|About this Recording
8.111307 - PUCCINI, G.: Tabarro (Il) (Gobbi, Mas, Prandelli) (1955)
Great Opera Recordings
Michele, bargemaster - Tito Gobbi (baritone)
Giacomo Puccini (1858 - 1924)
Born in Lucca in 1858, Puccini showed early signs of musical talent, and was an organist and choirmaster by the time he was only nineteen. With the aid of a grant secured by his mother, he entered the Milan Conservatory, where he studied under Amilcare Ponchielli, the composer of La Gioconda. With Ponchielli’s encouragement, he entered his first opera Le Villi into a competition for the composition of a one-act opera, organized by the publishers Sanzogno, but was not successful. Le Villi was thought good enough, however, to be produced in Milan in 1884, and as a result of this, the publisher Ricordi commissioned Puccini to write another opera. This was to be Edgar, which failed at its première, also in Milan, in 1889. Puccini’s next two operas were much more successful: both were first performed at Turin, Manon Lescaut in 1893 and La bohème in 1896. Puccini’s first verismo opera (the term used to describe operas with a supposedly ‘realistic’ character) Tosca had its première in Rome in 1900, once again to great popular success. With its combination of melody, drama, and vivid orchestral colour, it confirmed Puccini as the leading Italian composer of opera of the time. Madama Butterfly, first performed in Milan in 1904, had to be recast before it gained the popularity of the earlier operas, and took longer to establish itself, as did all of Puccini’s later works. These included La fanciulla del West, first performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1910, La rondine (Monte Carlo, 1917), and Il trittico (New York, 1918). Puccini’s last opera, Turandot was left unfinished at his death in 1924, and was first performed in this state, conducted by Toscanini, at La Scala, Milan, in 1926.
Il trittico is a triptych of one-act operas that together present a unique overview of the human experience. Il tabarro is the first of the three works which make up this trilogy, the other two being Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi. The libretto for Il tabarro, or The Cloak in English, was written by Giuseppe Adami, who also provided Puccini with the texts for La rondine and Turandot. Adami based his drama on the play by the French dramatist Didier Gold, La Houppelande, which Puccini had seen in Paris, where it had caused a sensation. By the time he composed Il trittico, Puccini was acknowledged both as the world’s most popular opera composer, and as an expert in exploring in musical terms the inner thoughts of the characters whom he portrayed, such as those of Michele, the central figure in Il tabarro. Puccini did not attend Il trittico’s world première at the Metropolitian Opera in 1918 owing to the difficulties of travel in wartime. The first performances, with a spectacular cast including Claudia Muzio (Il tabarro), Geraldine Farrar (Suor Angelica), and Giuseppe De Luca and Florence Easton (Gianni Schicchi), were successful but the work as a whole was expensive and risky to produce compared with Puccini’s earlier successes, and so Il trittico took longer to establish its place in the operatic repertoire.
By contrast each of the three individual operas of Il trittico proved to be of an ideal length for the longplaying record, introduced into the United States in 1948 and to Great Britain shortly afterwards. The present recording was made by EMI in Rome during October 1955, and was released shortly afterwards. The central figure in the recording is without question the baritone Tito Gobbi, then at the height of his very considerable powers. Born in 1913, Gobbi studied in Rome and made his stage début in the small town of Gubbio in 1935 as Rodolfo in La sonnambula. The following year he won a singing competition in Vienna and joined the Rome Opera as a principal baritone. Here he sang the leading Verdi and Puccini rôles and made a particular impact with his interpretation of the title part in Berg’s Wozzeck, in the opera’s Italian première of 1942. He made his début at La Scala, Milan (1942) and at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (1950) as Belcore in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s he was an especial favourite of British audiences, who greatly admired the deep psychological insight which, as a fine actor as well as singer, he brought to his interpretations of parts such as Boccanegra, Iago, Macbeth, Rigoletto and Scarpia. He made his American début at San Francisco in 1948 and in 1954 began a long association with he Chicago Lyric Opera as both a singer and stage director, a rôle which he assumed more in the later stages of his career, when he also taught widely. The leading Italian baritone of his generation, he died in Rome in 1984. The distinguished critic and Puccini scholar Edward Greenfield has described his account of Michele as ‘by far the most individual and compelling on record’.
The soprano Margaret Mas was born in France in 1924, and studied with Madeleine Mathieu in Paris. She began her stage career in the South of France in the numerous French provincial opera houses. In 1949 she made her début at the Paris Opéra, where she remained as a valued company member for the next twenty years, appearing in addition at the Paris Opéra-Comique. From the early 1950s she was also active in Italy, especially at the San Carlo in Naples. In 1957 she participated in the world première of Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at La Scala, Milan. She also sang at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires and the Teatro Liceo in Barcelona, and was especially noted for her interpretations of the works of the verismo school of composers, particularly Zandonai and Giordano.
