About this Recording
8.110275-76 - GIORDANO: Andrea Chenier (Gigli, Caniglia) (1931)
English 

Umberto Giordano (1867-1948)

Umberto Giordano (1867-1948)

Andrea Chénier

 

The Italian tenor Beniamino Gigli (1980-1957) made commercial studio recordings over a period of 37 years (1918-1955). He was also the first international singer to record a whole series of complete operas in the studio between 1934 and 1946. He began with Pagliacci in 1934 [Naxos 8.110155], followed by La Bohème [8.11072-73] and Tosca [8.11096-97] in 1938, Madama Butterfly (1939) [8.110183-84], Cavalleria rusticana (1940) [8.110714-15], Andrea Chénier (1941), Un ballo in maschera (1943) [8.110178-79] and Aida in 1946 [8.110156-57]. The three made during the years of the Second World War are noteworthy in that no country other than Italy during this period undertook complete recordings of operas for commercial release. Furthermore, these recordings were made purely for the Italian market as all direct contact with EMI’s head office in England had been severed with the outbreak of hostilities between Italy and Britain in the summer of 1940. In the case of Andrea Chénier, the recording was not released in Britain until 1949, and then only to special order, and in the United States only in 1954 on LP.

 

The rôle of the revolutionary poet suited Gigli to perfection: it was always one of his favourite parts. Furthermore, it was this opera which introduced the tenor to London in 1931. There is a splendid ardour and passion in his singing. His career had taken wing when he won first prize in an international contest in Parma in 1914, the year he also made his début in Rovigo as Enzo in La Gioconda. Four years later Gigli appeared at the Teatro alla Scala as Faust in Mefistofele, the rôle in which he would make his début at the Metropolitan Opera in 1920. The tenor would continue to sing at the New York house every season until 1932 when he left in protest against salary cuts. He would return in 1938-39. Gigli sang at Covent Garden in the years 1930-31 and 1938-39 and in 1946 sang with the visiting San Carlo Opera with his daughter Rina in La Bohème and Pagliacci. He sang throughout Europe and South America and continued to make stage appearances until 1953. In 1955 he made a farewell tour of both Britain and the United States, in addition to making his final studio recordings at the age of 65. During the 1930s and 1940s he also appeared in over fifteen films. Anything he may have lacked in acting ability was more than compensated by the sheer beauty of his voice.

 

 The lyrico-spinto soprano Maria Caniglia (1905-1979) was born and studied in Naples, making her début in Turin in 1930 as Chrysothemis in Elektra. The same year she appeared at the Teatro alla Scala as Maria in Pizzetti’s Lo straniero, a house where she would sing regularly until 1943 and again from 1948-1951. Her international career took flight in 1935 when she sang Alice in Falstaff under Toscanini at the Salzburg Festival. Caniglia appeared at Covent Garden in 1937, 1939 and again in 1950 with the visiting La Scala Company. She visited Buenos Aires in 1937 and her single season at the Metropolitan in New York was during 1938-39. She also created a variety of rôles including Respighi’s Lucrezia in Milan in 1937. She retired during the late 1950s. Never the most finished or polished of performers she always conveyed a dramatic excitement and commitment to her interpretations. Caniglia appeared in a single film Il vento mi a cantato una canzone in 1947. She recorded Tosca, Un ballo in maschera and Aida with Gigli. She was married to the Italian composer Pino Donati (1907-1975).

 

The baritone Gino Bechi (1913-1993) was born and studied in Florence before making his début in Empoli as Germont père in La traviata in 1936. He was then engaged by the Teatro Reale in Rome in 1938, appearing regularly until 1952, and at La Scala from 1939 to 1953. He became the leading Italian dramatic baritone during these years, especially in Verdi and verismo rôles, as can be witnessed by the complete recordings alongside Gigli in the 1940s. Bechi’s London début was with the visiting La Scala Company in 1950 and he also appeared in the title-rôle of Rossini’s Guglielmo Tell in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1958. The baritone’s American appearances were confined to Chicago and Buenos Aires. Sadly, much of the beauty of his voice had diminished by the 1950s and he then moved into films, making in all a total of ten. He retired in 1965, later teaching and also directing operas.

 

The mezzo-soprano Giulietta Simionato (born 1910) studied in both Rovigo and Padua. She won a singing competition in Florence in 1933 before making her début in Florence in Pizzetti’s Orsèolo in 1935. Her first appearance at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan was as Beppe in L’amico Fritz in 1939. Her international career began when she sang at the first Edinburgh Festival in 1947. This was followed by engagements throughout Europe before singing at Covent Garden in 1953 as Adalgisa in Norma and Amneris in Aida opposite Callas; she would return again during the years 1963-65. Simionato was a regular performer at the Salzburg Festival between 1957 and 1963 before making her belated American début in New York in October 1959 as Azucena in Il trovatore, a house to which she returned in 1960 and 1962. Simionato retired from the stage in 1966. She was among the finest mezzos of her time, being a much-admired interpreter of the principal Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi rôles.

