Carlo Bergonzi
A Discussion Of His Recordings

By Jan Neckers


III.1. The original solo recordings
III.1.1. Carlo Bergonzi: Operatic Recital Decca SXL 2O48 (1958). (Re-issue on Decca BA 924-1994)
Bergonzi's famous first operatic recital is too well-known for a drawn-out review. The repertory is hackneyed. Only the two aria's from Adriana he would never rerecord in a complete opera during his prime, nor would there be but a live recording of Manon Lescaut. At the time it came as a surprise to hear a robust tenor voice (more robust on this record than in reality) singing with such sense for the line, such legato, a good trill in 'ah si ben mio' and plenty of power in the top notes which linger on in an agreeable manner without becoming a full-blown circus act  like young Corelli did in his first Verdi-recital. And every time I hear this magnificent record I wonder why Bergonzi and Gavazzeni didn't correct his slip on the aah before starting the second verse of 'Celeste Aida'. Still striking is the formidable sound quality of the recording after more than 49 years. And what a shame that Decca never asked him for a second operatic recital with less hackneyed material.

III.1.2. Ieri e oggi con Carlo Bergonzi: Jaguar Records SJGR 74O13 (1968)
(Re-issue on Rifi 72O24 1981)
A marvellous recording. There are some Schipa-favourites like 'Torna Piccina' (Bergonzi's honeyed tone is more adapt) and 'Vivere' ( laughs like in 'E scherzo e follia'), some Bixio's ('Lasciami cantare una canzone' and 'Voce di strada') and some sixties-songs like the famous 'Il Mondo'. Everything is sung with gusto, taste and an immense joy. Every song is a small but unforgettable pearl and Bergonzi uses all the tricks of the truly great Italian tenor, without sentimentalizing in the postwar Gigli-way. This is the one recording by a major after-war tenor that is still not available. A shame.

III.1.3. Canciones Napolitanas: Ensayo ENY 4O1 (1972) (Re-issued on CD Ensayo ENY 3416)
I bought my copy on the Paris Champs Elysées and it would last another year before it was widely available elsewhere. At that time I had some mixed feelings because the repertoire almost completely converged with Franco Corelli's two formidable records ten years earlier. Bergonzi's singing is refined and impassioned at the same time. He uses his best weapons; an ever-increasing beauty of tone, mellifluous sound, refined pianissimo's. But time and again I heard in my inner ear the overwhelming sound of Corelli, the smouldering fire in the voice and the utter conviction that Corelli brought to these songs and which sound more believable in his mouth. There is one song not on Corelli's records 'Chiove', better adapted to Bergonzi's than to Corelli's means. And it is no co-incidence that this is an island-disc. If one wants to convince someone of Bergonzi's greatness, play him or her 'Chiove'.(I heard him sing it in '78 in Bregenz. It was one of my goose-bump moments). Nowadays I am grateful to that small Spanish firm to record these songs during his heydays and I wouldn't want to be without it even if there are some pushed interpolated top-notes in some strange places (Torna a Surriento) as he tries in vain to compete with Corelli's wonderful B at the end of the same song.

III.1.4. Arie Antiche: Ensayo (1972) (Re-issued on Ensayo ENY 3423)
This record came as a surprise. At the time it was not very usual for a tenor in his prime to record these aria's. Arie antiche were something for tenors at the end of their career (Gigli-like) or for mezzi like Janet Baker and Teresa Berganza (her husband plays the piano for Bergonzi). The tenor clearly leaves his Verdi-Puccini-volume in his dressing-room (compare his sound with that of Richard Tucker in the same repertory) but I doubt that baroque purists nowadays will celebrate. This is still the same voice (shorn of the here unnecessary blazing top notes) that caresses the recitatives in his 19th century repertory. For a vocal technician of Bergonzi's stature these aria's are light fare and the tenor proves that all his knowledge in singing long-drawn phrases, messa di voce's , suits this repertory well. Some of these aria's should be played as examples of what it means to sing ‘lightly on the breath'.

1.5. Carlo Bergonzi sings Verdi from Oberto to Falstaff: Philips 6747 193 (1975)  (Re-issued on CD Philips 432 486-2  1991)

So this is Bergonzi's 'masterpiece', 3 LP's (later CD's) with :most of Verdi's tenor aria's (some are lacking and others are shorn of their cabaletta) The aria's were recorded at the end of 74 and the tenor is in splendid voice with the already mentioned slightly flat quality of his A's and B's. It is interesting to compare these versions with his earlier renditions in his complete recordings. The differences are almost exclusively in sound quality as the voice gradually lost its robusto ring and changed into a wonderful lyric sound. But there is almost no difference in interpretation; the same legato, the same diminuendo and the same small intrusive sobs here and there. The one glaring exception is the pianissimo B at the end of Celeste Aida.  To be honest, the complete versions are almost always to be preferred as they are without the gliding and scooping that, be it only for a second, somewhat mars the pleasure in Trovatore, Forza, Ballo etc. We are grateful however for his renditions of early Verdi.which are clearly superior to his youthful 1951 efforts. And then there are the three Otello-excerpts which make us regret that Decca didn't think of him and instead chose the not too be despised but far less imaginative Carlo Cossutta. The end of 'Ora e per sempre' nevertheless proves why a shrewd singer as Bergonzi didn't think of performing the role. He is clearly overtaxed and barely makes it.

1.6. Carlo Bergonzi sings Italian songs: CBS M 34558 (1978) (Re-issued on CD Sony SMK 6O785)

The sleeve note carries a review of John Rockwell of the New York Times, discussing an Avery Fisher Hall recital in 1977 that inspired this record. It perfectly sums up this record. "He is often called a tasteful singer, and compared to, say Gigli, he is that. But what he really is, more than tasteful, is utterly convincing in his exposition of the basic clichés of Italian tenorizing, from portamentos to catches in the throat to semisobs to stock imploring gestures."

This is the last of his great solo-records where he is discussed on his own merits and not as the veteran tenor who has kept intact so much of his voice. A pity that there is no orchestral accompaniment and a good conductor to drive him forth in Denza's Se (one of Gigli's great records) so that it loses its drive.  Lolita and Non ti scordar too are somewhat bald without an orchestra. A pity, as he is in very good voice and almost entirely avoids singing flat.  A high lying song like 'L'alba separa ' will disappear from his repertory. We will meet a lot of these songs later on in his recordings of the eighties and the nineties, often phrased magnificently but without the total vocal assurance that was still with him in 1978. Personally there is only one small disillusion. 'O Primavera' is sung a bit too blandly without the tragic undertones of Hina Spani.

1.7. Weihnachten mit Carlo Bergonzi: CD Orfeo C O3O821 A (1982)

I still remember the joy I felt when editor Rudi van den Bulck (at that time doing his military service in Germany) told me about this record. For a few years this Munich-based firm gave the tenor the chance to record three recitals. The first was this Christmas record, though in truth there are only five real Christmas numbers on it, the eight others belonging to the category of 'Sacred Aria's'. Of course the tenor has to make some concessions and sings one verse of some of these songs in atrocious German, bad English etc. but this is the kind of record that  escapes grave artistic and highbrow considerations. You like it or you don't and I do. It is sung with charm and love and is quite better than the same records by Nilsson and Sutherland. And as there are no exposed high lying notes to be taken, it's all for the better.

1.8. Berühmte Duette: Carlo Bergonzi&Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: CD Orfeo C  O28821 A (1982)
This is Bergonzi's Indian Summer record. Pessimist will say: why didn't he record them ten years earlier. Optimist will be thankful that he recorded them anyway. The crux of the matter are the duets from Otello, Vespri and Pêcheurs de perles as these are his only versions. The surprise is the Otello-item where the 58-year tenor surmounts all vocal obstacles giving a very convincing interpretation. Vespri makes one regret that he never recorded the whole opera And the real tragedy is Les Pêcheurs. What a Nadir, a chevalier des Grieux, a Wilhelm Meister, a Julien etc. he could have been, even if only on record, if he had been able to master French. He is still in splendid voice with that unbelievable middle register as fresh and beautiful as ever. But it is true the gliding in the passaggio for a few seconds to reach the high register is (too) clearly audible and sometimes mars the joy. Rather surprising is the fact that of the two men it's Bergonzi who after a far more strenuous career than the German baritone has the most voice left.

