Treasure indeed. At first, this collection seems aimed at new collectors who know the Big Arias from these operas, and who want to know something else, or to go a little deeper. Connoisseurs, however, will be attracted to the singers. Your average Three Tenors-inspired compilation this is not. Annotator George Jellinek ("The Vocal Scene") fesses up at the end: "If at the outset this writer seemed to be unduly concerned about the novice operagoer, let me assure the knowledgeable veteran that he/she will be equally pleased by the quality and imaginativeness of this program." Right on, and hats off Robert LaPorta, who compiled it.
Everyone will have their own favorite "Opera Treasure" here. Mine is the singing of Mario Sereni, a baritone active in the 50s and 60s who never quite found international prominence. (He was Giorgio Germont to Callas's Violetta in the famous Lisbon "Traviata.") His is one of those voices one instantly recognizes, and his vivid rendition of Gerard's little scene from" Andrea Chenier" is typically memorable. Mine too is Beniamino Gigli's recording, made in 1940, of the little aria from the Italian operetta "Maristella." Pavarotti sang this on his first commercial solo recording, but nowhere near as meltingly as this. And also, mine too is the Butterfly of Victoria de los Angeles, vocally pure, temperamentally innocent, and radiant throughout as she tells her bridegroom how she has renounced her gods, and surrendered herself to his. Other treasures: Tito Gobbi's very first recording ("L'Arlesiana") and the very young Giuseppe di Stefano's plea to Manon Lescaut – albeit in Italian. Furthermore, names such as Oltrabella, Favero, and Prandelli are a reminder of a Golden Age of Italian opera, now past, alas.
These 20 selections were recorded between 1936 and 1968. Over half of the selections are monaural, and less than half come from complete sets. As a program, though, "Opera Treasure" makes perfect sense to me. The heavy skewing toward Italy didn't bother me, but Wagnerians will need to look elsewhere for delight. I see that EMI has issued two volumes of "Tenors in the Grand Tradition" (CDC565431-2 and CDC565806-2) and filled them with names such as Tagliavini, Lauri-Volpi, Masini (he's really _very_ good), and di Stefano. Maybe EMI will send me those discs too. In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy "Opera Treasure" and I recommend it with enthusiasm to anyone who loves Italian opera.
Copyright © 1998, Raymond S. Tuttle