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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Rigoletto (1851)
Rigoletto - Riccardo Stracciari (baritone); Gilda - Mercedes Capsir (soprano); Duca di Mantova - Dino Borgioli (tenor); Sparafucile - Ernesto Dominici (bass); Maddalena - Anna Masetti-Bassi (contralto); Giovanna - Ida Mannarini (mezzo-soprano); Monterone - Duilio Baronti (baritone); Marullo - Aristide Baracchi (baritone); Borsa - Guido Uxa (tenor); Conte di Ceprano - Eugenio Dall' Argine (bass); Contessa di Ceprano - Ida Mannarini (mezzo-soprano); Un paggio - Anna Novi (mezzo-soprano)
Orchestra and Chorus - Teatro alla Scala/Lorenzo Molajoli
rec. 27 August 1927 (Pari siamo); 17-27 May 1930, Milan, mono
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO169 [49:17 + 57:05]

This was the first and earliest recording I considered on my survey of twenty-five versions of Rigoletto posted in July 2019, and I reproduce my findings below, seeing little reason to reconsider them. Indeed, I am gratified to see that Pristine have chosen to include an extract from my review as the introduction to their liner notes in this new transfer by Mark Obert-Thorn. The main concern of this review, therefore, is to consider any improvement in its sound quality now that it has undergone the invariably welcome and often even revelatory Pristine Audio remastering treatment, as my original review was based upon listening to the Arkadia issue.

The good news is that the Pristine remastering is certainly an improvement overall on previous incarnations. Inevitably, there will always still be a certain amount of “frying tonight” background hiss but that cannot be eliminated without eviscerating the original and it is often greatly attenuated here. Middle and lower frequencies here, too, are undoubtedly fuller, mellower and warmer on the ear. The edge on tenore di grazia Borgioli’s and lyric soprano Capsir’s higher notes has been removed and the swish which afflicts quieter moments in previous releases, such as in the opening “Gualtier Maldè” is much diminished almost to the point of inaudibility. A couple of peculiarities, however, are that on my Arkadia set the “Pari siamo”, made three years earlier, before the rest of this studio recording, is clearly taken from a pressing decidedly superior to whatever source Pristine used here and there is considerably more hiss, if admittedly more immediacy and detail, in the atmospheric opening of Act Three on Pristine. Obviously there is always a trade-off regarding the diminution of surface noise and loss of clarity but Mark Obert-Thorn is known for his moderate, non-interventionist approach. While any judgement he made will be subjective, it will also have been based on an acute aesthetic sensibility and long experience.

Apart from those anomalies, almost everything elsewhere on this Pristine issue is acoustically and aurally preferable. Having said that, while I am always reluctant to discourage any potential Pristine sale, if you already own a previous issue such as the Arkadia set I first reviewed, I cannot in all honesty say that you should rush to acquire this new one. On the other hand, if you do not already have it, this is the best option for the first-time buyer.

This is the review from my Rigoletto conspectus:

“I am always pleasantly surprised by how listenable some of these ancient recordings can be; apart from the slight rustling underlay, my copy on the Arkadia label is little worse than many a mono recording from the 50’s and anyone who wants to hear one of the greatest Verdian baritones ever, who had already made his debut while Verdi was still alive, will be rewarded. Stracciari’s co-singers are distinguished: refined, bright, but powerful lyric tenor Dino Borgioli and brilliant Spanish coloratura soprano Mercedes Capsir, who specialised in roles such as Gilda. The rest of the cast are Milanese regulars and uniformly fine, including a fine Sparafucile from bass Ernesto Dominici who pops up regularly in recordings with Gigli. When the choir and orchestra are singing and playing in unison the sound becomes boomy and hollow, obscuring detail, but solo voices emerge particularly cleanly.

Stracciari had an especially rich, sonorous quality to his baritone – it really was a unique, miraculous sound of extraordinary resonance; no other Rigoletto except Titta Ruffo approaches its depth and power. He was already a veteran performer in his early fifties here, having sung professionally for thirty years, but the voice is still in marvellous condition and he uses the text so expressively. Sadly, the only other complete recording he made (in 1929 with the same two co-singers and conductor as here) was of his other signature role, Figaro, which he sang over a thousand times.

What little we know about Molajoli is through the excellence of the recordings he made for Columbia; everything about his conducting is right here. You will not hear a better assumption of the eponymous leading role and he is more than adequately partnered.”

This remains my prime recommendation in the historical recording category and Pristine’s renovation of it only enhances its status.

Ralph Moore

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