1.9. Francesco Paolo Tosti: CD Orfeo CO73831 (1983)
This reviewer shocked quite a few people when in an article on Joseph Schmidt in The Record Collector, he stated that in his opinion Francesco Tosti is a greater songwriter than Schubert and Schumann combined. Therefore it will not come as a surprise that this record means a lot to him. Several songs are recorded for the first time. There is a fine orchestra and Bergonzi is as mellifluously as possible. Moreover all kinds of transpositions are possible so that the singer can hide his weaknesses and concentrate on his sound, his phrasing and his clear enunciation. A wonderful record to end his Indian Summer.

1.1O. Carlo Bergonzi in concerto: Bongiovanni GB 25O2-2 (1984)

Not a very special record. It is the registration of a concert in May 1984 in Varese. The repertory is now more or less fixed  and will return for the next fifteen years in one or another mixture. The  interesting items here are aria's from Roi d'Ys and Arlesiana which for the first time appear on record. Not that he sings them particularly well. The finely floated topnote in Vainement is small consolation for a rather unimaginative reading. The flatness above the stave is now very obtrusive but what is disturbing is his custom (and it will remain with him till his last concert) to glide towards the flat top note and then cling to it with all his not inconsiderable breath. Compare this with Domingo who has even less good top notes but who has the wisdom to cut them short. In general he is not in exceptional voice, being even somewhat short of breath.

1.11: Canzone Rossini-Verdi-Bellini-Donizetti CD Capriccio 1O198 (1988)
I would never have believed that a Bergonzi-CD could be a bore till this one came along. Each one of this art-songs is fine and Bergonzi often sang one or two during his concerts. But he always judiciously mixed them with opera-aria's and canzone Napoletane. Having to listen to them each one after the other it strikes me that those composers kept their best tunes for their opera's  and that strangely enough Bergonzi's records by professional tune-smiths like Bixio, De Curtis, Di Capua etc. never bore me for once second. Mind you, the tenor is in good voice and by this time he and his preferred accompanist Vincenzo Scalera know so well his strengths and weaknesses that they can adapt these songs to his voice without any strain showing.

1.12. and 1.13: O sole mio CD Victor 5013 and Ombra mai fu Victor 5015

These two Japanese CD' are the reminder of his Osaka recital in October 1990. They consist mostly of Neapolitan and Italian songs which he has elsewhere sung.  Exception is an intentional Pavarotti-like imitation of O sole mio and a Mignon-aria. Of course one marvels again at the freshness of the middle register though for the first time one is now aware that here is an extremely old man (for a tenor anyway) singing, who has not always the necessary breath support for long phrases. Now he was always a master of fiato rubato (stolen breath-small breaths which are almost never audible) but this time even with his enormous experience he sometimes has to take a breath. The voice comes close to the brink a few times when he narrowly escapes a frog. Nevertheless one has to admit that no other Italian tenor has kept this amazing amount of voice at that age. Gigli at 65 had a horrible wobble and a mere shred of a voice. Martinelli and Lauri-Volpi were caricatures of themselves while this is still recognizably Bergonzi.

1.14. Il trionfo di Zurigo: 2 CD Relief CR 911035 (2000)

Though these CD's appeared in 2000, they are the live registration of a concert in September 1991. They are an amazing testimony to the tenor's stamina (he claims in a speech that he has almost sang for three hours while in reality he sang  one hour and forty minutes- still amazing enough) and voice quality. He sounds even fresher than the year before in Osaka and the voice quality doesn't change during the evening. Indeed after 15 aria's and songs he gives seven encores, the last one as well sung as the first . The audience gradually works itself into hysterics. Nevertheless these are records for Bergonzi-diehards alone.
Though the British critic John Steane was not present, his review of one of Bergonzi's farewells neatly sums up what a non-fan would think of it. "Most evident was the restriction of the upward range, its ceiling set for most if not the whole programme at about A flat. Occasionally a frog gave warning, though never too obtrusively, usually in diminuendo or on the drop to a low note. More strenuous were the intimations of age when the style became strenuous. At such moments you reflected that this would not be a performance you'd greatly want to hear on records." Steane is right. I yield to nobody in my admiration for the tenor but honesty commands me to say that after one Cd I preferred waiting another day before playing the second CD, as with each song the pleasure diminished and I got tired with the vocal deficiencies.

2. A selection of solo-records compiled from different sources
I'm not going to discuss solo records that appeared on Decca, EMI, RCA, DGG and Cetra as they contain aria's taken from his recordings of complete opera's. The eulogies of the sleeve notes which often hail him as the prince of belcanto and even the best of the after war Italian tenors take on a slightly ridiculous air as all these labels were keen to bring a cheap solo record on the market for which no additional costs had to be made. All of them however refrained from hiring a studio and an orchestra and offering him the chance to sing an original programme.
2.1. Carteri-Bergonzi Cetra LMR 5O26
One of those famous Martini&Rossi-concerts (on Monday the 3Oth of January 196O). So this is Bergonzi at his peak. But as these were popular concerts the singers brought their best known interpretations and as the orchestra always had to have its own selection, there is not really much new on the record; in fact only Bergonzi's glorious singing of 'M'appari', which he never sang elsewhere. His aria's from Africaine and Trovatore are well known and his Butterfly-duet  with Carteri (a now forgotten and much underrated soprano) is very fine indeed.

2.2. Great Voices Nuova Era 2 CD (1989)
The Martini-concert (minus the Ah si ben mio) is to be found on these CD's as well, together with well-known live recordings of Norma (Met), Lucia(Japan), Trovatore (Moscow), Ballo (Met), Werther (San Carlo) etc.  Most of these recordings will be discussed in the complete opera recordings, but they make a nice introduction to the art of the tenor at work on a scene. Unlike Franco Corelli's ' there is not  a great difference with his studio work. These records had a spinn-off and the same aria's can be found on other single or double CD's.

2.3. The München Concert 2LP's HRE (1971)
For several years there were big radioconcerts with great vocal soloists  on Munich-radio each Sunday evening. This one of the 11th of January 1970 gives us Bergonzi, Cappuccilli and Kabaivanska in aria's and duets. The large programme is very traditional but the three singers are in splendid voice. Bergonzi's rendition of 'Parmi veder le lagrime 'is superior to his DGG-recording and he has probably never sung a better 'Vicino a te'

2.4. : Carlo Bergonzi; CD Bongiovanni GB 11OO-2
A frustrating CD. There is Bergonzi's part of the already mentioned Munich-concert (but without the Butterfly-duet with Kabaivanska) and there is Bergonzi's 1973-Amsterdam-concert (but without the encore of L'ora e l'avello). In exchange we get his M'hai salvato from Wally. That could easily be put on another CD so that we at least had one complete concert instead of two cripples.

2.5. Carlo Bergonzi in Amsterdam Gala GL 326

Better to purchase this CD; then here is the complete Amsterdam-concert in superb sound. The sleeve note says that it will be difficult "to find a concert, even in the illustrious career of Carlo Bergonzi, to surpass this recital as a demonstration of perfect Verdi singing." This may sound a little bit exaggerated but the voice and style are superb and indeed his aria's from Giovanna and I Due Foscari are slightly superior to his performances on his big Verdi-Philipsrecital. Moreover the Amsterdam-Giovanna has the cabaletta as well, though only one verse of it. Of course the great find is his "Qual sangue" from the original Forza which he studied on purpose for this concert and which he never recorded elsewhere.  Though he is somewhat straining in the high register there is as yet nothing of the gliding that will pop up one year later.  As it is his show he is allowed to take his own tempi in Luisa Miller thereby showing off his wonderful legato and impressive long breath. He gives only one verse of the cabaletta shrewdly saving the second verse for an encore. And why the name of the conductor (Michelangelo Veltri) is not to be found on the CD, is anybody's guess.  The bonus tracks are very interesting: a selection from a Met-Aida from 1967 in which Madame Price changes from beautiful singing to speaking, screaming and back to singing. What a difference with the stylish tenor, though this is one of the recordings that prove that sometimes a small frog was often lurking in ascending or descending phrases.

2.6. Carlo Bergonzi vol. II: Bongiovanni GB 11O6-2
A somewhat better selection. Apart from the Met-Bohème and -Tosca-items that are well-known on CD, there are selections from a Verona-Cavalleria (a role he rarely sang), a Torino-Chénier and the Philadelphia-Turandot, which at the time was wrongly claimed to be his Kalaf-début.

