Commemorations of the hundredth year since the death of Giuseppe Verdi continue with these two releases. If you are looking for "dessert" after EMI Classics' stunning, intimidating, 8-CD Les introuvables du chant Verdien (EMI 574217-2), the Hardy Classic set offers more of the same. Only a few selections appear in both sets, and there is some wonderful complementarity between the two. For example, the EMI set includes Gina Cigna's Forza "Me pellegrina ed orfana," and the Hardy Classic set contains its "flip-side," Cigna's "Madre, pietosa vergine" from the same opera.
The focus of the Hardy Classic set is Parma's Teatro Regio, where every single Verdi opera has been produced at least once! This theater might lack the prestige of Milan's La Scala or the Rome Opera House, yet it has been at least a temporary home to many of the great Italian singers. The compilers of this collection have selected 37 excerpts from 12 Verdi operas (presented chronologically, unlike the EMI set) in recordings by singers – with one exception – who actually sang the role at the Teatro Regio. Every singer is represented by a single aria, except for Beniamino Gigli, who gets to go twice! (The exception mentioned above is the obscure Vittorio Lois, whose Trovatore "Di quella pira" so excited the audience in Parma's Reinach Theater that it has been included here, even though he never sang Manrico at the Regio.)
Most of the recordings are electric; a handful are acoustic or "mechanical" as the booklet note quaintly puts it. The earliest recording is Giannina Russ's 1905 "Ritorna vincitor!" (Aïda) and the most recent is Magda Olivero's 1949 "Amami, Alfredo" (Traviata). The record labels Columbia, HMV, Voce del Padrone, Cetra, Victor, Parlophone, Fonotipia, Polydor, and Gramophone are represented. Two of the recordings (Cesare Siepi's haunting Don Carlos "Ella giammai m'amò!" and Francesco (Frank) Valentino's Trovatore "Il balen del suo sorriso") are live, and blessed with glorious sound.
Familiar names such as Galli-Curci, Stignani, Caniglia, Bechi, and Stabile are here – they all sang at the Teatro Regio. What makes this set even more desirable, however, is the thrill of discovering singers such as sopranos Carla Castellani and Adriana Guerrini (their Trovatore Leonoras throb with emotion) and tenor Francesco Battaglia, whose "Celeste Aïda" raises the roof.
The transfer engineer is unnamed, but he or she has done fine work. The compiler proudly writes, "we have refused to have recourse to electronic manipulations to cover background noises," and "we give assurance that every selection has been reproduced in the correct tonality." OK, so the English translations aren't that great! The booklet, in spite of numerous typos and other language-related infelicities, is a wonderful resource, because it includes short biographies of every singer represented. Hardy Classic is a small Milanese label distributed in the USA by Qualiton. Don't let this really enjoyable collection pass you by, if you can't get enough of classic Verdi singing.
The trumpets that announce "Celeste Aïda" are startlingly present at the start of the Thill CD, vintage 1930 recording notwithstanding. Thill was famous for his portrayals of French roles (Don José, El Cid, Werther, Faust), and he also essayed Wagner later in his career. I was surprised, however, to hear this CD of him singing Verdi, as I'd never encountered any of these recordings before. Although he sang in Italian abroad, this disc preserves his Verdi in French… not entirely a foreign notion when one remembers that Verdi wrote or adapted several of his operas for the French stage.
Thill's voice was essentially lyrical, but he could raise it to nobly heroic heights. His "Celeste Aïda" (here, "O céleste Aïda") is impressive, even though he (surprisingly) takes the final high note fortissimo. He never sang Otello on stage; what a tragedy, if the five vividly dramatic excerpts included here are any indication of his potential. His Love Duet with Desdemona Jeanne Segala is so passionate that you can almost see it, and he expresses every shade of doubt, rage, and grief in his later scenes with Ségala and Iago José Beckmans. Recorded in 1942 or 1943, these performances are the most recent on this disc, but any deterioration in Thill's voice is offset by the insight of his interpretation.
His Alfredo is more than just a hot-headed juvenile, and his 1927 recording of "De' miei bollenti spiriti" is a study in excellent legato. The remaining excerpts from La Traviata, and the three from Rigoletto were recorded in 1936. As singing, they are mostly fine, although Thill's voice shows strain on some of the high notes, and his vocal acting isn't always alert. (Perhaps I am not as sensitive to his felicities with the French language as I would have been had he been singing in Italian.) Part of the problem with these 1936 recordings is the unimaginative conducting.
Thill's Gilda and Violetta sings solos of her own as a bonus at the end of the disc. Vina Bovy's typically French sound – chic, charming, somewhat thin - is the sort of thing that has interested me lately, so I welcomed Malibran Music's chivalry in giving Bovy the last word.
The transfers have been superbly done, and the booklet contains photos and an essay that has been translated into endearingly inept English. Malibran Music also is distributed in the USA by Qualiton Imports.
The Teatro Regio disc is generally recommendable. The Thill disc is hardly less enjoyable, but it probably will appeal to a more specialized audience.
Copyright © 2001, Raymond Tuttle