V2658. TITO GOBBI: A TRIBUTE, incl. NABUCCO, w. Bruno Bartoletti Cond. Chicago Lyric Opera Ensemble; Tito Gobbi, Boris Christoff, Danica Mastilovic, Anna Maria Rota, Alfonso La Morena, etc. (Chicago, 10/4/1963); IL TABARRO, w.John Pritchard Cond. Royal Opera Ensemble; Tito Gobbi, Marie Collier, Charles Craig, Elizabeth Bainbridge, etc. (Royal Opera Covent Garden 4/23/1965); GIANNI SCHICCHI, w.John Pritchard Cond. Royal Opera Ensemble; Tito Gobbi, Elizabeth Vaughan, John Wakefield, etc. (Royal Opera Covent Garden, 4/23/1965); w.Molinari-Pradelli Cond. Royal Opera Ensemble; TOSCA – Tosca è buon falco. (Royal Opera Covent Garden, 5/30/55; OTELLO – Credo, w.Zubin Mehta Cond. Met Opera Ensemble (3/11/67); w.Serafin Cond. Rome Opera Ensemble: FALSTAFF - Signore, v’assista il cielo!; È sogno o realtà; MARIANO STABILE: Prima di tutto; Eccomi qua (4/22/41); Three interviews with Gobbi. (Canada) 4-Immortal Performances IPCD 1145, w.Elaborate 58pp. Booklet. Transfers by Richard Caniell. Notes by William Russell & Richard Caniell. - 793888152816
“This 4-CD set serves as a wonderful tribute to the great Italian baritone Tito Gobbi (1913– 1984). Gobbi was much more than an opera singer; he was a complete artist with vocal and physical acting skills far beyond what is found in most singers. His voice was not a conventionally beautiful one. It had little of the tonal richness heard, for example, from Leonard Warren or Robert Merrill. What Gobbi did have, though, was a keen imagination and intelligence, allowing him to penetrate the characters he portrayed in great dramatic depth. He was a favored partner of Maria Callas because she was one of the few who shared his ability.
The main attraction here is a Chicago Lyric Opera performance of Verdi’s NABUCCO from 1963. William Russell’s excellent detailed program notes place Gobbi in a lineage that may have begun with Chaliapin, of singers for whom the texts were as important as the notes. Gobbi made a very successful commercial recording of NABUCCO for Decca in 1965. If I had to recommend a single version of NABUCCO to a general collector, it would be this one, because of its splendid stereo sound and fine performances from Elena Suliotis and conductor Lamberto Gardelli.
But for anyone who has a serious interest in Verdi or Italian operatic performance tradition, there is no substitute for hearing Gobbi in live. Immortal Performances has done its usual excellent job in sonic restoration, and the original was not bad to start with. However, there was a gap in the original broadcast of just over two minutes, which producer Richard Caniell has filled in from the Decca set. The joins are seamless.
More than any other baritone I have heard in this opera, Gobbi captures the full scope of the title character. At times Nabucco is a cold and powerful ruler, at times an insane figure who thinks he is God, and at other times a humbled and shattered man pleading to God for forgiveness. Gobbi manages to integrate these contrasts into a whole character rather than treating them as individual moments that fail to tie together. Through careful, subtle shading of vocal color and the use of emphasis and inflection, we hear the undercurrent of weakness at Nabucco’s most powerful utterances, and the shreds of remaining strength when he’s at his weakest. Gobbi’s interactions with Abigaille are deeply moving.
The role of Abigaille is fiendishly difficult, requiring coloratura agility alongside the power of a dramatic soprano. No one has come closer to encompassing these demands than the young Callas in a dim-sounding 1949 performance from Naples. Suliotis did very well on the 1965 Decca recording, though that and other unwise stresses that she put on her voice made for a stunningly short career. In this performance Danica Mastilovic, a Yugoslav soprano making her U.S. debut in these NABUCCO performances in Chicago, has the required power and dramatic presence, but I find the voice a bit too hard-toned. She is, however, very much into the role.
