Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Ernani - opera in four acts (1843) [117:55]
Ernani, the bandit - Gino Penno (tenor); Don Carlo, King of Spain - Giuseppe Taddei (baritone); Don Ruy de Silva, a Spanish grandee - Giacomo Vaghi (bass); Elvira, Silva’s niece and loved by Ernani - Caterina Mancini (soprano); Don Riccardo, the King’s equerry - Vittorio Pandano (tenor); Jago, equerry to Silva - Ezio Achilli (bass); Giovanna - Licia Rossini.
Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro di Roma della RAI/Fernando Previtali
rec. 25 June 1950, Rome. AAD. mono
WARNER FONIT 2564 66143-6 [74:38 + 43:17]
Here is another of the radio broadcast recordings produced by Cetra in the 1950s. Their chief value now, apart from intrinsic artistic excellence, is that they re-connect us with a vanished tradition. Despite being largely overlooked, they are hardly held in low esteem by people who really know their opera. "Gramophone" reviewer Philip Hope-Wallace began the fashion of belittling them with patronising condescension in his reviews through the 1950s and 1960s, though to be fair, he could not have foreseen the dearth which now teaches us to appreciate them better. 

Why should a sixty-year-old mono recording remain desirable? Easy: there are voices here to pin back the ears of the most jaded opera-buff and yet none except Giuseppe Taddei is really well-known. Gino Penno had a scant ten years at the top in the 1950s as a successful international Heldentenor and partner of Callas in several Verdi operas, then dropped out of sight - but what a voice he had. Not exactly beautiful - in fact it's rather plaintive and penetrating of tone - but it is absolutely huge, smooth and even with a ringing top, superb legato and ample breath which allows him to ride orchestral climaxes.
Just as impressive is the much-underrated Caterina Mancini. She, too, has fearless attack, enormous volume, and a gutsy lower register. Top notes can be a little acidic and her coloratura can be laboured but we have had no one of her amplitude of voice since her contemporary Tebaldi - whom she somewhat resembles, vocally. Despite the size of their voices, both artists can sing quietly and their intonation and musicality are unimpeachable.
As if that were not sufficient to gladden the heart, we also hear the great baritone Giuseppe Taddei and Giacomo Vaghi, a bass once spoken of in the same breath as Pinza and Pasero, but whose star seems to have fallen. He has a smooth, black tone and great authority - a treacly treat of a voice.
The studio recording is in clean, clear, undistorted mono and Previtali conducts with wise and generous forbearance towards his singers, letting the melodies breathe and bloom, not rushing but not allowing any slackness to creep in, either. I have a great attachment to another contemporary classic live performance of that era with Del Monaco, Cerquetti, Bastianini and Christoff, but I cannot say that this one is inferior. Each delivers a full-blooded performance of Verdi at full throttle the like of which it is impossible to hear today.
The original garish 1951 cover artwork is reproduced and there is no libretto.  

Ralph Moore 

Full-blooded Verdi at full throttle the like of which it is impossible to hear today.