MARSTON NINETEENTH CENTURY ITALIAN TENORS
3 Cd's www.marstonrecords.com (can be ordered at www.norpete.com)
When I opened the mail-delivered CD box I immediately noticed the beautiful and stylish cover with photos of the seven tenors involved. Remarkable I thought as 5 of them really didn’t look like tenors at all. Most of them had the ‘baritone’ or ‘basso’ look except perhaps for Edoardo Garbin not surprisingly also the most well-known of the bunch.
This historically very important and welcome release will no doubt primarily appeal to ‘tenor collectors’ or historians of vocal art. Listening to for example zonophones going back to 1902 (the earliest recording date) isn’t always easy and is in a way working like a ‘voice’ archeologist. Luckily the presentation of the release adds a lot to its appeal with a stylish booklet with several rare photographs and the Naples based Michael Aspinall stands for quality as shown in the extremely interesting and well-written notes. Bravo too for Takeshi Takahashi for his ever so beautiful booklet designs. The name Marston is of course synonym for excellent transfers. Now to our tenors.
Fiorello Giraud (1868 - 1928) had a highly successful career throughout Italy and parts of South America and was well-respected both in Wagnerian and verismo roles. He will be remembered for creating the role of Canio (Pagliacci). His voice was first captured on eight very rare G&T records. In 1916 and 1917, he recorded an additional 12 sides for Italian HMV, all song titles. This compilation includes all 20 of his published sides. Aspinall calls him a lyric tenor in his notes but I think of him more as a lyric dramatic tenor with strong vibrant notes and a strong medium. His voice is a fine tenor of beautiful quality and there is much to admire in his polished and smooth legato singing. There is fine breath control and excellent enunciation as is also shown in the 10 (!) Tosti renditions. In my view together with Edoardo Garbin and Signorini the best tenor singing in this compilation.
Garbin’s (1865-1943) selection of 22 recordings includes the arietta ‘E un riso gentil’ from Leoncavallo’s Zaza an aria he had to encore at the world premiere. This rendition sums up his vocal art : strong voice, though with an open vocal delivery in the medium, a fine upper register, fine enunciation, a passionate delivery and convincing -and when needed soft- phrasing. Roberto Alagna is as far as I know the only ‘modern’ tenor who commercially recorded the arietta as well. For sheer aural pleasure Alagna wins though Garbin certainly doesn’t have to take a step back to the French tenor.
Giovanni Batista de Negri (1850 - 1923) was particularly associated with the role of Otello, toured throughout Italy, and had a career that was cut short (1896) due to a series of operations for an unmentioned "malady." In 1902, however, he recorded for the Zonophone company, forever leaving his mark. De Negri still sounds impressive in “Ah! Troppo tardi” from Bellini’s Norma and he even interpolates a high A in the penultimate bar. But listening to all the –admitted slight - liberties he takes Del Monaco and Corelli are in a different category musically but also vocally. Very impressive too are his renditions of Otello’s “Ora e per sempre addio” (transposed) and “Nium mi tema”. Del Monaco nor Corelli were able to keep this kind of vocal health in their last years.
Francesco Signorini (1860 - 1927) achieved a great success singing Turiddu (Cavalleria rusticana) in Florence in 1890; appeared at La Scala in 1897; and appeared in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and South America in 1907. He gave up singing in 1910 to teach in Rome. His HMV recordings are very rare, including the scenes from Chatterton, which were issued on an early Marston release. In the eight recordings he displays a real tenore drammatico : full-blooded, brilliant singing with an impressive top register. His robust tenor on occasion lacks subtlety but the heroic ring of his voice largely makes up for that. That he nevertheless could modulate his voice as well is shown by his rendition of “Ah si, ben mio”. Today there is no tenor around like him. A voice which gives pleasure to listen to and which makes this release far more than just vocal study material
Leopoldo Signoretti's birth date ranges from 1840 to 1850, the former seeming more plausible. His earliest traced performances were in Il barbiere di Siviglia at the Teatro Solis, Montevideo in May 1875. In 1884 he went to Bologna for Tannhäuser and the world premiere of Isora di Provenza by Luigi Mancinelli. In Madrid, in the 1884-1885 season he sang La Gioconda, Faust, Aida, L’Africana, Lucia di Lammermoor (with Sembrich and Battistini), Il principe di Viana (Manuel Fernandez Grajal), Il trovatore, Ernani, Un ballo in maschera, and Lohengrin. He recorded only six documented Zonophone sides in 1902 at the age of 62. The voice sounds remarkably fresh for its age, only the extreme top register occasionally sounds strained and pushed. In line with the 19th century way of singing he takes a few liberties and interpolations. Strangely enough he skips the use of soft singing or a mezza voce delivery. His delivery of “Quando le sere al placido" from Luisa Miller is not an improvement on young Bergonzi or the young Carreras nor is “Solingo, errante e misero” –with interpolated high B-flat- competition for Del Monaco or Corelli.
Compared to the other tenors Alfonso Garulli (1866-1915) is more of a leggero kind which also enables him to modulate his phrasing more than the others. He’s more than fine in Lohengrin’s “Cigno gentil” and he isn’t defeated by “Vesti la giubba” delivered in quite a “modern” style.
Fernando Valero (1856-1914) featured in six recordings is the only non-Italian in this series. He’s the “Klaus Florian Vogt” kind of tenor with an open, whitish sound. He’s the only one of the seven tenors who also sang several roles at the Metropolitan where his Don José “achieved a great success with the audience”.
Rudi van den Bulck, operanostalgia November 2016