2.7.  Bergonzi&Cruz-Romo in duets 73-75 (HRE 3O5-1)
The sleeve-note is silent but these performances were recorded in London at Covent Garden (Aida 73-Forza 75) and Miami (Chénier 74). Excellent performances with no flat singing, frogs or whatever else can mar the pleasure though we have these excerpts for the umpteenth time.

3. Some live-recordings as yet not on LP-CD
3.1. München-concert 1966
A review in High Fidelity at the time said that Bergonzi's concert was beautiful but bland while a Del Monaco appearance was considered to be less beautiful but exciting. I remember how angry I was (22 years of age) when I read the review. I couldn't imagine anything sung by the tenor as being bland but of course Del Monaco had all the tricks of the movie-actor while Bergonzi's outward appearance could be dull-dog-like. Anyway this is Bergonzi in his great years and these are his first renderings of aria's from Elisir and especially Turandot he never recorded commercially but for which at that particular moment he had the style and the power .

3.2. Berlin-concert 1968
Once more a rousing "Nessun dorma" and when one compares it to his first recorded Turandot in 74 there is indeed a decline. Moreover 'E la solita storia' and 'Non mi ridestar' in his great days. plus a few other well-known aria's. In short these two German concerts are a welcome addition as no firm recorded him in such a recital during the sixties.

3.3. Inno delle Nazione RAI-TV 1968
A real treasure. To commemorate Toscanini's 100th birthday, RAI-TV aired a performance with La Scala Orchestra and Choir (probably in La Scala) of Verdi's rarely performed Inno. The conductor was Antonino Votto and Bergonzi sang the tenor solo. An Italian guy recorded it by putting a mike in front of his TV-set and took some photographs from the screen. One hopes that RAI recorded this concert (with the expensive and not very satisfying kinescope-process) and one shudders at the thought that it would be lost. However I'm not very optimistic as I don't recall having this concert ever seen on one or another of those Mr.Tape and Ed Rosen-lists. So I still hope there is a better tape around than mine. As to the performance, every Bergonzi-fan can easily imagine how in his vintage years the tenor sounded in this piece, the voice and the style so more apt than the not too underestimated Inno by Jan Peerce.

3.4. Pasadena concert February 78 and 3.5. Bregenz July  1978
The repertoire is almost the same in both concerts. The Bregenz-sound is perfect as it was broadcasted. At that time his operatic career on the highest level was slowly grinding to a halt as the three tenors had (at last) taken over. So he concentrated more and more on concertizing and some of his many favourites with which he would tour the world, appear here for the first time. And that at a moment when the voice was still relatively unimpaired in the high register. Operatically speaking here are his first and best recordings of Maristella, Roi d'Ys and La Juive. Then some fine Italian songs. O how he sang and spoke that magnificent Chiove in Bregenz (I was there and it sent shivers down my shoulders). And then of course there are 'Zärtliche Liebe' and 'Wanderlied'. I remember too well the little sniggering when he started these songs and the Austrian public heard the funny pronunciation. But it soon stopped, everybody enjoying the formidable beauty of sound and the drive he brought to these songs. And then the house came down as everybody realized how Messrs. Wunderlich, Prey and Dieskau for all their sense of style had to give way to a tenor voice born south of the Alps. I still hope his Bregenz 77-concert will pop up one day as he reputedly sang a fascinating 'Zwei grenadiere'.

IV. Complete Opera Recordings

IV.1. Giovanno d'Arco (RAI-broadcast of 26.3.1951) (CD's on Foyer and Melodram)
Bergonzi has now been a tenor for all of three months and of course it shows in the baritonal quality of the voice though some of his unmistakably colours are already there so you won't mix him up with any other tenor. The strange thing is the phrasing, the style of singing. Did he really learn it all on his own ? Probably, as there was no single tenor in Italy at that moment (or had been for about ten years) who could shape his Verdian phrases in that way (Young Di Stefano could if he had wanted). And then there is the glory of Renata Tebaldi and Rolando Panerai.

IV. 2. Pagliacci (RAI-broadcast of 10.6.1951)
The voice is already somewhat freer and young Bergonzi proves that he can sob as well as any other provincial Italian tenor. And what do we  nowadays miss Italian sopranos like Carla Gavazzi. Incidentally there is an amusing story to tell about the re-issue on CD (Cetra CDO 27). Somebody probably told the youngest clerk to go into the vaults and search for the mastertapes of Cav and Pag. He or she did so and they were put on CD. Bergonzi-fans who had never bought or found the LP's were happy with these re-issues though they must have thought that the tenor was not in his best voice. What happened was that everybody at Cetra had forgotten that there were two Pagliaccis in the vaults and the clerk came up with the wrong one. Though Bergonzi and Gavazzi are on the box, in reality it is a recording of Poggi, Malagrida, Bersellini and that wonderful completely forgottten baritone Giuseppe Lamacchia (the recording appeared in 1964). The real Bergonzi-Pagliacci  appeared later.
IV. 3. Simon Boccanegra (RAI-broadcast of 21.11.1951) (CD Cetra CDO 23)
Same remarks as for Giovanna d'Arco though one hears that several months of tenor-experience have improved the top. And what a promise young Antonietta Stella was and what a vocal tragedy the crisis of Paolo Silveri a few years later.
Selected live recording: Met April  2nd 1960 Stradivarius 10032-3 2CD
As to the role of Gabriele Adorno this set wins though more on points than with K.O. Bergonzi is now a mature artist but the voice is a shade less fine than we are used too in these years And it is surprising that he often mars his fine Verdian-phrasing with good placed sobs.. Late Milanov, gliding and sliding, is no match for young Stella and Guarrera is a competent house bariton but not a real substitute for Leonard Warren who was scheduled to sing this broadcast and who had died three weeks before.

IV.4.. I Due Foscari (RAI-broadcast of 5.12.1951) (CD Cetra 2O22)
A young cast with the exception of Vitale who always sounded old. But Bergonzi and Guelfi and Giulini make this still my preferred version though the sound is indeed somewhat muffled.

IV. 5. L'incoronazione di Poppea (RAI-broadcast of 7.3.54) (Cetra ARK 1O3)
Who at Cetra decided to devote a box of 14 LP's (with all kinds of opera's) to a worn voice like that of Maria Vitale while splendid singers like Gavazzi, Petrella or Mancini never got that honour, but it's an ill wind that blows etc...As Vitale was in the cast we get Carlo Bergonzi as Nerone. He is now a fully fledged tenor though he hasn't to reach out and the colour is still rather robusto. Honestly I will readily agree with those purists that say he is wrongly cast while at the same time admit that I can only digest this kind of opera thanks to Bergonzi( and Dominguez and Panerai).

IV.6. Madama Butterfly: Decca 452594-2  2CD)
In his memoirs Decca's John Culshaw tells that in the summer of 58 he got a frantic call from Rome where the stereo recording of Butterfly was in a state of collapse due to a bad schedule that gave too little room for correcting mistakes. Culshaw (he often exaggerates his own importance) says he gave the artists the choice between abandoning or singing the whole opera in a few long sessions. So it was done and it still is one of the most moving Butterfly's. This is the first official complete recording with the new Bergonzi. Apart from the young virile sound there is the other quality that endears him so much: the way he can colour very small phrases with meaning. His 'che pena' and 'non la destar' in the last act pass with almost any tenor (even with Björling) but with Bergonzi they stand out. One of the consequences of the new ultra-rapid schedule was that in 'Addio fiorito asil' he couldn't sing again his top note which is rather weak. Tebaldi and young Cossotto are superb. Enzo Sordello of Callas-clash-fame is far too throaty.
IV.7. La Bohème: Decca448725-2 2CD
In august 59 he returned to Rome to record this legendary version. What can I add here to the hundreds of lines that have applauded this magnificent performance; poetry, beauty of tone, power and the most beautiful high C of his whole career (his own opinion). And Serafin was so nice to let him take the high C at the end of 'O soave fanciulla' as well. When the set appeared we were surprised by the imbalance between close orchestra and faraway voices but CD and improved equipment has put that right. At that time we took it for granted that such a war-horse could still be cast with an almost exclusive distribution of Italians or singers of Italian descent.
Selected live recording: GAO 139-14O
This live performance from the 15th of February 1958 comes close in Bergonzi's case but his studio recording is marginally more refined, more beautifully sung. And Schippers, Albanese and Hurley are no match for Decca's Serafin, Tebaldi and D'Angelo. Only Sereni rivals Decca's Bastianini.

