Reviews for CD 2307-08 Boito Memorial
Music Web – December 2004
Arturo Toscanini – Boito Memorial
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)
Mefistofele - Prologue and Act III
Cesare Siepi (bass) - Mefistofele
Giacinto Prandelli (tenor) – Faust
Herva Nelli (soprano) - Margherita
Nerone - Act III and Act IV Scene 2
Cesare Siepi (bass) – Simon Mago
Herva Nelli (soprano) – Asteria
Frank Guarrera (baritone) – Fanuél
Giulietta Simionato (mezzo soprano) – Rubria
Giuseppe Nessi (tenor) – Gobrias
Ebe Ticozzi (mezzo soprano) - Perside
La Scala Chorus and Orchestra
10 June 1948
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata - Prelude and Acts I and
La Scala Orchestra
7-8 August 1951
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C op.21
La Scala Orchestra
24 June 1946
Arturo Toscanini conductor on all items
GUILD GHCD 2307/8 [67.12 + 71.31]
This is new ground for the Guild Toscanini edition. All have previously concentrated on the NBC recordings but this one goes further afield; literally so, to La Scala,
Milan, for the entire programme. This divides neatly if unevenly into a
triptych. The Boito was a memorial to the composer who had died thirty years
before. It was a fully staged evening of operatic scenes, all presided over by
Toscanini who had first met the composer, it seems, in 1895. Boito recognised
the young Toscanini’s operatic gifts and assiduously encouraged him. For his
part Toscanini remained affectionate, admiring and loyal to Boito. He kept vigil
by the composer’s coffin the night before Boito’s funeral. The second component
is the limited release Verdi – the Preludes to Acts I and III of La Traviata,
made with the La Scala Orchestra a few years later in 1951. Toscanini rejected
them for publication but there was a very limited circulation in Brazil as a
promotional benefit disc. The final part of the triptych consists of the 1946
Beethoven First Symphony. This is the earliest item here and only in so-so
The main point of interest however centres on Boito. Toscanini had given the world
premiere of Nerone in 1924 and his post-War visit is charged with a very
real sense of identification. It’s a shame therefore that we only have staged
Acts, and not the complete work, as is the case with Mefistofele where
what is extant is the Prologue and Act III. Perhaps of rather more pressing
concern is the sound quality which is certainly deficient. There are the
occasional whistling noises and the sound picture is very compressed. There are
some acetate changes – nothing at all ruinous but audible and there is some
scuffing on the surviving discs, though the main concern centres on the
recession of sound.
Toscanini sounds entirely in his element dramatically and theatrically despite these
limitations. The incision of the orchestral introduction to Mefistofele
is palpable. He is fortunate in having Siepi whose range is notable in Ave
Signore, perdona se il mio gorgo and who sings throughout with great lyric
generosity and considerable power of characterisation and, not least, plausibly
youthful voice. Herva Nelli gets a well merited and admiring write-up in the
notes; she demonstrates gravity and considerable range of tone colour, despite
the relatively primitive recording set up, especially in Act III’s L’altra
notte. She’s right on the note in the passage beginning Sorge il di and possesses great clarity as well, her tenorial colleague Giacinto Prandelli
having a free delivery.
Nerone has one or two off-mike moments but we can appreciate Nessi’s rather hectoring tenor, the sheer nobility of Guarrera’s baritone (sample Act III’s Vivete in pace) and Giulietta Simionato’s surprisingly moving Rubria. The principals are excellent here once again though obviously this is really only a very partial
realisation of a part of the opera. Enough remains to intrigue however.
The Verdi extracts are played with diaphanous gentleness and finally the Beethoven has
some aural blips, a number of which seem to have been ironed out by the
restoration. The performance doesn’t vary too far from expected post-War
Toscanini norms; the 1937 BBC recording was warmer.
As usual with this company documentation is thorough and attractive. The programme is a
specialist one but will certainly appeal to those taken by the vibrant Toscanini-Boito connection.
Music Web – February 2005
Arturo Toscanini – Boito Memorial
In his booklet essay, London Green puts Boito alongside Verdi at the creative centre of Italian music in the second half of the 19th century and places
Toscanini as the fiery interpretative master of the first half of the 20th.
This caused me to pause and think. Certainly without Boito there would have been
no Otello or Falstaff . Nor would La Scala have flourished in the manner it did
during Toscanini’s tenure as the theatre’s principal conductor; Boito was
vitally influential to that appointment.
Boito’s first opera, Mefistofele , was premiered at La Scala on March 5th 1868
but was not a success. Unlike Gounod’s Faust , Boito based his opera on both
parts of Goethe’s work. Thus, after Marguerite’s death there is the scene of
‘The Night of the Classical Sabbath’ introducing Helen of Troy. Despite the
relative lack of success of the work, Toscanini regularly revived it at La Scala,
memorably in 1901 with Caruso as Faust and Chaliapin, on his house debut, as
Mefistofele. Toscanini regularly encouraged Boito to complete his life’s work,
the opera Nerone. A premiere was planned for La Scala in 1914 featuring the
conductor and Caruso both then based at the Met. However, the score was not
finished and remained so at Boito’s death in 1918 aged 76. Over the following
years Toscanini supervised the musical completion of Nerone and presented it at
La Scala on May 1st 1924 with Pertile and Journet in the most
elaborate and expensive production in the theatre’s history.
