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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A performance that can justly be called classic, 27 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Verdi: Rigoletto [1950 Recording] (Audio CD)
This was RCA Victor's first complete opera recording. It was recorded in New York during sessions that extended from March 8 to May 25, 1950. It was originally issued by RCA in three separate formats: on twenty-eight 78 rpm sides, on the same number of 45 rpm sides and on six LP sides. (Despite the three formats, thrifty RCA Victor printed only one form of libretto. It was sized for the 45 rpm box.)

"Rigoletto" was captured on the brand new magnetic tape technology, which RCA Victor had been using for less than a year when recording began. This was leading-edge stuff at the time and the sound is pretty good mono, certainly equal to or better than the older matrix technology of the time. Consistent with the taste of those days, the solo voices are front-and-center and well captured. The chorus and orchestra are less well treated. This is unquestionably "historic" sound to modern ears, but still very capable of giving pleasure.

(Dedicated audiophiles who deeply care about such trifles will doubtless hear and moan about an occasional low hum arising from the early tape technology.)

Rigoletto - Leonard Warren (baritone)
Gilda - Erna Berger (soprano)
The Duke of Mantua - Jan Peerce (tenor)
Maddelena - Nan Merriman (mezzo-soprano)
Sparafucile - Italo Tajo (bass)
Count Monterone - Richard Wentworth (bass)
Marullo / A Herald - Arthur Newman (baritone)
Borsa - Nathaniel Sprinzena (tenor)
Count Ceprano - Paul Ukena (bass)
Countess Ceprano / A Page - Joyce White (soprano)
Giovanna - Mary Kreste (soprano)

Renato Cellini with the RCA Victor Orchestra and the Robert Shaw Chorale.

As it happened, an LP version of this "Rigoletto" was my very first opera recording. Nearly fifty years ago, I borrowed it in a wonderfully funky and battered carrying case from the San Francisco Public Library.

This is another recording from the post-WWII operatic golden age in New York.

Erna Berger (1900-1990) was a new arrival from the wreckage of Europe. She may have been just past her vocal peak, but she had wowed the audiences at the Metropolitan Opera by daring to sing Verdi as written. Once heard, the sound of her voice is unforgettable.

Memories of Jan Peerce (1904-1984, born Jacob Pincus Perelmuth) are fading. He was always reliable, workmanlike and worth listening to. Sometimes, though, when he was on, he was extraordinary. He is very much on in this recording. There have been tenors with better sounding voices, undoubtedly, but no one has ever characterized the Duke more acutely. Peerce's Duke is a full-fledged, red-blooded, casually treacherous princeling in full command of himself and his city. And he is out on a tear, never doubt it.

Then there is Leonard Warren (1911-1960). He simply owned the part of Rigoletto in the 1950s. Maybe, just maybe, Tito Gobbi at his best was in the same league with Warren, but nobody else.

The performance is much more than the three top singers. There are impressive touches throughout. Rigoletto's first dark-of-night meeting with the assassin Sparafucile is unmatched on disk.

The presence of the famous Robert Shaw Chorale (1948-1965)--the first performers ever to sell more than a million copies of a classical album--is especially welcome. They were superior in every way to the Metropolitan Chorus of the day.

This is a superb historic performance. I won't recommend it as a first "Rigoletto" for everybody, but it absolutely deserves consideration as anyone's second set.

Five New York stars.


I am reminded that the murderous Sparafucile speaks to Rigoletto of owning a "spada". In the libretto issued by RCA Victor with its original 45 rpm, 78 rpm and LP versions of this opera, the dumb-as-a-sack-of-hammers translator rendered his words as "I am a man with a spade," instead of "I am a man with a sword." Perhaps that is why RCA doesn't re-issue this "Rigoletto." They're still embarrassed.
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