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Simon Boccanegra new reviews | IPCD 1031-2

Reviews for IPCD 1031–2



Verdi SIMON BOCCANEGRA


VERDI Simon Boccanegra • Ettore Panizza, cond; Lawrence Tibbett (Simon); Elisabeth Rethberg (Amelia); Giovanni Martinelli (Gabriele); Leonard Warren (Paolo); Ezio Pinza (Fiesco); Metropolitan Opera Ch & O • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1031-2 mono (2 CDs: 155:16) Live: Metropolitan Opera, New York 1/21/1939


& Simon Boccanegra: Plebe! Patrizi (Tibbett, Bampton, Martinelli, Warren, from RCA 1939 recording); Interview of Lawrence Tibbett by Boris Goldovsky


Henry Fogel
FANFARE magazine
March/April 2017


Both James Miller and I reviewed this release in Fanfare 37:2 when it was first issued. We were both very enthusiastic. Here are some excerpts from what I said in my original review: “Tibbett is gigantic as Boccanegra. The role covers a wide range of emotion, and very few baritones have encompassed it all. Gobbi certainly comes to mind, and Tibbett is on that level but with a richer voice….This is one of the great operatic portrayals ever, period, full stop. As if that weren’t enough, exactly the same can be said about Pinza. Beauty of tone, nobility of expression, strength and eloquence, it is all there. The third low male voice in the equation is the remarkable Leonard Warren, a future superstar himself….Rethberg perhaps gains the most from Caniell’s remastering. She was past her best years by 1939, and at rare moments one hears a certain hardness of tone. But overall her voice glows with a warmth that previous editions of this performance managed to minimize….Martinelli too gains a lot from this transfer, but truth to tell his tone is still marked by a hardness that is not always pleasant….A real hero here is Ettore Panizza, an often underrated conductor whose Met performances from this era usually combine an almost ferocious rhythmic drive and intensity with flexibility and long line….”


I also praised Richard Caniell’s restoration work for Immortal Performances, producing a far finer sounding release of this performance than one had ever encountered, including one from the Met itself. So why am I reviewing it again? Because Caniell has a habit of revisiting his work if he is not completely satisfied, and he has improved on his own original release. If you purchased the original set from Immortal Performances’ web site, they will replace the original for $5.00 per disc. If you have not purchased it before now, all new sets will have the improved discs.


Many will want to know if the improvement is meaningful or microscopic. The answer is “meaningful.” I’m not sure why, but the improvements become more significant as the opera goes on, but even in the Prologue there is greater focus, clarity, and richness to the sound. This is still a 1939 radio transcription, and there is still some cramping and congestion to the quality, but I was really surprised at the degree of change. Caniell’s original release of this performance was a huge improvement over all previous attempts, including the Metropolitan’s. I assumed that what he got the first time around was what he was going to get. But he managed to find a whole other layer of quality that affects the orchestra and the singers—hearing the three low-voiced male protagonists with the added weight and color here is a knockout.


In my original review I focused on the word thrill to describe what this recording had to a degree not even approached by other recordings, live or studio. I said “there is about this one a thrill level that simply is not duplicated anywhere else.” That is even more true now, noticeably so, with the additional work Caniell has performed. If you purchased the original set, I would recommend investing $10 to get the “upgrades.”





VERDI Simon Boccanegra • Ettore Panizza, cond; Lawrence Tibbett (Simon); Elisabeth Rethberg (Amelia); Giovanni Martinelli (Gabriele); Leonard Warren (Paolo); Ezio Pinza (Fiesco); Metropolitan Opera Ch & O • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1031-2 mono (2 CDs: 155:16) Live: Metropolitan Opera, New York 1/21/1939


& Simon Boccanegra: Plebe! Patrizi (Tibbett, Bampton, Martinelli, Warren, from RCA 1939 recording); Interview of Lawrence Tibbett by Boris Goldovsky


Ken Meltzer
FANFARE magazine
March/April 2017


The release under review is a 2016 restoration by Immortal Performances of the legendary January 21, 1939 Met broadcast of Simon Boccanegra, originally issued by IP in 2013, in commemoration of the Verdi Bicentennial. In the November/December 2013 issue of Fanfare (37:2), Henry Fogel wrote a glowing review of the initial release. Henry’s review encouraged me to purchase the Immortal Performances set (not that I need much encouragement in such matters). And after hearing it, I concurred with Henry’s review on all counts. This is one of the greatest Verdi performances documented on recordings. The stellar cast includes two artists whose vocalism and interpretations have never been equaled (Lawrence Tibbett in the title role, and Ezio Pinza as Fiesco). The other two principals, Elisabeth Rethberg (Amelia) and Giovanni Martinelli (Gabriele), while not quite in the vocal primes of Tibbett and Pinza, sing magnificently, with marvelous dramatic commitment and an unerring sense of Verdi style. The young Leonard Warren, a future great Boccanegra in his own right, makes an impressive broadcast debut in the smaller, but dramatically important role of Paolo. It’s also gratifying to encounter a group of singers who uniformly grasp that clear, idiomatic diction is not just important from a textual perspective, but in launching and maintaining the musical line as well. At the helm of this stellar cast is conductor Ettore Panizza, leading a performance that crackles with tension from start to finish, but never at the expense of the beauty of the music, or the subtle depiction of the personal conflicts at the heart of this great drama. Panizza’s Verdi conducting here (and in other Met broadcasts) is every bit the equal of Tibbett and Pinza’s exalted achievements. A 1950 Met broadcast intermission discussion (with musical illustrations) by Tibbett and Boris Goldovsky re. Boccanegra, and the 1939 RCA studio recording of a portion of the act II Council Chamber Scene are welcome bonuses.


In his review, Henry Fogel noted the remarkable improvement in the sound quality of the 2013 Immortal Performances release over previous issues of the broadcast (including a MYTO issue, which is in my library): “What Richard Caniell of Immortal Performances has done here is close to miraculous. No, it is clearly not a modern studio recording; it is not even a state-of-the-art 1939 studio recording. But it is a highly listenable transfer that reveals the true life in the performance. The dynamic range has been extended, removing the effects of electronic compression; noises have been removed without removing color from the voices; and the whole jumps out of the speakers as the incredible performance that it is.” In short, the 2013 Immortal Performances release of the 1939 Met Boccanegra was a triumph on all counts, and a great service to all who care about Verdi, and the finest representations of his works.


For those who purchased the 2013 issue, Immortal Performances is offering the new, 2016 remastering at a cost of $5 per disc, plus postage. And so the question remains: Is the 2016 restoration worth the additional expense (or worth initial purchase by those who did not acquire the 2013 set)? I believe the answer is clearly in the affirmative. In the 2016 remastering, the voices emerge with even greater clarity and a more complete representation of their overtones, so crucial in appreciating the qualities of their respective timbres. Loud orchestral attacks—for example, that following Tibbett’s invocation: “Plebe! Patrizi!” in the Council Chamber Scene—now maintain their focus and definition, without the sense of fragmentation occasionally evident in the 2013 issue. Have we finally reached the point where this Boccanegra is the equal of fine studio recordings of the era? A comparison with the 1939 RCA “Plebe! Patrizi!” included on the set demonstrates we are not quite there. But now, this jewel of a performance may be enjoyed by anyone, regardless of tolerance for historic recordings. With this 2016 remastering, every moment of a great and unique afternoon at the Old Met may be savored to its fullest. This is a treasure in every way.



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