Carlo Bergonzi is above all associated with the operas of Verdi, and because of this on his 90th birthday, all his best known Verdi recordings have been brought together. Bill Holland author of the article on Bergonzi in the booklet believes " that he is widely regarded as one of the greatest singers of the 20th century." Steane in his book the Grand Tradition states "more than any other Italian singer on record, he combines power, beauty, intensity and elegance." A lyrical tenor with Spinto capabilities. However, it is understandable that Bergonzi admires Gigli, Schipa, Caruso and Pertile. These were his role models and he often cited them as " grand tradition" or " Golden age" artists.(Booklet). If you are interested, there is a 2 CD set with only these 4 tenors recordings. Phonographe-Great voices. Published 1996 Nuova era records-Italy. Also, The greatest tenors-Tito Schipa. 1991 Award International Ltd. A Gramophone recommended recording. I have owned the CDs for years.(Reviews below.)
He was born on 13th July 1924 in Vidalenzo, near Busseto in Italy, the birth place of Verdi. He began training as a baritone at the Parma conservatory. However, he found he had the capablitities of a tenor in 1950, so after a period of retraining and studying great tenors such as Pertile, Lauri- Volpi and Gigli, he started his career in 1951 as a tenor. Pavarotti was a friend in his later years, and called Bergonzi the " Boss" and admired his technique. You could say Bergonzi is a tenor for musicians and critics alike, and naturally the public. He retired in 1996 at Carnegie Hall. Bergonzi spends his retirement at I due Foscari, the family run Hotel in Busseto. Within the Hotel, he created Accademia Verdiana, which has found and mentored young singers. The most famous are the late Salvatore Licitra, killed in a car crash, Vincenzo La Scola, Piero Cappuccili and Giacomo Aragall.(Taken from Bill Holland's article 2014). Thus, without understanding the past, how can we relate to the present.
The cardboard box is suited to the 17 CDs. The blue lid opens side ways and also covers the red box. Naturally, it is not as tough as the RCA 50 CD boxes, for they have two boxes within. The front is the same as Amazon has shown in its promotion of this set with a CD number in white. Behind on a red background with white lettering, are the operas, the CD numbers, singers, conductors and Orchestras. By the way, Blue and red are the colours of Decca. All the sleeves are the same, no originals. The front is the same as the box, but has the CD number in the top corner, below the opera. Behind in blue, is the CD Number, opera, track numbers, singers, orchestra and conductor in white lettering. The Disc is very light lime green, which is to counterbalance the bright red lettering, Carlo Bergonzi, Verdi. The tenor, in white and underneath, the opera in Black. Act and CD Number, plus singers, orchestra and conductor in white. The reason from an artistic point of view, for the very light green, is that it is the complimentary colour of Red. By the way, the Discs are easy to get out the sleeve; you will not split them. Anyway, you cannot get lost. But why all the minor details you may ask? Because you the reader, are deciding whether or not to buy this set sight unseen, so I always give as much information as I can.
DGG, Decca and Phillips recordings make up this 17 CD box set. The sound is stereo and ADD, meaning they are remastered. Also, when Decca is involved, the sound is generally good. The firm had a great reputation for this. The Booklet: Pictures throughout with Bergonzi and singers in this set. Cast then CD number, Act, track numbers with arias. Synopsis, opera, then Act, plus track numbers with details of what is going on. So you have a track number with what the aria is about. No translation, nor CD Rom. The synopsis and essay, is in English, French and German.
I am going across the page. Firstly, Opera, date recorded, singers, orchestra and conductor, review and other details which might interest you. The Operas and recitals will be in the order they are in the box set.
AIDA:(1959)Corena, Simionato, Tebaldi, Bergonzi, Van Mill, MacNeil. Vienna Philharmonic, cond Von Karajan. This Aida recording announces a new era, not because it is the first in Stereo ( staged stereo, in realistic perspective, as with all John Culshaws later efforts) but also the conductors become more important in putting forward their own interpretations. The Penquin Guide 1977 positively raves about it. "This is one of those almost ideal gramophone performances; the more you hear it the more satisfying it becomes, largely because it concentrates on the musical values. This is a Viennese orchestra rather than an Italian one determined to do it in the traditional manner. But most important of all are the soloists." I should think so, without them where would the opera be. "Bergonzi in particular emerges here as a model among tenors, with a rare feeling for the shaping of phrases and attention to details. MacNeil too is splendid. Telbaldi's interpretation of the part of Aida is well-known and much loved. Von Mill and Corena are both superb, and Simionato provides one of the very finest portrayals of Amneris we have ever had in a complete Aida."
