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Notes and Editorial Reviews
THE 30 TENORS
Anselmi, Björling, Bonci, Caruso, Clément, de Lucia, de Muro, del Monaco, di Stefano, Fleta, Gigli, Jadlowker, Kozlovsky, Lorenz, Ludwig, Martinelli, McCormack, Melchior, Patzak, Peerce, Pertile, Piccaver, Rosvaenge, Schiøtz, Schipa, Schmidt, Tagliavini, Tamagno, Tauber, Zenatello, tenor.
OPERA D’ORO 8012 (2 CDs; 148:41)
PUCCINI, VERDI, BIZET, DI CAPUA, ROSSINI, DONIZETTI, MOZART, MASSENET, A. SCARLATTI, GEEHL, LEONCAVALLO, CANNIO, DOWLAND,
BEETHOVEN, SCHUBERT, WAGNER, FLOTOW, NAPRAVNIK, CILEA, DE CURTIS, MEYERBEER, GIORDANO, COTTRAU, ADAM
The 30 Tenors
? The point in this collection is not to provide a
ne plus ultra
of all operatic tenors in the first half of the 20th century, but instead, as the liner notes state, “To demonstrate decisively how many more great tenors there have been, even without being able to include them all.” It’s a sentiment any collector of vintage opera singers can understand. I would suggest that this release is only a starting point, but it does get us out of the Three Tenors box, at the very least.
The album supplies some truly excellent choices. The three Björling selections are all welcome, as are the three by Caruso. McCormack’s “Fra poco a me ricovero” is a superb example of his technique and style, while Zenatello, who was a generally poor artist on records, turns in what is probably his finest recorded performance in this 1908 “Dio, mi potevi scagliar.” Speaking of Verdi’s
, we have the celebrated 1903 “Esultate!” of Tamagno, the creator of the role, still magnificent in his retirement. Then for extraordinary refinement, there’s Giuseppe Anselmi in “Mi par d’udite ancor,” Fernando de Lucia in “Ecco ridente,” Tito Schipa in both “Una furtive lagrima” and “Se Florindo” (the latter a curious but discerning choice), and Alessandro Bonci, Caruso’s great rival, in “Spirito gentil.” And can anyone doubt after hearing Giuseppe Di Stefano’s 1947 “Ah! dispar, vision!” that his name belongs next to those other three? Melchior’s 1939 “In fernem Land” is Lohengrin to the life, and Julius Patzak is typically insightful in Schubert’s “Der Müller und der Bach.”
Some other selections might seem unusual to include at first, but justify themselves upon hearing. Aksel Schiøtz’s 1941 recording of Dowland’s “Flow my tears” is an extraordinary example of tone, color, and enunciation on an intimate scale, while if Feruccio Tagliavini is seldom regarded as a great tenor, this 1940 “È la solita storia” is a testament to his extraordinarily honeyed lyric, despite a tendency to melodramatics. Helge Rosvaenge is an artist I’ve found extremely uneven, but his version of Florestan’s aria is a fine and insightful one.
Both Bernardo de Muro and Miguel Fleta, however, are represented by recordings made considerably after their respective voices had deteriorated: de Muro’s “Ah sì ben mio” in 1928, and Fleta’s “Che gelida manina” in 1927. Given the large number of earlier recordings cut by each, one wonders why something along the lines of de Muro’s extraordinary “Un di all’azzuro spazio” from 1917 wasn’t chosen, and Fleta’s “Te quiero” from 1922 for his powerful voice, and beautifully shaded tone. And what is one to make of Hermann Jadlowker’s smooth, agile, but supremely dull “Ich baue ganz” from 1909? He was a great singer—a genuine coloratura Heldentenor, which is why Strauss cast him as Bacchus in the premiere of
Ariadne auf Naxos
. But he failed to come alive in the studio most of the time. Why not “Meine Freunde” from
, a jaw-dropping display of coloratura, falsetto, and characterization?
