Great Tenor Arias - Volume 1
Bruno Prevedi, Gianni Raimondi, Gino Penno
DECCA ELOQUENCE 482 0292 [61.36]
Great Tenor Arias - Volume 2
Giuseppe Campora, Gianni
Poggi, Flaviano Labo
DECCA ELOQUENCE 482 0290 [74.37]
In his unfinished autobiography Putting the record straight John Culshaw, senior producer at Decca during the 1960s, recounts at some length the problems that the company had with various Italian tenors at that time. During the early years of LP and stereo there was a great scramble to record complete Italian operas in which the principal competitors were Decca, RCA and EMI with some more marginal interest from DG and Philips. RCA initially invested most of their tenorial capital in Jussi Bj÷rling; but following the semi-merger of that company with Decca, Culshaw found it necessary to dispense with the services of the Swedish star (his alcoholism being the main problem) and look elsewhere for singers. The leading tenor under contract to Decca at the time was Mario del Monaco, but Culshaw seems to have sought far and wide for an alternative and/or a successor. Among those he sought to promote was Luciano Pavarotti, but Decca management thought little of his prospects and restricted the future superstar to a single EP recital. Culshaw laments the fact that he was not permitted to find and nurture promising talent, but in point of fact his track record of recommendations – James McCracken for German roles, Ernst Kozub for the title role in Siegfried – didn’t exactly work out as expected, either.
The Decca recital discs gathered on this pair of CDs focus on the work of a number of other tenors active during this period, with only the three items by Gianni Raimondi deriving from a later era; and they give us a valuable taste of several tenors whose careers in the studio were severely limited. Many can now be encountered in live recordings, of course; but the vagaries of stage performance do not always allow for their merits to be fully evaluated.
One tenor here whose work did extend to complete commercial operatic recordings was Gianni Poggi, whose studio work embraced a considerable number of Verdi, Puccini and other verismo sets for both DG and Philips in the early stereo era. These did not meet with universal acclaim, with Edward Greenfield in particular describing Poggi in the Stereo Record Guide as making “the most horrible noises”, a criticism reprinted regularly in later issues of the Penguin Guide as the sets received reissue. Actually the perpetuation of the description is not wholly fair. Poggi was certainly an unimaginative singer, who like Mario del Monaco often seemed to show a total inability or unwillingness to sing at any volume less than forte; but his basic tone was actually more rounded than del Monaco’s, more lyrical and less heroic in style. The 1954 recordings included here show also a willingness to explore less obvious areas of the Italian repertory, and there are some occasional instances of quiet singing to be found too (which Poggi obviously abandoned later in his career). His singing of Di quella pira is really very exciting indeed, although he allows this to push him into some alarmingly approximate pitches towards the end (he cuts the second verse). On the other hand Donna non vidi mai begins pretty unpleasantly with some sour tuning, although one again notes that the occasional phrase is delivered with an inwardness that was decidedly absent in his later career. Then again the aria from Gianni Schicchi is bumptious and lacking in charm at the start, and ends with something suspiciously close to shouting. And the delivery of Come un bel di di maggio hardly suggests that the hero of Giordano’s Andrea Chenier is supposed to be a poet.
Of the other five tenors featured here, the lion’s share goes to Bruno Prevedi, from whom we hear twelve items recorded in 1964 with a rather excitable (pre-knighthood) Edward Downes conducting a raucous Covent Garden orchestra. Like Poggi, Prevedi has little time for subtle nuance or any dynamics below forte – and of a mezza voce there is no sign whatsoever. The excerpts from Andrea Chenier completely lack any sense of poetry at all, and his Verdi items are delivered in full voice like verismo with almost no light and shade and some straining for high notes. In his farewell to his mother from Cavalleria rusticana Turridu addresses her like a public meeting. Prevedi obviously impressed Decca executives enough to be cast in the next couple of years in their complete sets of Macbeth and Nabucco, but not in more major roles – which seems about right. I once owned both of these recordings, and cannot recall Prevedi’s contribution being a highlight in either. His treatment of the arias from Turandot is perfunctory in the extreme, and he rushes the climaxes in both.
Two of Prevedi’s Puccini items are reduplicated in live performances by Gianni Raimondi, who at least shows an occasional willingness to sing quietly in E lucevan le stelle; but the basic tone quality, cheered to the rafters by the audience, is decidedly thin and reedy without the plush warmth that is ideally needed. Mind you, these recordings were made in 1980, getting on for twenty years after Raimondi’s appearances at La Scala in (for example) Karajan’s video of La BohŔme, so perhaps we should not expect too much.
The 1954 recordings of Gino Penno are a bit basic (neither the chorus and orchestra are named, and the conductor’s name was totally unknown to me as well) but, to be quite honest, the performances do not really deserve better. The two Bellini items are resolutely old-fashioned – can belto rather than bel canto – and in Sento avvampar Penno’s habit of reaching for high notes from below actually lands him on the flat side of the correct pitch. The final Di quella pira, apart from a pair of stentorian high Cs, could serve as a perfect example of how not to sing this aria since the repeated semiquaver figures (marked staccato by the composer) are consistently blurred and unclear; one is here grateful for the truncation of the second verse. The booklet notes inform us that he also sang Wagner (in Italian); maybe he was better there.