 

The baritone Giuseppe Taddei (born 1916) was born and initially studied in Genoa and later Rome. His début was as the Herald in Lohengrin in 1936. After war service in the Italian army, he first appeared in Vienna between 1946 and 1948, before singing in London with the New London Opera Company at the Cambridge Theatre as Rigoletto and Scarpia in 1947. The following year he was engaged as Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro at the Salzburg Festival. Taddei’s first appearances at the Teatro alla Scala took place in the autumn of that year and he would continue to sing at this house until 1961. His Covent Garden début was in 1960 and he returned regularly until 1967, while his belated introduction to New York was in 1985 in the title-rôle of Falstaff. Renowned as a memorable interpreter of all the main Verdi baritone rôles, Taddei was a much-admired Mozartian and also excelled as Hans Sachs, Wolfram in Tannhäuser and the Dutchman. He also sang buffo parts to great effect.

 

The bass Italo Tajo (1915-1993) studied in Turin, making his début there as Fafner in Das Rheingold in 1935, the same year he appeared at the fledgling Glyndebourne Festival. After singing in various provincial Italian houses, he was engaged in Rome in 1942 as the Doctor in a famous wartime production of Berg’s Wozzeck. After his début at La Scala in 1946, Tajo soon made his American début in Chicago, and within two years was singing Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a house in which he would appear until 1950. The bass returned to Britain in 1947, singing Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro and the title-rôle in Don Pasquale at the Edinburgh Festival. He also appeared in San Francisco between 1948 and 1952. In 1966 Tajo was appointed ‘basso in residence’ at the University of Cincinatti College-Conservatory. Then in 1976 he returned to the Metropolitan to sing character parts, continuing until 1982. He was also much admired for his performances in contemporary works by Malipiero, Milhaud, Nono and Pizzetti.

 

The conductor and composer Oliviero de Fabriitis (1902-1982) studied composition and conducting with Refice and Setaccioli in his home city of Rome, before making his début at the Teatro Adriano in 1920. Created Artistic Secretary to the Rome Opera in 1934, a post he would hold until 1943, he also continued to conduct at this house until 1961. He also inaugurated the summer seasons at the outdoor Baths of Caracalla in Rome in 1937. During these years de Fabriitis also conducted throughout Europe in addition to seasons in Mexico City. His British début was at the 1963 Edinburgh Festival with the visiting San Carlo Opera conducting Adriana Lecouvreur and he appeared at Covent Garden two years later directing the first performances of Simon Boccanegra in that house. In 1971 de Fabriitis was appointed artistic adviser to the Vienna Festival. He also conducted Gigli in recordings of Tosca and Madama Butterfly.

 

Malcolm Walker

 

 

Synopsis

 

CD 1

 

Act I

 

[1]        In the château of the de Coigny family preparations are being made for an evening reception. The majordomo supervises arrangements, as Gérard and other servants bring in a heavy blue sofa. Gérard mocks the behaviour and conventions of the aristocracy, angry and menacing when he sees his old father struggling to carry in more furniture, sixty years old and still a servant.

 

[2]        The Countess gives orders to the majordomo, while Maddalena and her maid Bersi come forward. Gérard admires the beauty of Maddalena. The countess busies herself with the arrangements for the evening and urges her daughter to make herself ready.

 

[3]        Maddalena complains about the restrictions of her dress. The guests are heard arriving, the writer Fléville, the poet Chénier and an Italian musician, introduced by Fléville. They are followed by the Abbé, from Paris with the latest gossip.

 

[4]        Fléville looks forward to an agreeable evening, as singers dressed as shepherds and shepherdesses come in to entertain the company. The Countess urges Chénier to recite one of his poems, but he demurs.

 

[5]        It is only at the express desire of Maddalena that Chénier is willing to recite.

 

[6]        All listen to Chénier’s poem, in which he contrasts the beauty of nature with the wretchedness that man creates, inveighing against the clergy and the nobility, to the disapproval of the company.

 

[7]        Maddalena seeks his pardon, while the Countess changes the subject and calls the guests to dance. This is interrupted by sounds from without and then by a group of beggars, led by Gérard, who introduces them as ‘His Highness Misery’. The Countess tells them to go, and Gérard with them. His father kneels to beg pardon, but Gérard urges him away, casting off his livery, while the Countess, having sunk down on the sofa, pulls herself together and tries to save the social situation.

 

Act II

 

[8]        The scene is Paris. To the right is an altar dedicated to Marat and to the left the Café Hottot, with the Perronet bridge over the Seine in the background. By the altar stand Mathieu, a sans-culottes, and Orazio Coclite, demolishing the bust of Marat. Chénier is sitting alone at a table in the café. Bersi is with the spy, L’Incredibile, who asks her if she is afraid.

