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More Details for IPCD 1012-3 La Gioconda 1939

Reviews for IPCD 1012-3



Ponchielli LA GIOCONDA


Ettore Panizza, cond; Zinka Milanov (Gioconda); Giovanni Martinelli (Enzo); Carlo Morelli (Barnaba); Bruna Castagna (Laura)


Live: Metropolitan Opera 30 December 1939


Bonus:

Ponchielli: I LITUANI : Act II finale

Hayashi, Garaventa; conducted by Gavazzeni;


Interview with Zinka Milanov; comments by Giovanni Martinelli


IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1012-3, mono (3 CDs: 203:42)


Henry Fogel
FANFARE magazine,
July / August 2011


Long famous among opera collectors, this galvanizing performance of La gioconda has never sounded as good as it does here—in fact, not even close. It has circulated on LP and on CD; the best CD versions were on Symposium and Myto. Both had flaws: Myto the more constricted sound, Symposium the gaps in its source. Richard Caniell’s Immortal Performances company has set a very impressive standard for the restoration of historic material. Not only is the sound amazingly clear and undistorted for a 1939 radio broadcast, but the accompanying notes surpass what you get with just about any major record label. John Steane’s essay, and then Caniell’s own, are stimulating, thoughtful, intelligent commentaries on the opera and the performance.


And what a performance. Of course Zinka Milanov is at its core. She owned this role at the Met, and is heard here in her early days. She was a dramatic soprano with a remarkable ability to float beautiful soft tones at the top of her range, but who also phrased with a generosity and breadth that has rarely been equaled. Her lower register is firm and solid, her feeling for the shape of this music is completely natural, and most of all this is a voice and a singer of clear importance. Milanov had a vocal presence that is hard to describe, but that makes itself felt on her entrance and is there every time she is on stage. Anyone who loves this opera cannot afford to miss this recording.


I have never been enthusiastic about Giovanni Martinelli’s singing, even in his young years (and he was 54 in 1939). I recognize all of the virtues: wonderfully natural phrasing, crisp diction, passion, and intensity. But I have always found the basic sound of the voice to be hard-edged and a bit unpleasant. Nonetheless, his is a masterly performance in terms of style and dramatic involvement, and there is a sweep to his Enzo that is appealing. Carlo Morelli was an important baritone in his day, and he’d be a superstar today—a genuine round Italian baritone sound that almost seems to have vanished completely from our world. His Barnaba stays in the memory for its vibrancy and its complete sense of evil.


The remainder of the cast is at a very high level. Bruna Castagna was one of the Met’s stars for a long time, and her Laura is beautifully sung and strongly characterized. Nicola Moscona’s dark bass is perfect for Alvise’s music, though he is not an imaginative singer, and Anna Kaskas, a name new to me, is very affecting as La Cieca. And then there is Ettore Panizza. He was a mainstay of the Met’s Italian wing after Toscanini, and is an underappreciated conductor today because he had neither a symphonic career nor a life on recordings. But his performances breathed fire always, while never sacrificing the singing line that is at the heart of Italian opera, and the Met Orchestra does not phone in one measure of this performance.


The six-minute-long excerpt from Ponchielli’s I Lituani is beautiful, with singularly lovely singing from the tenor Ottavio Garaventa, and the Milanov and Martinelli spoken material will please and interest most opera lovers. But the reason to get this set is the vital, thrilling, beautifully sung performance of La gioconda, finally restored in a sound quality that should satisfy anyone who can enjoy historic recordings.




Ponchielli LA GIOCONDA


Ettore Panizza, cond; Zinka Milanov (Gioconda); Giovanni Martinelli (Enzo); Carlo Morelli (Barnaba); Bruna Castagna (Laura)


Live: Metropolitan Opera 30 December 1939


Bonus:

Ponchielli: I LITUANI : Act II finale

Hayashi, Garaventa; conducted by Gavazzeni;


Barry Brenesal
FANFARE
July/August 2011


This La Gioconda was making the rounds of private opera lists years before it fell out of copyright. As much can be said for many other early Met Opera broadcasts, but this one was among the special sets that collectors listened to and commented upon regularly. We marveled at the caliber of performance, not to mention the live mystique that, at its best, does create a synergy of excitement between the stage, the pit, and the audience.


Zinka Milanov’s performance can be enjoyed without reservations. In later years the control loosened when the music required much effort, but even in her more unflattering recordings (Leinsdorf’s Tosca for RCA Victor, for example) there remained some soft notes and incomparable phrasing. Here, no apologies are required. Her “Suicidio!” is all one can ask for. If the quieter passages, such as “Smarrii la madre / Perdei l’amore,” still command the most attention because of their pearl-like beauty, there is no lack of focus at the aria’s climax, and no holding back from the extremes of range and dynamics called for anywhere in the score.


As much can be said of Bruna Castagna. Her dark mezzo, surprising vocal agility (for the period) and disciplined tone were appreciated in a host of roles during the 1920s and 1930s. She made few commercial recordings, however, which gives an added interest to complete roles such as Laura, even if they sadly aren’t complete: Her solo scene in act II is cut, including “Stella del marinar!” She can be heard to advantage directly before that, in Laura’s duet with Enzo, “Laggiù fra la nebbie remote,” and in the charged duet with Gioconda that follows—especially her few solo lines beginning with “Menti! L’amo come il fulgor del creato!”