IV. 8. Aida:  Decca 414O87-2 3 CD
This was the recording with which I learned my Aida-trade and it is almost impossible to review such a set in an objective way. It still sounds magnificently, though recorded in September 1959. What still strikes me is the youthful fresh tone apart from the impeccable phrasing and the small unobtrusive robusto-vibrato that's still there. Thanks to Karajan, Tebaldi and Simionato it is still my preferred studio-recording. But.....
Selected live recording: New York Met 7.12.1963 Myto 93484  (2CD)
But..then there is this live recording. Bergonzi had just opened the Met and for the first time taken the high B pianissimo in a somewhat imperfect way. By the 7th of December 1963 he had enough practice and this time the B is a wonderful example of a messa di voce. He sings as beautiful as in the studio-recording but there is more vigour, more fire in his interpretation. Nobody (not Callas, not Decca's Tebaldi) has ever surpassed Leontyne Price in this role while Gorr and Sereni are marginally better than the Decca-singers. And Solti is a match for Karajan.

IV.9. Macbeth: RCA GD 84516 (2CD)
In 1957 RCA had severed its ties with EMI and found a new partner in Decca. This meant that exclusive artists were interchangeable and could record for the other company. So this is the reason we find Bergonzi during his exclusive Decca-contract with this 1959-RCA for a spinn-off of the Met's famous 1958-Macbeth. "One scene and one aria" that's how Bergonzi defines his role as MacDuff but that single aria is still a classic interpretation. A martial recitative goes into plangent lament for his children and once at the change to the key of A major resorts to the same vengeful singing.

IV. 10: Manon Lescaut:New York Metropolitan 10.12.1960 GAO 113/14 (2CD)
This live performance at the Met is a unique document. Bergonzi never recorded the role of Renato des Grieux commercially, nor did Kirsten (in one of her best roles) or Sereni. Nevertheless this performance will come somewhat as a surprise for most Bergonzi-fans. Of course at the time he still didn't know that this would be his only Manon Lescaut-inheritance, and it was a Saturday and (still existing) little Italy had turned out and they wanted voce, lots of voce. Some of the usual finer Bergonzi-points are not lost: the pianissimo on the last measures of 'Tu, tu amore' after he has succeeded in blasting away Kirsten a few minutes earlier. The fine plangent tones are there in Ah Manon' but so are the sobs and the furious straining for volume so that he twice loses the line. And in 'Guardate pazzo son' he adopts the variant on Puccini's score by the well known Italian composer Beniamino Gigli: every other note either sobbed or quivering and an interpolated cry at the end of Manoooooooooon, clearly meant to improve on Puccini's bad original ideas. One is grateful for this testimony and I for one wouldn't want to be without it but it shows the other side of Bergonzi: when he thinks there are no stern Anglo-Saxon critics and lots of Americans of Italian descent in the house. And the regrets remain that no other company asked him to record it commercially so that we would have the stylish and refined interpretation as well.

IV. 11. Un Ballo in Maschera: Decca 425655-2 (2CD)
Here the inverse process of the RCA-Macbeth took place. Björling was released by RCA to make this Ballo for Decca and ran away after Solti's boorish behaviour in the recording sessions of 1960. Bergonzi nor Di Stefano could immediately come to the rescue but next year Bergonzi recorded the tenor part plus the ensembles in which the tenor figured. It is a classic Bergonzi-performance in one of his best Verdi-roles, not too light, not too heavy. His laugh is infectious in 'E scherzo', his dotted notes perfect in 'Di tu se fedele'. But his fine Italian lyrical tenor doesn't match well with Nilsson's Swedish laser.
Selected live recording: Bologna 28.11.61 Arkadia 622  (2 CD)
Gencer and Zanasi are improvements upon Nilsson and McNeil, Lazzarini is definitely not upon Decca's Simionato. Personally I think Bergonzi's voice even finer than on the Decca recording, more charming and flowing a little bit freer.

IV.12. La Traviata: Decca 411877-2 (2CD)
A miracle, this is the very best Bergonzi.  Moreover he makes nonsense of the old wisdom that a singer must have sung a role a few dozen times on the scenes before recording it.  He would only sing Alfredo eight years after this 1962-recording but his reading here is so poetic, so stylishly refined while at the same time so manly (listen to his blazing 'O mio rimorso- 2 verses and high C included) that you are never tempted to call Alfredo a cypher. Maybe only his Rodolfo and his Don Carlo are on the same exalted level. Sutherland and Merrill are fine but Bergonzi belongs to the spiteful category:” we will probably never hear his peer again".

IV. 13: Il Trovatore: DG 453118-2 (2CD)
How am I to judge this set impartially. ? It was the first set I ever bought when an older relative gave me money to reward me for obtaining a teacher's diploma in 1964 (the set was recorded two years earlier). It was a promotional action by Deutsche Gramophon and nevertheless amounted to about a week's salary of a skilled labourer. At the time it was hailed very well because all principals recorded their roles for the first time. With hindsight it is easy to notice that Stella's voice had already somewhat turned wooden and she is not on the level of young Cossotto and Bastianini though he is not a great Verdian. Bergonzi is the great attraction as he can enjoy all the benefits of good recording (very stylish and nevertheless impassioned Verdi-singing) without having to strain for volume in a big house like the Met. But why oh why, did Serafin go for the standard cut in 'Di quella pira' ? Of course nobody in the house ever sings the complete version (unless Riccardo Muti tells the tenor -Salvatore Licitra for example- that he must not sing either of the two high C's so he has breath to spare) but in a studio-recording this couldn't have been a problem.  The important message this recording brought, was that Bergonzi's exclusive Decca-days were over and that he would be able to record repertoire that with his old company firmly belonged to Del Monaco, apt or not. 'Das Wirtschafwunder' (the economic miracle) had now definitely entered into recording as well and it was clear that next to the British and American majors there was once again a German company that would record all great operas. DG had started in 60 with Ballo and continued its programme next year with Don Carlo and Bohème. With the exception of Don Carlo the other sets were immediately cast aside by the reviewers for lack of an acceptable tenor. Gianni Poggi's whining and sobbing had spoiled these recordings. So when Bergonzi came free, DG was quick to sign him up
Selected live recordings: 27.2.1960 Met GFC 005-7 3LP's and Myto 951120 (2CD) (Bergonzi's role only)
Almost the same cast as the DG-recording but Stella and Bastianini are in marginally better voice. Simionato however cannot compete with the freshness of Cossotto. The Bergonzi-voice sounds a litlle bit younger, a little bit more robust in the forte and less beautiful in the piano's but there is no great difference in interpretation with the commercial recording.
                                    : 10.9.64 Bolsjoi Moscow Opera d'oro 1129 (2CD)
Maybe his best Manrico. The voice and the style are as beautiful as on the commercial set and the Bolsjoi is a smaller house than the Met so Bergonzi doesn't have to strain. But as Bergzonzi is in an actual performance with wonderful colleagues (Tucci and Cappuccilli and a worn-sounding Simionato) his interpretation is more energetic and he comes close to Corelli, without ever succeeding in approaching that tenor's almost animalistic energy.

IV.14: Rigoletto: DG 437704-2 (2CD)
Once more a Bergonzi-interpretation before he sang the role on the scene. At the time there was quite a discussion in the press as RCA at exactly the same time brought out another Rigoletto (Moffo, Kraus, Merrill). The DG-set won on all points but nowadays I  probably am less sure. Moffo is already in her gliding and sliding days but it disturbs me less than Scotto's needle-sharp Gilda. Dieskau's Rigoletto is a heartfelt creation (and I always liked him more in Italian opera than in lieder) but Merrill has the more apt voice. And Kraus is the ideal Duca. I don't think that Bergonzi was in his very best voice during the recording. It is less beautiful than it could already be (live-tapes of his Duca at the Met a few years later show him to be more mellifluous) and he hasn't the ringing top notes for the cabaletta to 'e il sol'; even 'La donna è moblile' sounds somewhat laboured. And the panache with which Kraus tosses off 'Possente amor'  is not Bergonzi's (let alone the splendid high D).

