|About this Recording
8.111242-43 - VERDI: Rigoletto (Callas, Di Stefano, Gobbi / La Scala) (1955)
Great Opera Recordings
Opera in Three Acts
Rigoletto - Tito Gobbi (baritone)
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, Milan (Norberto Mola, chorus master)
In the summer of 1955 the last opera recording for Angel/Columbia [EMI] Callas would take part in was Rigoletto; it was first published in February 1956. Gilda is a typical soprano leggero rôle and has been a favourite of many, among them Anna Netrebko (born 1971), Joan Sutherland (born 1926), Lily Pons (1898-1976), Amelita Galli-Curci (1882-1963), Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1940), Nellie Melba (1861-1931) back to Adelina Patti (1843-1919), all of whom undertook it many times and at different theatres. Callas, however, undertook Gilda only twice in the opera house at the Bellas Artes, Mexico City in 1952.
As this recording testifies, and despite the wide tessitura, it presents Callas with no technical problems, and she is able to accomplish the music easily and effortlessly. She is content to use the middle register and does not, as she does in Suicidio in Ponchielli's Gioconda, carry the chest register up ostentatiously to G, even A flat; singing so intensely at the extremes of her range in fitting verismo style make it impossible for her to reconcile the different registers. In her singing of Gilda there are many details to admire. In Act I the rhythmic accuracy of her attack in the Allegro vivace passage, as the tempo speeds up when the Duke enters and Gilda calls for her maid, Giovanna, immediately before the Act I duet E il sol dell'anima. Caro nome she sings at what is for her a typical tempo, though most Gildas, if they took it as slowly, would run out of breath long before they reached the end of phrases. How effectively she shows the difference between Caronome, as the portamento marking indicates, and Caro nome, as it too often becomes without a proper conception of legato. Particularly affecting is her beautifully phrased, impeccable rendering of groups of falling sixths, rising from G and A flat to B flat.
She takes a similarly expansive tempo in Act II in Tutte le feste. Especially eloquent is her realisation of the characterful significance of the passage of triplets directly before the scene sweeps on to a fortissimo climax at Rigoletto's entrance; she contrives a lachrymose effect taking these in one breath, articulating clearly the middle note of each group, yet she avoids breaking the phrases - easier said than sung. In the duet Piangi, piangi, fanciulla how freely and firmly she accelerates the tempo, marking the accented E flats so as to imbue them with an appropriately doleful quality. At the end she leaps upwards using portamento and executes the interval of more than an octave precisely, from A flat to B flat, and does it so chastely that we hardly notice where she draws breath. This recording testifies to her ability to create an effect as Gilda however unfitting histrionically the rôle may have been.
In the 1950s when there were still comparatively few recordings of the standard repertory available, the vying record companies rushed to secure some of the leading stars under exclusive contract. This was not always a good idea and explains why some singers, such as Giulietta Simionato (born 1910), Mario del Monaco (1915-1982) and Ettore Bastianini (1922-1967), although they often appeared with Callas at La Scala, Milan, do not sing in any of her recordings, notwithstanding the fact that Angel/Columbia (EMI) made them at La Scala under its imprimatur. Happily, however, on some occasions the converse is true. Although Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano and Callas never appeared at La Scala together, in this recording of Rigoletto they do. It remains still today stylistically the most characteristic and most effective performance on record.
Gobbi was in the great tradition of Italian baritones going back to Titta Ruffo (1877-1953), as Di Stefano was in the Caruso (1873-1921) tradition; their voices had a particular individuality which makes them at once so readily identifiable. Ruffo and Caruso are the ultimate examples; none existed before recording, but after becoming available on records their resplendent voices were then something new and different, and their influence persisted until a generation or so following World War II, when this recording was made. Callas's style, unlike either Gobbi's or Di Stefano's, was not indebted to any previous singers; by her time florid music had gone out of fashion and she was the first to revive it. It always takes time for a singer whose vocal method and style is sui generis to establish itself, as we see from the critical reaction to many of her performances in her early years. The recording is conducted by Tullio Serafin, who directs a large number of Callas's La Scala recordings. Although at the time not on the roster of artists, yet he too was part of the opera's house tradition, as we can hear in the eloquent idiomatic playing of the orchestra.
