Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
La Bohème (1896)
Che gelida manina [4.59]
Alfredo Kraus, tenor
Sì. Mi chiamano Mimi [4.54]
Mirella Freni, soprano and Nicolai Gedda, tenor
O soave fanciulla [3.53]
Leontina Vaduva, soprano, and Roberto Alagna, tenor and Thomas Hampson, baritone
Quando m'en vo' soletta [2.31]
Ghena Dimitrova, soprano
Donde lieta uscì (Mimì's Farewell) [3.24]
Montserrat Caballé, soprano
Dunque è proprio finita! [5.42]
Daniella Dessi and Adelina Scarabelli, sopranos with Giuseppe Sabbatini, tenor, and Paolo Gavanelli, baritone
In un coupé...O Mimi tu più non torni [4.52]
Alfredo Kraus, tenor and Sherrill Milnes, baritone
Gianni Schicchi (1918)
O mio babbino caro [2.04]
Angela Gheorghiu, soprano
Firenze è come un albero fiorito [2.27]
Roberto Alagna, tenor
La fanciulla del West (1910)
Minnie, dalla casa son partito...Laggiù nel Soledad [4.31]
Birgit Nilsson, soprano, and Andrea Mongelli, baritone
Ch'ella mi creda [2.17]
Charles Craig, tenor
Madama Butterfly (1904)
Dovunque al mondo...Amore o grillo [7.36]
Quanto cielo!...Ancora un passo or via [2.59]
Victoria de los Angeles, soprano with Jussi Bjorling, tenor, Piero de Palma, tenor and Mario Sereni, baritone
Bimba, dagli occhi ... [10.56]
Lenora Lafayette, soprano and Richard Lewis, tenor
Un bel di vedremo [4.40]
Renata Scotto, soprano
Humming Chorus [3.07]
Royal Opera Chorus
Con onor muore [5.32]
Renata Scotto, soprano and Carlo Bergonzi, tenor
Tosca (1900)
Recondita armonia [2.54]
Placido Domingo
Mario! Mario! Mario!...Quale occhio al mondo [12.58]
Maria Callas, soprano, and Carlo Bergonzi, tenor
Tre sbirri, una carrozza [3.51]
Tito Gobbi, baritone, and Renato Ercolani, tenor
Vissi d'arte [3.25]
Angela Gheorghiu, soprano
E lucevan le stelle [3.23]
Franco Corelli, tenor
Manon Lescaut (1893)
Donna non vidi mai [2.19]
Nicolai Gedda, tenor
In quelle trine morbide [2.49]
Ruth Ann Swenson, soprano
Tu, tu, amore? Tu? [7.49]
Lenora Lafayette, soprano and Richard Lewis, tenor
Intermezzo [4.43]
New Philharmonia Orchestra
Sola, perduta, abbandonata [4.23]
Ghena Dimitrova, soprano
La Rondine (1916)
Chi il bel sogno di Doretta [3.05]
Montserrat Caballé, soprano
Suor Angelica (1918)
Senza mamma, O bimbo [5.15]
Kiri Te Kanawa, soprano
Turandot (1926)
Signore, ascolta! [2.43]
Ruth Ann Swenson
Non piangere, Liù...[2.11]
Franco Corelli, tenor, Renata Scotto, soprano, Bonaldo Giaiotti, bass
In questa Reggia [5.59]
Ghena Dimitrova, soprano
Tu che di gel sei cincta [2.28]
Montserrat Caballé, soprano
Nessun dorma [4.12]
Jose Carreras, tenor, with Choeurs de l'Opéra du Rhin
Orchestras: National Philharmonic Orchestra; Orchestra del Teatro dell'Opera di Roma; Philharmonia Orchestra; London Symphony Orchestra; Orchestra del Teatro Communale di Bologna; Orchestra del Teatro all Scala di Milano; Orchestra; Halle Orchestra; Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire; New Philharmonia Orchestra; Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg
Conductors: James Levine; Thomas Schippers; Antonio Pappano; Anton Guadagno; Charles Mackerras; Gianluigi Gelmetti; Lovro von Matacic; Gabriele Santini; John Barbirolli; Lamberto Gardelli; Eugene Kohn; Georges Prêtre; Franco Ferraris; Giuseppe Patanè; Julius Rudel; Bruno Bartoletti; Myung-Whun Chung; Alain Lombard
rec. ADD/DDD
EMI CLASSICS 9071392 [74.35+77.41]

This compilation is interesting and takes us on an imaginative journey through EMI's back catalogue.