Anna Maria Rota and Alfonso La Morena are effective as Fenena and Ismaele; as the High Priest Zaccaria, Boris Christoff is towering. His imposing, rock-solid basso and strong vocal presence help to give this role the importance it needs for a staging of NABUCCO to be successful. Bruno Bartoletti conducts with a strong feeling for the idiom and natural pacing, though I do not find him as dramatically incisive as Lamberto Gardelli on the Decca recording. Overall, this NABUCCO is a release of great importance. Given Gobbi’s immense stature in the middle of the 20th century, we don’t have very many examples of his work in live performances. To have this one, and in good monaural sound, is treasurable.
As a bonus Immortal Performances has added two operas from Puccini’s IL TRITTICO from a Covent Garden performance on April 23, 1965 (the evening also included SUOR ANGELICA, but of course it has no male roles). The role of Michele in IL TABARRO is not very big, but it is central to the murderous melodrama, and it contains some of Puccini’s finest writing for ae baritone aside from Scarpia. Gobbi’s portrayal of the inflamed, heartbroken husband whose young wife has fallen out of love with him is achingly powerful. As with his Nabucco, he is not satisfied to bluster about faithlessness and swear revenge. In Michele’s aria ‘Nulla! Silenzio!’ we hear the character’s anguish poignantly expressed, again through emphasis on the text and the shading of vocal color. The way Gobbi drains the tone from his voice on the first two words demonstrates his mastery. Marie Collier’s Giorgetta is strongly sung and acted, although she slightly flats the C she throws in during the duet with Luigi. As Luigi, Charles Craig’s strong tenor encompasses all of Puccini’s demands, but I have never found it a particularly attractive voice or him a particularly imaginative artist. Still, the overall impact of this performance is thrilling.
Gobbi can turn on a dime from portraying the tragic, brutish Michele to mastering Puccini’s sole comedy, GIANNI SCHICCHI. I suspect that with so much of his career focused on portraying nefarious characters (Scarpia, Nabucco, Macbeth, Carlo in LA FORZA), the opportunity to have fun with the sly, clever Schicchi must have been welcome; Gobbi turned it into a signature role. For anyone who got to know his singing through Scarpia, another signature role, Gobbi’s comic gifts, the droll timing, and high spirits came as a surprise. Those gifts are considerably brighter here than on his EMI studio recording, which is conducted without spirit by Gabriele Santini. John Pritchard is far sharper, and the entire cast sound like they are having a ball.
Other bonus tracks are of note. The ‘Credo’ from Verdi’s OTELLO comes from a Met performance from 1967 sizzlingly conducted by Zubin Mehta, and the excerpts from FALSTAFF are from Gobbi’s early days, in 1941, when he was singing Ford to Mariano Stabile’s Falstaff. It is a treasurable memento of a part Gobbi was to abandon when he moved to the title role.
Add to the music three interviews in English with the singer conducted by interviewers who actually knew something about opera and who ask intelligent questions, drawing out of Gobbi some very thoughtful responses, and you have an exceptional package. As is always the case with Immortal Performances, the booklet is its own treasure, with terrific pictures supplementing the commentary. For anyone who enjoys the artistry of Tito Gobbi, this set is essential, and as further incentive, the four discs are sold for the price of three.
Five stars: A superb tribute to Tito Gobbi.”
