OP3331. SIMON BOCCANEGRA, Live Performance, 16 Feb., 1935, w.Panizza Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Lawrence Tibbett, Giovanni Martinelli, Elisabeth Rethberg, Ezio Pinza, Leonard Warren, etc.; RIGOLETTO, Live Performance, 28 Dec., 1935, w.Panizza Cond. Met Opera Ensemble; Lawrence Tibbett, Lily Pons, Frederick Jagel / Jan Kiepura, Virgilio Lazzari, etc.; LAWRENCE TIBBETT: FALSTAFF - ‘Che sogno’; IL TABARRO ‘Scorre fiume’, from THE PACKARD HOUR, 1935; PETER IBBETSON (Deems Taylor) - Scena, from the 17 March, 1934 Met Broadcast; Giovanni Martinelli speaks, delightfully, at length about his career and Verdi at BIRS, 1962. (Canada) 4-Immortal Performances IPCD 1114, w.Elaborate 50pp Booklet. Transfers by Richard Caniell. Notes by Stanley Henig, William Russell & Richard Caniell. The four discs are priced as three by Immortal Performances. - 644216110223
"Immortal Performances has already issued a stunning Met broadcast from 1939 with the same principals (except the young Leonard Warren is Paolo), enthusiastically reviewed by James Miller and me in FANFARE 37:2 and by Ken Meltzer in 40:4. So why bring out this one, which in Richard Caniell’s own words is a ‘gravely flawed private recording … made for Lawrence Tibbett by a New York dub service’? Caniell had to insert portions of the 1939 broadcast to replace some missing sections. He catalogs the replacements in his extensive recording notes that accompany the release. The reason for bothering with it becomes clear as you listen. In 1935 all four principals were in fresher voice, and so this release represents each of them at much closer to their legendary best.
For a collector who would be satisfied with only one recording of SIMON BOCCANEGRA featuring Tibbett, Rethberg, Martinelli, and Pinza (all serious vocal collectors should have one in their library), I would recommend the 1939 performance in the Immortal Performances edition. But if you, like me, cannot get enough of truly legendary Verdi singing, this new one is a very important supplement. In 1935 Lawrence Tibbett was at the peak of his vocal and dramatic powers.
For me it is Martinelli who benefits the most. By 1939 a certain hardness of tone that was always a part of his vocal production had become more prominent. Here he sounds glorious, and for listeners who have wondered why Martinelli has such a grand reputation, you will find your answer here. Long, generous phrases, perfectly shaped, accompany a classic legato in what is almost a masterclass in Verdi singing. He is also a passionate and subtle vocal actor, and every phrase holds your attention. Rethberg’s Amelia also benefits from the subtraction of four years. She was 41 and in her true prime during this broadcast. The voice glows brightly, she has complete control over dynamic shading, and she caresses phrases in a uniquely personal way. Rethberg’s shining spinto soprano was close to ideal for this music, and she sounds freer here than in 1939 (though she was still very fine then too). Tibbett was magnificent in 1939, and he is similarly so here. The voice has a touch more ring here, but his ability to characterize the music is a bit more sophisticated in 1939. Pinza is magnificent in both cases. Perhaps his bass is a fraction more solid and ringing than it would be five years later, but the difference is minimal. If you feel disappointment that you won’t have the young Leonard Warren as Paolo, you might be surprised by the rich baritone and stylish singing of Adolfo Gandolfi, a fine singer who had no significant international reputation.
As is always the case with Ettore Panizza, the conducting is alert, sensitive, energetic, sympathetic to the singers, and balanced between the lyrical and the incisive. He is particularly adept at bringing out the full range of colors in Verdi’s score, including its frequent darkness. As a bonus we get some wonderful conversation from Martinelli on the subject of Verdi.
Tibbett’s Rigoletto is, to my ears, one of the finest ever recorded. He manages to convey the full range of Rigoletto’s emotions - anger, sadness, grief, tenderness, and bitterness are all present in the voice. He switches instantly between them in the big scene with Gilda, ending with the ‘Vendetta’ duet. Tibbett’s overall performance here is on a par with my two favorite Rigolettos: Leonard Warren and Riccardo Stracciari. It is different enough from either of those to offer its own gratification.
The other strong asset is Lily Pons, who was the type of Gilda we don’t hear very much any longer - a light coloratura with astounding top notes (including a high F) and all the agility the role needs. Pons also invests the character with real personality, but the significant reward in listening to her is vocal. She retains the same gleaming tonal quality no matter how high the music goes, and this provides great pleasure.
I wish I could be as positive about Frederick Jagel’s Duke. The voice itself is not unpleasant, but it is a generic tenor not distinguished by any special quality. More disturbingly, I find Jagel’s singing far too aggressive, even fierce. ‘Questa o quella’ totally lacks the insouciance that is inherent in the music. This Duke sounds like he is in some kind of battle. ‘La donna è mobile’ is a bit more relaxed, but not sufficiently so. One gets the feeling that the Duke didn’t seduce Gilda with charm or even ardor, but rather through force. Jagel does sing in tune and with a firm rhythmic pulse, which shouldn’t be taken for granted, but he is nowhere near the level of the other two principals.
Virgilio Lazzari is a strong, dark-toned Sparafucile, and the remainder of the cast is fine. On the podium Panizza manages to balance well the elements of dramatic tension and lyricism. He gives both propulsion and beauty to the orchestral score. Richard Caniell’s sonic restoration is close to miraculous. In his recording notes he describes some of his problems in resuscitating the source material, which necessitated having to slip in some sections from the 1939 Met broadcast because they were missing on the original source. Part of Act II, for that reason, gives us Jan Kiepura’s Duke, which is an improvement over Jagel’s. These inserts are virtually seamless, and if someone were to play the recording for me, simply saying that it was an ‘old Met broadcast’ and ask me to guess its age, I would probably have said it comes from the mid-to-late 1940s. Anyone who can listen with pleasure to historic broadcasts will find pleasure here. Caniell supervised an earlier release of this performance on Naxos, but he has obviously continued to study and learn, because now the sound is markedly richer and more natural.
Three Tibbett broadcast arias are a bonus to fill out the second RIGOLETTO disc, and they are magnificent. ‘Che sogno’ from FALSTAFF and ‘Scorre fiume’ from IL TABARRO come from THE PACKARD HOUR. The scene from the Met’s production of Deems Taylor’s PETER IBBETSON makes one anxious to hear the entire performance, which Caniell hints might be coming.
The whole production is rounded out by Immortal Performances’ usual fine quality of booklet, with thoughtful and provocative essays, wonderful historic photographs, plot synopses, and biographies of the major artists. Anyone seriously interested in the way operatic singing developed and progressed in 20th-century America will find much gratification here. The four discs are priced as three by Immortal Performances.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE, March / April, 2019