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Robert Levine, November 2003

These recordings were Gigli’s first, recorded in Milan in 1918 and 1919. Described as “the second Caruso”, he in fact bore little resemblance to the great Neapolitan; his sweet tone and utterly natural sound were uniquely his. These recordings find him before the bad habits that began to identify him—scooping, sobbing, overemphasizing, stretching the vocal line—became evident. This is tenor singing at its most ravishing. Even the slight sob at the close of an otherwise restrained “E lucevan le stelle” is non-intrusive.

Gigli’s remarkable ability to sing mezza-voce is nowhere better exhibited than in the “O soave fanciulla” duet with Maria Zamboni; he takes the (unwritten) high-C at the end pianissimo. We also must marvel at his glorious take on Turiddu’s farewell to his mother. Most tenors sound, well, like tenors in this music; Gigli sounds like a frightened 18-year-old, suddenly aware of what his fate will be. His ease with high notes—all of them rich and full—is like no other. This collection previously was released on Romophone, and Mark Obert-Thorn’s restorations are about as fine as anyone can expect. This is self-recommending.

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