Time Out for Tenors

Enough of politics, economics, and philosophy. It’s time to talk about music. Specifically, it’s time to talk about great tenors of the past. Why? Because I was reminded of great tenors in this roundabout way:

Yesterday I was listening to the Classical Voices channel on Sirius satellite radio. (If you’re not a subscriber, try it free for three days by registering here.) Cecilia Bartoli was singing Scarlatti’s “The sun is sparkling more clearly from the Ganges” — which I recognized as an aria that Luciano Pavarotti recorded some years ago. Then, up pops Pavarotti, singing Handel’s “Wher’ere you walk” — which, for my money, was sung best by John McCormack, who recorded it decades ago. And being reminded of John McCormack reminded me, in turn, of all the other great tenors of the past whose voices had character.

I’ll come to some of those great tenors in a bit, but I must say something about character in a voice. A voice with character charms the listener, it conveys warmth, it seems personal rather than mechanical, it has overtones and undertones that can’t be written on a sheet of music. Pavarotti’s voice has character. The voice of Placido Domingo, Pavarotti’s great contemporary, though technically better in many respects — range, power, perhaps even accuracy — has almost no character. I have sometimes heard a bit of something by Domingo and asked “Who was that?” With Pavarotti, you never need to ask.

Now, let us visit some of the great tenor voices of the past. We begin our journey at the website of Nimbus Records, home of the Prima Voce line, which features great vocal recordings made between 1900 and 1940. There’s a page that lists all the Prima Voce tracks that can be heard on Real Audio, just by clicking a Real Audio icon. There are also links to each of the albums from which the tracks are drawn. For example, the first link is to The Prima Voce Treasury of Opera, Volume 2, which leads to a track listing for that album, where you can see everything that’s on the album. That’s my plug for Nimbus and Prima Voce. Now, in the order in which they appear on the complete Prima Voce listing of Real Audio tracks and complete with Real Audio links, here’s a selection of tracks by great tenors of the past — tenors with voices of character:

Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, LO SCHIAVO, Gomes, Quando nascesti tu

Beniamino Gigli, LA BOHÈME, Puccini, Che gelida manina

David Devriès, LA DAME BLANCHE, Boieldieu, Rêverie de Georges Brown

Beniamino Gigli, L’ELISIR D’AMORE, Donizetti, Quanto è bella, quanto è cara

Tito Schipa, MIGNON, Thomas, Ah! Non credevi tu

Tito Schipa, A GRANADA, C. Palacios, Cancion Andaluza

Tito Schipa, Traditional, ?arr. Vergine, Vieni sul mar!

Beniamino Gigli, MEFISTOFELE, Boïto, Dai campi, dai prati

Beniamino Gigli, Rossini, La Danza

Jussi Björling, PRINCE IGOR, Borodin, Vladimir’s Cavatina [Sung in Swedish]

Jussi Björling, MESSA DA REQUIEM, Verdi, Ingemisco

Jussi Björling, Tosti, Ideale

Jussi Björling, CARMEN, Bizet, La fleur que tu m’avais jetée

Jussi Björling, Widestedt, Sjung din hela làngtan ut

Jussi Björling, di Capua, O sole mio [sung in Italian]

John McCormack, LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR, Donizetti, Fra poco a me ricovero

John McCormack, Edmund O’Rourke, writing as Edmund Falconer/Michael William Balfe, Killarney

John McCormack, LA TRAVIATA, Verdi, De’ miei bollenti spiriti

Enrico Caruso, MANON, Massenet, Il Sogno, (En fermant les yeux)

Enrico Caruso, E. di Capua, O Sole Mio

Enrico Caruso, Antonio Scotti, MADAMA BUTTERFLY, Puccini, Amore o grillo

Edmond Clément, MANON, Massenet, En fermant les yeux (Dream)

Richard Tauber, DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE, Mozart, Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön

Joseph Schmidt, Strauss, Wiener Bonbons

Beniamino Gigli, PAGLIACCI, Leoncavallo, Recitar! … Vesti la giubba (Canio)

Antonio Cortis, RIGOLETTO, Verdi, Questa o quella

Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, LUISA MILLER, Quando le sere al placido

Leo Slezak, DIE KÖNIGIN VON SABA, Goldmark, Magische Töne

Georges Thill, MANON, Massenet, Ah! fuyez douce image

Enrico Caruso, Adam, Cantique de Noël

Paul Planel, Berlioz, L’Enfance du Christ – Le repos de la Sainte Famille

Karl Erb, Loewe, Des fremden Kindes heil’ger Christ

David Yuzhin, LA GIOCONDA, Ponchielli, Cielo e mar

Dmitri Smirnov, MEFISTOFELE,, Boito, Giunto sul passo estremo

Enrico Caruso, MARTHA, Flotow, M’apparì tutt’ amor

Enrico Caruso, LA BOHÈME, Puccini, Che gelida manina

John McCormack, Tosti, Goodbye

Lev Klement’yev, NERO, Rubinstein, Oh grief and care

Boris Slovtsov, THE SNOW MAIDEN, Rimsky Korsakov, Full of wonders

Vasily Damayev, SADKO, Rimsky Korsakov, Ho! my faithful company

Vilhelm Herold, RIGOLETTO, Verdi, Questa o quella

Enrico Caruso, Tosti, Addio

Enrico Caruso, Tosti, L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra

Richard Crooks, Anon, Have you seen but a whyte lillie grow

Miguel Fleta, LA FAVORITA, Donizetti, Una vergine, un angel di Dio

Miguel Fleta, I PURITANI, Bellini, A te o cara

Tito Schipa, L’ELISIR D’AMORE, Donizetti, Una furtiva lagrima

Helge Roswaenge, LE POSTILLON DE LONJUMEAU, Adam, Mes amis, écoutez

(Listen for the D-flat above high C!)

Helge Roswaenge, EUGENE ONEGIN, Tchaikovsky, Echo lointain de ma jeunesse (Lenski’s aria)

Enrico Caruso, LES PÊCHEURS DE PERLES, Bizet, Je crois entendre encore

Enrico Caruso, RIGOLETTO, Verdi, La donna è mobile