard on 5 May 1937, it’s absolutely hair-raising. Through the bristling crackle Turner’s voice cuts its path like a beam of light. Her tone and sustain is unwavering and Martinelli knows his place. Barbirolli lofts the excitement yet higher with a malleable and responsive super-romantic orchestral support and incitement. This is grandiloquent singing and while words undeniably disappear in Turner's magnificent projection Martinelli takes pains with consonants, word forms and phrasing.

Also from Covent Garden we hear Inghilleri's 1929 Scarpia in the tolling Te Deum at the end of Tosca Act I. Barbirolli gives it an erotic sway to match the seething desire in Inghilleri's hair-raising Scarpia. Shame that the bells and climax are beyond the technology of the time. There is much else to enjoy among the other arias. These include a sensational Largo al factotum by Inghilleri with vocal colour rendered with splendid vitality.

The disc ends with the Turandot extracts taken down again at the Covent Garden on 10 May 1937 but with Albanese’s Signore ascolta added. The latter starts the aria on a rather strangled note but soon recovers. Is the temperature just a degree cooler here or are the voices just a metre or two more distant than five days before? We get Albanese rather than Mafaldi this time but the gripping stars are Turner and Martinelli. On the up side do listen out for Barbirolli’s spectral ostinato for Non piangere, Liu.

These recordings were made from versions in Lady Barbirolli's collection and re-mastered by Paul Bailey of Re-sound.

Robert Matthew-Walker’s notes are admirable allowing for one slip in which he calls Alfano ‘Alfani’. They fill in the detail around Barbirolli the opera conductor rather than the better known Barbirolli of the concert hall.

Barbirolli had a natural feeling for Italian opera evident from all these extracts. He could have been one of the recorded greats had there been more time and opportunity but his absorption with the concert podium precluded this. The fact is that he would have triumphed in whatever he tackled.

Rob Barnett