About this Recording
8.110145 - GIANNINI, Dusolina: Arias and Duets (1943-1944)

In Concert: Dusolina Giannini

In Concert: Dusolina Giannini

Arias and Duets

‘It is always a pleasure to hear a new record by this singer - one of the few Italian sopranos now prominently before the public who knows how to use a beautiful voice in the right way’


Herman Klein, writing in Gramophone in 1929


Fourteen years elapsed between the distinguished critic Herman Klein’s comment, quoted above, and the recordings culled for this CD from three Standard Hour broadcasts of 1943/4, but throughout that period Dusolina Giannini was rated as one of the world’s finest ‘Italian’ sopranos (Italian at least by parentage), a worthy colleague of Maria Caniglia, Giannina Arangi-Lombardi, Lina Brusa Rasa and Gina Cigna, all of whom were singing similar repertory at much the same time.

            This selection of arias represents some of Giannini’s best rôles. Son giunta! grazie o dio....Madre, pietosa Vergine from Verdi’s La forza del destino is a good example of the presence that Giannini creates on record; immediately an image of this terrified Leonora is conjured, reaching the end of her bitter journey, and whilst the voice is not ideally steady, the impact is quite thrilling. Similarly in Pace, pace, in which Leonora still struggles to find peace in her tortured life; the repeated cry ‘fatalità’ and the final ‘Maledizione!’ are chillingly sung, evocative of the grand style of singing that Giannini epitomized.

            The contrast with Connais-tu le pays? from Thomas’s now almost forgotten opéra comique of 1866, could hardly be more striking. Here is Mignon recalling misty memories of her childhood, and even if something of the character’s naiveté is wanting, Giannini brings appropriate simplicity to the tale, with some fine soft singing. The rôle of Gioconda is more typical Giannini fare, and she sweeps the big phrases forward, the rich chest voice darkly expressive at ‘Fra le tenebre’. The part lends itself to the great vocal gesture, and whilst stretched at the great climax of the aria, we can understand how, with her handsome Latin looks and commanding bearing, she would have been one of the great Giocondas of her day.

            This Ritorna vincitor from Aida will inevitably be compared with the version from the complete recording of 1928 (made with the forces of La Scala, Milan) in which Giannini sang with Aureliano Pertile as Radamès. At the time of that set’s release the two singers had recently performed their rôles together at Covent Garden, and Herman Klein had fulsome praise for the soprano: she ‘has all the requisite delicacy and finish for the task, while her tone has the right ring of pathos and sweetness in addition to a power that is never forced’. Fifteen years later she is still impressive, making the text count for much and is particularly moving as she refines her tone for the closing notes. Vissi d’arte, the prayer from Tosca’s second act, finds Giannini at her best, rising passionately to ‘perchè, perchè Signore’; here, totally in command of her still-generous resources, she does full justice to this celebrated aria. A thousand pities that she never had the opportunity to record the rôle complete.

            Giannini liked to include popular ballads in her frequent song recitals and here are two gems. Ethelbert Nevin composed a number of attractive songs and piano works, but he lived only to the age of 38, dying in 1901; his The Rosary achieved immense popularity in the plush drawing-rooms and concert halls of the Edwardian age. It was performed and recorded then, and for years after, by many of the world’s greatest singers (but, alas, ignored by almost all their modern counterparts) and Giannini’s rendering is very affecting. Of the same genre is I love you truly by his fellow American, Carrie Jacobs Bond (1862-1946), which is given an equally sincere performance; Giannini judges the style exactly and succeeds in making much of these barely-remembered miniatures.

            The daughter of Italian parents, Dusolina Giannini was born in Philadelphia in 1902 into a thoroughly musical family. At the surprising age of twelve Dusolina sang Cieca in La Gioconda, and then Azucena in Il trovatore, at her father’s theatre; her unexpected début in Carnegie Hall, New York took place in 1923, deputising for an ailing colleague, and two years later, after training with Marcella Sembrich, she made a formal operatic début in Hamburg as Aida. In demand throughout Germany, Switzerland, in London, Vienna and the USA, Giannini added such rôles as Leonora (La forza del destino), Santuzza and Butterfly, and sang Alice Ford and Donna Anna in Salzburg; a strenuous touring schedule took her coast-to-coast in the United States and to Australia and New Zealand. Her appearances with the Metropolitan company were few - twenty, spread over six seasons from 1936 - but she was the Tosca of the opening performance of New York City Opera in 1944, subsequently appearing there as Carmen and Santuzza. During those years she also sang in Chicago and San Francisco with popular, if sometimes controversial, success, one of her rôles being Kundry in Parsifal, conducted by Monteux. In 1949 she was guest artist at the Berlin Staatsoper and the next year sang Carmen in Vienna.

            Blessed with a rich, dark timbre, whose metal adds a keen edge to many of her recordings, Giannini was sometimes afflicted by vocal unsteadiness that marred otherwise exciting interpretations, but she invariably displayed a fine dramatic temperament and her committed characterisations had real ‘face’ and personality. In retirement she became a voice teacher and died in Zürich in 1986.

            Giannini made her first records for Victor in 1924 and her last in 1934. During that period more than fifty sides were issued, including operatic arias, Lieder, Italian songs and ballads.


Paul Campion



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