IV.15: Mefistofele La Scala 19.3.64 GOP 754 (2CD)
A must. Ghiaurov's Mefistofele is overwhelming in sound and interpretation. His official recording 18 years later on Decca came too much too late in his career. Kabaivanska with her fine too little recorded spinto is always a pleasure to meet. And as Decca had used Del Monaco after having ousted Di Stefano in their 1957 Mefistofele there is no studio recording of Bergonzi's Faust. Nor that there is need of after this performance. Vintage Bergonzi always means a stream of beautiful sound and intelligent phrasing. Analysing such an opera in bits and pieces, Bergonzi almost always loses out. Gigli's 'Dai campi' is even more beautiful, Tagliavini's 'Lontano, lontano' is more honeyed and Corelli's 'Giunto sul passo' more impressive but as a whole a Bergonzi-performance often wins out by the consistent high level of singing.

IV. 16.: Luisa Miller: RCA GD 86646-2 2CD
In June '64 RCA asked Bergonzi to record this opera. After the antics of Madame Corelli with the RCA-management during the recording of the Karajan-Carmen, the most popular and bestselling tenor of the area was out of the question. Moreover the opera was not in his repertoire and who knows how madame Corelli would have blackmailed the company this time. Rodolfo is a role one immediately associates with Bergonzi, though it would take him another seventeen years after this recording to sing it in the house. In the meantime there had been some worthy revivals at the Met and La Scala, both featuring Richard Tucker. So normally Tucker should have been singing this role though he had already been scheduled to sing Alvaro one month later in the new RCA-Price-Forza. There he blew his candle when he left the studio for two days to attend the circumcision of his first grandson and RCA fired him after the completion of the recording. Tucker never understood this harsh attitude by producer Richard Mohr and the RCA-management. There is a lurking suspicion that Tucker's temporary desertion was a pretext Mohr welcomed and that Bergonzi's contract one month earlier a trial by RCA to substitute Tucker by Bergonzi in the years ahead. Tucker had an immense New York -following who could always be relied on to fill the Met but his recording appeal outside the City was definitely limited. 'The Gramophone' always called him a second-rate tenor. Moreover Europe had fully recuperated from the war and was now a bigger market than the States for classical records. Tucker who hadn't appeared in Europe since his 1947-Enzo in Verona was more of a liability than an asset while Bergonzi's career spanned the two continents.  And taken for pure artistic reasons there is no doubt that Tuckers Rodolfo's cannot compare with Bergonzi's easily phrased true Verdian singing. Rodolfo is an ideal Bergonzi-vehicle giving him plenty of opportunity to spin out the music, to use his splendid middle register in a glorious duet with Verrett, to sing some memorable utterances which linger on (his 'Spirto divin' in the final trio). In fact he sings anything better than that what should have been the highlight of his performance. 'Quando le sere' sounds strangely bland, sung straightforward without shades of light and dark, without his usual use of dynamics His recital-versions are much to be preferred. On the contrary the cabaletta 'L'ora e l'avella' is truly inspired again. Moffo is the quintessential Luisa and McNeil on his best behaviour as her father.The set appeared on the market two years after its recording.

IV. 17: Tosca: EMI 566444-2 (2CD)
There is something wrong with this recording. There was talk that it would form the sound-track of a Tosca-movie with Callas and Gobbi playing Floria Tosca and Vitellio Scarpia while poor Bergonzi would only lend his voice but as Karajan had the Tosca-rights it never came into being. But the real problems arise from the imbalance of the voices. This was already clear on the LP-issue and not remedied on the CD-reissue. In the sound-picture Bergonzi's voice is somewhat in the background and clearly smaller than Callas'. Now this is quite inconsistent with the reality of December 1964 when the opera was recorded in Paris. By that time Callas's voice had shrunk and she surely couldn't overwhelm Bergonzi's (a bigger sound than Di Stefano's) in the act 1 duet where you literally get the sensation that the producer has artificially blown up her sound which maybe sounds more hollow than if he had let things gone bygone. Bergonzi gives an intensely musical interpretation, (listen to the soft G on Sei tu in Recondita), full of humour in the first act and vigour in the third. But once more the top doesn't ring very free  The great news at the moment was of course that he now had found his way on EMI as well and that the bad old days of fifties-exclusivity seemed to be over forever.
Selected live recording: Met 11.4.1959 Myto 95112O (2CD)
Steber is a warm-blooded even passionate though indeed as to voice colour a rather un-Italianate Tosca. London should never have performed this role. And Bergonzi's voice runs free and supple, a better performance than on the EMI-set. Moreover you get his 196O Met-Manrico as a worthwhile bonus.

IV.18.: Don Carlos: Decca 421114-2 (3CD)
Between June and September 1965 Bergonzi recorded four complete opera's, a feat he would never surpass and with some exaggeration one almost can say with a beauty of tone he would never surpass any more. In Don Carlos the tenor is for the first time in the recording history the real hero. The sheer beauty of the voice, the honeyed middle register are now completely integrated with the formidable sense of Verdian style and the slight difficulties in the high register of a year ago have disappeared. Every phrase is memorable in perhaps his finest recording ever. Add to that a strong cast headed by Ghiaurov, Tebaldi (maybe not as of old but once more what would we give for such a spinto nowadays), Bumbry and Dieskau, all brilliantly conducted by Solti.
IV. 19.: Lucia di Lammermoor: RCA GD 865O4 (2CD)
What scorn was heaped upon poor Moffo and one wonders why ? Granted she is no Callas, her phrases are less memorable but she hasn't the sour top notes which even in the 53-Callas-Lucia can already grate on your nerves. She is a sympathetic assured Lucia. And how well suited is the role of Enrico to the warm baritone of Mario Sereni who was never deemed worth a solo-album. The great thing (and already at the time it was recognized) is Bergonzi's impeccable vocalizing. Only Gigli's classic 1927-deathscene can compare in intensity and beauty with his countryman. Only young Di Stefano comes near Bergonzi in the love duet. And as this is a real complete Lucia: we've got the formidable storm scene and baritone-tenor duet as well.

IV. 2O: Cavalleria Rusticana: DG 419257-2 (3CD)
Only Franco Corelli beats Bergonzi in youthful swagger (and more brilliant top notes); only Maria Callas sends more shivers along your shoulders than Fiorenza Cossotto but neither of their partners is on their level so that the combination of Bergonzi-Cossotto is unrivalled in the Cavalleria-history. Both sing their hearts out without screaming. Of course Karajan wouldn't have tolerated it and the Salzburg conductor and his Berliners prove what a masterpiece this opera is. How rich the fifties and sixties were when major companies could permit it to neglect that huge brown baritone of Gian Giacomo Guelfi whose sole recording this is on one of the big labels.

IV.21: Pagliacci: see Cavalleria
A cast that has Ugo Benelli as Beppe, Rolando Paneria as Silvio and Giuseppe Taddei as Tonio was something that only Karajan could assemble. And then one sighs when Joan Carlyle with her fine, styleful but oh so bland and colourless soprano sings Nedda. Of course she was a last-minute-replacement though for whom it is still not clear (sometimes Kabaivanska is suggested). But why didn't Karajan go for his Santuzza who was not above herself to sing a few soprano roles and who could have given this recording of Pagliacci the same status as Cavalleria. Now Bergonzi has to take it all on his shoulders and he does. The contrast with his 1951 and his 1962-Met-Pag is great indeed. Karajan never was a pedantic stickler genre Muti and Bergonzi is surely entitled to some (restrained) passion with a few unobtrusive sobs in his classically beautiful 'Vesti la  giubba' and ' No Pagliacci non son'. One regrets that Karajan didn't give him the prologue as well.
Selected live recording: GAO 1O9 Met 17.1O.1962 (1CD)
One should like to recommend this recording wholeheartedly. Sereni and Kabaivanska are splendid and Bergonzi is in terrific voice though the contrast cannot be much greater than with his studio recording. Once more he proves that, when in the mood and with no critics in the house, he can hector and sob as well and even better than Corelli and Del Monaco but it is a fine display of his vocal health at that moment. And then one wonders how an important company (Bongiovanni of Bologna) dares to put a CD on the market that is so clearly pitched too high. From the first measure one notes that the sound is clearly wrong. And this is not the only bad apple in the GAO-family. Important and formidable performances as Bohème (Labo-Freni) and Carmen (Corelli-Simionato) are similarly unplayable and not worth a dime unless one has an adjustable CD-player. The only other solution is to record these CD's on a cassette-recorder (most good ones have pitch control) and to rerecord these cassettes on a CD-R recorder at the right pitch.

