CARLO BERGONZI: Early Recordings • Carlo Bergonzi (ten); Antonietta Stella (sop); various conductors, orchestras • PREISER 93480, mono (70:20)
Arias and duets by VERDI, MEYERBEER, GIORDANO, PUCCINI, CILÈA, LEONCAVALLO, FLOTOW
Having long been a fan of Tito Schipa, I came by my appreciation of Carlo Bergonzi’s art early. Of all the mid 20th-century Italian tenors, it was Bergonzi whom I thought came closest in the Verdi roles to realizing theRead more scrupulousness and attention to detail that was part of Schipa’s great art. A couple of examples will suffice. Consider the main theme from his “Celeste Aida,” recorded in 1957 for Decca. Gavazzeni is surprisingly stiff throughout all 12 selections, but Bergonzi offers cantabile singing of a high order: no explosion at the end of each of the ascending phrases, everything balanced and part of the line. Or take “Ah si, ben mio.” Granted, the lyricism is fine, if not ideally flexible, but what other Italian tenor at the midpoint of the last century would have essayed the trill that Verdi wrote so well and fastidiously?
With a sympathetic conductor and colleagues, another quality appears in Bergonzi, a musical imagination that wasn’t always present in the Decca and RCA Victor studio recordings. Consider “O Paradiso” from a 1960 live concert in Turin: Who else would enunciate the text to “O Paradiso” so clearly you could transcribe it without knowing a word, or perform such a melting diminuendo on “ti premo al fin”? Then there’s a Simon Boccanegra, recorded for RAI in 1951, from which two excerpts are heard on this disc. Antonietta Stella was not always the most disciplined of colleagues, but Bergonzi seems to have brought out a conscientiousness in her in the duet “Vieni a mirar”—and of course he provides a honeyed delicacy when his turn arrives with “Angiol che dall’empireo.”
One can’t fault the voice. It hadn’t the size or excitement of del Monaco or Corelli, but was under better control, and there was a natural beauty and warmth to the instrument that never deserted Bergonzi. His tone remained firm and well supported for more than twice the length of some of his colleague’s careers.
Preiser has acquired good copies of everything on this disc, and if there are occasional tape inequalities in the RAI content, I can vouch for the fact that the same material in circulation a generation ago was far, far worse. The hiss that was a perennial feature of RAI’s dubs is gone, but the filtering is light. There are occasional inequalities in the 1960 concert, but these are due to tape issues, and not correctable.
In short, to be treasured. There’s a lot of Carlo Bergonzi out there, but this disc would make an excellent introduction to his art.
L'Africaine: O paradis sorti de l'ondeby Giacomo Meyerbeer Performer:
Carlo Bergonzi (Tenor)
Period: Romantic Written: 1865; Germany Notes: Sung twice:
1. Orchestra dell' Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Roma, conducted by Gianandrea Gavazzeni
2. Recorded live in Torino on 30th January 1960,
Orchestra Sinfonica di Torino della RAI, condcuted by Massimo Pradella