"The Creators of Verismo, Vol. 1"
Excerpts from operas by Boito, Giordano, Leoncavallo, Mascagni, Mascheroni, Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Thomas et al, plus selected songs. With Bellincioni, Pandolfini, Pinto, Ferrani, Carelli, Storchio; Zenatello, Apostolu, De Luca, Pini-Corsi. Various orchestras, conductors and pianists. Marston 52062-2 (2)
Audio restorer par excellence Ward Marston has assembled exceptionally rare material in this collection, presenting everything in the best possible transfers and with fabulously informative program notes. Some of the singing is decidedly below par, but this set is a vital addition to the catalogue for the proximity it brings us to the sounds the verismo composers would have had in their "mind's ear" when conceiving these operas.
A name that will be new to many listeners is dramatic soprano Amelia Pinto (1876–1946), heard in material from 1902 and 1908–14. Her first track, from Franchetti's Germania (which she created), reveals a magnificently colorful instrument of a type long extinct in Italy. Pinto's emotions in "Voi lo sapete" are honest, although her performance may seem shocking with its peculiar upward transposition of the final "io piango." The tears in the voice seem excessive in two "takes" of "Vissi d'arte," but the timbre remains ideally juicy. Best of all is a thrillingly red-blooded "Son tre mesi," from Giordano's Marcella. Two Sicilian songs, recorded in late career, find the voice still solid and communicating a passionate radiance.
Of the six sopranos, it is the first — most famous of the group — who receives the most attention, but her records exemplify the phrase "too little too late." When Gemma Bellincioni (1864–1950) created Santuzza (1890) and Fedora (1898), surely her vocal production was more satisfactory than in her discography of fourteen sides, recorded in 1903 and 1905. Bellincioni was only in her early forties at the time, but her singing is generally unruly and hobbled by a rapid flutter. Stylistic choices are often eccentric (as in the cadenza of "L'altra notte"). Even in the Cavalleria and Fedora arias, one looks in vain for insightful characterization.
More pleasing vocally is Angelica Pandolfini (1871–1959), Cilèa's first Adriana, who made her five records in 1903. They include Adriana's entrance aria, sounding more "full lyric" than spinto. Again there isn't much individuality (at least not by comparison with Olivero, Tebaldi or Scotto). Susanna's "Deh, vieni" doesn't suit this singer, but songs by Godard and Taubert are memorable. Pandolfini is stronger technically than Cesira Ferrani (1863–1943), Puccini's first Manon Lescaut and Mimì. As with the other singers in this set, Ferrani's words emerge strongly, but the singing is hit-or-miss, never flowing steadily on the breath.
Nine tracks from 1903 give us the vibrant Emma Carelli (1877–1928), creator of roles by Mascagni and several lesser-known verismo composers. There's terrific bite in this voice, with some rawness at the bottom but a notably exciting top (listen to the end of Iris's aria) and, in the soulful "Vana bellezza mia," from Mascheroni's Lorenza, genuine warmth. An involving storyteller in "La mamma morta," the soprano also has sufficient sensitivity for Fedora's death scene. "Vissi d'arte" suffers from many extra breaths and surprisingly slow pacing, but there's good fun in the way-over-the-top confrontation between Carelli's Tosca and Mario Sammarco's Scarpia.
Excerpts from Giordano's Siberia, sung by the world-premiere cast, fill out the set's second disc. In Stephana's Act I musings, the exquisite lyric soprano Rosina Storchio (1876–1945) proves that verismo and thoughtful, elegant phrasing need not be mutually exclusive. Storchio also handles the second aria admirably, although the required heft isn't quite hers to give. (Pinto has it — and how — in her recording.) In the music of the heroine's hapless lover, Vassili, the blazing tenor of Giovanni Zenatello (1876–1949) leaps through one's speakers in his opening arioso and "Orride steppe," the opera's most familiar solo. Baritone Giuseppe De Luca (1876–1950) portrays the charming but treacherous Gleby with a musicality to match Storchio's in their brief dialogue. The aria of Lo Starosta, the village official, is done with incomparable relish by a legendary operatic comedian, bass-baritone Antonio Pini-Corsi (1858–1918).