At the end of World War 2 La Scala was in ruins as a consequence of an allied bombing raid
in August 1943. The theatre was rebuilt within a year of the end of the war.
Toscanini who had personally subscribed one hundred thousand Lire towards the
reconstruction was invited to conduct the opening concert on May 11th 1946. As a requirement of his participation the conductor demanded the
reinstatement of his former chorus master, Vittore Veneziani. A Jew, he had been
banished from the theatre by the Fascists. Two years after the reopening concert
Toscanini returned to conduct fully-staged scenes from Boito’s two operas in
commemoration of the composer’s death some thirty years before. Whilst most of
the singers, the young Renata Tebaldi apart, had at the reopening been of the
older generation of Italian singers, the Boito Memorial Concert featured the
This Guild recording of the Boito Memorial Concert is derived from acetate discs of a
broadcast transmission. Like many recordings from La Scala it has a rather
restricted and boxy, sound. To this must be added further problems of odd
extraneous noises and loss of focus on voices. These noises are not so numerous
as to be a source of major distraction, although the rather airless acoustic
takes some getting used to. It is certainly worth the effort to hear Toscanini
and the La Scala chorus in full flow (CD 1 trs. 1, 5-7). An Italian chorus has a
particular squilla, and when as well disciplined as here, and giving it their
all, the thrilling sound makes the remaining hairs on my head stand on end.
Cesare Siepi was seen in Italy as the natural successor to Tancredi Pesaro and
Ezio Pinza in the basso cantante repertoire. As physically elegant as Pinza he
was more lyric in timbre. Despite the soloists being set too far back on the
sound-stage his lean and even (not thin) tone penetrates the proceedings (CD 1
tr. 5). His interpretation of Mefistofele is incisive as well as mellifluous.
There is no wooliness or lugubrious tone. Siepi carries his vocal strengths into
his interpretation of Simon Mago in the extracts from Nerone (CD 2 tr. 1). If
Toscanini was keen to promote the coming generation of Italian singers he should
have cast Tebaldi rather than bringing Herva Nelli, a favourite of his, from the
Met; the great compared with the merely adequate. Of the other soloists only the
Rubria of Giulietta Simionato, recently ‘discovered’ at age 37, evinces real
quality with beautiful tone and well-characterised singing.
The appendices have no particular distinction and could have been better chosen. The
brief radio commentary is in Italian. The booklet essay is informative and
interesting whilst the singer biographies are a shade eulogistic. The
performances of the Boito works were part of a great La Scala night. It is
commendable of Guild to enable us to share a memorable night, and particularly
to allow us to witness two great Italian singers who were destined to make a
considerable impact over the next ten years or so - longer in Siepi’s case.
Toscanini’s conducting and the singing of the chorus make this issue of these
rarely performed works memorable.
Classical Net – December 2004
Mefistofele: Prologue and Act III
Nerone: Act III and Act IV, Scene 2
Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata, Act 1, Prelude, Act III, Prelude
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony #1 in C Major, Op. 21
La Scala Orchestra / Arturo Toscanini
Guild GHCD2307/8 139m ADD
Arturo Toscanini's relationship with one of the greatest librettist's of all time has
remained legendary and the conductor's understanding of the man's music is
clearly demonstrated in this hugely desirable set. The only major gripe is the
quality of the recorded sound that is quite recessed at times and this
definitely detracts from the wonder and great beauty of the interpretations.
It is an even greater pity that we do not have the complete performance of this particular air check
of Mefistofele . Cesare Siepi is simply overwhelming as the devil, whilst Herva
Nelli's pure singing as Margherita is also quite ravishing. However the
magnificence and glory of this opera remains in the big choral and orchestra
scenes with the conclusion of the Prologue suitably apocalyptic on all levels.
This is definitely an important addition to the Toscanini discography and is
better than the previous Guild issue of the Mefistofele prologue with American
Nerone is a slightly more complex opera and I remember being fascinated by the LP set issued on the
defunct Cetra label which for many years was the only recorded performance of
this great work. Again we have the indefatigable Cesare Siepi as Simon Mago and
the young Giulietta Simionato as Rubria with Nelli in the forefront in the role
of Asteria. Toscanini is pensive in his interpretation but there are also
moments of great drama throughout. The preludes from La Traviata and the
singular recording of Beethoven's First Symphony are fine bonuses.
As usual, Guild provides excellent notes and backup information with a wealth of historical photographs.
If you are a fan of great opera then you obviously won't want to be without
these great recordings although the sound is slightly problematic at times.