OP0626. LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST, Live Performance, 15 June, 1954, Firenze, w.Mitropoulos Cond. Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Ensemble; Eleanor Steber, Mario Del Monaco, Gian Giacomo Guelfi, etc. (Italy) 2-Hunt 565. [original release (not a CDR re-release) this two-disc set with Italian-language booklet has a new jewel case, booklet and cover art in excellent condition; discs are mint.] Very Long out-of-print, Final Copy!
"The performance is stupendous, Dmitri Mitropoulos achieving wonders with the orchestra - when it is played like this, one believes FANCIULLA is Puccini's masterpiece - and a trio of principals that could hardly be bettered. Eleanor Steber is Minnie to the life....Mario Del Monaco is sensational as Ramirrez....and Gian Giacomo Guelfi makes a fervent Rance. This really has to be heard."
- Patrick O'Connor, GRAMOPHONE, June, 2009
"Mitropoulos had a dream cast. Steber was a sensational Minnie, and from all reports, her triumph was visual as well as vocal. Her involvement was total, and her singing struck to the heart. Del Monaco was at his best, too....The sound is excellent for its vintage. A GIRL to cherish."
- Lee Milazzo, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, March/April, 1998
"This live performance from Florence is really terrific. Mitropoulos is really the star of the show, opening cuts and bringing a grandeur and majesty to this score. His tempi are slowish but he obviously has no interest in rushing this ravishing score. Steber would not seem to be the logical choice for Minnie. Hers was a lyric voice but by 1954 she was enlarging her repertoire to include Elsa and Donna Anna, and Minnie. She was in superb voice on the 15th of June, 1954 and she is simply stunning. Much of the role doesn't have to be shouted nor screamed and she sings a lot of it very intimately but the big phrases and the big notes are there in spades. She is my favorite Minnie with Kirsten a close second. Del Monaco's ringing sound is wonderful to hear, and he sings very well, is a sympathetic Johnson and also does some lovely soft singing. Gian Giacomo Guelfi is a wonderful, a full voiced Rance. This performance has the wonderful Giorgio Tozzi as Larkins. The orchestra of the Teatro Communale plays extraordinarly well for Mitropoulos. For my money, this is a gem of a performance."
"It was always a given that del Monaco possessed a remarkably powerful, steady voice with unsurpassed brilliance and power. He was, however, often criticized for singing with little finesse, for using his power unrelentingly. That was never true (his many live broadcast recordings give even stronger evidence of his ability to sing with light and shade). I found myself thrilling to the sheer sound of the voice and to the commitment and passion with which he sang. What will surprise many is the variety of dynamics and color that the tenor did bring to his singing. It is easy for critics to comment on the method of a singer and to forget the most important element - the sound of the voice....His diction was a model of clarity and crispness, his intonation was almost always centered, and his rhythmic pulse was extremely strong. In many cases one listens to this kind of singing and longs for the days gone by when there were singers like this....old-timers...reminisce over one of the great operatic tenor voices to be heard in the 1950s and 60s, and younger listeners discover what a great 'tenore di forza' sounds like. We have nothing like him today."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"Mario del Monaco was one of the most widely recorded singers of the 1950's and 60's and divided his busy operatic career between Europe and America during those years. Sir Rudolf Bing, then manager of the Metropolitan Opera, heard Mr. del Monaco's debut as Radames in Verdi's AIDA at the San Francisco Opera in 1950 and asked the tenor to stop in New York for a guest appearance at the Met in Puccini's MANON LESCAUT on his way back to Europe. Mr. del Monaco's singing made a distinct impression and won him a long and prosperous relationship with the Met beginning the next year. At the New York company from 1951 to 1959, he sang 102 times, in 16 roles. He appeared on the Met's tour 38 times. His last performance at the Met was as Canio in Leoncavallo's PAGLIACCI in 1959. But he returned three years later to Carnegie Hall in a concert of arias and duets with Gabriella Tucci.
Indeed, when Mr. del Monaco was loved, it was for the brilliant, stentorian quality of his voice rather than for his subtlety of phrase or ability to act. And in a profession often peopled by overweight tenors, Mr. Del Monaco offered a classic profile and dark good looks that made him an attractive presence on stage.
Mario del Monaco was born in Florence in 1915 and grew up in nearby Pesaro where his father was employed in city government. His parents were both musically inclined and encouraged his singing. Although he had some lessons, he was largely self-taught. Mr. del Monaco made his professional debut in Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY in Milan in 1941. He spent the war years in the Italian Army. After the war, Mr. del Monaco's career blossomed and spread to Milan's La Scala and London's Covent Garden as well as opera houses in Rome, Naples, Barcelona, Lisbon and Stockholm. In 1946, he sang in Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, moved northward to Mexico City and then on to San Francisco for his American debut. Mr. del Monaco's relationship with the Metropolitan Opera ended in 1959, reportedly by mutual consent, but he was recording until the end of the 1960's. In 1973, he joined a gathering of prominent tenors in Naples to honor Caruso's centenary and pres reports spoke of his 'personal glamour and still thrilling dynamism'.
Mr. del Monaco retired to his villa near Venice later in 1973 and turned to teaching. Mr. del Monaco and his wife, Rina Fedora, a former singer, had two sons. One of them, Giancarlo, is now a stage director in Europe's opera world."
- Bernard Holland, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 19 Oct., 1982
"Giangiacomo Guelfi [not to be confused with Carlo Guelfi, a younger baritone] studied at the Centro Lirico in Florence, as well as with legendary Italian baritone Titta Ruffo, and made his opera debut in the title role of Verdi's RIGOLETTO in 1950, an exceptionally young age for such a work. He won the Spoleto Experimental Theater Prize and made his La Scala debut in 1952 as The Visitor in Castro's PROSERPINA Y EL EXTRANJERO. He made his London debut two years later at Drury Lane as Gérard in Giordano's ANDREA CHENIER. Though he drew considerable acclaim in a 1957 performance of Verdi's I DUE FOSCARI in Venice, and he was considered a rising star during the late '50s and early '60s, it was not until his 1964 performance of Verdi's MACBETH at La Scala that he was acknowledged as a full-fledged star. He made his Metropolitan debut in 1970 as Scarpia. He was particularly admired during his prime for his powerful voice, but like many possessors of such voices, occasionally indulged in bellowing and, toward the end of his career, relied excessively on extra-musical vocal effects."
- Anne Feeney, allmusic.com