About this Recording
8.110266 - GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 5: New York Recordings (1927-1928)

Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957)

Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957)

The Gigli Edition Vol. 5 • Camden and New York Recordings 1927-28


With Victor’s introduction of the electric process in 1925, the reproduction of voices and, particularly, of orchestral accompaniments improved markedly. As one would expect, there was an upsurge in record production as the new method found an eager public. The new system produced both an expansion of repertory and a desire to provide new, improved versions of some of the old acoustic best-sellers.


Among Gigli’s experimental electrics are a two-sided version of the Lucia ‘Tomb Scene’ (Naxos 8.110264). The first of these comprises both the accompanied recitative, Tombe degl’avi miei and the ensuing cantabile, Fra poco a me ricovero. To fit this much material on a single twelve-inch makes for a rather hurried but still quite expressive disc. The second side contained the cabaletta, Tu che a Dio, here shorn of the transition between the two statements of the melody. Two years later this material was

re-recorded complete, with the addition of Pinza in the important phrases of Raimondo, and the Metropolitan Opera Chorus, the whole scene encompassed three sides. Edgardo was a rôle that Gigli sang 21 times at the Met, and it is one that suits his heart-on-the-sleeve approach especially well. The varied moods of the recitative are nicely differentiated, culminating in the beautiful mezza voce of the closing phrase before the final expansiveness: ‘Tu delle gioie in seno, io, della morte’. Donizetti never wrote more expressively for a tenor than in Fra poco a me ricovero, and Gigli makes the most of it. This 1927 Tu che a Dio is particularly fine, enriched as it is with Pinza’s plangent contribution.


In its advertising the Victor Red Seal line had always featured combinations of the prominent singers of the day in various ensembles. The Lucia Sextet and the Rigoletto Quartet had sold well even at advanced prices and were obvious candidates for new electric versions. One of the convenient aspects of such a project was that the same four singers for the Verdi ensemble could serve, with the addition of a bass and a second tenor, for the Donizetti. These projects traditionally made a feature of the tenor, as the quartet begins with the Duke’s solo, and Edgardo, along with the baritone Enrico, starts off the first section of the sextet.


What would be more natural then than to plan these new recordings around Gigli, currently the star Italian tenor of the Victor stable, and to use Galli-Curci, a veteran of the 1917 versions with the late Caruso (the soprano having proven herself in the intervening decade something of a gold mine for Victor). Louise Homer, then in her mid-fifties and even more of a veteran (her first Red Seals had been made in 1903), was currently (in 1927) enjoying a sort of postscript to her distinguished career. Giuseppe De Luca had sung the baritone parts with Caruso and Galli-Curci in Victor’s last project with these ensembles in 1917. To these four were added the then-recent arrival in the United States, Ezio Pinza, and that prince of comprimarios, Angelo Bada.


In the electric Rigoletto Quartet Gigli is a mellifluous Duke, seductive in tone but without seeming even slightly urgent in his pursuit of Sparafucile’s sister. Galli-Curci is a sweetly cautious Gilda here; Homer, a rock-solid but not very suggestive Maddalena; De Luca, in his best bel canto form. All in all, this is a pretty concert reading devoid of any suggestion of drama. Gigli is more involved in the Lucia ensemble, singing with a sense of text and sounding quite brilliant on the series of B flats when he doubles the soprano line near the end. There is some loss of momentum in the middle section (where all six begin to sing), which seems largely attributable to Galli-Curci: her fil di voce trepidation – though justifiable here in the drama – seems to stem instead from her rather precarious vocal condition at this point in her career.


