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Reviews for Simon Boccanegra IPCD 1031-2
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Reviews for IPCD 1031-2


Ettore Panizza, cond; Lawrence Tibbett (Simon); Giovanni Martinelli (Gabriele); Elisabeth Rethberg (Amelia); Ezio Pinza (Fiesco); Leonard Warren (Paolo)

Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, 21 January 1939

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

IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1031-2, (2 CDs: 155:16) )

Henry Fogel
FANFARE magazine,
November/December 2013

This classic performance of Simon Boccanegra has retained fame among collectors since it was first issued on horrendous sounding LPs by Eddie Smith. Later the Metropolitan Opera itself issued it as part of a series of historic broadcasts used as fundraisers ($125 per set). The Met’s technicians improved on the Eddie Smith edition, but it still was hard to listen to. The sound was cramped, dynamic compression took much of the vitality out of the performance, and the basic quality was harsh and edgy. The Met’s version was followed by a number of “private” label releases, such as Myto’s, but they all used the Met’s release as their source, and rarely improved on it.

Until now, this 1939 Met broadcast could only be recommended to collectors who had a wide tolerance for “historic” sound, with all that term implies. 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.

This was the standard of Verdi singing at the Met at that time—and what a standard it was. 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. Tibbett conveys the power of the role on one hand, and tenderness and warmth where the role and the music demand it. 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, making his broadcast debut in this performance as Paolo. Hearing these three voices in one performance is an operatic experience you will not duplicate very often, no matter how many years you devote to listening to opera.

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. And there is no question about her knowledge of how to shape a Verdi phrase. 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. Martinelli was 54 in 1939, and had been singing professionally since 1910. His feeling for the style is complete, he has power, and he also has the ability to moderate his voice and sing softly. There are moments that are truly thrilling, alongside moments where one wishes for more tonal beauty, less constriction to the timbre. But the greatness of the artist is always present when Martinelli sings.

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. Simon Boccanegra needs strong shaping and consistent impulse from the conductor, and Panizza more than fills the bill. One wishes that he hadn’t cut the cabaletta to the Amelia-Gabriele duet in the First Act, though that kind of cutting was more normal in those days.

Those familiar with Immortal Performances’ work will know that Richard Caniell often will make some changes in original performances to improve matters, something that I generally find successful, even if some people object because he has changed an original. He has only made a single change here. The Met audience started applauding immediately after Pinza’s incredibly beautiful singing of “Il lacerate spirito” in the Prolog, thus drowning out the opening of Verdi’s remarkably beautiful and quite innovative orchestral postlude. Caniell has managed to find an orchestral segment that matches the tempo and sound of the performance, and replaced that section of the postlude ruined by applause. He then inserted authentic sounding applause from some Met performance so that Pinza gets his just ovation! I think it is genius—and I listened to that spot three or four times trying to catch what he did, and could not.

The release includes a discussion between Lawrence Tibbett and Boris Goldovsky about Boccanegra from a 1950 Met broadcast. It sounds obviously scripted instead of seeming like a natural conversation, but it does provide some very good insights into the opera. And five more minutes of glorious singing are provided in the Council Chamber Scene excerpt from a 1939 RCA studio recording, with Rose Bampton joining Tibbett, Martinelli, and Warren. Again, Caniell’s restoration is superb. Finally, but importantly, Immortal Performances’s usual stunning production standards are present. The booklet contains intelligent, thoughtful notes on the performance and the artists, wonderful rare old photos, and insightful comments on the opera itself. Real Verdi lovers will of course want a modern recording of this in their collection, but they would be quite foolish to pass this one up. It provides operatic thrills that frankly none of the studio recordings can duplicate, not even the best of them. And in the end, it is that word, thrill, that keeps coming back. Other performances and recordings are highly satisfying, even moving. But there is about this one a thrill level that simply is not duplicated anywhere else.


Lawrence Tibbett (Simon), Giovanni Martinelli (Gabriele), Elisabeth Rethberg (Maria), Ezio Pinza (Fiesco), Leonard Warren (Paolo). Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Ettore Panizza 21st January 1939.

Immortal Performances IPCD 1031-2 [2CD] 155.16 minutes

Vivian Liff
American Record Guide
January/February 2014

Few opera sets were more keenly anticipated than the original EJS LP issue of this legendary performance. The crushing disappointment experienced at the initial hearing, still remains fresh in mind. Despite an almost ideal, stellar cast, the muddy sound, pitch wanderings, sundry clicks and bangs etc., made listening such an ordeal that it was, understandably, shelved and forgotten. Subsequent issues, including one from the Met itself, largely failed to improve the situation. Fortunately Richard Caniell, whose work in this field has already earned him great praise, decided to tackle the unhappy situation. His expertise and dedication have restored for us a truly great version of this opera. Miraculously, along with nearly all the other defects, the restricted sound has been banished and this recording of one of the Met's greatest successes now offers almost unalloyed enjoyment.

The protagonist, Tibbett, in superb voice for one of his most noteworthy assumptions, was at the height of his considerable dramatic powers; able to dominate the council chamber scene and provide a subtle range of nuance and dynamic elsewhere. Perhaps Rethberg benefits most from this restoration - her exquisite voice now ringing out and sounding much as heard on her studio recordings of the preceding two decades. Martinelli makes something of the rather thankless role of Gabriele with his sterling tones and secure musicianship. Has there ever been a more truly beautiful, noble, bass voice than Ezio Pinza's? His Fiesco is a moving portrayal of this fascinating character. The duet in act 3 with Tibbett, transforms this music and few other recorded versions can equal it. This luxury casting finds Leonard Warren as Paolo - already indicating in both vocal quality and charisma, a bright future for this young baritone. Panizza's conducting is first rate and in the great tradition of the finest Italian opera conductors of the past.

The excellent booklet contains a fascinating essay by the engineer on the various aspects of his restoration work. It is intriguing to be reminded that at this performance, the audience applause commenced at Pinza's final note of 'Il lacerato spirito' - ruining its glorious orchestral postlude. Caniell has substituted another applause-free postlude and then added commensurate applause. Few listeners are likely to notice this deception and from the purely musical aspect, it is most welcome.

Bonuses here include the 78rpm Victor issue of the Council Chamber scene conducted by Pelletier with Rethberg replaced by Bampton and Tibbett in discussion with Goldovsky during a Met Intermission. Unless you must have state of the art sound, this is now a performance which can hardly be recommended too highly. Catch it whilst still available.

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