OP2147. LA GIOCONDA, Live Performance, 30 Dec., 1939 (replete with Milton Cross’ commentaries), w.Panizza Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Zinka Milanov, Giovanni Martinelli, Bruna Castagna, Carlo Morelli, Nicola Moscona, Anna Kaskas, etc.; 1959 Interview with Zinka Milanov about her career; Martinelli speaks of Martinelli; Gavazzeni Cond. RAI Ensemble, Torino, w.Ottavio Garaventa, Yasuko Hayashi & Carlo de Bortoli: I Lituani – Act III Finale (Ponchielli). (Canada) 3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1012. Transfers by Richard Caniell & Essay by John Steane. - 625989649820
“Long famous among opera collectors, this galvanizing performance of LA GIOCONDA has never sounded as good as it does here - in fact, not even close. It has circulated on LP and on CD; the best CD versions were on Symposium and Myto. Both had flaws: Myto the more constricted sound, Symposium the gaps in its source. Richard Caniell’s Immortal Performances company has set a very impressive standard for the restoration of historic material. Not only is the sound amazingly clear and undistorted for a 1939 radio broadcast, but the accompanying notes surpass what you get with just about any major record label. John Steane’s essay, and then Caniell’s own, are stimulating, thoughtful, intelligent commentaries on the opera and the performance.
And what a performance. Of course Zinka Milanov is at its core. She owned this rôle at the Met, and is heard here in her early days. She was a dramatic soprano with a remarkable ability to float beautiful soft tones at the top of her range, but who also phrased with a generosity and breadth that has rarely been equaled. Her lower register is firm and solid, her feeling for the shape of this music is completely natural, and most of all this is a voice and a singer of clear importance. Milanov had a vocal presence that is hard to describe, but that makes itself felt on her entrance and is there every time she is on stage. Anyone who loves this opera cannot afford to miss this recording.
I have never been enthusiastic about Giovanni Martinelli’s singing, even in his young years (and he was 54 in 1939). I recognize all of the virtues: wonderfully natural phrasing, crisp diction, passion, and intensity. But I have always found the basic sound of the voice to be hard-edged and a bit unpleasant. Nonetheless, his is a masterly performance in terms of style and dramatic involvement, and there is a sweep to his Enzo that is appealing. Carlo Morelli was an important baritone in his day, and he’d be a superstar today - a genuine round Italian baritone sound that almost seems to have vanished completely from our world. His Barnaba stays in the memory for its vibrancy and its complete sense of evil.
The remainder of the cast is at a very high level. Bruna Castagna was one of the Met’s stars for a long time, and her Laura is beautifully sung and strongly characterized. Nicola Moscona’s dark bass is perfect for Alvise’s music, though he is not an imaginative singer, and Anna Kaskas, a name new to me, is very affecting as La Cieca. And then there is Ettore Panizza. He was a mainstay of the Met’s Italian wing after Toscanini, and is an underappreciated conductor today because he had neither a symphonic career nor a life on recordings. But his performances breathed fire always, while never sacrificing the singing line that is at the heart of Italian opera….
The six-minute-long excerpt from Ponchielli’s I LITUANI is beautiful, with singularly lovely singing from the tenor Ottavio Garaventa, and the Milanov and Martinelli spoken material will please and interest most opera lovers. But the reason to get this set is the vital, thrilling, beautifully sung performance of LA GIOCONDA, finally restored in a sound quality that should satisfy anyone who can enjoy historic recordings.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, July/Aug., 2011
“This truly immortal performance…has been available for many years…its last appearance was in much improved sound…on the Symposium label, prompting the question as to whether we really need another issue. After hearing this new set, brilliantly re-mastered by Richard Caniell, the answer is decidedly in the affirmative….Pitching has been carefully checked. Even more praiseworthy is the new sound quality….This performance saw the [rôle] début of Milanov…and she is in fine voice….Of the entire cast, it is [Martinelli’s] voice that seems to have benefited most from this new transfer. If not the possessor of an intrinsically beautiful sound, he sings with such integrity as to disarm criticism….The late, greatly-missed, John Steane’s detailed and erudite notes further embellish this most worthwhile issue. It deserves a place in every collection.”
- Vivian A. Liff, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 2011
“It is difficult to imagine a more satisfying portrayal of the Venetian streetsinger; [Milanov] has everything the rôle requires….From the moment of her entrance, the Milanov voice contains a caress unlike anything earlier heard from her….Throughout the opera her voice is perfectly focused, the middle and low registers wonderfully mixed and seamless….her top voice rings out with great security, never splintering or growing harsh at the forte dynamic. Milanov-watchers wait for the ‘Milanov moment’, and none is more keenly anticipated than the high B-flat of ‘Ah! come t’amo!’ as Gioconda leaves the stage in act one. On this afternoon she vaults to a genuine (and lengthy) messa di voce – later on she will be content with the crescendo and omit the delectable diminuendo which she executes in this performance….Her final act is masterful. Everything is finely controlled and well shaped. The phrases of ‘Suicidio!’ are artfully molded, fortes and pianos well scaled, a faultless demonstration of her ability to 'filar il tuono'.”
- Paul Jackson, SATURDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE OLD MET, p.190
“Milanov came like a bolt out of heaven - the voice and the young woman, both so vibrant and exciting. We knew something great had come into [the Met’s] Italian wing. What was not obvious at the beginning was that she would have such a staying power, for she gave so much in her singing.…I was present years later on her great anniversaries and she sang at mine [the fiftieth anniversary of [my] Met début, 1963]. She was incomparable. She was like a vocal sorceress singing the OTELLO arias that night. Such a roar went up from the public, I can never forget it.”
- Giovanni Martinelli