IV. 22: Requiem: RCA LSC 7O4O
The set appeared in 1965 but it is not clear when it was recorded. On paper it is a formidable quartet but in reality there is one fly in the ointment. Madame Nilsson is not a Verdian soprano and despite her stunning top notes always sounds slightly or sometimes clearly sharp. Chookasian ( one of her few records) is fine but Flagello never could hide the basic dullness of his sound. So the set stands with Bergonzi's performance: musical and stylish as ever but twenty minutes of fine singing may be too little to acquire it.
Selected live recording: Moscow 25.9.1964
There are a lot of Bergonzi-recordings around (cfr. the 197O Karajan-Janowitz-set) but none can compare with this one. These were simply the best soloists the world had to offer at that time for this particular work. All four are in the bloom of their career. All sing their heart out when necessary and rein in when Karajan ask them. Leinsdorf and his Boston Orchestra and Chorus in the RCA-set are fine but no match for this overwhelming sound picture concocted by Karajan and his La Scala forces. And when will we ever have again a cast with the likes of Bergonzi, Price, Cossotto and Ghiaurov ? Incidentally this set has historic value in more than one sense. That memorable evening was the last time Nikita Chroestjov appeared in public as secretary-general of the communist party and the de facto boss of the communist world. A few days later Breznehv and Co ousted Chroestjov from power.

IV.23.Un Ballo in Maschera RCA GD 86645-2 (2 CD)
How this set must have hurt Richard Tucker, one of his best roles and one he had never recorded and due to his conflict with RCA, this plum went to a tenor who had already recorded it not five years before. There are nevertheless a few differences with the Decca-Ballo. The RCA-sound favours the voices more than the rather distant Decca-one. The supporting cast is distinctly better. Robert Merrill has a warmer and more individual sound than MacNeil, Grist is a more accomplished coloratura than Stahlmann and Price is much to be preferred to Nilsson even though quite early in her career there are already some disturbing sounds and erring notes. But the voices of Bergonzi and Price blend far better. Moreover Bergonzi is even far surer in his staccato-parts and more honeyed in the lyrical moments.

IV.24 Madama Butterfly  EMI 769654-2 (2 CD)
There is quite a difference between this set and his first complete opera-recording for one of the majors eight years ago. There is the added experience of the extra years of singing and there are the differences in the voice itself, sweeter, more sure, better top notes in 'Addio fiorito asil' and though the voice is more mature compared to the brash youthful sound of the Decca-recording, this is still a young Pinkerton. At the time much was made of Barbirolli and Scotto but I personally prefer Serafin's relaxed conducting and Tebaldi's (admittedly mature) Butterfly over Scotto's voice which never quite lost its stridency. Di Stasio (EMI) and Cossotto (Decca) are on a par and only Panerai clearly wins from Decca's Sordello.

IV.25. La Gioconda  Decca 430042-2 53CD)
I don't suppose Bergonzi was very happy when back in 1968 he looked upon this new set for the first time (it was recorded the year previously). That the picture on the cover was Tebaldi's is normal, but that her name was still printed in letters three times the size of his name says a lot about the worth and respect both singers enjoyed at that time with the company, even though the tenor was in his prime while the soprano was clearly over the top. In fact, though Bergonzi didn't know it at the time, this would be his very last recording for this label (apart from his miserable return twenty years later). Decca or better Decca's European representative (and the de facto head of the classical department) Maurice Rosengarten didn't look upon the tenor as a selling point. He had succeeded in luring away Franco Corelli from EMI for a few recordings. Indeed at the time it was announced that Corelli would sing the role of Enzo as he had done during the opening season of the new Met and with Tebaldi as La Gioconda. Though Decca's producers kept a very keen lookout for promising new singers, Rosengarten stuck with Mario Del Monaco, whose voice had badly deteriorated though not his selling power. Decca had an exclusivity contract with Italy's newest hope, Bruno Prevedi, but apart from small roles in Nabucco and Macbeth he was not allowed to record a major role except the Giasone. Rosengarten pushed through Del Monaco's name for an ill-fated Norma, one of Prevedi's best roles while an initially announced Fedora with this tenor went to Del Monaco too in 69. Prevedi at least got to record an operatic recital but when the producers came up with another young Italian hopeful, Rosengarten declined first and then only offered an insulting EP-45 T, which no reputed classical artist would have accepted but the newest young Italian tenor accepted. He would however have to wait for another four years till 1968 before he was allowed to record a normal solo-album and in the next twenty years he would somewhat bear the whole company on his big shoulders. There would be years that half of Decca-sales were records with the name of Luciano Pavarotti on it. Bergonzi didn't initially suffer too much from Rosengarten's decisions with two exceptions. In 1968 Decca recorded La Wally with the La Scala-principals of 1953. Tebaldi was still a fine Wally but Del Monaco is not acceptable, surely not compared to his live-recording of fifteen years before. The role was in Bergonzi's repertoire; indeed he had sung it a few months before with Tebaldi in a New York concert performance but Maurice Rosengarten had its way. Shortly thereafter Bergonzi was considered old hat by Decca that finally understood they had gold in their hands with Pavarotti. Moreover Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge still wielded the most selling power at Decca at the end of the sixties, beginning of the seventies and they clearly preferred young and fresh Pavarotti with whom they had toured Sutherland's home-country, Australia. Therefore apart from some novelties they started rerecording Sutherland's repertoire with Pavarotti. They probably didn't imagine that in a few year's time his name would be the main selling point of their common recordings. One of the novelties was Sutherland's recording in 1971 of L'Elisir d'amore and it was Pavarotti not Bergonzi who got the role of Nemorino. The same  happened one year later with Turandot, another role in Bergonzi's repertoire that went to Pavarotti. The younger tenor did a fine job, though at the time he was a pure and not too-big-voiced lirico and could scarcely have held himself in the house with a Calaf. As in his two first solo albums the Decca engineers helped a lot by enlarging the voice.
Anyway Bergonzi's Enzo in his last Decca-offering is a wonderful sung role that gives us the tenor at his best. His 'Cielo e mar' is an object lesson of style (with a small in-built tear), legato, beautiful tone and necessary power.
Selected live recording: : New York Met  2.3.1968 GOP 176 (2CD)
Maybe the 'New Golden Age of Singing 1945-1975' has one distinct feature and it is no co-incidence that almost all live sets belong to that period: what you hear in a good studio-performance doesn't differ much from what you hear on a live recording. With other words: singers actually sounded in the house exactly the same as on recordings, the sound as rich, beautiful or voluminous (with Corelli and Domingo even more). So it's often a question of sound or lesser artists to prefer one recording over another. This Gioconda is almost a copycat of the studio-recording. The sound is less rich but Cossotto is a more Italianate Laura than Decca's Horne. On the contrary Merrill on Decca is more stylish than the rather crude MacNeil in the Met. There is no much choice between Gardelli (Decca) and Cleva (Met), both are able accompanists.

IV.26. Ernani RCA GD 86503 (2CD)
That same summer Bergonzi recorded Ernani, his farewell to the RCA-label. Soon Placido Domingo would be picked up by RCA and initially got the role Pavarotti played at Decca, in Domingo's case to be tenor to the many rerecordings of Leontyne Price. And as with Pavarotti, his fame would supersede that of the American soprano. This meant that some of the RCA-recordings which could have featured Bergonzi, went to the younger tenor. So we don't have a Bergonzi-Tabarro but a 1970-Domingo one (but the Spaniard had sung the role at the City-opera in 1967 while Bergonzi's memories went back to Chicago 1955). Another role Bergonzi could have recorded was the Pollione in the 1972-Norma. Perhaps our greatest loss is Bergonzi not being asked to record the Arrigo in the 1973-Vespri. Neither Bergonzi nor Domingo had the role in their repertoire though RCA banked on Domingo assuming the role one year later at the Met. Domingo by that time had adopted his fine but all-purpose singing in any taken role and it remains a pity that Bergonzi was overseen. One wonders in this all which role Bergonzi's weak point played ?
The fabulous all-Italian-cast were already a thing of the past in the early seventies. Casts were more and more international, with a slow preponderance of English-language singers(rarely of Anglo-Saxon descent, more often they were Jewish, black or with Italian roots). Recordings at La Scala and the Academia di Sancta Cecilia had become rare and often London was the place to record. English had become the international language in the operatic world and had definitely replaced Italian. Domingo and Pavarotti didn't speak English at all when they started out but they soon sniffed that the times were changing and learned enough English to be able to hold their own in a multi-language company. Bergonzi with his Italian-only attitude had become a rarety and probably not every recording producer thought it a pleasure to work with a tenor who alone amongst a cast needed a translation of the proceedings.
Back to this Ernani. Though the singing is never exceptional, the quality of Bergonzi, Price, Sereni and Flagello, ably conducted by Tommy Schippers  makes this a homogenous set with the right Verdian sweep.
Selected live recording: Catania 15.1.1972 GOP 759 (2 CD)
This live set is a strong rival for the RCA one, indeed surpasses it in some ways. Bergonzi for example sings with more ardour than on the studio-recording  A pity therefore that all standard-cuts (one verse only in the cabaletta's) are applied. For the top note-hunters there is the consolation of a long (and somewhat pushed) high A in Catania which is absent on the RCA. Though Gencer produces some wild sounds she has her glorious long line phrasing and her spun out pianissimo's as well. I prefer RCA-Sereni's more musical Don Carlo than Catania's more voluminous but rather pedestrian unaristocratic Piero Cappuccilli. Ruggero Raimondi's Don Silva has more vigour and a more distinct and beautiful timbre than RCA's Ezio Flagello who is a rather dull dog.

