Ave Maria (Italian only)
Italian, with English subtitles. Gigli, Erna Berger. Traviata, Hansel, Bohème+ “Di quella pira” and songs. (1936). 76m. B&W.
NTSC VHS ONLY
Now–Two Versions of Ave Maria
Bel Canto Society offers two versions of this film, one in Italian (this product, Video #511), and one in German (see link at bottom of page). Both have English subtitles. The footage of Gigli singing is identical except that 2-1/2 minutes are cut in the Italian version. Each version has its appeal.
Ave Maria originally was shot in German. In that version Gigli speaks his own lines and does a lovely job of coloring his speaking voice. The film’s ending is exuberant. In the Italian version an actor does an excellent job of dubbing Gigli’s speaking voice. The film’s ending is sweet and delicate. The prints are of equivalent quality.
Tully Potter, reviewing in International Opera Collector
“In Ave Maria Gigli acts with dignity and sings very well, although ‘Di quella pira’ was never one of his successes. Best are the songs, the tantrum scene from La traviata and a ‘Che gelida manina’ that equals his famous studio version of five years earlier. It is worth sitting through the melodramatic goings-on to see the great tenor at work and hear him in such wonderful form.”
John Steane, reviewing in Opera Now
“The sight of Gigli singing impresses the memory: the mouth opens cavernously and it is like the sudden exposure of the heart under surgery.”
Alan Blyth, reviewing in Gramophone
“Of the Bel Canto Society videos I have sampled, three comprise films from the 1930s enshrining the art of Gigli (two) and Schipa (one). At that period famous singers appeared regularly in films to spread their popularity. Each shows the direct, unsophisticated appeal of these two fêted artists, suggesting the power of the tenor voice to cure most ills.
“Gigli is cast twice, in his first and second films, Non ti scordar di me (in English, despite its title) and Ave Maria (BCS Video #511), as a middle-aged singer who has recently lost his wife. In the first he marries a young girl who’s on the rebound from an affair and remains faithful to him (just) when her lover returns–again through the appeal of his voice. In the second his singing wins him the love of a cabaret artist who has been inveigled into conning him. In both Gigli has ample opportunities to deploy his art, the true, honest quality of his singing saving him and the plot from sentimentality.
“One gains a wonderful idea of the disarming simplicity and generosity of the man which wholly exonerates him from a charge of ham acting. The voice itself pours out of him in that well-known, heartfelt manner, uniquely his, the honeyed mezza voce a thing to wonder at. In Ave Maria, Erna Berger joins him in short extracts from La traviata.”
Michael Tanner, reviewing in Classic CD
“Gigli contrives to emerge as a most sympathetic personality in all the films he made, and his tenorial tubbiness is part of his charm.
“In Ave Maria of 1936, in which the great German soprano Erna Berger also stars, we get excerpts from Il trovatore and La traviata, the latter being used in the favourite way of the times, as a vehicle for the character played by Gigli to express his rage at a woman who is blackmailing him.” 4 stars out of a possible 5
“Ave Maria and Non ti scordar di me are irresistible. The sweetness of Gigli’s tone is a reflection of the sweetness of the personality. It’s well seen in both these films. As in opera, one’s disbelief in situations is suspended.
“In theory, Gigli was unsuited to the cinema, at least for young, romantic roles, but it’s extraordinary how successful he is and how quickly–within a couple of scenes. One is willing him to succeed, and with his voice, he doesn’t have any problem. It’s one of the most glorious and beguiling voices; it’s more than beautiful; his voice is like a siren, in the classical sense, it beckons you to his island.
“From a singer’s point of view, listening as dispassionately as one is able, one can study him to learn and improve one’s own performance–that’s the force of the man’s genius.”–Dennis O’Neill interviewed by Patrick O’Connor in International Opera Collector
The plot: A tenor is betrayed by a woman and expresses his rage through singing a performance of Traviata. In the Traviata denunciation scene Gigli is at his most impassioned, and in the Bohème aria he is at his sweetest. He sings the high C of “Che gelida manina” on the vowel “ah” (“la speranza”) instead of on the written “eh” (“la speranza”), as he probably would have done some years earlier.”
Ernesto De Curtis wrote “Soltanto tu, Maria” and “Sei tu, Maria” and Alois Melichar wrote “Anima mia” for this film.–Stefan Zucker
“Ave Maria reestablishes Beniamino Gigli’s tremendous draw and is likely to top his first vehicle in the talker field (Non ti scordar di me). A socko pic that will do wonders at the b.o. all over Europe. Gigli, strangely enough, is a perfect lover and a fine actor. Beauty of his voice and captivating story keep up the dramatic tension. Photography is outstanding.”–Variety (1936)