- Henry Fogel, FANFARE March / April 2021
“TITO GOBBI: A TRIBUTE from Immortal Performances (IP) celebrates one of the finest singing actors of 20th century opera. Gobbi (1913-1984) is well known for the series of EMI recordings he made with soprano Maria Callas, most notably the iconic La Scala TOSCA, with tenor Giuseppe Di Stefano and conductor Victor de Sabata. Gobbi’s long and distinguished career encompassed staged and recorded opera, and several successful movies as well. The IP set includes a trio of marvelous English-language interviews with Gobbi. It’s fascinating to hear Gobbi talk about his preparation for undertaking a role. First, Gobbi read everything about his character he could find. If the opera was based upon a literary work, Gobbi read that. In the case of Verdi’s FALSTAFF, for example, Gobbi read Shakespeare’s THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR and the HENRY IV plays; first in Italian translation, and then in English (with an Italian-English dictionary close at hand). Gobbi proceeded to the opera’s libretto, and finally, the score. And so for Tito Gobbi, the music and its interpreter were always at the service of the text’s dramatic potential and meaning. Some other baritones may have possessed voices with a more beautiful timbre, purer legato, and easier top notes. But for me, no Italian baritone ever embodied his characters as fully and convincingly as Tito Gobbi. And I must emphasize that Gobbi’s voice was impressive in its own right—rich, masculine, and capable of an infinite variety of colors. And few singers delivered text with the pungency and meaning invested by Gobbi. The IP set includes three live performances of operas that Gobbi also recorded commercially. All of those commercial recordings are worth hearing. But the three live performances on the IP set are cast from strength and marvelously rendered. At heart, Gobbi was a stage actor, at his best and most intense when performing in the theater. In that sense, the live performances of Verdi’s NABUCCO, and Puccini’s IL TABARRO and GIANNI SCHICCHI, have a thrilling immediacy that exceed the parallel studio efforts.
Although Verdi’s 1842 NABUCCO is an early work (his breakthrough opera, in fact), the protagonist foreshadows some of the composer’s greatest baritone creations. In the hands of an inspired artist, Nabucco emerges as a three-dimensional character; a man torn between his political duties and ambitions, and his paternal love. Nabucco is also a man whose pride almost leads to his self-destruction, only to gain understanding and redemption by the opera’s conclusion. In the October 4, 1963 Lyric Opera of Chicago NABUCCO performance broadcast, Tito Gobbi encompasses all these elements in masterful fashion. And he is in fine voice as well. At his entrance in Act I, Gobbi is positioned toward the rear of the stage, and one can gain a sense of how the Italian baritone’s voice filled the hall in impressive fashion. Gobbi’s 1965 Decca studio recording of NABUCCO generated great interest not just for his contribution, but for the appearance of the brilliant young Greek soprano Elena Souliotis as Abigaille. Souliotis was in her early 20s when she made the NABUCCO recording. It turned out to be one of just a few successful recordings in a brief and meteoric career. But it is quite the recording, and sparks fly in the great Act III confrontation between Nabucco and Abigaille. We are fortunate that the Abigaille in the LOC NABUCCO, Danica Mastilovic, is excellent as well. Abigaille is a punishing (really, almost impossible) role, one that demands the power of the most formidable dramatic soprano in tandem with virtuoso coloratura agility. Mastilovic negotiates Verdi’s daredevil writing with technical assurance, a powerful, focused voice (with a bit of a Slavic edge), and temperament to spare. Boris Christoff brings his dark, imposing voice, and charismatic presence to the role of the high priest Zaccaria. It’s a star turn, and one that greatly enhances the value of this performance. Tenor Alfonso La Morena as Ismaele has a pronounced vibrato that will not be to everyone’s taste. But he certainly understands Verdi style, and sings the rather thankless tenor role with gusto. Anna Maria Rota is a lovely Fenena, offering a beautiful and cultivated rendition of the character’s aria in the final act. Conductor Bruno Bartoletti leads a propulsive, animated performance. The orchestra and chorus perform in fine fashion, with the latter rising to the occasion in the iconic ‘Va, pensiero’. Bartoletti and Gobbi also work beautifully together in Nabucco’s numerous moments of soliloquy, with the conductor ever attentive to the baritone’s pacing of declamation, all to wonderful effect. Audience applause and portions of the announcer’s comments add to the sense of occasion. The recorded sound is good mid-60s broadcast quality.
