Reviews for IPCD 1021-2
Humberto Mugnai, cond; Piero Campolonghi (Rigoletto); Maria Callas (Gilda); Giuseppe di Stefano (Duke)
Live: Mexico City 17 June 1952
IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1021-2, (2 CDs: 2:08:09)
November / December 2012
Maria Callasís studio recording for EMI of Rigoletto, made in 1955 when she was still in good vocal condition, is one of the classic versions of Verdiís masterpiece. Intelligently conducted by Tullio Serafin, with Tito Gobbi providing a brilliant, multifaceted portrayal of the jester, and Giuseppe di Stefano in glorious voice with his wilder impulses kept in check by Serafin and the producer, it is a recording for the ages. The only other version of Callasís remarkable Gilda is this Mexico City performance from the beginning of her career, which imparts a special value to this release. For serious Callas collectors, this will be self-recommending, especially when they learn that the sound is significantly superior to all prior versions of this often-released performance. Even Mytoís, which was the best CD version, is easily surpassed by Richard Caniellís efforts for his Immortal Performances label. Pitching is spot-on throughout (something not at all the case in most earlier versions), and the sound here is cleaner, warmer, and more natural than anything that has come before. It is still not great. There is significant dynamic compression (which Caniell has minimized but could not eliminate), limited frequency response, congestion and distortion at climaxes, and an overall hardness to the sound. Still, it is listenable to anyone with a tolerance for this kind of material.
Less tolerable is the prompter. Had I known his name, I would have given him credit in the headnote, where we are supposed to list performers in significant roles. His audible presence (a curse of all of the Callas Mexico City recordings) is hard to overlook, and for me at least a cause of frequent frustration.
As to the performance itself, one has to view it as a supplement to the EMI, something the Callas collector will want. Since I am one, I am very glad to have it. But despite the slightly fresher portrayal from Callas, there is no real way in which this is preferable to the later studio recording. Conductor Humberto Mugnai is stiff and unyielding, and frequently unable to hold things together. Early on we hear di Stefano rushing ahead of him, and there are minor ensemble lapses throughout. There is one that is so major that Caniell, wisely I believe, couldnít bring himself to leave it in the final product. The scene with Sparafucile, Maddalena, and Gilda (after the famed quartet) was a wreck in the original. As Caniell notes, one can get past that in the experience of a single performance in the opera house, but one cannot live with it on repeated hearing in recorded form. So he replaced it with the same music from the EMI. He did the same with Callasís opening of ďTutte le feste,Ē in which she forgot the words in Mexico and actually began with the second verse. Caniell explains openly what he did in his superb notes. I have no reservations about his decision at all, and he has pulled it off brilliantly, getting the EMI sound to match the Mexico recording extremely well. He includes the Inn Scene material from the original as a bonus track, if anyone wishes to hear the mess. He also includes some of the Spanish announcerís commentary, but it is tracked separately and you can skip it.
Di Stefano presents us with one of the most glorious tenor sounds in history, heard here in its best condition. But the utter lack of discipline, left free to roam in a live performance led by a weak conductor, is appalling. He pays scant attention to matters of rhythm, he rushes ahead of the orchestra often, and he holds notes forever even if they should happen to be notably flat (the end of ďLa donna Ť mobileĒ for instance). The audience loves itóCaniell wisely eliminates the encore of that aria, in which even the flatted note is duplicated. It is impossible not to be beguiled by the sheer beauty of sound, but again, one gets the same sound on the EMI set, and there it is under control.
Piero Campolonghi was an Italian baritone who was a regular in the Mexico opera season. He cannot begin to measure up to the baritones who were around at that time (Warren, Gobbi, Guelfi, Taddei). He has an attractive, if generic, voice and a generalized sense of drama. He was not capable of subtlety or of coloring the voice to give extra meaning to a specific passage. His Rigoletto is an honorable performance, and one we might value more if we didnít have the alternative of Gobbi.
Caniellís notes about this performance, and about his approach to restoration, are a model of what kind of material should accompany historic reissues but rarely does. Let us hope he turns his attentions to the Mexico City Aida with Callas and del Monaco. That is a unique performance, utterly different from Callasís studio recording and, to be honest, from any other performance with which I am familiar. In that one, Iím even willing to tolerate the prompter.
Live: Mexico City 17 June 1952
Karl H. van Zoggel
Maria Callas Magazine No. 68
(Click here) to read a PDF of Mr. Zoggel's affirmative review in the magazine he produces from the Netherlands.