Peculiarly Shoddy Production of Historic Music Events
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Here is another typical example of the embarrassingly bad lapses of the Italian import CD labels in their treatment of Toscanini's legacy.The major work on this release, which attempts to document the historic NBC broadcast of July 25, 1943, is the FOURTH act of "Rigoletto", as identified in the RCA/BMG Toscanini Collection CD release of a 1944 broadcast of the same music (apparently some productions of the opera differ in dividing the acts; here, the NBC commentator Ben Grauer, then host of the broadcasts, identifies it as the "Third Act", as does Robert C. Marsh's discography.) Three of the present quartet of singers repeated this selection for a well-recorded broadcast of May 25, 1944, which was given before a huge audience at Madison Square Garden (and available in "near hi-fi sound" on an authorized commercial RCA/BMG Toscanini Collection CD.) The interpretation from 1943 preserved on this CD is strikingly different, being somewhat slower and broader, and is worth investigating. Sadly, though there are in "samizdat" circulation a number of bootleg tapes made from original transcription disks of this broadcast which have quite clear sound with full presence, this "Radio Years" CD uses a VASTLY inferior source, which is so muddy and hollow as to be a trial to the ear! Even the use of listeners' tone controls or corrective equalization cannot really much help the mushy, indistinct sound on the last track of this disk.The earlier tracks preserve the other excerpts from the live broadcast: the Verdi "Luisa Miller" overture and "Quando le sere" with Jan Peerce (in shoddy sound, inferior to the authorized RCA/BMG CD transfer); Nan Merriman's affecting "O Don Fatale" from "Don Carlo" (commenced just before the announcer finished talking); Francesco Valentino's dramatic projection of the 'revenge' aria "Eri tu" from "Ballo in Maschera" (an interesting alternative to the 1954 Toscanini/Robert Merrill collaboration); and Gertrude Ribla's beautiful rendition of "Pace, pace, o mio Dio" from "La Forza". Interestingly, during the middle of the original broadcast (not here on this CD transfer) a short commentary -- as I seem to recall it -- about the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Institute was followed by an exciting "live event": a news commentator interrupts to announce the downfall of Mussolini, who had just resigned as Dictator of Italy to be replaced by Marshall Pietro Badoglio. This latter announcement is indeed included on the CD, which is subtitled "Toscanini and Mussolini: The Tables Are Turned"! One wonders if the Maestro was aware of this earth-shattering news, released at the moment he was about to commence the final act of "Rigoletto". At any rate, the original radio aircheck disks contain ALL of the broadcast and commentary, which is incompetently truncated and edited here in a disjointed manner (the voice announcements, as well as all of the "Rigoletto" excerpts, are from a distinctly inferior technical source, compared to the solo arias.)The best thing that can be said of this CD (by one who has heard the original broadcast) is that at least the barest outline of what was actually transmitted is conveyed, with at least a few tracks -- the efforts of Merriman, Valentino, and Ribla in their solo arias -- in tolerable reproduction. But be aware that original archival material is phenomenally superior, as are the "bootleg" tapes, so one must blame the "Radio Years" producers for their poor treatment of the production values of what COULD have been a splendid preservation of an historic event! If you have NO OTHER WAY of obtaining this material, the present release will have to do as a temporary stop-gap until better productions are available."