The selections are generally well chosen in terms of capturing the special atmosphere of each opera. I was impressed at the way that Puccini managed to create quite distinct sound 'worlds' for the different dramas while maintaining a high standard throughout. It is a little odd that Angela Gheorghiu's 'O mio babbino caro' is on CD1 while other extracts from Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica are on CD2 (nothing from Il Tabarro). Most of the content is broken up with the arias/ensembles appearing in the sequence they appear in the score - La Bohème CD1 Tracks 1-7, Tosca CD2 Tracks 1-5 and so on.

With any compilation disc from archives, there can be debate regarding the choice of artists. This album is interesting as the choices are often off the critical ‘beaten track’. If one were to single out a performance of La Bohème on EMI one might have thought the Bjorling/De Los Angeles/Thomas Beecham performance or the starry Di Stefano/Callas/Panerai recording with Antonio Votto. In fact this album avoids these altogether and heads for a combination of complete sets and recitals which cover the whole range from the 1960s (Schippers) through to Gelmetti (mid-1990s). The results are actually rather lovely - certainly justifying their inclusion in most instances. He smooth tones of Alfredo Kraus are rather unusual in Bohéme where beefy tenors reign supreme but the performance is full of character and well vocalized. His duet later with Sherrill Milnes is not the most idiomatic imaginable but the artists distinguish themselves as having something to say in this repertoire. Mirella Freni is a model of charm and beautiful tone in the Schippers recording - even better I think than ten years later with Pavarotti. The selections here manage to sidestep some of the weaker contributions on the complete sets such as Renata Scotto a little past her prime and Nicolai Gedda who was not best suited to the role of Rodolfo. Roberto Alagna and Leontina Vaduva are vivid and well matched - Alagna shows that the more lyrical repertoire suited him like a glove at this stage of his career - try his other contribution at Track 11 on CD2. With Ghena Dimitrova there is again an unidiomatic quality which is not really helped by her voice sounding about three times too big for the role of Musetta - Anna Moffo with Callas/Di Stefano would be my pick here.

Dimitrova is far better, however, in the second CD extracts where her strong tones really astonish in 'Sola perduta abbandonata'. Her Turandot is not bad at all and probably preferable to Caballé and Callas on EMI but not to Birgit Nilsson. Nilsson is heard to advantage in the duet from Fanciulla del West. Daniella Dessi sounds more comfortable here than as Elisabetta in Don Carlos or her later Pagliacci with Pavarotti and Muti (both EMI). She sounds good in the recent I Medici on DG with Placido Domingo - 15 years earlier they had difficulty in recording her voice without making it sound pretty acidic on the high notes and lacking in body for Verdi. Perhaps the voice has changed also? Giuseppe Sabbatini is really very good in this ensemble - it seems a shame that he, along with so many other tenors, was somewhat eclipsed in the late 1980s, early 1990s by the pre-eminence of Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti. He lacks a little of their charm but is preferable to many tenors in this repertoire.

Gheorghiu is pretty much ideal as Laretta in Gianni Schicchi recorded in close-up. Birgit Nilsson steals the show as Minnie - on the complete record she pretty much sings the baritone and tenor into the middle of next week. Here she sounds her confident best. Charles Craig is able and has strong high notes - not quite a match for Mario Del Monaco but certainly game and very sensitive to the emotions of the piece. The selections from Madama Butterfly with Victoria de Los Angeles and Jussi Björling do not quite break new standards but that is not helped by the tracks used here - Jussi Björling really hits his stride in the section 'Bimba dagli occhi' here sung by Lenora Lafayette and Richard Lewis. I had not heard this coupling before with John Barbirolli and I welcome the chance to hear this over the better-known version with Carlo Bergonzi and Renata Scotto.

