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ClassicsOnline Home » GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 2: Milan, Camden and New York Recordings (1919-1922)
Beniamino Gigli (c.1890-1975)
The Gigli Edition Vol. 2
The Milan Recordings 1919 • Camden and New York Recordings
Gigli’s final titles recorded in Milan in 1919 include a
rare disc of the duet from L’amico Fritz. In spite of an acid-voiced partner,
it is one of his most desirable recordings. He brings to the intimate character
of this delicate music an innate feeling of budding, shy romance. The extracts
from Fedora chronicle his first performances as the hero Loris, which took
place in February 1919: the liquid quality of his singing is again treasurable,
as in his first and best version of the famous duet from The Pearl Fishers.
After two years break in his recording career, Gigli moved
to Victor at the start of 1921. Indeed he went to the Victor studios just six
weeks after his Metropolitan début, which took place on 26th November 1920,
when he sang Faust in a revival and new production of Boito’s Mefistofele. That
rôle had two years earlier provided the occasion of his début at La Scala with
Nazzareno De Angelis as Mefistofele and Toscanini on the podium. An aria from
that score, Dai campi, dai prati, was the first disc he made in the United
States. The fine quality of his voice, the suavity of phrasing, are not quite
as we have come to expect on his later records, but the ascent to the ringing B
flat near the close is ear-opening. The range of colour and the distinctive
timbre, even in this occasionally bumpy account of Boito’s aria, are harbingers
of future treasures.
The following month Gigli recorded Faust’s aria from the
Epilogue of Mefistofele, and it is one of his most beautiful records. It is not
a showy aria, but the tenor communicates the text with surprising poignancy,
particularly the repeated phrase ‘si bea l’anima già’. A fine quality of sound
shines in the three-note descending ‘Ah’ that leads into the reprise of the
Cavaradossi was Gigli’s third rô1e at the Metropolitan,
first assumed on 10th December 1920 when he was partnered by Destinn. He had
sung the part of Cavaradossi as early as January 1915 at the Carlo Felice in
Genoa, and one would assume that the rôle might have held a central place in
his repertory at the Metropolitan. That it did not was because Gigli and Maria
Jeritza, then the reigning Tosca there, did not get on well together on stage.
At the Tosca on 10th February 1925 Jeritza announced during a curtain call that
‘Gigli, he not nice to me’. Apparently she had tried to galvanise the tenor
into a more responsive dramatic interpretation, efforts he forcibly resisted.
They never appeared together again.
Gigli’s recordings of the two Tosca arias made in 1921 show his great
affinity for Puccinian melody. However stolid the tenor may frequently have
been on-stage, there was plenty of sentiment in his vocal performance. It used
to be commonplace to censure him as over-emotional in his singing, but his is
rather a spontaneous response to the sentiments evoked by these arias. The
downward portamentos given to the ends of certain phrases recall an older vocal
Another gem among these earliest records for Victor is
Spirto gentil, Fernando’s aria from the last act of La favorita. The classic
poise of the opening section builds to a controlled climax at the repeated
‘Ohimè’. This is a treacherous number as it keeps the tenor going up and down
through the passaggio. The basic soundness of Gigli’s technique overcomes the
problem effortlessly, as illustrated by the way he sings the ‘Fuggite insiem’
near the end, going to the high C and continuing the phrase without a break.
The syllabic cadenza with his Rubinian double-attack at the final cadence is
not the least of the delights of this performance.
The repertory of Gigli’s recordings took two directions
during his first seasons in America. His début at the Met preceded by less than
a month Caruso’s final performance. After the elder tenor’s death during that
summer of 1921, it was natural to want to establish the newcomer Gigli as next
in line: the ‘Italian tenor’ of the moment; hence his recording of Vesti la
giubba some years before he tackled Canio in the theatre. Gigli does
surprisingly well in a flavoursome and deeply felt performance. The bitter
colour he lends to the phrase ‘Tu sei Pagliaccio’ is striking indeed, and the
climax of ‘Ridi, Pagliaccio’ is convincing, if not without some hints of
stress. Gounod’s Faust was another rôle that was not among those Gigli sang at
the Metropolitan. Stylistically Gigli’s Salve, dimora is risible, the tempos
wayward, and yet it is somehow giglissimo, and likeable in spite of itself.
The other Caruso-like direction of Gigli’s recorded
repertory is found among the sizeable number of Italian and Neapolitan songs
represented, even though the two tenor’s selections rarely overlap. These
ditties were a feature of the concert programmes of the day. Like his
predecessor, Gigli treats this material without condescension, approaching it
with care and communicable pleasure. The little serenade from Drigo’s I
millioni d’Arlecchino has just the right insouciance, and the legato lavished
on Toselli’s Serenade is cherishable.
Returning to the first category of these early recordings,
they tended to reflect the rôles Gigli was either currently undertaking or soon
to sing at the Met. Here we find the Aubade from Le roi d’Ys, in this rendition
not overwhelmingly Gallic, but neatly inflected just the same.
© William Ashbrook & Alan Blyth
The present volume is the second in a series devoted to
Beniamino Gigli’s “singles” - his song and aria recordings not issued as part
of complete opera sets. The aim of the series is to include every Gigli
recording released at the time, as well as every published alternate take and,
wherever available, unpublished takes. The sides here are presented in the
order in which they were recorded.
Gigli’s HMV acoustics were not as well recorded as those he
made for Victor; indeed, his first few Camden sessions were devoted to remaking
HMV sides which had then only recently been brought out on the Victor label. In
addition, disparities in original sound quality are evident between the Victor
sessions held in their Camden studios and those done in New York, with the
latter sounding somewhat tinny in tone. Although a number of collections were
drawn upon in order to assemble the finest available copies for this reissue,
some wear remains audible on the more scarce releases.
Considerable care has been taken to pitch the records
properly, taking into account Gigli’s known transposition habits as well as
conclusions inferred from the speeds of other contemporaneous recordings. For
example, the Faust aria is sung a semitone below score pitch in the acoustic
version presented here (just as it was in the 1918 version on Volume 1),
although Gigli’s 1931 electric is done in the original key. The acoustic
Toselli Serenata is sung in E here, while his 1926 electrical remake is done a
semitone lower. Spirto gentil is similarly transposed downward.
The 1919 recordings on the current volume were originally
issued in 1998 as part of Romophone 82011-2 (“Beniamino Gigli - The Complete
HMV Recordings, 1918-32”), while the 1921-23 Victors first came out in 1996 as
part of Romophone 82003-2 (“The Complete Victor Recordings, Vol. 1, 1921-25”).
In remastering my original transfers, I have tried to remove some of the clicks
and pops that remained (both manually via digital editing and through the use
of the CEDAR declicking module) and have made adjustments to the equalization
of each track. In addition, Tracks 3 and 5 have been entirely re-transferred.
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