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Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, December 2008

In his 1993 Gramophone review, Michael Oliver said of the recording of Il Trittico from which this Il Tabarro comes ‘this is the classic Trittico, and the obvious first recommendation’. Naxos’s issuing of the opera separately enables people to pick and choose, though as yet they do not seem to have issued the other two operas from the trio.

This performance is dominated by Tito Gobbi’s bleak and pitiful Michele. Though he played a wide range of role types, Gobbi’s performances often seem to develop extra resonance when the characters are unsympathetic. He excelled in portraying nastiness in all its myriad subtleties. This means that his Michele is not very sympathetic and you rather wonder what Giorgetta saw in him. Sometimes, on-stage, singers manage to convey something of the past attraction between Giorgetta and Michele, but I didn’t think there was any of that here. Not that that is a bad thing; it just makes the opera a little bleaker.

Not that Gobbi’s performance is one-dimensional - far from it. He creates a fully rounded and believable character, someone trapped in a misery not entirely of his own making. You can sympathise with him even if you don’t like him.

The general bleakness of the performance is emphasised by Margaret Mas’s Giorgetta. Mas’s voice sounds rather mature and mezzo-ish in timbre, with a significant vibrato. It makes perfect dramatic sense for Giorgetta to be older and for Luigi to be her last chance at happiness. But I am not sure that I really want to hear Mas’s Giorgetta every day. In the more lyrical moments I longed for something a little lighter and more focused - a voice with a greater degree of loveliness of tone. Mas’s voice never really opens up so that in the big passionate moments you do not get the feeling of release that a good Puccini performance can bring.

Similarly Giacinto Prandelli’s Luigi is rather effortful and lumbering. It makes perfect dramatic sense, but does not lend the recording a feeling of beauty of tone. This is a performance which radiates dramatic commitment rather than extreme beauty of line. Again I can sympathise, but in an ideal world I would like to get a bit of both.

But almost as important as the principals is the background atmosphere which Puccini creates with the orchestra and the team of smaller roles. The casting here provides some strong character singers and one of the beauties of the set is the believable naturalness of the other characters. Miriam Pirazzini’s La Frugola makes a very strong impression. Ordinarily there would be greater contrast between her voice and Giorgetta’s, but here the two are rather close in timbre, almost as if Tullio Serafin - assuming he did the casting - is saying that Giorgetta is simply a younger version of La Frugola. This only goes to emphasise the tragic nature of Giorgetta’s plight as you listen to La Frugola and Il Talpa (Plinio Clabassi) go off dreaming about their cottage in the country.

Serafin knits all this incident into a coherent and seamless backdrop, supported by a wonderfully atmospheric performance from the Rome Opera Orchestra. There is a lot to be said for having a modern recording of this work, but Serafin and his forces come over remarkably well.

Naxos add a selection of Gobbi’s aria performances to render the set even more fascinating. His Jack Rance from La Fanciulla is another of his dark-hearted creations. But this darkness seems to spill over into his Don Giovanni and Figaro (Le nozze de Figaro). I found the Don’s serenade less than seductive in tone, though I know others will disagree, and Figaro’s ‘Non piu andrai’ came over as positively harsh at times. Surprisingly the ‘Largo al factotum’ from Rossini’s Figaro shows that Gobbi could work his magic in lighter roles.

But the final two arias revert to the darker heart of his art with arias from La forza del destino and Otello.

The CD booklet contains background notes and a detailed synopsis for Il Tabarro. For the opera arias, you are on your own.

All in all this is an essential buy. If you don’t have it already, then get it. You will probably want other more modern accounts of the work, though there are not many in the current catalogue. But for dramatic truth this one can hardly be bettered.

Göran Forsling
MusicWeb International, November 2008

… the trump-card is Tito Gobbi. He was at least as good an actor as he was a singer. His is a constantly illuminating impersonation of the bargemaster. This is evident from the initial everyday realism to the heart-rending scene with his wife who rejects him, followed by his monologue Nulla! Silenzio! and the final killing of Luigi. This is masterly acting—and singing. The French soprano Margaret Mas, whose only major recording this was, at the time just turned thirty, lacks the creamy tones of Tebaldi but her voice has character and a thrill of its own. Giacinto Prandelli was a more regular guest at the recording studios singing, among other things, Rodolfo opposite Tebaldi’s first Mimi. The owner of a well-schooled, rather bright but not too big voice, he sings a sensitive Luigi. Only in the ultimate love scene (tr. 8) is he strained. …Providing one can accept the mono sound this is as good a version of Il tabarro as one is ever likely to come across. As a bonus there is more than twenty minutes’ worth of arias with Tito Gobbi, recorded during the 78 era when he was at his freshest. …Are you in need of a recording of Il tabarro and feel you don’t want to spend a fortune on it? Here is the answer. Instead of buying a full price version you can have this one, which almost certainly is musically superior, and still have money left for two bottles of decent red wine.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2008

If any opera recording can be described as ‘definitive’, it would be this performance of Puccini’s one act opera, Il Tabarro. It was headed by Tito Gobbi in the role of the ageing barge-owner, Michele, who first suspects his young wife of infidelity, then having proved it murders her lover. The opera takes its name, The Cloak, from the chilling conclusion when Michele tells his wife, to come inside his cloak to keep warm, but when he opens it he reveals the corps of her lover. It would be impossible to think of a more perfect characterisation than that of Gobbi, his big voice smouldering until the outburst in the murder scene and the final utterance of revenge. Maybe when HMV scheduled the recording they had in mind Maria Callas as the wife, a role that would have suited her, but in the event gave the much experienced French-born Margaret Mas’s her only recording. The rather hard and unsympathetic tone worked well and epitomised her feeling towards Michele, while the rather pinched quality of the tenor, Giancinto Prandelli, seems so ideal for the person who is cheating on his employer. The minor roles are perfect cameos, while the Rome Opera House Orchestra under Vincenzo Bellezza - a major opera conductor who made only one other studio recording - was in good form. As we are coming to realise from unofficial ‘live’ recordings, Gobbi could be a very uneven artist, at times seemingly uninvolved. The present disc is completed by recordings he made before embarking on his famous roles with Maria Callas. The least known are two 1942 discs issued on La Voce del Padrone made when he was 29. Excerpts from Puccini’s La fanciulla del West and Mozart’s Don Giovanni showing a this stage a wobbly voice that he corrected in later life. The remainder comes from HMV sessions in 1950, the an excerpt from Verdi’s La forza del destino adding nothing to his reputation, though the Credo from Verdi’s Otello points to the illustrious future. The transfer engineers have produced the best transfer of Tabarro we have had.

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