 

[9]        Bersi has nothing to fear, as a true daughter of the Revolution, glad of her freedom and of the executions she sees. L’Incredibile is suspicious of her, however, and of Chénier.

 

[10]     Chénier is joined by his friend Roucher, who has a passport for him to leave Paris. Chénier, however, is confident in his own destiny, compelled now by his vision of a woman from whom he has received letters.

 

[11]     He shows one of them and Roucher looks quizzically at it, with its signature ‘Speranza’. He presses Chénier to leave Paris and forget the letters.

 

[12]     The mob gathers, cheering Robespierre, with Gérard, and L’Incredibile asks Gérard about the woman he is looking for. He describes Maddalena to him.

 

[13]     Bersi approaches Roucher, observed by L’Incredibile. Chénier is about to leave, but Bersi tells him that Speranza, the woman who has written to him and is in danger, wishes to see him.

 

[14]     Watched by L’Incredibile, Maddalena approaches, hoping to meet Chénier. She reminds him of his words at the château, revealing herself as Maddalena, recognised by the watchful L’Incredibile as the woman that Gérard is seeking. She explains her situation, followed by spies, and relying only on Bersi and now seeking his love and protection. Chénier promises both, until death.

 

[15]     Gérard rushes in, warned by L’Incredibile, but Chénier protects her, draws his sword, and Gérard falls wounded, warning Chénier to fly, as his name is on the list of those proscribed. Mathieu and the crowd with him seek to know who has attacked him, but Gérard tells them that the name of the assassin is unknown, while they call for his death.

 

 

CD 2

 

Act III

 

[1]        The Committee of Public Safety is in session. Mathieu is reading out a list of traitors, appealing to the crowd for money. Gérard enters, now recovered from his injury.

 

[2]        He appeals for money and for men to fight against their enemies.

 

[3]        An old blind woman offers her only remaining grandson to the service of the country. There is the sound of popular celebration off-stage.

 

[4]        L’Incredibile approaches Gérard, telling him that the bird is in the net. Chénier has now been arrested, and Maddalena is certain to come looking for him. He tells Gérard to prepare the accusation against Chénier.

 

[5]        Gérard has qualms of conscience about denouncing Chénier, his personal rival. Nevertheless, spurred on by jealousy, he writes the indictment, as L’Incredibile approaches again.

 

[6]        Maddalena seeks an audience with him and is alarmed at his declaration of his own feelings and motives. She offers herself to him as the price of Chénier’s release.

 

[7]        Maddalena goes on to recount the death of her mother in the flames of the burning château. Gérard promises to do what he can, although Chénier is already condemned.

 

[8]        The tribunal is in session and various condemnations are confirmed. Chénier is brought in, the proceedings watched by Maddalena. He angrily denies treachery.

 

[9]        He tells them how he has fought for his country with the sword, and with the pen against hypocrites.

 

[10]     Fouquier-Tinville is about to condemn Chénier, when Gérard confesses that the indictment he has written is false and attacks the injustice of the whole proceeding. His plea is in vain.

 

Act IV

 

[11]     Chénier is sitting by a lantern in the courtyard of the prison of St Lazare, writing on a scrap of paper. Roucher is near him, reminded by Schmidt that it is time to go.

 

[12]     He finishes writing and in answer to Roucher’s request reads the poem he has written, echoing his poem of the first act and expressing the feelings of a poet near to death. Roucher leaves him. The voice of Mathieu is heard in the distance, as Gérard approaches the prison, with Maddalena.

 

[13]     She exhorts Gérard to remember his promise, as she bribes Schmidt to allow her to take the place of another woman who is to be executed. Gérard begs her to save herself, as he moves away into the second courtyard.

 

[14]     Chénier is brought in, now ready to die, having seen Maddalena. She tells him that she will die with him.

 

[15]     They join together in a final declaration of love.

 

 

Keith Anderson

 

 

Producer’s Note

 

This recording of Andrea Chénier, made by Italian HMV during World War II, was first published on pressings manufactured in Italy specifically for the Italian market. Although these pressings are free of the crackle that often afflicts British HMV pressings, they yield too high a degree of surface hiss for them to be a good source for digital transfer. Several years after the war, this recording was published on English pressings that were amazingly quiet and two mint condition sets of these pressings were used for the present edition. In order to preserve the sonic integrity of the performance, no excessive filtering and noise reduction techniques have been employed, and no artificial reverberation has been added. In remastering this recording, care has been taken to reproduce the music at proper score pitch since the original speeds are somewhat inconsistent from one side to another. In fact, the side containing the soprano aria La mamma morta was accidentally recorded 4rpm below the standard 78rpm speed.  For this transfer, each side was checked against the score and adjusted accordingly.

 

Ward Marston


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