Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Toscanini All-Verdi War Bonds Concert
1. Introduction [1:20]
2. Overture [5:31]
3. Quando le sere [5:25] with Jan Peerce
4. O don fatale [4:50] with Nan Merriman
Un ballo in maschero
5. Eri tu [6:47] with Frank Valentino
La forza del destino
6. Pace, pace, mio Dio [5:19] with Gertrude Ribla
7. Interval [3:06]
8. Act III [31.00] with all soloists
9. End announcements [0:56]
Announcements: Ben Grauer
Gertrude Ribla (soprano); Nan Merriman (mezzo); Jan Peerce (tenor); Frank Valentino (baritone); Nicola Moscona (bass)
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini.
rec. live, broadcast 5.00 – 6.15 pm, 25 July, 1943, NBC Studio 8H, New York City; XR Ambient Stereo
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO106 [64:14]
This live broadcast preserves a slice of history in the general sense that it is a fund-raising effort typical of Toscanini’s contribution during World War II. Apart from Gertrude Ribla, who studied under Frances Alda and did not sing at the Met until 1949, it features a typical Metropolitan cast of that era. It was during transmission that the downfall of Mussolini was announced, an event which gave the Maestro particular joy.
According to the extract included in the notes, following the announcement,”Toscanini rushed back on stage, clasped his hands and gazed heavenwards, in a sign of thanksgiving, while the audience, equally beside itself, applauded, cheered, screamed and all but tore the studio to pieces.”
That emotion is not apparent to the listener here but this is clearly a high-octane performance, stronger on volume than subtlety. The pace is pressing and the ensemble sharp; the singers give a bravura, can belto account of their music, which consists of highlights from five operas culminating in the whole of the last Act of “Rigoletto”. Americans all – Moscona taking US nationality in 1945 - they sound wholly Italianate both vocally and linguistically; Toscanini would have tolerated nothing less and was a stickler for pronunciation. No doubt his gimlet eye fell upon the instrumentalists responsible for the ragged introduction to “O don fatale”.
The star of the show is Jan Peerce, a tenor I consider still to be under-rated in comparison with his brother-in-law, Richard Tucker. His powerful and yes, (excuse the pun) piercing tenor with its quick vibrato and vibrant tone dominates proceedings, although Valentine seeks to rival him for unyielding, stentorian volume. His voice is very similar to that of another of Toscanini’s favourite baritones, Giuseppe Valdengo. Clearly these were singers used to filling big auditoriums and they do not modify their style to suit the studio. Nan Merriman, surprised me by the heft of her voice, both its registers fully opened up to their extremes and deployed to maximum effect in an aria made difficult by its combination of long legato lines and percussive declamation. I find the incipient flutter in Ribla’s voice faintly perturbing and she hardly floats the notes in her aria. She is however a commanding presence.
The “Rigoletto” extract is, in common with the evening’s entertainment as a whole, strong on impact with the singers adhering to an unvarying forte and delivering a highly energised account. Valentine eschews the optional high A on “La maledizione” at the close of the opera but is otherwise impressive. No-one would claim that this is the best version available but it’s one which would put behinds on seats today.
The announcements and interval address have been judiciously edited by Andrew Rose to concentrate on the music and the Ambient Stereo sound is, as ever from Pristine, superb. There’s just the right amount of air and reverberation to tame the notoriously flat and dry acoustic of Studio 8H.