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Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, June 2009

I remember strolling through a lantern-lit park in the town of Garda at the head of the lake one warm summer evening in 1986. I heard a tenor singing one of the most famous Neapolitan songs, Di Capua’s ’O sole mio, before noticing a crowded outdoor auditorium. The singer was Giuseppe Di Stefano, no less, then some 75 years old, the voice now a little strained but still remarkable and so very musical. He made his final appearance as the Emperor Altoum in Puccini’s Turandot in 1992 in Rome.

Giuseppe Di Stefano was, for me, one of the greatest tenor voices of the twentieth century. He was renowned as an intensely passionate opera singer, often partnering the equally fiery soprano, Maria Callas, particularly in Tosca. But he was equally at home in operetta and was an accomplished singer of lighter music bringing the same ardency and highly sensitive expressiveness into his singing of little gems such as the 21 songs on this album as to his roles at La Scala, Covent Garden and the Metropolitan.

The typical Neapolitan song is given to the male voice and is usually a love song—joyful or sad. Many are world-famous having been taken abroad by emigrants from Naples and southern Italy. All seem to reflect the warmth and bright sunshine of that area. Indeed, they seem to have a heightened significance and emotional appeal when heard in the cafés and theatres around the Bay of Naples in, for instance, Sorrento. All the songs are written and sung in the Neapolitan dialect. This collection includes many favourites including: ’O sole mio; Core ’ngrato; Torna a Surriento; Santa Lucia; Maria Marì and Passione. But there are others, maybe less well-known, that also tug at the heart-strings like: Silenzio catatore, Chiove and Autunno. In Santa Lucia luntana it is a boatman who is inspired to sing proudly and lovingly of the moon reflected on the waters of the bay. But it is not all sentimentality; one senses an angered lover in the tango-like rhythms of ’Na sera ’e maggio and ’O paese d’ ’o sole.

Dino Olivieri’s Orchestra provides bright and evocatively romantic accompaniments…The incomparable voice of Di Stefano—a wonderful nostalgic wallow and a memorable souvenir of the Bay of Naples.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, May 2009

During the Second World War the young Giuseppe Di Stefano earned his living as a singer of popular songs in and around Milan, and continued that career when he escaped from the war to live in Switzerland. His subsequent move to the world of opera and the fruitful relationship with Maria Callas has been well documented, and it would reveal a singer motivated from the heart rather than the head. He certainly throws himself with bountiful abandon into this recording of twenty-one Neapolitan Songs, most of them well-know and featuring Di Capua’s ‘O sole mio, Cardillo’s Core ‘ngrato, De Curtis’s Torna a Surriento, Cottrau’s Santa Lucia and ending with Tagliaferri’s Piscatore ‘e pusilleco, one of my particular favourites. There are some tracks, De Curtis’s Voce ‘e notte  being an example, where he feels for notes, intonation never being one of his major attributes,He is at his best when ‘crooning’, but in pressurising his voice there are coarse and ill-focused moments, a fact exaggerated as the original recordings suffered overload distortion in loud passages. The orchestrations do very little apart from offering judicious support, the unnamed ensemble sounding like a group of session musicians, the cymbal smashes quite dreadful. As a disc of light Italian music it has its moments, but it adds nothing to the reputation of this great operatic tenor. Recorded between 1953 and 1957, the sound quality is generally acceptable.  

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