IV.27. L'Elisir d'amore: Firenze 1967 and 1968
There seems to be a misunderstanding concerning Bergonzi's recordings of this opera.. Myto 984194 and Opera d'Oro 1138 published a recording of his Nemorino during the 1967 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. The HRE 315-2 that had previously appeared on 2 LP's is not as some sources say the same performance but was recorded one year later at the same Festival. In 1967 Giuseppe Taddei sang Belcore and he was replaced by Mario Sereni one year later. Both performances are brilliant and show Italian operatic singing in its autumn days when an all-Italian cast could still perform on this high level. Bergonzi audibly enjoys himself in this role which is sung with charm and beauty of tone (after so many heavy Verdi) though Bergonzi of course never had the miraculous timbre of young Tagliavini or Di Stefano. Nevertheless one has rarely heard Bergonzi so intensely acting with his voice in personating the naive and somewhat clumsy guy. Most critics were somewhat surprised that he acted so well, though it was probably the role that came nearest to his upbringing and surroundings. In 1967 the voice is somewhat fresher, somewhat more rounded (but the sound of the LP's is not very good). In 1968 he sobs less and has a fabulous messa di voce in 'Una furtiva' that was lacking the year previously. But in both years there is a little bit lacking in musical fantasy. There are no trills in his 'Una furtiva' and he sings the role somewhat  like early Verdi.  Scotto (shrill as ever) and Bergonzi sometimes remind one more of Violetta and Alfredo than of Nemorino and Adina.

IV. 28.  La Wally New York 13.3.1968 ING 764 (2CD)
Bergonzi must have felt somewhat uncomfortable in the summer of 1968. For the first time in a decade he was not asked to record during summer and autumn. So one sees a gaping hole in September in his agenda. Moreover it must have grated his nerves that Decca chose to record Wally with the same soprano and conductor he had sung with in March. Luckily there is this live recording which proves that Hagenbach is not meant for a lirico. He passes with flying colours but he has to use all his formidable resources, his experience in  many years of singing Manrico and Radames to overcome all hurdles. But it remains a joy to hear 'Quando a Sölden' and 'M'hai salvato' sung instead of roared like Del Monaco does on the complete set (while singing it magnificently twelve years before on a solo album)

IV.28. Werther 13.2.1969 San Carlo Nuova Era 2340-1 (2CD)
At last Bergonzi in a non-Italian role, though still sung in Italian (It's not a .  wonderful experience to hear him mumble-jumble his way in the original French on a live tape from Miami in 1973). A pity of course though it probably reflects the status of French opera at that time. Italian  tenors of an older generation like Caruso, Gigli and Martinelli with almost no education to speak of, sang a quite acceptable French while their successors Del Monaco, Corelli and Bergonzi often sounded ridiculous (so called lazy Di Stefano was an exception but he had the Lausanne experience). Werther proves to be quite a hurdle. The tone is unfailingly very beautiful; all the tenderness and despair is there but the role lies somewhat too high for the tenor (one understands why Kraus made it his own)  and in the formidable third act  there is some strain on the voice. Nevertheless this is an interpretation that clearly supersedes Corelli and Gedda.

IV.29. La Forza del Destino  EMI 764646-2 (3CD)
1969 brought Bergonzi the definitive message that he was out with the majors which now put their money on younger hopefuls or on older more bankable colleagues. He had time on his hands in September and then the call came. Once more Franco Corelli had leapt ship one week before a recording should start. Could Bergonzi replace him at a week's notice ? EMI and Bergonzi were lucky. He could. And he gave of his very best. All reviews were and are still immensely laudable. His Alvaro has become a classic for phrasing, legato and Verdi-style. The voice is well-rested and fresh, no hint at all of a twenty-two year's old career. The top rings free. Moreover this is a very complete Forza (the second of the three big tenor-baritone duets included) that has a very homogeneous cast with Arroyo, Casoni, Cappuccilli and Raimondi.
Bergonzi was not rewarded. EMI unceremoniously dropped him as well in favour of Placido Domingo, probably due to the influence of their prima-donna Montserrat Caballé. The lady recorded Manon Lescaut in 71 and Giovanna d'Arco in 72 for EMI and both times the Spanish tenor took the male lead;  both times he sang well but without Bergonzi's inimitable phrasing. A pity that the Italian tenor couldn't record these roles in his last very great years.

IV.3O. Lucia di Lammermoor EMI SLS797-3 (3LP)
In Europe we were not aware that Bergonzi's association with the main branch of EMI had ended as that firm brought out a new Lucia that in the States appeared on the ABClabel. Six years after his first Lucia his Edgardo is somewhat marginally less young though he sings still splendidly in the original key. Pleasure is however severely hampered by the bad muffled sound, impossible to understand how this was possible in 1970. Then, Cappucilli's hectoring will do in 'Forza' but not in a belcanto role. As for Sills, I never liked her small fluttering voice very much.

IV.31. Norma New York Metropolitan 197O Foyer 2O25 (3CD)
Though the records mention no exact date, the perfect sound almost certainly tells us that this is the broadcast of April the fourth. We have to thank Rudolf Bing for this unexpected role in Bergonzi's repertoire. There was quite a doubt when he tackled Pollione and some of it remained afterwards. Some of it had to do with his somewhat less than martial figure; other critics focused on the voice. Too light, not enough ssquillo. At the time the shadows of Maria Callas and Anita Cerquetti still loomed large while Franco Corelli and Mario Del Monaco were the unsurpassable Polliones, figure and decibels and a passionate style of singing that was compatible with the ladies. With the more restrained and classic belcanto-duo of Sutherland carefully following the line Franco Corelli would have been less than ideal. Bergonzi's successor at the Met was John Alexander, more of a lirico than a spinto.  Bergonzi has no problem with the line but as he is a modern tenor who wouldn't dream of singing in falsetto like the creator Donzelli did, it becomes clear that the tessitura of the part is somewhat higher (especially in his aria) than he is comfortable with. Moreover, as often in the Met, there is always the feeling of pushing the voice somewhat harder than necessary to fill that huge auditorium (which he strangely never did in the still bigger Verona-arena). It is more an interesting assumption of a role than a not to be missed one.

IV.32. Andrea Chénier London 8.12.197O  Myto 9175O  (2CD)
Critics were lyric when they reviewed his singing in this concert performance. They liked Milnes and despised Angeles Gulin, probably because she had a big voice with a little bit of vibrato and sounded more warmly female than British critics can appreciate because they often like their sopranos to sound like twelve-year-old boys. It is interesting to compare some of Bergonzi's Met-tapes in this role with these CD's. At  the Met the sound is more robusto, less honeyed and surely more in the Gigli-Del Monaco-Corelli-style than in London. Here he is far more relaxed in a smaller auditorium  and he perfectly knows all the critics have turned out to write on his performance. He knows that these gentlemen (no women yet) above all like their performances to be very stylish, not pushed , with good top notes which however don't last for an eternity. So he gives them an object lesson in singing, a real festival of true belcanto in the opposite sense of can belto. But a little bit of the passion of his Met performances is lacking and for that final rousing duo, maybe the finest final ever written, he lacks somewhat the brute power, the animal energy Del Monaco and Corelli could bring to it. But the critics swooned over his performance and didn't dwell on his sudden leap downwards in 'Come un bel di' as he clearly felt that otherwise he was going to crack on his top B.

