WAGNER: Die Walküre (Acts I and II)
Lotte Lehmann (Sieglinde); Lauritz Melchior (Siegmund); Emanuel List (Hunding); Marta Fuchs (Brünnhilde); Margarete Klose (Fricka); Hans Hotter (Wotan); Vienna Philharmonic Orch/Berlin State Opera Orch/Bruno Walter and Bruno Seidler-Winkler, cond.
NAXOS 8.110250-51 (2 CDs) (B) (ADD) TT: 2:24:03
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BENIAMINO GIGLI - Volume I
Aias from Mefistofele, Tosca, La Favorita, La Gioconda, Lodoletta, Iris, Faust, La Bohème and Cavalleria Rusticana
Beniamino Gigli, tenor, recorded in Milan 1918-1919
NAXOS 8.110262 (B) (ADD) TT: 67:34
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MASCAGNI: Cavalleria Rusticana
Lina Bruna Rasa (Santuzza); Antonio Melandri (Turridu); Afro Poli (Alfio); Maria Meloni (Lola); Rina Gallo-Toscani (Mamma Lucia); Chorus and Ochestra of the Opera Italiana d'Olanda; Dutch Royal Theatre, The Hague, Holland, conducted by Pietro Mascagni (rec. live Nov. 7, 1938)
GUILD GHCD 2241 (F) (ADD) TT: 78:36
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Three major issues for the opera lover! The famous 1935 Vienna recording of Act I of DieWalküre is a classic and has been issued on CD a number of times, but never in a better transfer than Mark Obert-Thorn's on this splendid budget-priced set. HMV had wanted to record the entire opera with the outstanding singers then available and fortunately did complete Act I. Because of the German political situation of the time Act II had to be recorded in two different places. Bruno Walter, Lauritz Melchior and Lotte Lehmann were able to record their two big scenes from Act II in Vienna; the remainder had to be done in Berlin with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra conducted by Bruno Seidler-Winkler with a superb cast that included Hans Hotter as Wotan (before he had sung the role on stage), Marta Fuchs as Brünnhilde and Margarete Klose as Fricka. Towards the end of Act II, the two lines of Brunnhilde and the seven of Wotan are sung by Ella Flesch (a perfect name for a Wagnerian soprano!—this is her only recording although sang often in Vienna and Munich), and Alfred Jerger, bass-baritone who created the role of Mandryka in Strauss' Arabella. Performances on this twin-CD set are of major importance, and here sound better than ever - and at budget price. No texts, but detailed track information is provided.

Obert-Thorn has produced more magic (or is it simply vast technical expertise and patience?) heard on another Naxos issue of Milan acoustic recordings made from 1918 to 1919 by "golden-voiced" tenor Beniamino Gigli who is heard in arias from nine operas. Apparently pitch was a major problem in these remasterings as the recordings themselves varied from 76.4 to 80.5 rpm—and Thorn also had to deal with several instances where Gigli transposed downwards. When completed, the series will include every Gigli song and aria recording along with published (and unpublished when available) alternate takes. Again, no texts.

Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana was a hit since its premiere in Rome May 17, 1890, and for good reason. A tragic story of illicit love, revenge and death, it's just what opera lovers enjoy, especially went the music is so gloriously appropriate for the subject. It brought great fame and wealth to its composer who conducted it often and made a famous La Scala recording in April 1940 with a strong cast featuring Lina Bruna Rasa as the unfortunate Santuzza, Beniamino Gigli as her betrayer Turridu, a young Giulietta Siminato as Mamma Lucia, Gino Bechi as Alfio and Maria Marcucci as Lola. Mascagni's conducting was too slow, which surely cannot be said of this exciting live performance recorded November 7, 1938 from Opera Italiana d'Oanda in The Hague, Holland. Again Santuzza is sung by Lina Bruna Rasa who specialized in verismo roles, Maddalena, Elena in Mefistofele (which she sang at La Scala with Toscanini conducting). Rasa was only 31 at the time of this recording but already was in difficulty. After the death of her mother in 1935, Rasa was mentally afflicted and suffered a nervous breakdown the year before this live performance. After the 1940 she was institutionalized, the end of a blazing career. In spite of a few moments of intonation problems, her rich, impassioned voice is heard in full glory in the 1938 live performance. The remainder of the cast is excellent with Antonio Melandri providing almost a baritonal sound as Turridu—very effective. The sound is remarkably good for the time. Richard Caniell's notes don't say where mikes were located; as the prompter is occasionally heard, with a cough here and there, it might have been on stage. Regardless, this is an incandescent performance of Mascagni's masterpiece that belongs in every opera collection. No texts.You also might wish to acquire the fine Naxos reissue of the 1940 La Scala recording, a 2-CD set in Ward Marston transfers that also contains about fifty minutes of Mascagni conducting the Berlin State Opera Orchestra in his own music as well as overtures by Rossini and Verdi (Naxos 8.110714/15).

R.E.B. (September 2003)