Giovanni Martinelli’s voice has been praised to the skies for its size, bright metal, excitement, and breath support. At the same time, his narrow tone seems to be squeezed out in a manner that is memorable in precisely the wrong way. On top of that, by the time of this recording he was in his early-50s, and nothing could disguise the occasionally suspect intonation and lack of plush around the tone. As the late John Steane remarks in his excellent liner notes, Martinelli came to the role of Enzo in the wrong half of his career. Still, he is attentive to musical values, and there are times—as in the line “Vedrem pur ora tramontar la lune”—when the cantabile ideal he espouses makes something hauntingly noteworthy, and appropriate to a great artist.


Carlo Morelli was born Zanelli-Morales, but didn’t use his full last name for stage appearances to avoid confusion with his brother, the tenor and renowned Otello Renato Zanelli. His is a marmoreal voice, black marble shot through with bright overtones, and possessing enormous presence here as Barnaba. “O monumento!” isn’t exactly a monologue notable for its subtlety, but there’s variety in Morelli’s line “Gioia tu alterni e orror con vece occulta,” and a great dynamic range throughout. No lack of voice, or characterization; an artist of this caliber would be greatly welcomed in the best opera houses today.


Finally, there’s the conducting of Ettore Panizza to admire. He was an exciting presence on the podium, whose occasional extremes of tempo could be justified by a close awareness of his audience and his singers. His cuts were notorious, too, but he was not the only opera conductor of his period who made such adjustments, sometimes under pressure from management.


My first exposure to this Gioconda was on a bootleg release by Eddie Smith, based on a series of NBC transcription discs. Even back then in the analog days of the 1960s it was possible to correct a range of flaws in the recording process of this live material—frequency equalization, side break corrections, general speed issues—but Smith would have none of it. (There were also his incredibly gritty LP surfaces, which added another decade of age to anything he released.) Later releases of this performance often had recourse to this version as a starting point—or an ending one. One Italian rerelease in recent years simply reissued Smith, high playback pitch and all, claiming it was “digitally remastered from the original.”


I’ve heard some amateur clean-up jobs of that La Gioconda over the years, but this is the first professional one that’s come to my attention. (Disclaimer: I have not heard Symposium 1176/7, another attempt to provide this broadcast with better-quality sound.) It is a notable accomplishment. The negatives—pitch issues, volume limiters, inferior sources—have been minimized, insofar as it is possible. The result is not merely much cleaner and more sonically stable than other circulating versions, but gifted with a crackling immediacy. Acetate noise is evident, and so is the occasional breakup, but the sound quality is surprising given its age.


Note that there are a very few musical (and occasional commentary) gaps to the Symposium performance. The most significant of these, in act III, scene 1, results in the loss of something over three minutes of content. Immortal Performances has chosen to include every note and spoken word that exists, as well as the extensive curtain calls. The third disc is thus given to act IV, with fillers: a 1959 Milanov interview, the first part (22:37) of a lengthy talk by Martinelli, and the act III finale to Ponchielli’s I Lituani in an RAI performance under Gavazzeni’s baton. The sound of the last is clear and rich, though it’s always been good that way. (The entire 1979 performance can be heard on Bongiovanni 2390. I’ve still got my LP release on MRF 168. It’s sometimes hard to let go.) I haven’t factored these extras into the timings above, but they add almost 42 minutes of often fascinating material.


Certainly, La Gioconda has fallen on hard times. But it is a tuneful, competently composed work set to a fine libretto of its kind. It requires this kind of electrifying performance to take flight, with this kind of sound to make its points. If you enjoy the work, you will want to hear what these artists make of it.


JOHN STEANE also writes the following about Martinelli's performance in this 1939 Gioconda, as quoted from his article in this album's booklet notes:


"The duet for Enzo and Barnaba follows, and Martinelli’s voice comes forward into the light. The light in this instance is the acoustic clarity and the faithfulness of sound reproduction. Some listeners will have previously heard the recording in one of its previous incarnations, the transfers more cloudy, unreliably pitched and dulling the edge of the voices. In these conditions, Martinelli’s voice is harmfully distorted, and more so than most. In the present transfers, the balances (vibration, pitch, colour) seem right, the bright upper frequencies freeing the voice from those imputations of flatness which, with the dulling and increasing rigidity of age, were depressingly present in earlier versions. What emerges now reminds us of that observation quoted above, that Martinelli seemed "to have discovered the fountain of youth".


"Cielo e mar (Act II) again heard in the right acoustical balance, is a wonderful piece of singing, broad of phrase, firm in line and definition, rapt in expression and at all times memorable. He receives a spontaneous-sounding ovation and, perhaps as a result and with the weight of that test lifted, he can as it were take another quaff of that “fountain of youth”. The years fall away and he begins the duet with Laura with the voice and spirit of a man half his age.



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