Years ago Solti's Aida with Leontyne Price was my favourite, with Vickers and Gorr. I still like the Solti version. But now, I understand what Von Karajan and his singers are doing. The conductors tempi is often swift when required and is not slow, as some well known music critic made out at the time. The production makes complete sense, and gets to the essence of Aida. And the singers are as good as the 1977 Penquin states. Stunning, beautiful and impressive. This recording stands the test of time-T. But Von Karajan did conduct some fine recordings, like IL Trovatore and the live 1955 Lucia di Lammermoor, both with Callas. And now for something completely different, as the Monty Python team once stated. A true fire breathing Aida, doing it the Italian way. Recorded in 1928. Pertile, Toscanini's favourite tenor, American Dusolina Giannini, born of Italian parents. Steane states "much of her singing is very good indeed". Irene Minghini-Cattaneo. La Scala Orch, Milan, Cond Carlo Sabajno. Blyth writes " it was a genuinely distingushed set in its day, with the kind of cast that could be heard in a gala performance at one of the great opera houses. In the 1930 catalogue it occupied a special place." Phonographe. 1994. Nuova era records Italy.
UN BALLO IN MASCHERA: (1961) Bergonzi, MacNeil, Nilsson, Simionato, Stahlman, Corena, orchestra e coro dell'Accademia di Santa Cecillia, Roma, cond George Solti. The great performance comes from Bergonzi, whose voice caresses the phrases, who meets climates with the confidence of the complete vocalist, who demonstrates the musics grace with every phrase he sings. Nilsson is mostly splendid as Amelia. She shows she was not just a great Isolde and Brunnhilde, but could sing roles such as this, Turandot and Macbeth. Stahlman as Oscar is sweet-voiced. Simionato is ideally cast as Ulrica and can deal with the lower parts of the Mezzo role. MacNeil, at the top of his career, is suave and impressive. Solti conducts an uncut version full of energy, with excellent singing. This opera gives another insight into Bergonzi, and how he deals with an energetic conductor.
LA TRAVIATA:(1962). Sutherland, Pace, Bergonzi, Merrill, de Palma. Orchestra e coro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino cond John Pritchard. This was the first uncut version of this opera to be recorded. Sutherland was then in the early years of her international career. The voice is generally fresh and firm, technically an astonishing performance. Bergonzi's Alfredo is fresh, tender, and pliant, with a fine sense of rubato. Merrill is excellent as the Father. Pritchard conducts with fine musical feeling. I was 15 when I first heard this opera, so I am slightly biased. I think it is a good recording. A great performance of this opera was recorded in 1935, with the Met Orchestra conducted by Ettore Panizza. Rosa Ponselle is Violetta. The only singer who can touch her in this part is Callas. Then there is Tibbett, baritone, as Germont. Has anyone ever been able to better him as Germont. Frederick Jagel is Alfredo, he is good. Naxos.
DON CARLO: (1965). Ghiaurov, Bergonzi, Fischer-Dieskau, Tavela, Tebaldi, Bumbry, Sinclair. Orchestra of the Royal Opera house, Covent Garden, Cond George Solti. This was the first recording to join Act one which had been cut, to join the other four acts. For Verdi in 1884 had cut Act One for the La Scala, Italian version. The original five act version was in French, for Paris in 1867. It even gets more complicated, there are eight versions of this opera. I know, I reviewed this bluray version of this opera with Kaufmann, Hampson, Salminen and Harteros, Vienna Philharmonic cond Pappano. It is even worse then attempting to work out the cuts, changes and versions of Bruckner's symphonies.