IV.33. Attila  Philips 426115-2 (2CD)
And though the tenor was still going strong, he was taken for granted and there were no recordings anymore. Nobody asked him in 1971. The next year brought a reversal. Ensayo gave him at last the possibility to record a solo-album; the first one it was (wrongly) assumed after his début-recital of 1957. In those happy days  Philips decided to put the whole of Verdi on record in good studio circumstances. The previous year Domingo and Deutekom had recorded I Lombardi and it was time for another venture, Attila. Deutekom returned and to our luck Bergonzi was asked for the role of Foresto; one of his classic Verdi-interpretations. By now he was so experienced that he couldn't put a foot wrong in the eyes of critics and buyers alike. In his aria's there is the usual mix of phrasing, beauty of tone and still fine top notes. By now his middle voice has so mellowed that in the trio he can survive comparison with Gigli's classic Victor-record.

IV.34. I Masnadieri Philips 422423-2 (2CD)
In 1973 Philips recorded Un giorno di regno' and introduced José Carreras in the small tenor role. The real job was for Bergonzi next year. It would be his last unimpaired recording of an opera, though one didn't know it at the time. The first scene is an example of all what made this tenor the 'prince of belcanto': an aria sung with all the state of the art, right dynamics and excellent Verdian-line; the ensuing cabaletta sung with gusto and a formidable sense of rhythm. His former partner Christine Deutekom had been ousted by her own countrymen (after unjust vilification by mostly British critics) and the more saleable Montserrat Caballé made her appearance and with her her brother-impresario and Spanish singers. Moreover Philips too wanted to invest in the future and they went for José Carreras, correctly described by some as a new young Di Stefano (painfully correct indeed when Carreras managed to ruin his voice  in eight years time as did Di Stefano). It meant the end of Bergonzi's great studio-recording career as in the next few years the Catalan got all the Philips-plums like Il Corsaro, I Due Foscari and La Battaglia di Legnano next to some roles Bergonzi already had recorded elsewhere. Honesty commands me to repeat that at the end of 1974 there were the first hints of Bergonzi singing  flat above the staff. Nevertheless Carreras fresh young tones and more acceptable top are no match in these recordings for the insight Bergonzi could have given us.

IV.35. Edgar  New York 13.4. 1977 Sony M2K 79213 (2CD)
Bergonzi's weakness slowly but inexorably grew and is already clearly perceptible in this recording of Puccini's Flemish opera. It need not however take our joy away from hearing the great tenor in an unexpected role where he is still peerless (due to lack of competition too). Scotto by now is in her verismo period: fine impassioned singing which suits her better than belcanto-heroines though one has always to take the frail top notes in the bargain.

IV.36. I Due Foscari  Rome 7.12.1980 HRE V8O6 (2LP)
From the mid-seventies on reviews slowly change tack. The term’ veteran tenor' now and then appears. Reviews are mostly very positive often ending with the cliché of 'setting an example to singers half his age'. But now and then there is a bad night. Usually they are only audible on the international exchange market between collectors as even smaller labels are not so crazy to bring a bad performance on the market where mouth-to-mouth-publicity is so important. So one need not be afraid to purchase this live-recording. The voice is there and such a beautiful sound is almost incredible after 33-years of a strenuous career. Martinelli or Lauri-Volpi had become unsupportable goatee; Gigli had lost most of the shine after the same amount of time but with Bergonzi there is no drying-up of tone. Of course the flatness above the staff is now pronounced though there is not that desperate clinging to flat notes that came at the very end. Moreover Bruson and Parazzini are stylish and with a voice.

IV.37. Il Corsaro  Long Island 15.12.1981 HRE V812 (2LP)
Thanks to this small American label the Corsair (that Philips gave to Carreras) was at last preserved. One wonders what in heaven Bergonzi is doing among this bunch of good-willing amateurs? Of course by that time his career had petered down to smaller companies while the three tenors were still going strong. When soon afterwards they too went downhill, for a few years he would get another chance to show in the big theatres what a paragon of singing he was. Anyway the voice is as splendid as the year before and one is grateful that he got the possibility to sing the role. Maybe one of these days another small label will bring his even better Oronte (with Deutekom and Plishka) on the market as it is now reserved to exchanging collectors only.

IV.38  Oberto  Orfeo C1O5842 (2CD)
And then there was the complete surprise in 1983.: Bergonzi back and in a studio-recording. He had made a Christmas-recording for the Munich-firm and maybe this decided them to engage him for this very first Oberto-studio-recording (Cetra's Oberto was a broadcast). One immediately regrets that the same firm didn't offer him Alzira the year before (it went to Araiza) or Leoncavallo's Bohème in 1981 (Bonisolli was Marcello). Elsewhere I've called 1983 his last Indian Summeryear and this proves to be true. One marvels at the lightness of the singing. This is after all a rather high-lying role still more in Donizetti's than in Verdi's way. Nevertheless, apart from his well-known weakness, he has no problem and sings the score as if it had been part of his regular repertoire. Panerai too proves himself to be a grand survivor and with Baldani and Guleghina the cast clearly supersedes the Philips-issue of 1996.

IV. 39 .Adriana Lecouvreur: Decca 425815-2 (2CD)
From 1984 on the voice got somewhat more breathy and somewhat wobbly and the flatness from A-flat on became so pronounced that pleasure in his operatic performances became a matter of creed instead of enjoyment. A selection from I Lombardi dating from 1986 (Legato Classics LCD-1O5-1) is not a pleasant thing to listen to. In concerts he could transpose to will but that was not always possible in operatic performances as other soloists and the orchestra would have to suffer. Two years later the firm of Bonynge and Sutherland wanted to record Adriana Lecouvreur, the beloved role of every elder soprano who when being  afraid of a high C is blessed with two splendid arias without one. Decca's first Adriana  originally was a sales disaster in the sixties and probably it was only Pavarotti's taking up the role of Maurizio that led Decca to give its consent. During the actual recording it immediately became clear that Pavarotti hadn't studied the role with a vocal coach and as he cannot read a score it was simply impossible to record him in the true Domingo-way, going through the score for a first or a second trial. So Pavarotti left the proceedings and the Bonynges appealed to Bergonzi. Why they didn't try for a younger and fresher singer we don't know. Was it a revival for old times' sake ? Anyway the result was an unmitigated disaster. While the role lay comfortable in Sutherland's register, it was by that time all but impossible for Bergonzi. In contrast to all kinds of songs he couldn't transpose and the laboured singing is simply painful to listen to. Everything from the G on is flat and pushed. Bergonzi was never a great one for self-criticism but he should nevertheless have known better. Decca waited several years before releasing the issue and then the miracle happened. Most critics had impaired hearing while discussing it and no one said: in the name of respect for composer and the memories of two exceptional singers, don't buy this set. Compared to his failure this were the best notes of his career. It was the first sign of Bergonzi being sanctified. From 1990 on the three-tenors-circus started and most people in the business knew too well that these gentlemen's heydays were a few years overdue; Domingo barely able to tip a high A, Pavarotti's timbre becoming monochrome like and Carreras having lost the last speck of velvet the voice ever had. Moreover it was now clear that neither Pavarotti  nor Domingo had completely kept the formidable promises of the late sixties and had never succeeded in toppling the  old master as to phrasing, legato and messa di voce. There was a rumour that there was some studio time left during Adriana-business and that Bergonzi at last recorded a new operatic recital. If so it has never appeared and if the voice is the same as in the complete opera it is better that it stays in Decca's vaults. 

V. Tapes and cassettes

As with all prominent modern singers, an auspicious amount of cassettes is circulating with sometimes interesting co-soloists hereby a small selection. Of his Aida-performances there is the young Bergonzi in a Met-recording from 1957 with Curtis-Verna, Dalis and Merrill. More important are his Andrea Chéniers from the Met, two from 196O with a rather wooden Milanov and in not too best a sound. The same bad sound picture applies to his 1966 performance with Tebaldi and Milnes. Already mentioned but important is his I Lombardi of 1979 that wholly deserves to be put on CD as sound and co-soloists are fine (Deutekom, Plishka).Though the role of Kalaf is too heavy for him it remains the only big Puccini in his repertoire that he didn't record commercially.