In 1926 Gigli had recorded three duets with Titta Ruffo from La forza del destino, La Bohème and La Gioconda (Naxos 8.110265).  The following year these three duets were remade, this time with De Luca. An Italian version of the Act 1 Pearl Fishers duet was also sung by the pair to fill two double-sided 78s. Although a year older than Ruffo, De Luca had a keen sense of vocal proportion, unlike his injudicious predecessor in these numbers; indeed De Luca could still sing creditably into his seventh decade. To contrast his singing of the phrases beginning Amasti un dì una vergine in the Gioconda duet with Ruffo’s is to set vocal art against bluff. Gigli establishes just the right tone of dreamy nostalgia for the big tune in the Pescatore duet, and here his control of dynamics is remarkable. The fine-tuned performances of the Bohème and Forza numbers are testimony to the two singers’ frequent collaborations at the Met.


In March 1927 the Met revived Thomas’s Mignon, in which Gigli was partnered by Bori. Although the revival was in the original French, the tenor chose to record his two arias in Italian. This is music congenial to a singer of Gigli’s proclivities; his sensitivity to dynamics and the lyric sheen on his voice are particularly appealing here. The refrain sections of

Ah, non credevi tu are adroitly shaped. Another addition to his list was Alfredo’s recitative and aria from the beginning of Act 2 of Traviata. Here, the incisiveness of Gigli’s delivery of the recitative, becoming more lyrical at its expansive close, can serve as a model, and the aria spins along with tidy inflections.


As had been his practice since he began recording for Victor, Gigli turned again to the more popular Italian songs, in 1928 recording Voce ’e notte and Canta pe’ me by De Curtis at the Liederkranz Hall in New York, and the aria O paradiso, in Italian, from Meyerbeer’s L’africaine.


In closing, I find it fitting to quote Max de Schauensee’s estimate of Gigli, written in 1965: ‘Some of the more fastidious critics correctly cited stylistic lapses and emotional excesses ... But nobody ever made the mistake of questioning the unrivalled beauty of Gigli’s voice, which ultimately swept everything before it. Gigli died in Rome, after a brief illness, on 30th November 1957. One is on safe ground when stating that he has not been replaced.’


Adapted from notes by William Ashbrook



Producer’s Note


The present volume is the fifth in a series devoted to Beniamino Gigli's “singles” - his song and aria recordings not issued as part of complete opera sets. The aim of the series is to include every Gigli recording released at the time, as well as every published alternate take and, wherever available, unpublished takes. The sides here are presented in the order in which they were recorded.


One divergence from the Peel and Holohan discography (published in The Record Collector in 1990) in the current volume concerns the absence of Item No. 101 on their list, a 1927 version of M’apparì from Martha.  Although the take listed in the discography was indeed recorded at the October 4th session, there is no indication that it was ever released. In any event, it would not have been issued on Victor 6446 as the discography claims, since this is the number of the double-faced acoustic version of the aria.


The “blue history cards” in the BMG Listings Department in New York (index cards which list, by issue number, the matrix and take numbers used for each published 78 rpm side) confirm that only three alternate takes of Gigli’s Victor electrics were published on 78s, all dating from the ensembles recorded in November and December of 1927. Take 1 of Enzo Grimaldo with De Luca, Take 2 of Giusto Cielo with Pinza and the Met Chorus, and Take 1 of the Rigoletto Quartet were all substituted for the originally-issued takes in 1943, and only appeared on wartime and postwar American Victor issues.


In the case of the 1927 Lucia Tomb Scene, I have been able to combine the alternate issued take of part two with an unpublished take of part one and the only issued take of side three to form two complete (if not completely different) versions of the scene. (This also marks the only departure from strict recording-order sequence in these volumes. At the original session, all takes of part two were recorded first, followed by all takes of part three, so that Pinza and the chorus could be dismissed before Gigli essayed the solo aria which begins the scene.)


The selections on the current volume were originally issued in 1996 as part of Romophone 82004-2 (“Beniamino Gigli - The Complete Victor Recordings, Volume II: 1926-28”). In remastering my original transfers, I have tried to remove some of the clicks and pops that remained (both manually via digital editing and through the use of the CEDAR declicking module) and have made adjustments to the equalization of each track.


Mark Obert-Thorn

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