The appearance of a named orchestra and a recognised conductor on the recital by Flaviano Lab˛ which opens the second disc comes as a blessed relief. And at last we encounter a tenor whose merits well deserve reissue. We have a real sense of engagement with the text, a willingness to shade the voice to achieve dramatic expression, and although the voice is not ideally rich it has an attractive sense of personality which in Che gelida manina reminds me of Nicolai Gedda. His top C is true and clear, as well. In the two arias from Turandot Lab˛ finds all the sense of drama that was so conspicuously lacking with Prevedi. His only complete commercial recording was in the title role of Don Carlos for DG; that company should have seized the opportunity to cast him in other sets as well.
Giuseppe Campora doubled that achievement with two complete studio recordings (Madama Butterfly and Simon Boccanegra), and apart from E lucevan le stelle and Come un bel di di maggio from Andrea Chenier his selection of items here shows a commendable readiness to venture off the beaten track. Indeed the aria from Mascagni’s Lodoletta remains a rarity even in today’s climate of readiness to explore unknown repertory. Campora himself has a voice of true quality if not ultimate glamour, and shows an intelligent appreciation of the music he sings; listen to the way he shades the transition back into the opening material of Boito’s Dai campi, dai prati. But later tenors have made much more of an aria like Cilea’s E la solita storia.
This pair of CDs (available separately) deserve our gratitude to Eloquence who once again have shown a willingness to explore the field of recordings which might otherwise have remained undiscovered in the archives. Those interested in Italian voices of the 1950s and 1960s will need no recommendation to investigate, and the performances of Flaviano Lab˛ and Giuseppe Campora on the second disc should repay other listeners too. Some reduplication of items is of course inevitable in a compilation such as this, with three recordings apiece of such arias as Recondita armonia and Amor ti vieta. But even here the documentary value of these reissues is palpable, and is enhanced by informative booklet notes by Peter Bassett. No texts or translations, of course, but in this context that is excusable.
Paul Corfield Godfrey
Andrea Chenier: Un di all’azzura spazio: Si, fui soldato: Come un bel di di Maggio [9.35]
Fedora: Amor ti vieta [1.52]
Il trovatore: Ah, si ben mio [3.07]
La forza del destino: O tu, che in seno agl’angeli [6.26]
Cavalleria rusticana: Mamma, quell vino e generoso [3.31]
Tosca: Recondita armonia [2.44]
Madama Butterfly: Addio, fiorito asil [2.02]
La fanciulla del West: Ch’ella mi creda libera e lontano [2.19]
Turandot: Non piangere, Liu: Nessun dorma [5.21]
Bruno Prevedi (tenor), Orchestra of the Royal Opera Covent Garden/Sir Edward Downes
rec. London Opera Centre, 8-13 March 1964
Tosca: Recondita armonia: E lucevan le stelle [6.00]
La fanciulla del West: Ch’ella mi creda libera e lontano [2.09]
Gianni Raimondi (tenor), Verona Area Orchestra/Bruno Marinotti
rec. Arena di Verona, 1980
Norma: Svanir le voci: Meco all’altar di Venere [8.23]
Simon Boccanegra: O inferno: Sento avvampar [5.08]
Il trovatore: Di quella pira [2.15]
Gino Penno (tenor), chorus and orchestra/Antonio Narducci
rec. Milan, January 1954
La forza del destino: O tu, che in seno [6.39]
La Gioconda: Cielo e mar [4.53]
La BohŔme: Che gelida manina [4.46]
Tosca: Recondita armonia: E lucevan le stelle [5.52]
Turandot: Non piangere, Liu: Nessun dorma [5.22]
Fedora: Amor ti vieta [1.57]
Flaviano Lab˛ (tenor), Orchestra of Santa Cecilia/Fernando Previtali
rec. Santa Cecilia, Rome, July 1956
Tosca: E lucevan le stelle [2.33]
Falstaff: Dal labbro il canto estasiato [3.51]
Andrea Chenier: Come un bel di di Maggio [2.52]
Mefistofele: Dai campi, dai prati: Giunto sul passo estremo [5.13]
L’Arlesiana: E la solita storia (4.15]
Lodoletta: Ah, ritrovata [4.11]
Giuseppe Campora (tenor), Orchestra of Santa Cecilia/Alberto Erede
rec. Santa Cecilia, Rome, July-August 1955
Luisa Miller: Quando le sere al placido [5.35]
Il trovatore: Ah, si be mio: Di quella pira [5.05]
Manon Lescaut: Donna non vidi mai [2.44]
Gianni Schicchi: Firenza e come un albero fiorito [2.25]
Andrea Chenier: Come un bel di di Maggio [3.05]
Fedora: Amor ti vieta [2.04]
Gianni Poggi (tenor), Orchestra of Santa Cecilia/Alberto Erede
rec. Santa Cecilia, Rome, July 1953