Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Rigoletto - Melodramma in three acts (1851)
Duke of Mantua - Ferruccio Tagliavini (tenor); Rigoletto, his jester - Giuseppe Taddei (baritone); Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter - Lina Pagliughi (soprano); Sparafucile, a villain available for hire as an assassin - Giulio Neri (bass); Maddalena, his sister - Irma Colasanti (mezzo); Giovanna, Gilda’s Duenna - Tilde Fiorio (mezzo); Count Monterone - Antonio Zerbini (bass); Marullo, a courtier Alberto Albertini (baritone); Matteo Borsa, a courtier - Tommaso Soley (tenor); Count Ceprano - Mario Zorgniotti (baritone); Contess Ceprano - Ines Marietti (soprano)
Cetra Chorus, Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI/Angelo Questa
rec. Turin, 22-24 February 1954, mono
WARNER MUSIC ITALY 2564 66211-6 [52.47 + 59.40]
I am surprised to find myself recommending this whole-heartedly. This is even in comparison with the now legendary Gobbi-Callas-Di Stefano set or more recent favourites such as the Milnes-Sutherland-Pavarotti Decca version (not to all tastes, I know). There are many strong reasons for my advocacy of this rather ancient Cetra recording.
First, the 1954 mono sound has now been immeasurably improved from earlier issues, when it was harsh and strident. It is now clean, with the voices well forward and offers little distortion in climaxes. Then we have the quality of both the singing and the conducting. Angelo Questa presided over many admirable Cetra recordings, including a very recommendable 1956 Aida with a young Corelli; here he directs a subtle, unfussy, wholly idiomatic performance with an orchestra and chorus who have the music and language in their blood.
Many collectors and opera buffs will want this recording for both Taddei and Tagliavini. Taddei is heard at his best and Tagliavini, a tenore di grazia, famous for his honeyed mezza voce and head tones, nonetheless had steel in his tone when he needed it. The frequency with which he resorts to those quieter effects might take a modern listener, more used to the Pavarotti approach to this role - all brilliance and verve - a little by surprise. It is musically and dramatically very effective and perhaps preferable to Di Stefano's more effortful delivery.
Taddei's characterisation is less biting than Gobbi's but richer of voice and just as subtle. He is very moving in his appeal to the courtiers and capable of powerful scorn, too. I love both his and Gobbi's assumptions. Pagliughi was then approaching the end of her career and is at times a mite breathless and tweety. Some runs are smudged, some top notes unsteady, but she is a skilled, experienced and affecting singer who effectively voices the naive Gilda. Callas, wonderfully dramatic as she is, doesn't quite capture the quality of girlishness.
The all-Italian supporting cast, headed by the aptly-named, black-voiced Giulio Neri, is wholly idiomatic.
The test of any recording of Rigoletto is often in that wondrous last Act. While this one doesn't quite match the thrill of the Serafin, it still sweeps the listener along with its relentless tension and the terrible pathos of its conclusion. If you had only one Rigoletto, there is no reason why it should not be this one.
There are a few, brief cuts as was the standard practice at the time. No libretto.
I should add that the libretto is by Francesca Maria Piave and is based on Victor Hugo’s drama Le Roi s’amuse. Rigoletto was first performed at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice, on 11 March 1851.
If you had only one Rigoletto there is no reason why this should not be it.