"Les Introuvables" (vol.1):
Les Introuvables du Chant Puccinien
This series is addressed to the connoisseur of rare historical opera recordings. The recordings presented in "Les Introuvables" have to fulfil three criteria before they are published: they must be historical live-recordings; they must not be commercial recordings; they must be of high artistic value. Commercial studio recordings are only published when they are out of print, correspondingly hard to find and of extraordinary high interest. The aim is to make outstanding non-commercial recordings and private tapes accessible to a larger public. The focus is on tenors, but other voices are not excluded. And now,
Sicelides Musae, paulo maiora canamus!
Madama Butterfly – New York 1946
Cio Cio San Licia Albanese
B. F. Pinkerton James Melton
Orchestra and Chorus of the Metropolitan Opera House
New York, Metropolitan Opera House, 19 January 1946
About this recording
Licia Albanese has been the Metropolitan Opera's prima Butterfly assoluta during the years of World War II and regularly appeared at the Met in the role of Cio-Cio-San until 1965. She has (at least for my taste) been one of the best interpreters of Puccini's piccole donne in the history of singing. The recording presented here is a broadcast recorded in January 1946, featuring Licia Albanese as Cio-Cio-San and James Melton as Pinkerton under the baton of composer Pietro Cimara. Cimara formed the score in a way that only great musicians can do, carving out voices and structures that normally tend to be drowned out by Puccini's rich orchestration, without forgetting the big lines and the drive in the score. The enhancement of the strings just before "Con onor muore" for example is done in such a striking way that it captures from the first second. Cimara was, as can be heard in "Un bel dì", also a fantastic accompanist who knew how to lead, to shape the music, the dynamics and the tempi, but at the same time to respect the singers and the traditions. Albanese's Butterfly had everything that a Butterfly should have: girlish sweetness, combined with heft, drama and emotion. The cue of "Un bel dì" is delicate for all sopranos – a problem that Albanese solves in an ideal way, not too low and not too loud, perfectly supported and with a sound that is sweet and clear as a laser beam without being pushed. Every word she sings is rich with expression, nothing is sung without meaning. The drama she creates at the end of the opera is so credible because she never loses the "girlish" expression. Albanese is a Butterfly who in the end sounds like a suffering and desperate young woman, and not like a furious soprano drammatico (as Tebaldi and Kabaivanska could at times). Personally, I have never been more moved by any other Butterfly or by any other "Addio, piccolo amor ... va, gioca, gioca." James Melton, who sang Pinkerton, was a "pleasant well-rounded tenor" (F. Nouvion) who delivered an inconspicuous and solid performance. Out of the tenors who sang Pinkerton in the Met's 1946 winter season (Jagel and Kullmann), Melton was beyond doubt the most exciting choice.
This recording has once been published on CD by the Bensar label but it is out of print and correspondingly hard to find.
Madama Butterfly – Barcelona 1965
Cio Cio San Virginia Zeani
B. F. Pinkerton Jaume Aragall
Sharpless Manuel Ausensi
Orchestra and Chorus of the Gran Teatre del Liceu
Barcelona, Gran Teatre del Liceu, 12 June 1965
About this recording
Jaume Aragall had very fine material without being able to make a long lasting career out of it. The period of his prime was short (approximately between 1965 and 1975), he soon lost high notes and self-confidence. I remember a couple of performances of Faust in Berlin in the early 1990s where he, during his big aria, paced around wringing hands, and failed. This recording of Butterfly presents Aragall at his peak. The voice is fresh, elegant, sleek and brilliant. His performance is furthermore distinguished by an unusually subtle musical feeling with great instinct for dynamics and tempo. His voice was not the biggest, which can be clearly heard in comparison with Virginia Zeani and Manuel Ausensi, the Sharpless of this recording. Zeani was a powerful Butterfly, even though her dramatic impetus tends at times to overrun the tenor. The duet from act 1 ends in the best high C that I have ever heard in this scene. Aragall generally had very nice high notes when he was in form. I remember a recording of Rigoletto where he ends his big aria in act two with one of the most beautiful high B flats that I can recall.
This is a private recording. House of Opera once issued a complete version on MC, but I cannot make any statement as to sound quality and availability.
Tosca – Genova 1965
Mario Cavaradossi Gianni Raimondi
Floria Tosca Marcella Pobbe
Scarpia Cornell MacNeil
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Comunale di Genova
Genova, Teatro Margherita, 8 May 1965
About this recording
Cavaradossi did not play a very important role in the career of Gianni Raimondi. He sang the role for the first time in 1960 and gave 21 performances as Cavaradossi in total, according to Romano Raimondi's chronology. Raimondi was a very intelligent singer who knew about the limits of his voice. That does not mean that Cavaradossi was a role that Raimondi hardly could handle. Raimondi sang every part with the necessary reserve, including Cavaradossi. Raimondi got many offers for singing Chénier, Calaf, Manrico and Radames, but he steadily refused because he was aware of that he might not be able to go through them with the reserve that always characterized his masterfulness. Cavaradossi was, as this recording shows, no difficulty for Raimondi. The high B flat and the following G in his opening aria are held very long, demonstrating a superb control of breath. Some of the qualities that I have always admired Raimondi for were the perfect passaggio and above all the condensed sound of his acuti. No other tenor could concentrate the sound like Raimondi. That can also be heard in the G sharp and the following high B in "Fa il confessore e il boia ... La vita mi costasse", which Raimondi takes powerfully and effortlessly. Tenors like Pavarotti, who neither had the heft nor the reserve for Cavaradossi, always had problems in those four bars. "E lucevan" is another example of how easy Raimondi went through the score. Again, his phrasing in this delicate piece demonstrates superior breath control. The high notes are sung with passion, but not (like in the case of Corelli) without taste. The icing on the cake is his "O dolci mani", rich with beautiful pianissimi, which are – after the tiring aria and the scene with Tosca – seldom heard in such perfection. Gianni Raimondi – a wonderful Cavaradossi. Marcella Pobbe as Tosca could not approximate his high level. MacNeil was a solid Scarpia, and it is always exciting to hear his voluminous and pleasantly dark voice.
This is a private recording.
La fanciulla del West – Sassuolo 1977
Ch'ella mi creda, sung by Gianni Raimondi
from the Gianni Raimondi gala "Trent'anni di un grande tenore"
Leone Magiera, pianoforte
Sassuolo, Teatro Carani, 3 February 1977
About this recording
In February 1977, Gianni Raimondi was celebrating his 30-year stage jubilee with a concert at the Teatro Carani in Sassuolo. Two other tenors participated in the concert: Giuliano Ciannella and Sergio Bertocchi, as well as the sopranos Norma Palacios and Kyoko Tsukada. Raimondi was 54 years old and about to end his career. He was only to perform for two more years – not because of a vocal decline, as this recording documents. Raimondi's voice was fresh and powerful as always. Raimondi never sang La fanciulla del West on stage. "A pity", one is tempted to say when listening to this thrilling performance. Apart from the aria from La fanciulla del West, Raimondi sang: "Ah la paterna mano", "Amor ti vieta", "Firenze è come un albero fiorito", "'O sole mio", "Tu ca nun chiagne", "Che gelida manina" and "Addio, fiorito asil".
The recording was published by Ars Nova, but has not been re-issued on Compact Disc.