OP0766. NORMA, Live Performance, 20 Feb., 1937, w.Panizza Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Gina Cigna, Bruna Castagna, Giovanni Martinelli, Ezio Pinza, etc. Long out-of-print, Final Sealed Copy! (Italy) 2–AS Disc 1106/07.
“The [above] cast includes a quartet of great artists, at or near the height of their powers, and a master conductor of the Italian operatic repertoire. Most problematic of the four vocalists is the exponent of the title role, Gina Cigna. To be sure, the issues are a direct product of the singular challenges posed when performing Bellini’s heroine. Norma demands a soprano of extraordinary stamina. She must be a singer who can combine vocal beauty, power, and flexibility. And all of these gifts must be skillfully employed by an artist with exquisite musical tastes, and the dramatic subtlety and inspiration worthy of the finest Shakespeare actress. Among those who have left us complete recordings of the part, Maria Callas in her vocal prime (early to mid-1950s) probably is closest to realizing all the supreme components in this role. Cigna, one of the leading dramatic sopranos of her day, and making her Met role début as Norma, is able to handle the majority of the challenges, and in a most admirable way. Cigna’s identification with the role is never in doubt. She, like all the principals in this performance, understood that Bellini’s recitatives deserve every bit as much dramatic care and musicianship as the great set pieces. Cigna phrases the music with great affection and sensitivity. While some may find Cigna’s approach at times a bit melodramatic, I do not. Cigna also possessed a rich and brilliant dramatic soprano, and she never flags throughout the opera. On the debit side, moments that demand the utmost vocal flexibility are a challenge for Cigna, and there are a few occasions when high notes miss their mark. Still, Cigna was an important artist and I think her performance, especially in collaboration with such distinguished colleagues, makes this NORMA a most compelling document.
No reservations need be applied to the remainder of the principal singers. Tenor Giovanni Martinelli was 51 at the time of this broadcast, and singing his first Met Pollione. Martinelli had been performing at the Met since 1913 and was in the final stages of his vocal prime. In a few more years, while the artistry would remain as compelling as ever, the voice would begin to lose some of its luster and security. Martinelli’s tenor was never the richest, most classically beautiful voice, but it was one of tremendous power and concentration. Martinelli was also a great singing actor. His diction and legato were exemplary, and his almost superhuman breath control allowed him to deliver long phrases in a manner other tenors could only dream of. Martinelli is in top form on this occasion, delivering a brilliantly sung, three-dimensional portrait of a character who often emerges as a stock figure. Mezzo Bruna Castagna, in marvelous voice, offers a beautifully sung and richly detailed portrait of Adalgisa. Bass Ezio Pinza provides true luxury casting as Oroveso. He sings both arias to perfection and, despite his relatively brief time on stage, is able to create a portrait of considerable nuance. Conductor Ettore Panizza delivers a characteristic performance, marked by impressive precision of execution and a superb balance of energy, inexorable momentum, flexibility of phrasing, and tremendous rapport with his singers.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, March/April, 2017
“Gina Cigna was one of the most gifted and admired dramatic sopranos of the 1930's. At La Scala, where she appeared every season throughout the decade, and at many other Italian theatres, she was considered a Norma, an Aïda, a Gioconda, and a Turandot without rival. A very handsome woman with a powerful, vibrant voice, she excelled in those rôles which most nearly matched her own passionate temperament. Although a motor accident cut short her operatic career at a tragically early age, she continued to teach, first in Canada, then in Italy, until 1965.
Gina Cigna was born in Paris in 1900; her father, of Italian origin, was a general in the French army. Having played the piano from an early age, she studied at the Paris Conservatory, where Alfred Cortot was her professor, and embarked on a career as a pianist. In 1923 she married Maurice Sens, a tenor who sang rôles such as Gerald (LAKMÉ), Des Grieux (MANON) and Julien (LOUISE) at the Opéra-Comique; it was Sens who discovered her voice and suggested that she become a singer. After studying with Lucette Korsoff, on the advice of the great French soprano Emma Calvé, Cigna went to Italy. There she worked with other well-known sopranos, Hariclea Darclée, Rosina Storchio and Giannina Russ. In 1926 she auditioned at La Scala for Toscanini, who declared that she had a voice suitable for Verdi and advised her to study the rôles of Violetta, Leonora in IL TROVATORE and Aïda. After a second audition, however, she was offered the part of Freia in DAS RHEINGOLD and made her début – under the name Ginette Sens – at La Scala in 1927, attracting little attention. After further study and an engagement at Trieste singing in ANDREA CHÉNIER and Wolf-Ferrari's SLY, in 1928 she gained her first major success at Carpi, in the title rôle of Catalani's LORELEY. During 1929 she sang Elena in Boito's MEFISTOFELE at Nice, Marguerite in FAUST at the Verona Arena, her first Aïda at the Teatro della Pergola in Florence and Leonora in LA FORZA DEL DESTINO at Pavia, before returning, now under the name of Gina Cigna, to La Scala as Donna Elvira in DON GIOVANNI. This time she scored a great triumph and a few weeks later sang Elisabeth in TANNHÄUSER, with equal success; her career was launched. After appearances in Lisbon, Genoa, Parma and Rome, in 1933 Gina Cigna made her Covent Garden début as Marguerite in the first staged performance in Britain of Berlioz's LA DAMNATION DE FAUST, and also sang Elisabeth de Valois in DON CARLOS. She returned to Covent Garden in 1936 as Tosca; in 1937, when she sang Aida on Coronation Day (12 May), to the annoyance of some members of the audience, who felt that Eva Turner should have been given that honour; and in 1939, when she repeated her Tosca and also sang Leonora in IL TROVATORE. Meanwhile, in 1935, the centenary of the death of Bellini, Gina Cigna sang Alaide in LA STRANIERA at La Scala and Norma in Catania, the composer's birthplace. That year she ventured outside her usual romantic repertory to sing Gluck's ALCESTE at the Maggio Musicale in Florence, where in 1937 she was a notable Poppea in Monteverdi's L'INCORONAZIONE DI POPPEA. Having made a much-acclaimed Metropolitan début in 1937 as Aïda, she sang in New York for two seasons, as Leonora (IL TROVATORE), Gioconda, Norma, Donna Elvira and Santuzza in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA. Aïda was again her début rôle at San Francisco in 1937, when she also sang Amelia in UN BALLO IN MASCHERA, Norma and Violetta.
Toscanini's judgement, that Gina Cigna had a voice suitable for Verdi, was amply proven; as well as those already cited, her Verdi rôles included Elvira in ERNANI and Abigaille in NABUCCO. She also sang Mascagni's Isabeau, Catalani's Wally, Zandonai's Francesca da Rimini and Respighi's Fiamma, operas in which her handsome appearance, magnetic personality and dramatic involvement were of paramount importance. As Turandot she was specially praised for the tremendous vocal authority she brought to the rôle. She also sang in a number of non-Italian operas, taking part in the Italian premières of Janácek's JENUFA (1941) at Venice and of Richard Strauss’ DAPHNE (1942) at La Scala.
After the Second World War, Cigna continued her career, appearing chiefly in Italy. On the way to Vincenza to sing Tosca in 1948, she was seriously injured in a motor accident and in consequence was forced to retire from the stage. She became a teacher, first in Toronto, later in Milan and Siena. Her complete recordings, made in the late Thirties, of three of her finest rôles, Aïda, Turandot and Norma, are available on CD. The NORMA reunites Cigna with Giovanni Martinelli, Ezio Pinza and other members of the 1937 Metropolitan cast.”
- Elizabeth Forbes, 2 July, 2001