BERGONZI,the great

RCA 88875018082 (2014)

This ought to be heard to be believed. The suits who now rule Sony (owner of RCA and CBS) have delegated one or another minion to produce a compilation of arias from Bergonzi’s complete recordings for RCA and add his recital for CBS to the issue. The first CD starts with the well-known “Oh! fede negar potessi” from the first stereo recording of Luisa Miller in 1964. One regrets that Rodolfo’s cabaletta “L’ara, o l’avello” is not included though it was once available on a similar RCA-LP. A pity too Bergonzi’s splendid “Tu che a Dio” from Lucia is not there while “Tombe degli avi miei” is. And then we are in for a surprise. Alfredo’s “Lunge da lei” doesn’t stop with the tenor’s last note of the aria but sails straight on into the dialogue and orchestral outburst for his cabaletta. And there it suddenly stops. No “Oh, mio rimorso” at all. Or so one thinks because 8 tracks further Bergonzi suddenly and without the orchestral introduction (to be found on track 10) launches into the La Traviata cabaletta. This means the idiot who produced this compilation discovered at the end of his hack job he still had a few minutes left and decided to use this cabaletta. It took probably too much pains to tack it on where it belonged. Things become even better from this moment on. Track 11 is Riccardo’s third act aria from Ballo and is shorn from its well-known recitative “Forse la soglia attinse”. Even in 1911 Enrico Caruso recorded the aria in its entirety. In track 12 only three minutes can be heard of the big Lucia-Edgardo duet with Anna Moffo from Lucia. But Sony gives us 5:44 of the ensemble “Bella signora” from Puccini’s Edgardo which is not even a solo. On the second CD is a fine transfer from Bergonzi’s Italian song recital (with John Wustman at the piano), recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1977. As far as I know I don’t remember if it ever was reproduced on CD (1). So this seems to be the main reason for any Bergonzisto to buy this issue. The sleeve notes are by one James Inverne (English only) who met the tenor a few years before his passing. Nevertheless it sounds somewhat strange to read that the singer made his début “in 1952 and was quickly stepped up by RAI for a series of starry broadcasts”. It is very well-known the tenor’s début was one year earlier on the 18th of January 1951. That same year he had already sung Giovanni d’Arco, Pagliacci, Forza, Simon Boccanegra and I Due Foscari for RAI.

The RCA recordings are well known and need not be discussed in detail. He is at his very best in Lucia, Macbeth, Ernani, Luisa Miller and Un Ballo (with a better balanced cast than his earlier Decca-recording). His Alfredo too is somewhat more mellifluous in the RCA recording of 1967 than in the Decca one from 1961 though he no longer can sing the high C in the cabaletta as he formerly used to do. It is not widely known he recorded the opera twice before making his début on the scene in Verona in 1970. I was there and remember how well he acted when he wore rather modern clothes instead of warrior’s uniforms. The Carnegie Hall recital finds him in wonderful voice. The timbre is rich as burnished silver though by that time in his career there is no escape from some flattening in the high register (clearly audible in “L’alba separa della luce l’ombra”). Not that these recordings are the definitive ones. Caruso’s and especially Björling’s voices ring more free in “L’alba”. Young Gigli is more exuberant in Denza’s “Se” and older Gigli still makes a more lasting impression in “Non ti scordar di me” ( written for Gigli). Certain well-known critics sometimes wrote that Bergonzi sings everything and anything especially well though without much interpretation. I cannot agree with them though they sometimes have a point; Tirindelli’s magnificent “O primavera!” being an example. Bergonzi is a little bit bland. Listen to Hina Spani’s passionate recording and one immediately gets the song: the prayer of one cloistered in hypocrite Mediterranean customs who desperately longs for love that will free her. The last “datemi l’amore “ by Spani burns one. John Wustman is a sympathetic accompanist but I admit I sometimes longed for an orchestra in evergreens like “Lolita”.

Jan Neckers

(1) Juan Dzazópulos from Chili writes us from Chili : "As regards the excellent Jan Neckers review of the new RCA CDs by Bergonzi, I can add that the Sony Italian Songs recital was issued in CD, in 1998 (Sony SMK 60785). Besides the 16 songs it includes Edgar: "Orgia, chimera dall'occhio vitreo."