OP2599. AÏDA, Live Performance, 6 Feb., 1937 (replete with Milton Cross’ commentaries), w. Panizza Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Gina Cigna (début), Giovanni Martinelli, Bruna Castagna, Carlo Morelli, Ezio Pinza, etc.; Martinelli discusses AÏDA and OTELLO, BIRS, 1962; Martinelli, w.Heller Cond.: AÏDA – Se quel guerrier; Celeste Aïda; w.Louis d’Angelo & Yvonne Benson: FAUST – Prison Scene - both recorded 1926 by Vitaphone; Martinelli & Dino Formichini; Beecham Cond. Royal Opera House Orch.: OTELLO – Desdemona rea! – Live Performance, 19 April, 1937 (the sole known surviving portion of the opening performance of Covent Garden's Coronation Season). (Canada) 3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1020. Transfers by Richard Caniell. Elaborate Edition features numerous lovely photos. - 713757787529
“This is a release of extraordinary importance to opera lovers with an interest in the history of opera singing in the 20th century. For many years this performance has had iconic status among collectors of historic vocal material. It has been issued on many labels in the LP and CD format. But Richard Caniell and his Immortal Performances label have improved significantly on all prior versions, and probably given us the performance in the best sonic environment we are likely to get.
Cigna [in her début at the Metropolitan Opera] is a tempestuous Aïda . . .She has a very rich middle voice, and one that is seamlessly bound to the upper and lower registers. And she finds meaning in the text, in the drama, that eludes most of her rivals. This is a total characterization, and one of the major operatic portrayals . . . Martinelli seems completely inspired by the occasion, and his work in scenes with other singers, and his dramatic inflections, are all examples of masterly singing. . .Castagna is an Amneris for the ages, and opera lovers unfamiliar with her work would find the investment in this set worthwhile for her performance alone.
Morelli’s Amonasro is a beautifully sung and convincingly acted performance that we would kill to encounter in the opera house today. . . . As if that weren’t enough, we get the almost unbelievable Ramfis of Pinza—a portrayal that truly qualifies as historic. . . .
The production values for Immortal Performances are many levels higher than most of the labels that specialize in historic live performances. The notes by Caniell are thoughtful, insightful, and provocative.
. . .what I haven’t conveyed is the overall thrust and grandeur of the whole, which really is greater than the sum of its parts. The sweep, the thrust, the open-throated glory of this AÏDA is not matched in any other recording. . . a collector who lacks this version lacks something unique.
The filler on the third disc is a wonderful bonus: Martinelli speaks about Verdi (in English), scenes from AÏDA and FAUST recorded in 1926 by Vitaphone as soundtracks for silent films, and a chunk of the second act of Verdi’s OTELLO from Covent Garden with Beecham conducting in 1937.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, Nov./Dec., 2012
“This preservation of Gina Cigna’s début at the Metropolitan Opera documents the arrival of this renowned singer at the Met in 1937, an event greatly anticipated by a huge audience of opera lovers….Milton Cross’ commentary is suddenly interrupted by Marcia Davenport who snatches the microphone saying, ‘Excuse me Mr. Cross, may I have your mic a minute’ and then launches into a torrent of praise for Cigna’s performance, describing her as:
‘a beautiful artist, she has a beautiful, clear, pure voice; she’s a marvelous musician; you’ll all notice she has a beautiful vocal control, she phrases magnificently well, her singing is accurate and musical and of course you’ve all been thrilled by the perfect purity of her high notes’.
Davenport then blithely apologizes to Cross for grabbing the microphone from him. Apart from Davenport’s autointoxication, perhaps this outburst represents the effect that Cigna’s presence and the occasion had upon the taste of the wildly acclaiming audience….”
- Richard Caniell
“Gina Cigna was one of the most gifted and admired dramatic sopranos of the 1930s. 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 Vicenza 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 AÏDA reunites Cigna with Giovanni Martinelli, Ezio Pinza and other members of the 1937 Metropolitan cast.”
- Elizabeth Forbes, 2 July, 2001