OP2864. SIMON BOCCANEGRA, Live Performance, 21 Jan., 1939, w.Panizza Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Lawrence Tibbett, Giovanni Martinelli, Elisabeth Rethberg, Ezio Pinza, Leonard Warren, etc.; SIMON BOCCANEGRA – Council Chamber Scene, w. Pelletier Cond. Lawrence Tibbett, Giovanni Martinelli, Rose Bampton, Leonard Warren, etc., recorded 1939; Boris Goldovsky interviews Lawrence Tibbett, 28 Jan., 1950, Met broadcast. (Canada) 2-Immortal Performances IPCD 1031, w.Elaborate 38pp Booklet. Transfers by Richard Caniell. - 696859207723
“Few opera sets were more keenly anticipated than the original EJS LP issue of this legendary performance. The crushing disappointment experienced at the initial hearing, still remains fresh in mind. Despite an almost ideal, stellar cast, the muddy sound, pitch wanderings, sundry clicks and bangs etc., made listening such an ordeal that it was, understandably, shelved and forgotten. Subsequent issues, including one from the Met itself, largely failed to improve the situation. Fortunately Richard Caniell, whose work in this field has already earned him great praise, decided to tackle the unhappy situation. His expertise and dedication have restored for us a truly great version of this opera. Miraculously, along with nearly all the other defects, the restricted sound has been banished and this recording of one of the Met's greatest successes now offers almost unalloyed enjoyment.
The protagonist, Tibbett, in superb voice for one of his most noteworthy assumptions, was at the height of his considerable dramatic powers; able to dominate the council chamber scene and provide a subtle range of nuance and dynamic elsewhere. Perhaps Rethberg benefits most from this restoration - her exquisite voice now ringing out and sounding much as heard on her studio recordings of the preceding two decades. Martinelli makes something of the rather thankless role of Gabriele with his sterling tones and secure musicianship. Has there ever been a more truly beautiful, noble, bass voice than Ezio Pinza's? His Fiesco is a moving portrayal of this fascinating character. The duet in Act 3 with Tibbett, transforms this music and few other recorded versions can equal it. This luxury casting finds Leonard Warren as Paolo - already indicating in both vocal quality and charisma, a bright future for this young baritone. Panizza's conducting is first rate and in the great tradition of the finest Italian opera conductors of the past.
The excellent booklet contains a fascinating essay by the engineer on the various aspects of his restoration work. It is intriguing to be reminded that at this performance, the audience applause commenced at Pinza's final note of 'Il lacerato spirito' - ruining its glorious orchestral postlude. Caniell has substituted another applause-free postlude and then added commensurate applause. Few listeners are likely to notice this ‘deception’ and from the purely musical aspect, it is most welcome. However this does raise questions of authenticity. It's fine when someone of integrity is in charge but as more and more sophisticated tools arrive to enhance less than ideal live performances, the possibilities for cheating are endless. Is this the Photoshop moment for sonic restoration?
Bonuses here include the 78rpm Victor issue of the Council Chamber scene conducted by Pelletier with Rethberg replaced by Bampton, and Tibbett in discussion with Goldovsky during a Met Intermission. Unless you must have state of the art sound, this is now a performance which can hardly be recommended too highly. Catch it whilst still available.”
- Vivian A. Liff, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Jan./Feb., 2014
“Until now, this 1939 Met broadcast could only be recommended to collectors who had a wide tolerance for ‘historic’ sound. What Richard Caniell of Immortal Performances has done here is close to miraculous. . . . The dynamic range has been extended, removing the effects of electronic compression. [Surface] noise has been removed without removing color from the voices; and the whole jumps out of the speakers as the incredible performance that it is.
Tibbett is gigantic as Boccanegra...this is one of the great operatic portrayals ever...the same can be said about Pinza. Beauty of tone, nobility of expression, strength and eloquence, it is all there. Rethberg perhaps gains the most from Caniell’s remastering, her voice glows with a warmth that previous editions of this performance managed to minimize. Martinelli's feeling for the style is complete, he has power, and he also has the ability to moderate his voice and sing softly....There are moments that are truly thrilling, alongside moments where one wishes for more tonal beauty....But the greatness of the artist is always present when Martinelli sings.