The career of Tito Gobbi (1913-1984), born at Bassano di Grappa in the Veneto, lasted more than forty years. His was a first-class Italian baritone with a characteristic timbre in the Titta Ruffo style. He made his début in 1935 at Gubbio singing a bass rôle, Rodolfo in La sonnambula, but this was a one off, and by the next year at La Scala, he became a baritone. Within a few years his repertory embraced Germont in La traviata, Silvio in Pagliacci, Lescaut, Marcello in La Bohème, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly, Ford in Falstaff, De Siriex in Fedora, Baldassare in Cilea's L'Arlesiana and Michonnet in Adriana Lecouvreur, and he also sang Melot in Wagner's Tristano and Gunther in Il crepuscolo degli dei, Jochanaan in Strauss's Salome and Wozzeck, as well as a sizeable repertory of then modern operas. His international career began after World War II at leading theatres throughout the opera world, undertaking many of what were then famous impersonations, including Rigoletto, Posa, Iago, Renato, Macbeth, Nabucco, Simon Boccanegra, Rance in La fanciulla del west, Scarpia, Falstaff and Michele in Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi, both of which he sang on more than one occasion the same evening. In older music, as Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia or Don Giovanni, he appeared in Salzburg under Furtwängler in 1950. Although his stage presence was imposing, his recordings reveal his singing was not stylish. Over the years inevitably his voice became less responsive and in the upper range not infrequently he sang flat. As more than twenty films he made show, he was a good-looking man with considerable histrionic skill. His recording career lasted from 1942 and his first 78s for HMV, to LP sets for EMI, Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor, Scarpia, Amonasro, Rigoletto, Renato and Figaro, with Callas, and Falstaff under Karajan, to 1978, when for Decca/London, he sang Chim-Fen in Leoni's L'oracolo.
Giuseppe Di Stefano, born in 1921 near Catania, Sicily, had a brilliant but short career. His was one of the most beautiful lyric tenor voices of the last century. He began singing light music then, following a brief period of study with the baritone Luigi Montesanto, made his opera début in 1946 as Des Grieux in Massenet's Manon at Reggio Emilia, after which his rise to fame was rapid. In 1947 he appeared at La Scala, Milan, also as Des Grieux, and in 1948 at the Metropolitan, New York, as the Duke in Rigoletto. At first his repertory included Fenton in Falstaff, Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi, Alfredo in La Traviata and Faust, but it did not take long before he began undertaking heavier rôles, such as Cavaradossi, Don José in Carmen, Radames in Aida, Canio in Pagliacci and even Alvaro in La forza del destino. Sadly the great years of his career were soon over, and by 1961, trying to make more out of his voice than nature had put in, he made his last appearance at La Scala. From 1944 for HMV he recorded songs and arias, and from 1953 for Angel/Columbia, with Callas, Edgardo, Arturo, Cavaradossi, Turiddu in Cavalleria rusticana, Canio, the Duke, Manrico in Il trovatore, Rodolfo, Riccardo in Un ballo in maschera and Des Grieux in Puccini's Manon Lescaut.
Tullio Serafin (1878-1968), born at Rottanova di Cavarzere, near Venice, was one of the great conductors of Italian opera. After studying at the Milan Conservatory, at first he was a violinist in the orchestra at La Scala, Milan, then in 1900 at Ferrara began a career as conductor. Engagements followed in Turin and Rome. Through more than half a century he appeared at Covent Garden, London (1907, 1931, 1959-60), La Scala, Milan (1910-1914, 1917, 1918, 1940, 1946-7), Colón, Buenos Aires (1914, 1919, 1920, 1928, 1937, 1938, 1949, 1951), San Carlo, Naples (1922-3, 1940-1, 1949-58), Metropolitan, New York (1924-34), the Rome Opera (1934-43, 1962), Lyric Opera, Chicago (1955, 1957-58), and numerous other opera houses in Italy and abroad. His repertory was vast. He conducted conventional and unconventional operas as well as introducing a variety of new works, and worked with numerous famous singers, including Battistini, Chaliapin, Ponselle, Gigli, Callas and Sutherland. His recording career was exhaustive and embraced the HMV (1939) Verdi Requiem as well as both Angel/Columbia Normas (1954 and 1960) with Callas.
[CD 1 / Track 1] Verdi's Rigoletto has, as its central theme, the curse of a father on the father of the title. The theme associated with the curse is heard in the opening Prelude.
[1/2] The first act opens with a ball at the court of the Duke of Mantua. A band is heard from the inner rooms of the palace. The Duke confides in Borsa, one of his courtiers, his plan to bring to a head his affair with an unknown girl, although he now has his eye on the Countess Ceprano.
[1/3] He sees all pretty women as equally desirable. He draws aside the Countess, who was about to follow her husband. As they leave together, Rigoletto, the court jester, who has joined the company, mocks Count Ceprano, with the approval of the other courtiers. Rigoletto leaves the room.
[1/4] The courtier Marullo enters with great news for his fellows: Rigoletto, the hunchback court jester that they all hate for his malicious wit, has a mistress, whom they plan to abduct. The jester abets his master in his exploits and now Ceprano too seeks revenge.
[1/5] The scene ends with the curse uttered by Monterone, whose daughter has fallen victim to the Duke. Rigoletto mocks him, but the curse strikes home with him.