Another, more serious reservation is the statement made in the liner notes that “The French have produced relatively few great tenors” that becomes an introduction to Edmond Clément, the only Frenchman on display in this set. But we can stop right there, and respond, “No, they really
produce quite a lot of great tenors.” This isn’t a matter of opinion. French (and Belgian) tenors were many and exceptionally prized during the first several decades of the 20th century—artists such as Léon Escalaïs, George Thill, Miguel Villabella, Louis Cazette, César Vezzani, Fernand Ansseau, Charles Friant, David Devries, Charles Dalmorès, Lucien Muratore, and Paul Franz (one of the great Wagnerians), among others. All this is well documented. It is one thing to dislike French tenors in general for whatever personal reason, quite another to state this opinion as though it were a fact, and an explanation for ignoring a lot of recordings in a collection of great tenors. Better in this instance if the editors of the collection had acknowledged their bias, and turned over a portion of the contents to those without it.
I would also take exception at the presence of only one Russo-Soviet tenor. The nation had more than a dozen great tenors operating during an extraordinary period that stretched from the 1930s through the 1960s. At the very least, Kozlovsky’s famous rival and friend, Sergei Lemeshev, should have been included. It would have been a sacrifice to offer only two selections a piece for Caruso and Björling instead of three, but worth broadening the collection to let people hear at the very least Ivan Jadan’s “Romance of the Gypsy” from
, and Dmitri Smirnov’s
Song of the Volga Boatman.
Is all of this carping? I don’t think so. The music and singers we have here are largely Italian, and the choices are often very good. But a more even-handed treatment of nationality would have furnished a better sense of the sheer breadth of great tenors of the past. The Germans are underrepresented, and at only one cut each, the French and Russians might as well have stayed home.
Sound is variable. Most of the material has been well transcribed, presumably from secondary sources, but the acoustic McCormack clearly has some post-studio echo added to it, and something very strange and unpleasant has been done to the Aureliano Pertile 1924 recording of “Celeste Aida.” I can’t describe it any better than that.
Bear in mind, my reservations on this release concern the variety and direction of its content, not for the most part the actual selections themselves. I’ve stated a few of my concerns about the latter, and there are a couple more. But in general, this is a solid grouping of material, and well worth the purchase. Think of it as a map to points of interest taken from a very considerable height. There are too many locations in Italy and not enough elsewhere, but it’s still a useful beginner’s guide for the traveler venturing out for the first time on the road. Recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
Works on This Recording
Turandot: Excerpt(s) by Giacomo Puccini
Lauritz Melchior (Tenor),
Jussi Björling (Tenor),
Tito Schipa (Tenor),
John McCormack (Tenor),
Jan Peerce (Tenor),
Richard Tauber (Tenor),
Giovanni Martinelli (Tenor),
Enrico Caruso (Tenor),
Giuseppe Di Stefano (Tenor),
Beniamino Gigli (Tenor)
Written: 1926; Italy
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
ThirtyTenors Instead of April 23, 2013
By J. Joseph (New York, NY) See All My Reviews
"I must say without getting too complicated with all of these great tenors and great names that they all sound wonderful for the various time periods involved. Also amazing is the sound for the periods involved from the beginning of the 20th Century to the middle of that same era. This is a very generous time CD for a very favorable price. The only negative comment I will make is that perhaps, it should be listened to the halfway point and then returned later or the next day to hear the last 15 tenors. Otherwise, some people might get tired listening to all 30 in a row. I truly hope that this CD and others who like it will investigate the complete operas. I feel that there are at least a few hundred great operas with great melodies just waiting to be discovered by people who have been afraid to get their toes wet in such "complicated" music. My advice is to read something about an opera, perhaps the libretto or just the history of it along with a synopsis of the plot. This 30 tenors CD could be a door to the wonderful world of the opera. Jesse Joseph"