OP3322. AÏDA , recorded 1928, w.Sabajno Cond. La Scala Ensemble; Dusolina Giannini, Aureliano Pertile, Irene Minghini-Cattaneo, Giovanni Inghilleri, Guglielmo Masini, etc. (Canada) 2-Immortal Performances IPCD 1113. Transfers by Richard Caniell; Elaborate 30pp. Booklet features Photos & Essays by Dewey Faulkner & Richard Caniell. - 644216896851
“It is wonderful to have this 1928 recording of AÏDA back in circulation again, and in an excellent transfer. Romophone issued it about 20 years ago in a fine Ward Marston transfer, still available on the used market. Richard Caniell’s transfer is also excellent, although different. It is a bit brighter, with more ping to the voices and a bit more color to the orchestra. Some will find Romophone’s sound to be ‘warmer’ and will prefer it, while others will find Immortal Performances to have more presence and color. My own preference is for the new version. If you own the Romophone, however, I am not certain the new one warrants replacing it. If you do not, or if you own any of the other inferior transfers (Rodolphe, for example), jump on this opportunity.
James Camner reviewed the Romophone in Fanfare 22:4 with a rave. I agree with virtually everything he wrote. The greatest strength of this performance is the Radamès of Aureliano Pertile. Often identified as ‘Toscanini’s favorite tenor’, Pertile is ideal in this role. He has the virility central to the character, solidity of tone, complete control of his voice from top to bottom, and the ability to draw a lovely lyrical line. As most tenors do, he sings the climactic note of ‘Celeste Aïda’ fortissimo, but prior to that he displays much delicate shading and a sensitive cantabile. His singing in the Tomb Scene is also extremely lovely, while the confrontation with Amneris in the first scene of the last act is thrilling. This is singing with real presence and character. A number of critics, including Camner, have written that Pertile is the equal of any tenor who has recorded the role, and I agree. His performance alone would merit purchase of this set for anyone interested in operatic singing and its history.
As Aïda, Dusolina Giannini is a bit more controversial. Some have complained that at the time Rosa Ponselle or Elisabeth Rethberg would have been better choices, and that may well be true. But it is unfair to criticize Giannini for not being Ponselle or Rethberg. The only flaws in her performance that I hear are a reluctance (or inability) to sing softly while retaining a full tone, and a slightly out of tune high C in ‘O patria mia’. Otherwise, her voice rings with authority throughout and exhibits a healthy richness in its lower register. In his excellent notes for this set, Dewey Faulkner comments that Giannini ignores some of Verdi’s detailed markings. Even so, he concludes that her Aïda is ‘far more impressive than any we might hear today, but less complete than it might be’. I agree on both counts, yet the ‘impressive’ part is what remains in the memory.
Irene Minghini-Cattaneo is magnificent as Amneris. She combines the vocal plushness necessary to soar through Verdi’s long phrases with a laser-like focus when fury or desperation needs to be highlighted. She is dramatically intense in the judgment confrontation with the priests, and she pours out endless reserves of tone throughout. Of the principals only the Amonasro, Giovanni Inghillieri, fails to overwhelm with sheer vocal power. He is dramatically effective, and he has plenty of freedom at the top of his range. The problem is that his is an ordinary, somewhat colorless, voice. It is surprising that the producers did not turn to one of the great Verdi baritones of the day (Apollo Granforte or Riccardo Stracciari, for instance).
Luigi Manfrini is a strong Ramfis, particularly effective in the Judgment Scene. Guglielmo Masini fails to register as the King, but he does nothing damaging. A major asset is the conducting of Carlo Sabajno. A consistent presence on many La Scala recordings from the 1920s and 1930s, Sabajno is far beyond being a routinier. He gives the music shape and coaxes expressive playing from the strings (I love the old-fashioned portamento effects tastefully employed), and he creates a consistent sense of direction despite the opera being recorded in four-minute segments. Although not as well known as Tullio Serafin, Sabajno is at least his equal in characterizing the music. The original recorded balances are excellent too, never relegating the orchestra to the background. The result is a very important recording, given life for a new generation of collectors.
As usual, Immortal Performances provides an outstanding booklet. Very insightful and honest notes about the performance by Faulkner inform the listener. Historic photos offer further enhancement, along with a note about the recording process by Caniell, a detailed synopsis, and bios of the principals. The booklets always serve to distinguish Immortal Performances’ reissues from virtually all others, but so does the technical quality of the restoration.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, March / April, 2019
"As Aïda, Dusolina Giannini has a voice of the old Italian school, with a rich middle and lower register….Irene Minghini-Cattaneo is a passionate, impressive Amneris….The Radames, Pertile, was the idol of La Scala in the 1920s….heard to great advantage here….Inghilleri as Amonasro is first rate – the duet with Giannini in the Third Act is the high spot of the whole performance….one of the most accomplished performances ever recorded of Verdi’s opera.”
- Patrick O’Connor, INTERNATIONAL OPERA COLLECTOR, Spring, 1999
"In 1904 Sabajno was engaged by Fred Gaisberg as The Gramophone Company’s Italian house conductor (an appointment which was in effect the equivalent of the ‘Artists and Repertoire’ manager of later years) with responsibility for all aspects of production, such as the selection of repertoire and the engagement of artists, in addition to actually conducting in the studio: in France the conductor Piero Coppola held a similar position. Sabajno devoted himself to the nascent recording industry and seems subsequently to have conducted little if at all in the concert hall or opera house. He did however compose a little, writing songs especially for the gramophone.
For The Gramophone Company Sabajno conducted numerous complete recordings of operas, starting with Verdi’s ERNANI in 1904 and Leoncavallo’s PAGLIACCI in 1907 (although the latter may in fact have been conducted by its composer) and concluding with Verdi’s OTELLO in 1932. He recorded RIGOLETTO twice, in 1917 and 1927, and also left notable accounts of Donizetti’s DON PASQUALE with Tito Schipa, and of Verdi’s AÏDA with Toscanini’s favourite tenor Aureliano Pertile. He was also credited with conducting the complete recording of IL TROVATORE with Pertile, (although much of this was actually conducted by Gino Nastrucci). In addition to these and many other complete opera recordings Sabajno accompanied the leading singers of the day, such as Beniamino Gigli, in numerous operatic arias, and conducted several short operatic and orchestral works. The latter included several overtures and orchestral excerpts from Wagner’s operas, including the Liebestod from TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, as well as the prelude to Catalani’s opera EDMEA, Chabrier’s ‘España’, Mascagni’s ‘Danza esotica’, the overture to Massenet’s LE ROI DE LAHORE, the Nocturne and Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, and the overture to Mozart’s DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE.
Evidently not an easy man to get on with, Sabajno had a reputation for a fiery temper; but Gaisberg, who knew him well, described him as ‘…gifted with sharp intelligence, and when one worked with him one understood that every single gesture had a reason’. Certainly several of his recordings, most of which were made with the Orchestra of La Scala, Milan at a time when Toscanini was musical director there, have stood the test of time. Gaisberg considered Sabajno’s account of AÏDA to be the pinnacle of his recording work, and it continues to feature in the catalogue.”
- David Patmore, Naxos' A–Z of Conductors