Carmen – Gigli

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Beniamino Gigli and Rina Gigli, Stignani, Bechi, Tomei, Mazzini; Bellezza. Coro ed orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma

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Until 60 years ago performers gave every work in their style rather than in that of the time or place in which the work was written. Italian performers made Carmen their own and treated it like La Gioconda. You’ll miss out on the thrills of Italian Carmens if you regret that they don’t sound like French opera. This Carmen was recorded in June 1949 at Rome’s Teatro dell’ Opera, for a film that never was shot.

As Carmen, Ebe Stignani surprises by painting with more colors than one thought she could mix on her palette. Gino Bechi’s “Toreador Song” is better tuned than in Mad About Opera (DVD/VHS or Download) but less exciting, possibly because of conductor Vincenzo Bellezza’s slow tempos.

Rina Gigli, whose career was in her father’s shadow, stands out for temperament, also for sensitivity to the importance of a note in the harmonic hierarchy; she emphasizes dissonances, deemphasizes their resolutions and moves phrases ahead through crescendos and subtle touches of rubato. She makes “Io dico” (“Je dis”) not sweet and innocent but exciting and dramatic. Ordinarily I prefer a girlish Micaëla, in part for the sake of contrast with Carmen. But Rina made me cry with her plea to José to return home. Her voice, however, is lacking in smalto (sheen or enamel) and core.

Her father starts in less than fresh voice but thrills through slancio (oomph). He is worlds apart from his emotionally bland studio recordings from the 1920s. His “Flower Song” is like no other, going from caressing mezza voce to white-hot slancio. He does little rounding or darkening and much less covering than of yore and interprets words more than the others. In Act III he and Bechi play ping-pong with fuoco sacro. (Gigli has more.) Sometimes they push sharp in their wild abandon. Notice in the free sample that Gigli at the very end of the opera begins the A-flat on “Car” covered but then opens his tone to increase excitement and slancio (oomph).
Stefan Zucker


Carmen…Ebe Stignani
Don José…Beniamino Gigli
Escamillo…Gino Bechi
Micaëla…Rina Gigli
Zuniga…Giulio Tomei
Morales…Guido Mazzini
Frasquita…Anna Marcangeli
Mercedes…Fernanda Cadoni
Il Dancaïro…Arturo La Porta
Il Remendado…Saverio De Tommaso
Coro ed orchestra del Teatro dell’Opera di Roma
Vincenzo Bellezza, conductor

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