A New Golden Age: Forgotten Tenors in Italy 
The Record Collector 31 (2 Cd's- 143 minutes)
Compiled by Alan Bilgora. Produced by Larry Lustig.

I know I’m repeating myself but the judgment is still valid : “It was a civilisation gone with the wind” or if you want an appropriate Italian phrase “Sei fuggita è non torni più” from that lovely song “Rondine al nido”.  These are recordings of twelve Italian and one Catalan tenor who recorded with Cetra (Compagnia Editoriale  Teatrale Radio Audizione or the Italian Public Radio’s own label). What a richness !! What an abundance  !! No, these days will never come back and the disappearance of the Italian tenor is one of the great musical tragedies of the 20th century. There were several hundred good  tenors active in Italy alone between 1930 and 1955 and with such a number at the base there could only be a formidable top as well with names as Lugo, Tagliavini, Di Stefano, Del Monaco, Corelli and Bergonzi.  All of the lesser known names on this issue had good careers, though mainly limited to the peninsula with now and then a contract or a tour abroad; the one exception among them being Franco Corelli; “ considered by many to be the most glamorous tenor of the 20th century” according to the interesting sleeve notes by Alan Bilgora. Two qualities immediately strike the listener: all are very talented real tenors who would probably have far bigger careers in our more lean times and most of them have individual voices, easy to recognize and often with a nice or even obvious vibatro, loved by Italian and South-American audiences and often despised by some dour Anglo-Saxons whose ideal sound of a tenor is a strangled capon (courtesy of Conrad L. Osborne). Thanks to some Warner and Bongiovanni issues and re-issues of a bit of the output of some of them like Berdini, Braschi, Breviario, Campagnano, Civil and Filippeschi are not forgotten at all and with each year Franco Corelli’s reputation is still growing among opera lovers. But names like Bellon, Cestari, Francardi and Gentilini will hardly strike a note, even among hardened collectors. None of them is less than very satisfactory.

The CD’s  start with two arias by the to me unknown Leonida Bellon: a wide vibrato but the true golden sound of the Italian tenor. Then we get 5 selections by the better known Amedeo Berdini who was in a few complete Cetra-operas. Berdini too displays a true spinto voice; somewhat less richly endowed than Bellon but still very impressive. Remarkable for an Italian tenor of the fifties is his sense of style, his shading and mastery of mezza voce. He is at his very best in two arias by Gomes who can almost compete with the Caruso recordings. His only fault is his going a little bit flat at the very top of the voice as no Italian audience in those years would have allowed a tenor not to take a high C at the end of the Butterfly duet. Mario Binci most of us will know from the Cetra Nabucco with Silveri and Mancini but he is far more than a good Ismaele: He displays a less honeyed sound but has an even more robust voice than Berdini and shows ringing top notes in his four arias. Achille Braschi too is one of those wide vibrato-owners, very wide some would say, but he is vibrant and I’d loved to hear more from him though he probably didn’t make another recording (apart from a few arias on a French LP and a “live” selection of arias circulating among collectors). This is where I’ve got a small complaint. The recording can also be heard on the complete Cetra with Simionato and is widely available in all kinds of transfers though The Record Collector offers their own transfer. I could easily have done without  the two Giovanni Breviario items as they already appeared on another issue of The Record Collector. But impressive is the least one can say about this tenore di forza. Danilo Cestari is less known and his 6 items are more than worthwhile. He is a fine lirico; somewhat of a cross between Tagliavini (whom he clearly copies in his “Ah non mi ridestar”) and Lauri-Volpi. He clearly has the morbidezza we expect from Italian lyric tenors.  Vasco Campagnano we all know from his complete Fanciulla  and Manon Lescaut on Cetra and he was one of the best Italian dramatic tenors of his day. His singing in Aida and Chénier is typical for the unsparing way of outpouring the voice almost all Italian tenors used in the early fifties. It often shortened their careers but exciting it was. Pau (not Pablo as mentioned here; he was Catalan and not Castilian) Civil’s Wally too can be found on the Catalan CD devoted to his art. His high lying and personal dark but cutting voice rides easily on this melodious but long and murderous music. Maybe only Del Monaco in his best 1956 recital outclasses him but one has to listen to Bergonzi in his heydays struggling to dominate the orchestra to realize what a vocal feat Civil delivers. Two arias from Adriana Lecouvreur are sung by young Franco Corelli and indeed prove that he was even only 4 years after his début already a singer of genius. Of course these two arias are not rare and personally I would very much have liked two other Cetra’s of the same period: “Pecché ” and “Cancion Moresca”; the two Cetra Corelli recordings which never made it on either LP or CD.  I always liked Augusto Ferrauto; a robust tenor with a ringing voice; somehow an Italian Vezzani though less pure in style. Some collectors will already possess the Clama-CD where one can find these two Chénier-arias. Then it’s time for the king of squillo: Mario Filippeschi. The tenor from Pisa sometimes is not to everyone’s taste as he can be somewhat “unsubtle” (the word used by Alan Bilgora) and his style didn’t improve with age. But these 6 arias were recorded in his heydays and there is no duplicating with the 2 Bongiovanni CD’s. Filippeschi is the example of metal in the voice and he has the quality which can generate so much excitement in Italian tenors: the higher the voice goes, the more beautiful and impressive it sounds. No thinning out. 6 arias by Licinio Francardi  make one sigh. I only knew his beautiful Matrimonio Segreto aria thanks to a long gone Dutch radio broadcast and I am grateful for the other five arias. They prove he had a charming but still strong lyric voice with easy high notes for Favorita and Puritani. But he also delivers a deeply felt Lodoletta. He had a very short career and the voice will come as a surprise to most listeners. The last of the bunch is Amerigo Gentilini with arias from Tosca and Butterfly, so no duplicating with the items to be found on the LP Voci Pisane. His bright affecting voice is indeed slightly over parted but it remains a beautiful sound.

Alan Bilgora, the well-known British tenor collector, writes rather extended biographical notes which are most welcome as a lot of people will know almost next to nothing of these tenors and their careers are sometimes only briefly mentioned in Kutsch-Riemens. It’s somewhat strange that Bilgora makes a few mistakes in his notes on the best known singer on these records. Corelli was over 30 when he made his début and not 28. He did not attract attention “by performing in verismo operas like Pagliacci at a number of regional and open-air theatres.” He only made his début in the opera in 1955 though one year earlier he had filmed (and recorded the opera earlier) the opera for RAI at the moment there were no other tv-channels to compete with. Corelli sang the tenor role in Gli Ugonotti in 1962 and not in 1961. Of course this is only small carping compared with the merit of these CD’s and sleeve notes. I cannot imagine a better Christmas present for the vocal buff and these Cd’s are obligatory stuff in every tenor lover’s collection. Still there is some additional good news and some bad one as well. The good news is that Alan Bilgora and producer Larry Lustig intend to produce a second volume with names like Valetti, Prandelli, Poggi, Soler, Puma, Lorenzi, Lotti-Camici, Mattera, Signorini, Gero, Monti. Mouth-watering indeed. The bad news is that The Record Collector is not a commercial venture and has to make sure it sells the first volume before starting production of a second batch. Therefore, please buy this issue or the promised treasures will never come our way. Do not copy them with your pc. You rob us of another interesting volume and in a few years time you cannot play these copies anymore. The collecting community expects everyone to do his duty.

Jan Neckers