One of the Major Verdi Sopranos at the Turn of the Last Cent
Doug - Haydn Fan | California | 01/10/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Celestina Boninsgena's records from the first have always been avidly collected - her rich pure tones largely overcoming the drawbacks of primitive recording. For many years there was some argument as to Boninsegne's true status, it was long averred that Boninsegna was merely a provincial star who never was good enough for the top opera houses - modern reseach has proven these assertions quite ridiculous.
Modern critics, such as Michael Scott and John Steane, while heaping praise on Boninsegna's voice have quibbled here and there. Steane decribes Boninsegna as having "a voice of such exceptional beauty and often used with such sincere feeling that she wins an assured place for herself in the line of great singers." Scott in certain respects gets it even more right - "we can readily hear why her records appealed to generations of collectors. The voice is important-sounding, extending from bottom A to the high C, the scale fully equalised though the registers are not always blended together smoothly. Her singing is of the Verismo school but without its more extravagant mamifestations; the emission of tone is suaver... there is less vibrato and she rarely forces the tone." Scott then goes on to fault Boninsegna for a lack of characterization in differing roles.
My own view finds me less critical, far more accepting. Too often opera critics, who make their living with words, start out enjoying a voice and singer only to end up nit-picking over the wrong end of the horse. Certainly this is the case with the presentation of alleged 'deficiencies' in the singing of Boninsegna. As Richer proves in his fine study of the singer, this doubting mostly stems from a misreading of Boninsegna's career, the contention being that she did not measure up to the 'gold standards' of the Met and la Scala.
Yet Boninsegna's so-called failures at La Scala and the Met - when examined carefully - are very misleading. At La Scala her performances were recieved with uniformly rapturous critical and public adulation. The claims that she somehow laid an egg are historically preposterous. More serious is Boninsegna's poor showing at the Met; there mitigating circumtances, having little to do with her singing, seem to have conspired against her success. Prior to her arrival in New York Met dirctor Conried started a major push in advertising featuring Boninsegna, but a serious illness curtailed her appearances, and she sang only a few times. The low point of her ill-fated Met sojourn was the PR disaster swirling around her poorly judged costume worn as the Egyptian princess Aida, a sort of brown gunny sack affair. Ridiculed by the press, her poor taste in clothing unfairly totally obscured her singing, her dress brutally contrasted with the magnifcent Aida costumes recently draping Met favorite Emma Eames, married to the greatest Parisian fashion desinger of the era, and naturally dressed in her part to the nines. (Of course, the Press being what is is, its members conveniently forgot they'd recently faulting Eames for a total lack of emotion as Aida - describing one performance of her in Verdi's Egyptian epic with the famous lines, "Last night at the Met production of Aida there was ice-skating on the Nile.") After a couple furtive road show operas Bonisegna left the Met.
Outside of New York Boninsegna was a star of the first magnitude. As Richter writes, "(Boninsegna) sang over a thousand performances in a career that spanned twenty-five years. She appeared at most of the important theaters in the Latin World and was rapturously recieved almost everywhere she sang. Her excursions to London, Boston, Chicago and Russia were unqualified successses and her reputation in italy without blemish. When we listen to the manifest glories of her recordings, we don't wonder for a moment about the extraordinary reviews she recieved at Madrid, nor about those at Snatiago, Rio de Janerio and Rome. We hear a grandeur that is breathtaking, a presence to which others of her generation could only aspire...Boninsegna was a major talent who was lavishly praised in her own time.
The Symposium Cd of Boninsegna thus offers us a chance to hear one of the finest of Verdi sopranos in many of her major roles. Bonisegna made over a hundred records, these twenty represent a hodgepodge from various companies and times, rather too indiscriminately mixed together. But at nearly eight minutes of length it's certainly a full enough window into the past, and several of the performances on this recital disc should win most opera lovers over to Boninsegna. The duets do little for me, but the selections from La Giocnda and Ernani and Trovatore show offer her ripe, almost Ponselle-like richness, always endowed with that sincerity critic Steane notes with approval.
So far there has yet to be a complete set of all Boninsegna's recordings as there has been for some of her contemporaries, such as Melba, Destinn and a few others. Part of the reason is the overlapping - she tends to record many of the same songs over and over from one recording company to the next. Given this situation the Symposium Cd makes for a reasonable sampling of this most impressive soprano.