[1/6] The scene changes to a blind alley in the city. On the left is a modest house, with a small walled courtyard. There is a door in the wall, leading to the street. A door in the first floor of the house gives onto a balcony above the wall, to which steps lead from below. On the right of the street is a very high garden wall and the side of Count Ceprano's house. It is night. As he approaches his house, thinking of Monterone's curse, Rigoletto is accosted by the ruffian Sparafucile, who offers his services as an assassin, if required.
[1/7] As he goes, Rigoletto reflects on the meeting, since they are alike: Sparafucile's weapon is a dagger and Rigoletto's his tongue.
[1/8] In his garden, Rigoletto talks to his daughter Gilda, recently returned from her convent school, and remembers her dead mother.
[1/9] He tells Giovanna, Gilda's nurse, to guard her charge well. He opens the courtyard door and looks into the street, while the Duke, disguised as a student, is seen to offer Giovanna a bribe for her silence, as he steals in and hides in the garden.
[1/10] Alone with Giovanna, Gilda talks of the handsome young man she has met, who followed her on the way to church. The Duke appears, signing to Giovanna to leave them alone.
[1/11] He addresses his attentions to Gilda, to whom he reveals his assumed name, Gualtier Maldè. The courtiers, meanwhile, are gathering in the street, determined to abduct the girl they believe to be Rigoletto's mistress.
[1/12] As the Duke goes, Gilda muses on his dear name.
[1/13] The courtiers, masked and armed, now set about their plan, joined by Rigoletto, masked and unable to see or hear clearly, who thinks they are abducting the Countess Ceprano for the Duke's pleasure.
[1/14] As Gilda is carried off by the courtiers, she drops her scarf. When they have gone, Rigoletto tears off the blindfold and realises what has happened. This is the curse of Monterone.
[2/1] The second act opens in the palace once more. The Duke is upset, thinking that Gilda has been wrested from him and imagining her distress.
[2/2] His jubilant courtiers burst in, eager to reassure him, telling him they have taken Rigoletto's mistress. The Duke is delighted and hurries out, realising that Gilda is now his.
[2/3] When Rigoletto appears, the courtiers mock him, while he feigns indifference, trying to guess where Gilda has been taken. Eventually he understands that the girl who has been abducted and is now with the Duke is his own daughter
[2/4] and curses this vile race of courtiers.
[2/5] Suddenly Gilda emerges in agitation from the Duke's inner room, falling into her father's arms.
[2/6] Left alone with her father, she explains how she met the supposed student. Rigoletto accepts the dishonour as his own and tries to comfort his daughter. Monterone is brought in, being escorted to prison, and thinks that his curse has had no effect on the Duke.
[2/7] He is escorted out by the guards but Rigoletto, aside, allows that Monterone's curse shall have its effect and swears bitter vengeance.
[2/8] The third act opens by the banks of the River Mincio, outside a two-storey house. There is a tavern below and rough stairs leading to the grain-store above. In the wall is a door, facing the street, and there are cracks in the wall through which it is possible to see what is happening in the house. The district is deserted. It is night. In the tavern Sparafucile sits by the table, cleaning his sword-belt, while Rigoletto and Gilda wait outside. She assures him that she loves the Duke, but Rigoletto seeks revenge. The Duke appears, disguised as an ordinary officer. He enters the house, asking Sparafucile for wine and for a room.
[2/9] As he drinks, he is heard singing his most famous song on the fickleness of women.
[2/10] The Duke is joined by Sparafucile's sister Maddalena, while Sparafucile leaves them together, going out into the street to ask Rigoletto if this is the man.
[2/11] The Duke declares his love for Maddalena, while Gilda, observing the scene from outside, is heart-broken at her lover's faithlessness. Rigoletto plots revenge and tells his daughter to go home and disguise herself in man's clothes, ready to leave the city.
[2/12] Sparafucile comes out and is paid half his fee for the planned murder of the man in the house, whose identity is not known to him. Rigoletto is to return at midnight for his victim. A storm draws near.
[2/13] Maddalena, seeing the Duke sleeping, begs her brother not to harm him and he agrees to kill any other man who may come there before midnight. Gilda has now returned, dressed as a man, and overhears the plan. She enters the house, resolved to sacrifice herself for her lover.
[2/14] Rigoletto returns, ready to receive the body of his victim, and as the storm passes, takes the murdered body in a sack, prepared to throw it into the nearby river.
[2/15] At this moment he hears the voice of the Duke from within the house, and realises he has been tricked. He opens the sack and in a flash of lightning sees the face of his daughter Gilda. She tells him of the sacrifice that she has made and seeks his forgiveness.
[2/16] As she dies, she promises to pray for her father, leaving him to realise that Monterone's curse has now fallen on Rigoletto.
Giuseppe Verdi: Rigoletto
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