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Great Opera Recordings
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Opera in Three Acts
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Victor Hugo's Le Roi s'amuse
Rigoletto - Tito Gobbi (baritone)
Gilda - Maria Callas (soprano)
Duke of Mantua - Giuseppe Di Stefano (tenor)
Maddalena - Adriana Lazzarini (contralto)
Sparafucile - Nicola Zaccaria (bass)
Count Monterone - Plinio Clabassi (bass)
Cavaliere Marullo - William Dickie (baritone)
Matteo Borsa - Renato Ercolani (tenor)
Count Ceprano - Carlo Forti (bass)
Countess Ceprano - Elvira Galassi (mezzo-soprano)
Giovanna - Giuse Gerbino (mezzo-soprano)
Page of the Duchess - Luisa Mandelli (mezzo-soprano)
Court Usher - Vittorio Tatozzi (tenor)
Orchestra and Chorus of La Scala, Milan (Norberto Mola, chorus master)
In the summer of 1955 the last opera recording for Angel/Columbia [EMI] Callas would take part in was Rigoletto; it was first published in February 1956. Gilda is a typical soprano leggero rôle and has been a favourite of many, among them Anna Netrebko (born 1971), Joan Sutherland (born 1926), Lily Pons (1898-1976), Amelita Galli-Curci (1882-1963), Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1940), Nellie Melba (1861-1931) back to Adelina Patti (1843-1919), all of whom undertook it many times and at different theatres. Callas, however, undertook Gilda only twice in the opera house at the Bellas Artes, Mexico City in 1952.
As this recording testifies, and despite the wide tessitura, it presents Callas with no technical problems, and she is able to accomplish the music easily and effortlessly. She is content to use the middle register and does not, as she does in Suicidio in Ponchielli's Gioconda, carry the chest register up ostentatiously to G, even A flat; singing so intensely at the extremes of her range in fitting verismo style make it impossible for her to reconcile the different registers. In her singing of Gilda there are many details to admire. In Act I the rhythmic accuracy of her attack in the Allegro vivace passage, as the tempo speeds up when the Duke enters and Gilda calls for her maid, Giovanna, immediately before the Act I duet E il sol dell'anima. Caro nome she sings at what is for her a typical tempo, though most Gildas, if they took it as slowly, would run out of breath long before they reached the end of phrases. How effectively she shows the difference between Caronome, as the portamento marking indicates, and Caro nome, as it too often becomes without a proper conception of legato. Particularly affecting is her beautifully phrased, impeccable rendering of groups of falling sixths, rising from G and A flat to B flat.
She takes a similarly expansive tempo in Act II in Tutte le feste. Especially eloquent is her realisation of the characterful significance of the passage of triplets directly before the scene sweeps on to a fortissimo climax at Rigoletto's entrance; she contrives a lachrymose effect taking these in one breath, articulating clearly the middle note of each group, yet she avoids breaking the phrases - easier said than sung. In the duet Piangi, piangi, fanciulla how freely and firmly she accelerates the tempo, marking the accented E flats so as to imbue them with an appropriately doleful quality. At the end she leaps upwards using portamento and executes the interval of more than an octave precisely, from A flat to B flat, and does it so chastely that we hardly notice where she draws breath. This recording testifies to her ability to create an effect as Gilda however unfitting histrionically the rôle may have been.
In the 1950s when there were still comparatively few recordings of the standard repertory available, the vying record companies rushed to secure some of the leading stars under exclusive contract. This was not always a good idea and explains why some singers, such as Giulietta Simionato (born 1910), Mario del Monaco (1915-1982) and Ettore Bastianini (1922-1967), although they often appeared with Callas at La Scala, Milan, do not sing in any of her recordings, notwithstanding the fact that Angel/Columbia (EMI) made them at La Scala under its imprimatur. Happily, however, on some occasions the converse is true. Although Tito Gobbi, Giuseppe di Stefano and Callas never appeared at La Scala together, in this recording of Rigoletto they do. It remains still today stylistically the most characteristic and most effective performance on record.
Gobbi was in the great tradition of Italian baritones going back to Titta Ruffo (1877-1953), as Di Stefano was in the Caruso (1873-1921) tradition; their voices had a particular individuality which makes them at once so readily identifiable. Ruffo and Caruso are the ultimate examples; none existed before recording, but after becoming available on records their resplendent voices were then something new and different, and their influence persisted until a generation or so following World War II, when this recording was made. Callas's style, unlike either Gobbi's or Di Stefano's, was not indebted to any previous singers; by her time florid music had gone out of fashion and she was the first to revive it. It always takes time for a singer whose vocal method and style is sui generis to establish itself, as we see from the critical reaction to many of her performances in her early years. The recording is conducted by Tullio Serafin, who directs a large number of Callas's La Scala recordings. Although at the time not on the roster of artists, yet he too was part of the opera's house tradition, as we can hear in the eloquent idiomatic playing of the orchestra.
The career of Tito Gobbi (1913-1984), born at Bassano di Grappa in the Veneto, lasted more than forty years. His was a first-class Italian baritone with a characteristic timbre in the Titta Ruffo style. He made his début in 1935 at Gubbio singing a bass rôle, Rodolfo in La sonnambula, but this was a one off, and by the next year at La Scala, he became a baritone. Within a few years his repertory embraced Germont in La traviata, Silvio in Pagliacci, Lescaut, Marcello in La Bohème, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly, Ford in Falstaff, De Siriex in Fedora, Baldassare in Cilea's L'Arlesiana and Michonnet in Adriana Lecouvreur, and he also sang Melot in Wagner's Tristano and Gunther in Il crepuscolo degli dei, Jochanaan in Strauss's Salome and Wozzeck, as well as a sizeable repertory of then modern operas. His international career began after World War II at leading theatres throughout the opera world, undertaking many of what were then famous impersonations, including Rigoletto, Posa, Iago, Renato, Macbeth, Nabucco, Simon Boccanegra, Rance in La fanciulla del west, Scarpia, Falstaff and Michele in Il tabarro and Gianni Schicchi, both of which he sang on more than one occasion the same evening. In older music, as Figaro in Il barbiere di Siviglia or Don Giova