OP3330. LA GIOCONDA, Live Performance, 2 March, 1968, w. Cleva Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Renata Tebaldi, Carlo Bergonzi, Fiorenza Cossotto, Cornell MacNeil, Bonaldo Giaiotti, Mignon Dunn, etc. (Canada) 2-St Laurent Studio YSL T-935.
While this LA GIOCONDA has some rough edges, it is still very much worth hearing. The question marks hang over Renata Tebaldi and Cornell MacNeil. By this point in her career, Tebaldis once glorious voice had definitely seen better days; particularly in Act I, she produces rather harsh tones in her middle and upper registers as she effortfully pushes her voice. Also, even in her salad days, she had a tendency to sing flat in her top notes, and that is even more pronounced here. That said, there are ample compensations. She is far more dramatically engaged than in her 1966 studio recording for Decca, when she played it somewhat safe to conserve her voice before the microphone, and once she gets warmed up for Act II she improves, with Suicidio!� in Act IV being quite effective. And, Tebaldi on the down side of her career is still far more worth hearing than many sopranos at their peaks, especially when she employs her still ravishing mezza voce. As for MacNeil, he is as always dramatically effective, but his voice in Act I is rather dry and he has an incipient spread in his vibrato at various times; but he, too improves once he gets warmed up.
For the other four principal singers, raves are in order. Carlo Bergonzi also takes just a little bit of time to get his voice up to speed, but after that he is glorious, and again dramatically more impassioned than in the studio recording opposite Tebaldi. As Laura, Fiorenza Cossotto is a vocal force of nature, thrilling in impact and utterly impassioned in interpretation. Mignon Dunn and Bonaldo Giaiotti are quite possibly the best Cieca and Alvise Ive ever heard, the latter in particular being absolutely terrific. The comprimario singers are uniformly excellent (one notes the young Paul Plishka in their ranks), the orchestra and chorus are in fine fettle, and the score is in capable if not exceptional hands with veteran Fausto Cleva, who takes the Dance of the Hours� at quite a clip. Certainly the audience thought it was getting its moneys worth; the applause and cheers are quite vociferous. The recorded sound is very good; as usual, St. Laurent provides a tray card with tracks and timings but no booklet notes. While my desert island LA GIOCONDA is the 1962 Met performance (newly refurbished by Immortal Performances) with Farrell, Rankin, Dunn, Corelli, Merrill, Tozzi, and Cleva, this is a very worthy and exciting alternative version that is firmly recommended.�
- James A. Altena, FANFARE
"Fiorenza Cossotto was Laura in Ponchielli's LA GIOCONDA, an assignment which turned out to be as much to her advantage as she was to its. There was, to begin with, the plus factor of appearance: She presented a Laura more youthful and suggestive of romantic impulses than is sometimes - nay, frequently - the case. In addition, she possesses the kind of richness in the lower middle which this part demands, and blended it beautifully with Carlo Bergonzi's tenor sound in the second-act duet. Taken together, it was a kind of oboe-viola duet not too often encountered in the operatic milieu.
The casting also provided Mignon Dunn as a lovely voice for La Cieca, Cornell MacNeil as a well sounding but excessively villainous Barnaba, and Bonaldo Giaiotti as the kind of Alvise who arouses aural sympathy. The unhappy aspect of this evening was Renata Tebaldi's somewhat tortuous effort to get her tones where she wanted to put them for the music of La Gioconda. Sometimes they made it - as in the B flat of Act I, pushed into place almost at the last moment - and sometimes they didn't. She commands a grandeur of style that is still very much her own, but the sound becomes more attenuated, less vibrant year by year. Fausto Cleva conducted with his singular command of this work's style."
- Irving Kolodin, SATURDAY REVIEW
"Renata Tebaldi repeated her portrayal of the street singer, La Gioconda. Her major aria, 'Suicidio!', captured the desperation and the utter frustration of this woman of tragedy. Throughout the fourth act, in which she sings constantly, her dramatic characterization was particularly vivid. At other times, she dominated where appropriate and always sang inimitably. The audience adored her."
- Speight Jenkins in THE DALLAS TIMES HERALD
"Considered the foremost Verdi tenor of his age, Mr. Bergonzi sang more than 300 times with the Metropolitan Opera of New York from the 1950s to the '80s, appearing opposite a roster of celebrated divas that included Maria Callas, Zinka Milanov, Renata Tebaldi, Rise Stevens, Victoria de los Angeles and Leontyne Price. A lyric tenor of some vocal heft, Mr. Bergonzi lacked the sonic weight and brilliance of tenors in the Wagnerian mold. But what he did possess was an instrument of velvety beauty and nearly unrivaled subtlety. 'More than the sound of the voice, it is Mr. Bergonzi's way of using it that is so special', Peter G. Davis, reviewing a 1978 Carnegie Hall recital by Mr. Bergonzi, wrote in THE NEW YORK TIMES. 'He is a natural singer in that everything he does seems right and inevitable - the artful phrasing, the coloristic variety, the perfectly positioned accents, the theatrical sense of well-proportioned climaxes, the honest emotional fervor. Best of all, Mr. Bergonzi obviously uses these effects artistically because he feels them rather than intellectualizes them - a rare instinctual gift, possibly the most precious one any musician can possess'."
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 26 July, 2014