The remaining complete operas are from an April 23, 1965 Covent Garden broadcast of Puccini’s collection of three one-act works, IL TRITTICO (the IP set represents the first widely available issue of these performances). The set includes the two operas in which Gobbi appeared; IL TABARRO and GIANNI SCHICCHI. Gobbi made commercial recordings of these operas. In the mid-50s, Gobbi recorded both works for EMI. In 1976, he reprised GIANNI SCHICCHI for CBS/Sony. But once again, Gobbi’s Covent Garden renditions benefit from the tension and energy of live performances, in the company of distinguished colleagues. John Pritchard is the conductor for both Puccini operas. His interpretations are notable for their sureness of pacing, incisive execution, and beautiful orchestral sonorities (both operas features several comprimario roles, all well performed by regular Covent Garden artists). In IL TABARRO, Gobbi’s co-principals are two esteemed Covent Garden artists, soprano Marie Collier as Giorgetta, and tenor Charles Craig as Giorgetta’s paramour, Luigi. Both possess the appropriately rich voices and fiery temperament for Puccini’s brief verismo melodrama. And Gobbi, in grand, imposing voice, gives a tour-de-force performance as Giorgetta’s husband, Michele. Puccini gives Michele a very brief period of time to portray his transition from desperate, pleading husband to vengeful murderer. Gobbi brings that transition and character to life as convincingly as any Michele I’ve ever heard. And the deadly confrontation between Gobbi and Craig (a great Otello in his own right) is stunning in power. It’s one of those operatic performances where all artifice seems to disappear, at least for the moment. The comedy GIANNI SCHICCHI is equally superb. Once again, Gobbi is partnered with fine co-stars; soprano Elizabeth Vaughn as Lauretta and tenor John Wakefield as Rinuccio. Both sing their arias with vocal beauty and style. Gobbi has a grand time as Schicchi, causing this reviewer to laugh out loud on more than a few occasions. And what a pleasure it is to hear Gobbi’s noble and pointed delivery of Schicchi’s spoken word address to the audience at the opera’s close. The broadcast sound for both Covent Garden Puccini operas is excellent. Brief announcer comments are included as well. As is typical of IP, the supplementary excerpts offer a valuable complement to the complete works.
Following NABUCCO, there is the opening of Act II from a March 11, 1967 Met broadcast of Verdi’s OTELLO. Gobbi sings a thrilling ‘Credo’, enhanced by Zubin Mehta’s incisive conducting. And then, an excerpt from a Rome April 22, 1941 broadcast of FALSTAFF, with Mariano Stabile in the title role, and Gobbi as Ford. Stabile, one of the most celebrated interpreters of Falstaff, is in fine voice. The young Gobbi (who would become a great Falstaff in his own right) is in glowing, youthful form as Ford, and already a brilliant singing-actor. Their Act II, Scene 1 meeting is ripe with detail, humor, and a wonderful sense of two great artists benefitting from each other’s presence. Conductor Tullio Serafin is in top form as well. After GIANNI SCHICCHI, we hear Gobbi in a blazing rendition of Scarpia’s opening scene from Act II of TOSCA. In the three interviews, Gobbi impresses as thoughtful, insightful, and charming. It’s wonderful to hear an artist speak so clearly and eloquently about his craft. In the interview with William Weaver conducted in Gobbi’s Rome house, the baritone’s wife Tilde briefly accompanies her husband at the piano as he sings a few bars from OTELLO. It’s a charming moment, and indicative of how forthcoming and gracious a person Gobbi was. The set’s booklet includes generous documentary material, including informative and lively essays by William Russell, plot synopses, Richard Caniell’s Recording Notes, and artist bios and photos. A marvelous tribute to a great and unique artist. Highly recommended.
Five stars: Tito Gobbi in superb live performances of NABUCCO, IL TABARRO, and GIANNI SCHICCHI”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE March / April, 2021