Throughout, Solti's tremendous energy is much in evidence, which I like. ACT 2 and 3 is fiery and exciting. I remember reading once in some classical music magazine, that some critics find Solti's tempi too fast. In some operas slow is doom. Well, it is for me. But this is a major account of Don Carlos. The singers are marvellous. For example, Tebaldi sings beautifully. But Bumbry is extraordinarily fluent as Eboli, and Bergonzi, the most stylish of Verdi tenors, is full of lyrical tenderness and beautiful phrasing. The critic Alan Blyth wrote of Bergonzi in this role " listen to the opening of Don Carlos's 'romance', a model for any aspiring tenor ". Fischer-Dieskau's Rodrigo suggests the ardent fanaticism while singing the music with suave elegance. Ghiaurov's voice heard here in his prime, suits the part of Phillip to perfection.
RIGOLETTO:(1964) Bergonzi, Fischer-Dieskau, Cossotto, Scotto. Orchestra e coro alla Scala di Milano cond Kubelik. Fischer-Dieskau has a different approach to Rigoletto, not the usual cliche of an over protective and then wronged father of Gilda. It is an intelligent thought through portrait of a deformed, but tormented and essentially loving man. Scotto as Gilda responds to Rigoletto in a tender manner. But here she is passionate but yet innocent of what a man is capable of. Scotto is often enchanting, often coming close to Muzio's inner tears. Bergonzi as the Duke is not the usual seducer of the ladies, but a gentleman in the process. He is rhythmically exact and enlivening. However, this approach is different to Callas and Gobbi, with Di Stefano as the Duke, which is considered the best recording of this opera. However, Kubelik's conducting gives us another look at a very popular opera.
About the Scotto recital called Verdi (1975), London Philharmonic Orchestra cond Gavazzeni, the Penguin reviewer 1977 stated " this is a lovely characterful voice, which has overtones of the great Claudia Muzio, and these arias draw out it's beauty." What has this to do with Rigoletto?. Basically, at times Scotto's true voice comes through in the part of Gilda, and occasionally so does the vocal mannerisms of Muzio. Who was Muzio? She was born outside Milan in 1889 and died in 1936. She was the most magnetic soprano to be heard in Italian opera between Ukrainian Salomea Krusceniski, and Callas. Krusceniski took over the role of the rewritten Madama Butterfly, three months after its failure in 1904 at La Scala, Milan and turned it into a success at Brescia, between Milan and Verona. Like her, Muzio went to the emotional heart of everything she sang. Lauri-Volpi writes of Muzio, " she sung with that unique voice of hers made of sighs, tears and restrained interior fire." This can be detected in Scotto's voice. Claudio Muzio- the complete HMV 1911 and Edison 1920-1925. Romophone 2CDs.
IL TROVATORE: (1962) Bastianini, Stella, Cossotto, Bergonzi, Orchestra e coro del Teatro alla Scala di Milano, cond Serafin. Most of the cuts are opened up again. Serafin's conducting represents the best of of Italian conducting. Bergonzi not only vocalizes smoothly, but shows more passion than usual. This set is immensely enjoyable because of the contributions of Cossotto and Bergonzi. Bastianini and Stella have impressive moments. Serafin whips up the tempi when required.
VERDI ARIAS 1:
Oberto: Ciel che feci. Un giorno di regno: Pietoso al lungo pianto. I Lombardi: La mia letzia infondere...sien miei sensi. Ernani: Merce, dietti amici. I due Foscari : Notte, perpetua notte. Giovanna D'Arco: Nel suo bel volto. Alzira: Miserandi avanzi. Attila: Qual notte! Qui,qui sostiamo. Attila: Que del convegno e il loco. Macbeth: O figli, figli miei!
VERDI ARIAS 2:
I Masnadieri: Quando io leggo in plutarco. Ecco un figlio a te diretto. Come splendido e grande. Il corsaro: Eccomi prigioniero! La battaglia di Legnano: O magnima, e prima.
Luisa Miller: Oh! fede negar potessi. Rigoletto: Questa o quella. Ella mi fu rapita! La donna mobile. Il Trovatore: Di quella pira. La traviata De miei bollenti spiriti. I vespri siciliani: E di Montforte il cenno!
