About this Recording
8.110268 - GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 7: London, New York and Milan Recordings (1931-1932)

Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957)
The Gigli Edition Vol. 7 • London, New York and Milan Recordings 1931-32

When the present recordings were made, Gigli had more or less decided to leave the Metropolitan in New York after eleven years. The Depression and a loss of enthusiasm for the house decided him to return to Europe in 1932. As a consequence he began to record in London for HMV, leaving Victor behind, although tracks eight to twelve were in fact the tail-end of his Victor contract. These titles are not of great consequence, but as ever the golden tenor transmuted them into something quite magical. The exception, as regards the material, is the Chanson Hindoue from Rimsky’s Sadko, a liquid piece of writing exactly suited to Gigli at his suavest; as was customary in his day, it is sung, incongruously, in French. The three Spanish items prove that Gigli was always willing to go off the beaten path in his search for new pieces to record.

In June and July 1931, shortly after his English début and a year before he left the Met, Gigli made his first electrical recordings for HMV in London, among them outrageously self-indulgent versions of Des Grieux’s Dream from Manon and Nadir’s lovely Romance from Les pêcheurs de perles, but they are performances, exquisitely floated on a magical halfvoice, hard to resist, idiosyncrasies and all.

It now emerges that besides his recording in English of Tosti’s Addio, he made one at the same session in Italian. They are both as utterly heartfelt and effusive as only Gigli could be. Then there is his endearing version of Sullivan’s song The Lost Chord. All three are conducted by John Barbirolli, then making his name as an opera conductor at Covent Garden and elsewhere and employed by HMV to accompany singers, which he did most sympathetically.

With Eugene Goossens in July, Gigli made one of his best-selling discs, Che gelida manina from La bohème. This finds Gigli at the peak of his career and popularity in one of a tenor’s most popular arias. His phrasing and delivery have all the requisite ardour. The coupling, on the original 78rpm disc, was the almost equally popular cavatine from Gounod’s Faust, sung with the same fervour as Rodolfo’s narration. Neither is a model of style, but both are overwhelming in their emotional responses.

The same can be said of the almost equally popular duet from Cavalleria rusticana, recorded in September 1932 in Milan with the superbly equipped Italo-American soprano, Dusolina Giannini as his worthy partner. They both sing this duet of passion and jealousy as to the manner born.

The following month came the final items included here, various songs done in the tenor’s inimitable style. His version of Schubert’s wildly popular Serenade, sung in his native tongue, could hardly be called idiomatic, but once again Gigli gets away with it by virtue of his irresistibly mellifluous tone. Pietà, Signore, attributed to Niedermeyer, is one of those religioso pieces so in fashion at the time that would now seem irredeemably sentimental, were it not for the beauty and sincerity of Gigli’s singing. Rossini’s Cujus animam from his Stabat Mater is musically in another class. To its march-like progress, Gigli brings a kind of soulful commitment that the composer would surely have loved.

It is worth adding that, at this time, Gigli was perhaps at the height his fame. How much he enjoyed his success is related in his endearing autobiography, The Memoirs of Beniamino Gigli. In the autumn of 1932 he relates that he went on a long recital tour of Germany when, no doubt, he sang some of the items recorded here. At the border he found he had mislaid his passport, but convinced the border guards of his identity by singing a few bars of La donna è mobile. They let him pass. In Nuremberg such was the enthusiasm of the audience that they would not let him go until he repeated the whole of his programme as an encore. In Berlin he had an audience of twelve thousand, showing that, in his day, he was quite as popular as Pavarotti was until recently. Most movingly, in Frankfurt he was urgently requested to sing at the deathbed of an Italian lying in hospital. He performed the whole of Spirto gentil from La favorita and the patient declared that he could now die happy.

Listening to Gigli sing throughout this programme you can well understand why such a generous, openhearted artist would be so much in demand and so adored by his audiences. His voice was God-given; so probably was his outgoing, passionate personality.

© 2004 Alan Blyth

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