The tenor Giacinto Prandelli was born in 1914 in the town of Lumezzane, near Brescia. He sang as a boy in church choirs and studied with Grandini in Brescia and Fornarini in Rome. He made his début in 1938 in a Verdi concert at Bussetto, and followed this with appearances at the Teatro Donizetti in Bergamo in 1940 and 1942, when he sang Rodolfo in La bohème. The following year he was alternating with Gigli in performances at the Rome Opera. By 1944 he was active throughout Italy and sang with Toti dal Monte in Genoa. He took part in the concert to mark the reopening of La Scala, Milan, under Toscanini in 1946, and between 1949 and 1961 appeared every year at the Rome Opera. During the 1950s he also sang frequently abroad, appearing with the Metropolitan Opera in New York (1951-53, 1954-55) and with the San Francisco Opera Company (1954) and at the Colón in Buenos Aires (1960). In 1956 he sang in the Verdi Requiem as part of the season of opera given at the Stoll Theatre, London. A tall imposing figure on stage with red hair and a repertoire of more than fifty rôles, he also recorded extensively, for instance with the soprano Renata Tebaldi in another opera by Puccini, La bohème (Naxos 8.110252-53).
Vincenzo Bellezza was a major conductor of Italian opera. Born in 1888, he studied at the Naples Conservatory, and made his début with Aida at the San Carlo in 1908. He quickly developed his career in Italy and from 1920 was chief conductor at the Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires. Between 1926 and 1935 he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York and in 1926 at Covent Garden, where he led Dame Nellie Melba’s farewell performance of La bohème. From 1935 he was active predominantly in Rome, although he returned to London to conduct at the Stoll Theatre in 1957. His only other complete opera recording was also for EMI, of La traviata, made just after the Second World War.
 The scene is set on Michele’s barge in the Seine, with a gangway leading to the bank. Notre Dame can be seen and buildings by the river, bordered by plane-trees. Above the cabin is the helm, and inside everything is tidily set out, with pots of geraniums, washing hanging to dry and on the cabin door a canary cage. It is sunset and the fifty-year-old barge-owner Michele, his pipe out, stands by the helm, watching the sunset, while his young wife Giorgetta busies herself with the washing, waters the flowers and cleans the bird-cage. On the bank stands a horse and cart, and dockers come and go, carrying heavy sacks on their shoulders as they unload the barge. Giorgetta calls out to her husband. The dockers have worked hard and the hold must be empty and tomorrow they can load again, she suggests, adding that the men deserve a drink. The dockers are heard at their work. Michele tells her she thinks of everything, and approaches her affectionately: he does not drink, his pipe is out, but his love still burns. He kisses her, but she turns her head, letting him kiss her cheek. He goes down into the hold. She exchanges words with the young docker Luigi, as the dockers finish their work.
 Led by Luigi, the other workmen gather round Giorgetta, who gives them wine. Talpa, Tinca and Luigi drink her health. Luigi calls out to a passing organ-grinder, but Giorgetta tells the men she knows only one kind of music, the one for dancing. She dances with Tinca, while Luigi and Talpa stop their ears at the discords of the barrel-organ. Luigi makes fun of Tinca, and takes his place, dancing with Giorgetta in his arms. Michele enters, from the hold, and they stop dancing. Luigi signs to the organ-grinder to stop and gives him some money, before he and the others go down into the hold to finish their work.
 Giorgetta, assuming an air of naturalness with difficulty, asks Michele of their plans, and whether they are to take Talpa, Tinca and Luigi with them, when they leave for Rouen. A song-vendor is heard, selling his last song. Giorgetta admires the September sunset, the sun, like a great orange, dying in the Seine. She draws his attention to Talpa’s wife, Frugola, who is coming to look for her husband - rightly, Michele suggests, as he drinks too much. Giorgetta says that she may be jealous and asks her husband what is wrong. The song-vendor is followed by a man carrying a little harp and they are surrounded by a group of midinettes, leaving their work. They call for a song, and the harpist sits on a stool to play, while the vendor sings for them. Michele asks if he has treated Giorgetta badly, and she denies it, but would prefer violence to silence. The singer continues his song to spring, the season for lovers, where one who has lived for love dies for it. The girls buy the song, while Giorgetta continues to ask Michele what is wrong. The musicians leave, while the midinettes, now in the distance, are heard singing the last verse of the song they have bought.