VERDI ARIAS 3:
Simon Boccanegra: O inferno! Aroldo:Sotto il sol di Siria ardente. Un ballo in Maschera: Di' tu se fedele. Forse la soglia attinse. La Forza del destino La vita e inferno. Don Carlo: Fontainebleau...io la vidi e al suo sorriso. Aida. Celeste Aida. Othello: Dio! mi potevi scagliar. Niun mi tema. Falstaff: Dal labbro il canto estasiato vola.
New Philharmonia orchestra cond Nello santi. Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Cond Lamberto Gardelli.Recorded between 1972 and 1975. This is a three disc set that spans the whole of Verdi's career. This was the first set to do this. It makes an admirable offering by a well regarded singer.
OPERATIC RECITAL: (1958)
Aida: Celeste Aida. Luisa Miller: Oh! fede negar potessi. La forza dal destino: La vita e un inferno. Il Trovatore: Ah si, ben mio. Un ballo in Maschera: forse la soglia attinse. L'african-Meyerbeer: Mi batte il cor. Andrea Chenier-Giordano: Come un bel di maggio. Adriana lecouvreur-Cilea: La dolcissima effigie. L'anima ho stanca. Tosca-Puccini: Recondita armonia. E Lucevan le stelle. Manon Lescaut-Puccini. Donna non vidi mai Manon. This recital of his early stereo recordings shows Bergonzi in peak form. Here among Italian tenors is a thinking musical artist who never resorts to vulgarity. Everything sounds fresh. I hope you enjoy this set as much as I did.
If you like past singers here is a box set of 8 CDs you might like. EMI's 'Les Introuvables du Chant Verdien'.
REFERENCES: Blyth, A. Opera on record. 1979.Hutchinson of Australia. Gruber,P. The Met Guide to recorded Opera.1993. Thames and Hudson. Holland, B. Carlo Bergonzi 2014. Decca. Penguin Guide of Classical Music 1997 and 1993. Wilson, C. Giacomo Puccini 1997. Phaidon Press Ltd.
Who needs it? Great as it, and a bargain though it is, that's a serious question, for there doesn't seem to have been an overall remastering of the material. That's not a big deal, for the Decca and Philips sound that's represented here was always good to begin with, but if you have all the individual operas represented here, you don't really need it. I got it because I didn't have the very latest remasterings of some of the operas -- and I didn't have the Solti "Ballo" with Nilsson at all -- AND I have an interest at this time of my life of trying to find more space for my CDs, and this takes up a lot fewer square inches than all the individual boxes. There's no libretti, but most people who are likely to buy this probably don't need them (or already have them, with other recordings). The ideal purchaser, perhaps, would be someone younger than I am who built up his or her collection when Domingo, Pavarotti, and Carreras were recording the standard Verdi repertoire. Such a person might have no recordings of Bergonzi and Bjoerling -- and for that person I would say that this is a must. Bergonzi was as great a tenor as any in this repertoire in the 20th Century, and the recordings are well made, with, for the most part sterling accompanying artists (Sutherland, Tebaldi, Nilsson, Siepi, McNeill, Bastianini, Fischer-Dieskau) and solid conductors. The "Traviata" here was Sutherland's best, the "Don Carlo" is very fine, and the "Aida" is in a very good re-mastering, with Karajan making an impression.
There's one odd thing: it's appropriate and welcome that the recordings originally made for DGG are included here ("Rigoletto" and "Trovatore"), because Decca, DGG, and Philips all combined in the Universal group. The collection of all Verdi's tenor arias that appeared on Philips in the early 1970s is included (great, though one wishes that they had been recorded maybe five years earlier), but Bergonzi made two complete recordings for Philips that are NOT included in the box -- a decent "Masnadieri" and a good "Attila" -- and I wonder why they weren't. The recordings, with Gardelli, are certainly good enough to warrant inclusion. Bergonzi recorded some Verdi for RCA in the 1960s -- "Luisa Miller," "Ernani," "Macbeth" -- and EMI -- "Forza del Destino" -- that one didn't expect to find here. Enthusiasts probably know already that RCA/Sony is re-issuing a lot of their 1960 catalogue at good prices and in a new remastering. So snap them up. Bergonzi was a very great singer -- and his Puccini and Donizetti are great too. If you love Verdi and don't know these recordings, don't hesitate.