About this Recording
8.111104 - GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 15: Carnegie Hall Farewell Recitals (1955)
English 

Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957)
The Gigli Edition Vol. 15 • Carnegie Hall Farewell Concerts, April 1955

 

When Gigli gave his three farewell recitals at Carnegie Hall he was in his mid-sixties and determined to say goodbye in true style. He relates in his autobiography about how he did his last tour of the United Kingdom in February, then did the same in Lisbon. He continues: 'The condemned man is allowed a last wish. I had not been to the United States for more than sixteen years. So many people must have forgotten me, in that country, where yesterday belongs to the garbage can, that a farewell hardly seemed necessary. But I had not forgotten the Americans. I wanted very much to sing for them once again. I wanted myself for one last time to hear myself called "Mr Giggly". I wanted to take one last look at the Metropolitan.

'It was not easy to arrange an American tour at short notice but Gorlinsky [his agent] came to my rescue and shouldered the ungrateful task with his usual dynamic efficiency ... And so on 17 April 1955, I was back singing at Carnegie Hall only a few steps from the apartment on West 57th Street, which had been my home for twelve years. How New York had changed! I felt like Rip Van Winkle …

'I gave two more concerts on 20 and 24 April… singing, clapping, shouting, coughing … and the three concerts were registered with items from them, put onto an LP, and I often play it over to myself now.'

The famed tenor was right in his assessment of the enthusiasm which, fifty years later, can be felt on these CDs. Gigli remained to the end his old, communicative self, still able to pour into whatever he was singing an immense tranche of emotion. He just loved to be up there performing and if - now in his mid-sixties - some allowance has to be made for the passing years when he puts pressure on his voice on high, the overall sound is still remarkable for a man his age and the honeyed mezza-voce remains a thing to delight in, untouched by the passing years.

Items were judiciously chosen from the three recitals to preserve the occasion in permanent form. As ever in a Gigli programme, operatic titles are intertwined with more popular material. By and large Gigli, understandably, kept faith with those pieces he most enjoyed singing and that his public adored. Lohengrin's arrival, as ever sung in Italian, Des Grieux's Dream Song, Werther's Pourquoi me réveiller, Ottavio's Dalla sua pace (Don Giovanni), E lucevan le stelle (Tosca) are all given the full Gigli treatment, persuasive and gentle half-voice followed by the full measure of attack at the climaxes (where needed).

The lovely aria from Gomes's Lo Schiavo, though he had recorded it when he was in his prime, is a less likely offering, but one of the most successful, and the aria from Fanciulla is new to his recorded repertory. Oddly Giovanni Martinelli, Gigli's older contemporary, also recorded it when about Gigli's age here. Neither was very wise to do so, for the piece is too demanding at its climax for a not-so-young singer. The same is true, where Gigli is concerned, of O paradiso.

For the rest we have a whole succession of those sweetmeats Gigli loved devouring at his recitals. He is quite irresistible in the vocal version - Tristesse - of a Chopin Etude, in Caccini's Amarilli, in that charming trifle Bergère légère and in De Curtis's Addio bel sogno. The nuances he finds in these delicacies is truly unique.
Then there's Gigli in typically outgoing, jolly mood as caught in Curci's Notte a Venezia, Bixio's hugely popular Mamma and, of course 'O sole mio. The two English numbers give us one last chance to hear Gigli's delightfully accented English.

The devoted audiences on each occasion break in with applause well before the item is completed, but that is part and parcel of such a farewell. As so often, if we compare these readings with Gigli's studio performances of the same music, we find that extra spontaneity here in the concert hall.
Gigli gave his farewells at the right time. He had only two more years to live. As he writes in the envoi to his book: 'It was only through my audiences that this exercise of lungs, diaphragm and vocal cords became transmuted for me into a profound spiritual experience. Like a squirrel counting his hoard of nuts in the winter, I treasure their applause in my memory.' Through fifteen volumes we have heard this great tenor give our and future generations the wonderful benefits of his golden voice and generous style. It is an achievement unlikely to be repeated in the future. Gigli was truly unique.

© 2007 Alan Blyth

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Producer's Note

With the final volume of our Gigli series, released to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the tenor's death, we come to his last recordings. Taped by RCA Victor at the behest of EMI at his three Carnegie Hall farewell concerts in April 1955, they make their first appearance on CD here. The tracks have been transferred from a combination of American and Italian LP pressings.

We had hoped to round out the reissue of all of Gigli's recordings on CD with this release; however, there are six tracks published after his death that have not yet gone into the public domain. They are:


Title (Composer)

Date

Matrices

Catalog #

Release Date

Ritorno (Maziotti)

3-1-48

0EA 12666

7ER 5100

1958

Ave Maria (Cecconi)

24-3-53

0EA 17255

BLP 1095

1957

Maristella: Io conosco un giardino (Pietri)

2-4-53

0EA 17316

RLS 732

1979

Wiegenlied (Brahms)

8-3-54

0EA 17882

153-54101/171

1981

Maggiolata Veneziana: Maggio, sereno il cor (Selvaggi)

26-3-54

0EA 17899

RLS 732

1979

Maggiolata Veneziana: Ballata (Selvaggi)

21-10-54

0EA 18133

RLS 732

1979

Aside from these items, those wishing to collect Gigli's complete commercial recordings on compact disc may do so by obtaining the fifteen volumes of the Naxos Gigli Edition, the eight complete operas and the Verdi Requiem (also on Naxos), and Testament's four CDs devoted to the bulk of his song recordings made between 1949 and 1955.

On a personal note, this marks the end of an adventure which began some 27 years ago, when I first wrote to the director of RCA Red Seal with a proposal to produce an LP set devoted to Gigli's complete Victor recordings. Though they did not take this up at the time, Romophone did in the mid-1990s, eventually expanding the series to include all of the tenor's HMV "singles". The label folded after publishing ten Gigli CDs, but the cause was taken up by Naxos, which allowed me to revisit and improve the earlier volumes and conclude the project, appropriately enough, with the tenor's valedictory recording.

Mark Obert-Thorn

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Recorded live in Carnegie Hall, New York City by RCA Victor
Matrices: F2-RP-4044 and 4045
First issued on RCA Victor LM-1972 and HMV ALP 1329


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