 Talpa’s wife Frugola appears on the bank and crosses the gangway onto the barge. She carries on her shoulders a sack full of all kinds of rags. She greets them, and Michele leaves, to enter the cabin. Frugola asks if her husband has finished work: that morning she had dealt with his aches and pains. She laughs and throws her sack down, rummages in it and produces a comb, that she offers Giorgetta, delighted at what she has collected that day. From her sack she brings out lace and velvet, rags and jars, evidence of a thousand loves, joys and torments, collected without distinguishing the rich from the common people, and, in a paper bag, a beef-heart for her cat, who keeps her company, when her husband is out. Talpa comes up from the hold, followed by Luigi. Michele emerges from the cabin, asking Luigi for his help in loading the next day. Tinca appears, with the other dockers, ready to go. Talpa asks him if he is in a hurry, while Frugola chides the men for wanting to drink. Tinca, however, tells her that drinking is better than thinking. He makes to leave, laughing, while Michele goes down into the hold.
 Luigi says he is right: it is better not to think, with life so hard, bread earned by sweat, head bowed and back bent. Tinca tells him to follow his example and drink. He goes and Talpa tells his wife that they should go, as he is dead tired. Frugola hopes that some day they can buy a cottage in the country: she has always dreamt of such a place, there with her husband and her cat.
 Giorgetta has quite another dream: it is Paris that brings her alive, if only Michele would give up this itinerant existence, with no life between the bed and the stove. She lived in Belleville, where Luigi tells her he was born too: Belleville is their country, their world, living in a house, with friends, shops lit up, noise, the Bois de Boulogne. Luigi joins her in praising the life of the suburbs, of Paris. Frugola understands that life is varied there and Talpa suggests they should go to eat. Luigi, however, stays, to talk to Michele. Talpa and Frugola leave, arm in arm, and their voices are heard, dreaming of their country cottage.
 Luigi and Giorgetta are left alone. They are in love, but she is afraid of discovery and death. Luigi would rather die than see her so tied down, and she wants them to be far away, always together. He makes towards her, but Giorgetta, in fear, tells him to be careful, as Michele appears again from the hold. Luigi tells him that he has been waiting for him, asking him to put him ashore in Rouen. Michele tells him that would be foolish, as it would be worse there, and Luigi agrees to stay working for him. Michele turns towards the cabin to prepare the lights, and Luigi wishes him good night.
 Giorgetta asks Luigi why he has asked to be left in Rouen, and he tells her that he cannot share her with Michele. The lovers express their pain and their loves, endless kisses, oaths and promises, the two of them far away. He agrees to come back in an hour’s time, and she will give him the same signal that all is safe, with a light. Luigi is in love and jealous that another should touch her, his passion rising to a height, as she hurries him away.
 Giorgetta sighs that it is hard to be happy. Michele asks why she has not gone to bed: he will stay up. She thinks she has done well to prevent Luigi leaving, but he thinks that two men would have been enough for the work. He could let Tinca go, as he drinks too much, Giorgetta suggests, but Michele adds that he drinks to soothe his pain, as his wife is a whore: he drinks so as not to kill her. Giorgetta is troubled by this.
 Michele approaches her, asking why she no longer loves him. She coldly tells him that he is wrong: she loves him, and he is good and honest: now they should go to bed. She tells him that she cannot sleep inside, but he says the nights are cold and nothing has been the same since the death of their child. Once, he tells her, she would shelter under his cloak and rest her head on his shoulder, her mouth near his, in happiness: now his grey hairs seem an insult to her youth. She begs him not to go on. She pleads tiredness, but he knows she will not sleep, and tries to draw her towards him.
 Michele asks her to stay with him, remembering other nights, other skies, other moons, the time they have spent together on the barge. He pleads with her to come back to him, but she tells him that they are older now, she is not the same, and that he too has changed. A distant church sounds the hour and she wishes him good night. As she goes into the cabin, he utters the single word Sgualdrina, whore! He sets the red, green and white lights on the barge, while two lovers are seen passing on the bank.
 Michele slowly and cautiously approaches the cabin, listening, knowing that Giorgetta is not undressed, not sleeping but waiting. He wonders who has changed her and come between them: Talpa? Too old: Tinca? He drinks. Luigi? But he wanted to be left in Rouen. Who then? He will kill the man, if he finds him. He sinks down, exhausted, as the night darkens. Then he takes out his pipe and lights it. At that moment Luigi, who has been waiting on the bank for Giorgetta’s signal, leaps onto the barge. Michele sees the shadow, starts up, lies in wait, then recognises Luigi.
 Michele seizes Luigi by the throat, asking if he is there for his lover, telling him not to lie but to confess. Luigi draws a knife, which Michele makes him drop, accusing Luigi, who eventually admits he loves Giorgetta, as he dies. Her voice is heard from the cabin and Michele quickly covers Luigi’s body in his cloak. Giorgetta, now seeks the comfort of his cloak, which, according to his saying, hides joy and sorrow. He tells her to come near, and opens the cloak to reveal the body of Luigi. She cries out in terror and Michele seizes her, throwing her down, forcing her face against that of her dead lover.
Giacomo PUCCINI: (1858-1924)
Reissue Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Appendix: Tito Gobbi – Opera Arias
PUCCINI: La fanciulla del West
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