Richard Lewis was a Mozart tenor famous in Idomeneo. His closest match on record is Nicolai Gedda who is similarly lyrical at the beginning of this duet. Gedda's Italian is better but Lewis actually develops the character throughout the duet. He trumps Gedda's performance. Lewis in fact provides virile excitement as the duet progresses and his voice is well matched with Lenora Lafayette who on this basis - a blistering Manon Lescaut duet is Track 8 on CD2 – is certainly the equal of many fine sopranos on record. Her voice sounds a decent size with similarities to Antonietta Stella and occasionally Leontyne Price. I prefer her sound to that of Scotto on the Barbirolli complete set.

Placido Domingo opens CD2 with a quite brilliant 'Recondita Armonia'. That record is from his 'Roman Heroes' album which I think is among his finest achievements. The thrill of his voice is extraordinary. The next selection is from the Maria Callas stereo remake of Tosca recorded eleven years or so after the classic set conducted by De Sabata. It has not been transferred very satisfactorily to CD - I have LPs which do not make the voices sound so strident – the engineers may have boosted Callas's voice at the time which just highlights the flaws. Her voice shows signs of significant wear and tear but I have always liked this performance for all the detail she brings out. Her first act is shrill but the result is pretty electric all the same. This duet shows off Bergonzi's admirable Cavaradossi - his phrasing is really sweet. If Gobbi does not quite match his earlier achievement - his tone is less vivid - the results are still excellent.

Gheorghiu sounds as if she is almost impersonating Callas in 'Vissi d'arte' - albeit with a softer and more beautiful voice. The result is pretty good if recorded a touch close-up. Franco Corelli's 'E lucevan le stelle' is fine without matching his marvelous and completely over-the-top live performances - especially at Parma.

Gedda seems an unlikely Des Grieux in Manon Lescaut but then again he has enough voice for the part. Ruth Ann Swenson sounds confident and beautiful even if she cannot quite equal the efforts of Montserrat Caballé. She is more like Te Kanawa in the role of Manon but with a deal more excitement - very good and rather unexpected given the supposed dearth of fine modern sopranos in this repertoire. If she pales somewhat in comparison with Montserrat Caballé as Liu (Swenson sings 'Signore Ascolta' (Track 14) and Caballé in 'Tu che di gel sei cinta' (Track 17)) she belongs to a distinguished company as Caballé really seems pretty much ideal in the role. Speaking of Te Kanawa she is lovely in 'Senza mamma'. Corelli nearly takes off in 'Non piangere Liu' and is stupendous throughout that complete recording - a highlight in the catalogue. Finally we have a powerful conclusion in Jose Carreras's vibrant - recorded during his absolute prime in the mid/late 1970s - 'Nessun Dorma' which suffers only a little from plodding conducting.

This is really quite interesting as far as compilation discs go. I am not sure it’s a match for some of Decca's compilations. They really seem to have a knack for it. Decca showcase singers who were more famous and perhaps more at home in the Puccini roles: Tebaldi, Pavarotti, Sutherland, Del Monaco, Di Stefano. Even so, the results are satisfyingly dramatic and I can say that even though I have a lot of CDs I was surprised and delighted with the selections here and was entertained throughout. I would have been interested in recording dates etc but they are not in the booklet. The booklet is sparse, in fact, lacking any libretto - to be expected, unfortunately - or synopsis of the operas or details on Puccini. You also look in vain for details about the artists. This lets the set down a little as it gives the impression that it was flung together. I doubt that was the case as the selections here appear to have been intelligently chosen. Throughout the sound is good and all the selections are stereo.

David Bennett

A pretty typical selection of arias and ensembles made interesting by off-the-beaten-track choices including singers not famous in Puccini. Overall very satisfying.