Immortal Performances’ usual stunning production standards are present. The booklet contains intelligent, thoughtful notes on the performance and the artists, wonderful rare old photos, and insightful comments on the opera itself. Real Verdi lovers...would be quite foolish to pass this one up. It provides operatic thrills that frankly none of the studio recordings can duplicate, not even the best of them.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, Nov./Dec., 2013
“Verdi’s somber masterpiece was magnificently presented at the Met in the 1930s….The performance was strongly cast with Tibbett, Martinelli, a much admired Gabriele and Rethberg bringing her thrilling intensity to the role of Maria. This performance also offered opera lovers the opportunity to hear Pinza’s eloquent Fiesco. The somber forcefulness of Pinza’s characterization of Fiesco’s grief and determination is a superbly dramatic counterpart to Tibbett’s commanding essayal of the title role, making the Act III duet between them one of the great moments of this performance.
For the central character, Tibbett brought a needed and quite remarkable vocal stature to his Boccanegra. He provides strength, clarity and presence that anchor this somber and beautiful opera with a central weight around which the other characters revolve. Tibbett’s portrayal of the Doge was clamorously received, as well it might be, for it was the most impressive of all his recreations….His reputation as one of the great baritones of the era is corroborated by his singing in this performance. Here is nobility, dramatic force, eloquence, believability, warmth, tenderness, everything one could want. Here are elements missing even from his famed Rigoletto…. If it were only for Tibbett’s singing, this performance would be justly celebrated, but there is much more. Rethberg sings Amelia with a tone and beauty that often reminds us of her greatest days, especially in Acts II and III, singing with enormous intensity and brilliance. Rethberg’s voice, as instantly recognizable as that of Lehmann or Callas, stands out in every ensemble, personifying a bygone age of standards and fidelities of which we know little in our present era.
The same can be said for the patrician dignity and expressiveness of the veteran Martinelli, whose career harkens back to the turn of the century and who, at age 54, sings here with admirable restraint though with occasionally lessened lyricism. This is, in the end, but a minor deduction from the style and vividity of his singing of this role. He offers a brilliant declamation coupled with moments of power and rich phrasing which corroborate the great esteem in which Martinelli has been held. At the time of this performance, Martinelli had been singing nearly 30 years with a career so staggeringly busy, it is incredible that he has any voice left at all. Amazingly enough, nearly a year later he was in even better voice in the December 1939 LA GIOCONDA….
Yet another immense asset to this performance is the portrayal of Fiesco by Ezio Pinza. Possessed of what was likely the most beautiful bass voice in this era if not in the entire century….Pinza’s nobility of expression, his capacity to color it with nuances of grief, shaping it into a tonal strength that comports with the dignity of his character, together with his stage deportment, makes for an incomparable realization of this role….
Warren’s debut in the role of Paolo is remarkable for the power and superb tone he brings to the role; clearly he is a major voice heard here at the very beginning of his Met career. Fortunately, this remarkable ensemble is well supported by the forceful, incisive conducting of Panizza. The results are an unforgettable recreation well representing the era our music society means to celebrate.
This broadcast was a highlight of the 1939-40 season, joining in the renown earned by the 1939 LA GIOCONDA, memorably sung by Milanov and Martinelli (see our release IPCD 1012) [OP2147] and the 1939 DIE MEISTERSINGER (IPCD 1001) [OP2684] in which Schorr’s justly celebrated Hans Sachs is joined by one of the best Walthers on record, Charles Kullman.
These vocal artists stem from the Golden Age at the Met, an era still emitting rays of fading light. What glow they possessed was refulgent still with values and tones we have since long learned to live without. This, then, is a truly historic broadcast.”
- Richard Caniell, Program Notes
“Lawrence Tibbett, to my taste the greatest operatic baritone America has ever produced. His enormous charm is complemented by fabulous diction - he's one of the very few ‘classical’ singers whose every word is clearly understandable.”
- Jeffrey Lipscomb