OP0207. LA GIOCONDA, recorded 1931, w.Molajoli Cond. La Scala Ensemble; Giannina Arangi-Lombardi, Ebe Stignani, Alessandro Granda, etc.; GIANNINA ARANGI-LOMBARDI: Arias from Guglielmo Tell, Norma, Lucrezia Borgia, I Lombardi, Ernani & Forza, recorded 1926-33. (Canada) 3-Naxos 8.110112/14. Transfers by Ward Marston. Long out-of-print, final copy! - 636943111222
“When we speak of Arangi Lombardi, we're going back to the era of singers with truly phenomenal techniques. I fell in love with those notes begun piano, swelled, and then diminished. I listened to her recording of the first act of GIOCONDA, where, in ‘Enzo adorato’, she does exactly that with the [floated] B-flat. That same day I ran to my maestro [Luigi Gerussi] for my lesson and said, ‘Maestro, I heard the most wonderful record of Arangi Lombardi singing ‘Enzo adorato’, with that B-flat’. ‘It's the last thing you're going to learn’, he replied, ‘because it's the most difficult’. In fact, it is the most difficult thing. But with my love, my passion to be able to sing those B-flats, with crescendos and diminuendos, those beautiful sounds that I loved so much - I succeeded.”
- Magda Olivero
"Each of the principals was on top vocal form at the time this recording was made, and had benefited from being part of the great ensemble established at La Scala by Toscanini, following his appointment as artistic director in 1920. Whilst not conducted by the maestro, the records surely convey something of the influence he exerted on his singers during his regime.
Arangi-Lombardi is my favorite Italian lirico-spinto soprano. Hers is a voice with a fantastic upper, an eminent middle, a full deep register and she sings with a perfect ‘voix mixte’. An excellent high register requires a well-trained middle register, and Arangi-Lombardi illustrates this basic rule! The dark color of her voice reminds me of Rosa Ponselle and Anita Cerquetti.
Giannina Arangi-Lombardi is an under-estimated singer nowadays. At a time when ‘veristic’ singers were highly favored, she concentrated instead on exquisite vocal artistry, musical phrasing and rich tonal shading. Her voice never possessed the shrillness of some of her contemporary colleagues. Listen to her AIDA in an integral recording conducted by Lorenzo Molajoli. Her ’O Patria mia’ is magic. In the two Amelia arias she is in a class of her own and possibly equalled only by Hina Spani, Meta Seinemeyer and Elisabeth Rethberg. A great artist and singer!
She was born in Naples and studied first the piano, then voice with Beniamino Carelli. He trained her as a mezzo. She made a relatively late début at the age of thirty as Lola in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA at the Teatro Costanzi in 1920. During the next three years she sang as a mezzo-soprano in various Italian theatres. In 1921 she appeared as Amneris, and also as Brangäne! She discovered that she felt more comfortable in soprano range, and restudied with Adelina Stehle (the first Nanetta in Verdi’s FALSTAFF to become a soprano. She appeared thereafter as Santuzza. In 1926 she was engaged at La Scala, where she made a strong impression as Aïda and Gioconda. The following season she was Santuzza under Toscanini and Leonora in IL TROVATORE under Panizza. In 1929 she enjoyed such a success as Aïda under Toscanini (at La Scala) that she was invited by him to sing in guest performances of the Scala in Berlin. There she sang with Aureliano Pertile and Giacomo Lauri-Volpi. She opened the 1929/30 season as Donna Anna, again at La Scala, and in 1935 she sang Donna Anna at the Salzburg Festival. Bruno Walter was the conductor, the cast included Luise Helletsgrüber, Lotte Schöne, Dino Borgioli, Ezio Pinza, Virgilio Lazzari and Emanuel List.
Arangi-Lombardi's is perhaps the most beautifully sung - as opposed to most dramatic - Gioconda of any complete recorded version. Her vocal security is always exciting; hear the final pages of Act 2, first the duet with Laura, followed by Enzo's rejection. From full floods of fury at her rival in love she softens to a melting 'Son la Gioconda' as she sends Laura to safety. With Alessandro Granda on equally good form, the closing moments of the act crackle with Italian passion (the orchestra well recorded here, too). The great Act IV aria 'Suicidio' is sung as a true soliloquy, more introspective than on many familiar recordings. Always the voice reveals its mezzo origins, rich and wonderfully coloured, heard also to good effect in the additional arias included on CD 3.
Alessandro Granda displays a combination of lyricism and ardour far more frequently encountered in his own time than in ours. After an uncertain start to 'Cielo e mar' (might this be a technical flaw on the original 78?) he continues in heroic form, confident in his phrasing and ending with an appealing' Ah vien'. His singing is too little remembered these days, unfairly, for he was, as the music critic Herman Klein averred, 'the possessor of a remarkably fine tenor voice'.
Although not yet thirty when these records were made, Stignani already displays the grand style for which she later became well known; no aggression here, little of the furiously jealous rival in love, but a beautifully sung and controlled performance of Laura. She fills the phrases with generously warm tone, matching Gioconda point for point in their duet, which in other 'hands' can become merely a shouting match, and her vocal colour contrasts effectively with Arangi-Lombardi's. Gaetano Viviani, not a singer whose reputation has survived to our generation, distinguishes himself in this more famous company. His incisive baritone remains clearly focussed at volume and stands out well in his ensembles; yet he can caress a malevolent phrase as he spins his web of intrigue.
So here indeed are four excellent singers who bring LA GIOCONDA vividly to life. The sound quality of the early recording does not always do them full justice, but the energy of their performance springs vigorously across seventy years; the opera could hardly want more persuasive advocates.
Alessandro Granda, a native of Callao in Peru, was born in 1898. After an enthusiastic reception for his first performances at Lima's Forero Theatre he trained in Milan and made his European début in Mascagni's IRIS in 1927. Selected by Toscanini for the Italian première of Kodaly's PSALMUS HUNGARICUS, Granda sang frequently at La Scala, including RIGOLETTO with Toti dal Monte. His developing career took him to Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Finland and Egypt. Having visited Chile and the USA in the 1930s he returned to Italy, retiring after the war to Peru, where he died in 1962.
“Ebe Stignani sang more than one hundred roles in her career that lasted more than three decades! Her last appearance was as Ulrica in Florence in 1957. Clemens Höslinger wrote: ‘The mezzo-soprano Ebe Stigani had a prominent place in the ensemble of La Scala between the wars. She was a versatile, devoted artist, a lively and passionate actress, a singer with an expansive, metallic voice, eminently suited for dramatic, high-strung roles such as Amneris, Eboli, Carmen and Santuzza. Veracity of expression, absolute dedication to the artistic task in hand were characteristic of her personality….’ Her voice is glorious.”
- Andrea Shum-Binder, subito-cantabile
The shadowy figure of Lorenzo Molajoli is a mystery in the annals of opera. Nothing seems to be known of his career other than that he conducted many recordings in the 1920s and 1930s, mostly for Columbia in Milan. From the evidence of those discs (this LA GIOCONDA an excellent example)he was clearly a very competent musician, experienced at handling large orchestral and vocal forces - and yet where? What can be established is that he served with considerable distinction as the house conductor in Milan for Italian Columbia, recording complete operas and accompanying a large number of singers, in addition to making recordings of a number of operatic overtures. Molajoli conducted twenty complete or abridged operas for Columbia between 1928 and 1932.”
- Paul Campion