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ClassicsOnline Home » GIGLI, Beniamino: Gigli Edition, Vol. 7: London, New York and Milan Recordings (1931-1932)
By Göran Forsling,
By Jonathan Woolf
When the present recordings were made, Gigli had
more or less decided to leave the Metropolitan in New
York after eleven years. The Depression and a loss of
enthusiasm for the house decided him to return to
Europe in 1932. As a consequence he began to record
in London for HMV, leaving Victor behind, although
tracks eight to twelve were in fact the tail-end of his
Victor contract. These titles are not of great
consequence, but as ever the golden tenor transmuted
them into something quite magical. The exception, as
regards the material, is the Chanson Hindoue from
Rimsky’s Sadko, a liquid piece of writing exactly
suited to Gigli at his suavest; as was customary in his
day, it is sung, incongruously, in French. The three
Spanish items prove that Gigli was always willing to
go off the beaten path in his search for new pieces to
In June and July 1931, shortly after his English
début and a year before he left the Met, Gigli made his
first electrical recordings for HMV in London, among
them outrageously self-indulgent versions of Des
Grieux’s Dream from Manon and Nadir’s lovely
Romance from Les pêcheurs de perles, but they are
performances, exquisitely floated on a magical halfvoice,
hard to resist, idiosyncrasies and all.
It now emerges that besides his recording in
English of Tosti’s Addio, he made one at the same
session in Italian. They are both as utterly heartfelt and
effusive as only Gigli could be. Then there is his
endearing version of Sullivan’s song The Lost Chord.
All three are conducted by John Barbirolli, then
making his name as an opera conductor at Covent
Garden and elsewhere and employed by HMV to
accompany singers, which he did most
With Eugene Goossens in July, Gigli made one of
his best-selling discs, Che gelida manina from
La bohème. This finds Gigli at the peak of his career
and popularity in one of a tenor’s most popular arias.
His phrasing and delivery have all the requisite ardour.
The coupling, on the original 78rpm disc, was the
almost equally popular cavatine from Gounod’s Faust,
sung with the same fervour as Rodolfo’s narration.
Neither is a model of style, but both are overwhelming
in their emotional responses.
The same can be said of the almost equally
popular duet from Cavalleria rusticana, recorded in
September 1932 in Milan with the superbly equipped
Italo-American soprano, Dusolina Giannini as his
worthy partner. They both sing this duet of passion and
jealousy as to the manner born.
The following month came the final items
included here, various songs done in the tenor’s
inimitable style. His version of Schubert’s wildly
popular Serenade, sung in his native tongue, could
hardly be called idiomatic, but once again Gigli gets
away with it by virtue of his irresistibly mellifluous
tone. Pietà, Signore, attributed to Niedermeyer, is one
of those religioso pieces so in fashion at the time that
would now seem irredeemably sentimental, were it not
for the beauty and sincerity of Gigli’s singing.
Rossini’s Cujus animam from his Stabat Mater is
musically in another class. To its march-like progress,
Gigli brings a kind of soulful commitment that the
composer would surely have loved.
It is worth adding that, at this time, Gigli was
perhaps at the height his fame. How much he enjoyed
his success is related in his endearing autobiography,
The Memoirs of Beniamino Gigli. In the autumn of
1932 he relates that he went on a long recital tour of
Germany when, no doubt, he sang some of the items
recorded here. At the border he found he had mislaid
his passport, but convinced the border guards of his
identity by singing a few bars of La donna è mobile.
They let him pass. In Nuremberg such was the
enthusiasm of the audience that they would not let him
go until he repeated the whole of his programme as an
encore. In Berlin he had an audience of twelve
thousand, showing that, in his day, he was quite as
popular as Pavarotti was until recently. Most movingly,
in Frankfurt he was urgently requested to sing at the
deathbed of an Italian lying in hospital. He performed
the whole of Spirto gentil from La favorita and the
patient declared that he could now die happy.
Listening to Gigli sing throughout this programme
you can well understand why such a generous, openhearted
artist would be so much in demand and so
adored by his audiences. His voice was God-given; so
probably was his outgoing, passionate personality.
© 2004 Alan Blyth
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