Mario Del Monaco was  the most popular and highly-paid artist at the Metropolitan opera from 1951 to 1959; his handsome appearance and intensely dramatic singing made him a tremendous success. His voice was one of the finest robust tenors to be heard since the war with a warm almost baritonal quality in the lower register and ringing high notes of tremendous power. Del Monaco was an exclusive artist for Decca for over almost 17 years and his legacy for the company boasts many unsurpassed recordings. He had a career of about 40 years of singing whereas for instance Corelli sang for about 25. These three CD releases show Del Monaco in some of his best live performances ever and include some unreleased material of great interest. The first CD has excerpts from his 1951 Mexican performances in Otello, Manon Lescaut and Adriana Lecouvreur where he is partnered by the underrated Clara Petrella and the great Giuseppe Taddei. Of great interest too are the excerpts from Un Ballo in Maschera (Florence 1951) -a role he never recorded commercially- and the legendary Andrea Chenier at La Scala under De Sabata in 1949. Volume two includes excerpts from another opera he never recorded commercially : Madame Butterfly. A rousing “Di quella pira” from the Colon in 1950 and “Ch’ella mi creda” from the Rai in the same year.  The compilation ends with the rarely heard duet “Sleale, il segreto…” from Forza. In it Del Monaco is partnered by his great friend Leonard Warren with both their voices in full bloom and maturity resulting in oceanic applause. The third CD includes excerpts from a San Carlo Boheme performance in 1951 under Vittorio Gui but the sound quality makes it difficult to enjoy, far more interesting though are the excerpts from his Chenier at the same theatre three years later. Most probably the best Chenier he ever sang. Listen to these excerpts and you’ll understand what the phenomenon called Mario Del Monaco was all about : a house in delirium literally stopping the music after Come un Bel claiming for an encore. The sun has now sadly set on that era. The CD’s rarities also include excerpts from Tosca with a gorgeous E lucevan (Naples 1954) and Fanciulla also from Naples where the public once more stops the music, this time after Ch’ella mi creda’ resulting in an encore from their hero tenor. Lovers of unsurpassed, strong, solid heroic tenor singing will treasure these CD’s for as long as they live.

Rudi van den Bulck, Operanostalgia