V2477. CELESTINA BONINSEGNA: Arias & Duets (w.Luigi Colazza, Luigi Bolis & Giovanni Valls) from Norma, Ernani, Il Trovotore, I Vespri Siciliani, Ballo, Forza, Aida, Faust, Ruy Blas, La Gioconda, La Boheme, Tosca, Andrea Chénier, Il Guarany & Loreley. (France) Malibran 106, recorded 1904-17. Long out-of-print, Final Copy!
“Celestina Boninsegna (1877–1947) was an Italian soprano who began her career in 1892 at the remarkable age of 15 (as Norina in DON PASQUALE) and sang until 1921. There is a mention of her singing in a concert in 1938, but it might have been a one-off, because Boninsegna’s stage appearances seem to have ended 17 years earlier. A major part of her career was centered in Europe and South America, and she was a favorite at many Italian houses. She was not a great success at the Metropolitan Opera, however, where she failed to compete with Emma Eames, also a fine singer and a more glamourous-looking figure on stage.
Boninsegna’s recordings are treasured by collectors, although they have not always been easy to find. Boninsegna’s reputation was particularly strong as a Verdi soprano, demonstrating why [most] are arias or scenes from Verdi’s operas. It is easy to hear the reasons behind her success. The most outstanding feature of her singing is the voice itself: an instrument of rare purity and beauty. Her top range is effortless; her technique is secure enough for Verdi’s demands; and she floats ethereally soft high notes exquisitely. Boninsegna uses a strong chest voice for her low register, which creates a powerful dramatic effect, but it also emphasizes the break with the rest of her voice.
The gleam of her top range and the security of her singing keeps one returning to these recordings. John B. Steane, in THE GRAND TRADITION, puts it this way: ‘…it was a voice of such exceptional beauty and often used with such sincere feeling that she wins an assured place for herself in the line of great singers’. Boninsegna made three recordings of ‘Pace, pace, mio Dio’ from LA FORZA DEL DESTINO, and each has a claim to greatness.
It was as Aida that Boninsegna achieved her greatest fame. According to Aspinall’s notes, she sang the role in 46 cities throughout the world. He quotes the great Italian baritone Riccardo Stracciari on the greatness of her singing, but also her failure to succeed at the Met. ‘[She was] the only one who could sing Aida the way I thought it should be sung…Her voice was so big and beautiful, sheer velvet. But she had no charm, no elegance of person, and when she appeared in her Metropolitan debut (I was her Amonasro) her ample form swathed in chocolate-colored underwear, the New York public and critics would not forgive her, despite a voice that was unique in this role. Besides, the Metropolitan had Emma Eames––una bellissima donna’. If the sight of her was a distraction, this needn’t concern us while listening to her exquisite recordings of ‘Ritorna vincitor’, and ‘O patria mia’.
Although she was not known as a Puccini singer, Boninsegna’s ‘Vissi d’arte’ from TOSCA, especially the 1910 Columbia version, is beautifully done. Her expressive use of portamento and her sensitive dynamic shading identify her as a unique singer. Boninsegna had not only the ability to sing pianissimo without losing the body of her tone, but also the imagination to use every shade between pianissimo and mezzo-piano. Beyond the notes, she sings with commitment to the text and dramatic situation, but it is fair to say that one turns to Boninsegna for the beauty of the voice rather than the kind of specificity of inflection and insight found in the work of singers like Muzio or Callas."
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE
"On record [Boninsegna] has few rivals in the dramatic soprano field. The luscious, easily produced voice rings out so impressively that the limitations of the acoustic process are quite forgotten."
- Vivian A. Liff, AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE, Sept./Oct., 2004