A recording of Norma of historical interest
Gustavo Demarco | Buenos Aires | 06/12/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 1937 Norma is probably the first full version on records. The role of Norma is sung by Gina Cigna, who is reputed to be one of the leading dramatic sopranos of the first half of the XX century. Unfortunately, Gina Cigna had to give up singing very early, so this is one of her scarce full recordings (another one is a famous Turandot with Magda Olivero at the beginning of her carreer). Cigna sings Norma with full voice but without the subtleness and nuance that later imposed Callas and Caballé to the role. Although she had a voice of power and wide range, she had difficulties with high notes, especially noticeable in the duo 'O rimembranza' of the first act. Ebe Stigniani sings a very young and fresh Adalgisa. Much later in her carreer, this outstanding mezzo-soprano recorded the same role with Maria Callas as Norma, but this previous interpretarion is greater. Tenor Giovanni Breviario sings Pollione with a strong but non-refined voice. Tancredi Pasero composes one of the best Orovesos on records: he had the adequate deep basso voice needed for the role. The EIAR chorus and orchestra sound excellent, under Vittorio Gui's conduction. To summarize: This is a necessary recording of Norma; its historical value is much above the bargain price of this Opera d'Oro edition. Cigna was surpassed as Norma by Ponselle, Callas and Caballé, but she was a great artist. The gems of the recording are, however, the young Stignani, the great Tancredi Pasero, and the EIAR chorus and orchestra under Maestro Gui's conduction."
Cigna, Stignani and Pasero in fine historic "Norma"
L. E. Cantrell | Vancouver, British Columbia Canada | 09/12/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Source: Radio broadcast by EIAR di Torino (subsequently RAI Turin), recorded August 25 to September 7, 1937 at Teatro Nuovo, and later issued as an album of 78 rpm disks by Cetra and others.
Cast: Norma - Gina Cigna; Adalgisa - Ebe Stignani; Oroveso - Tancredi Pasero; Pollione - Giovanni Breviario; Flavio - Emilio Renzi; Clotilde - Adriana Perris. Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro dell'EIAR di Torino conducted by Vittorio Gui.
Sound: Italian 1937 mono. Solo voices are well to the front and well-captured with only occasional distortion at the very top. The chorus and orchestra are rather distant. The orchestra is flattened in sound, resulting in an emphasis of the lower portions over the brighter sound of the strings.
Text: Normal cuts for the period, plus some additional nips and tucks demanded by recording technology of its times and its short takes.
Documentation: Good old Opera d'Oro, always striving, manages to undermine even its own abysmally low standards. This time the summary of the plot carefully (more or less) outlines what happens in each of four acts. On the following pages, the track list equally carefully shows that the opera consists of just two acts. No libretto. The track list shows no timings, nor does it identify who is singing.
In reading about this opera here on Amazon and elsewhere, it is clear that reviews tell as much or more about the reviewers as they do about the work being reviewed. Very well, then, here is my take on this "Norma." This is a tremendous performance. If it had been recorded in 1957 rather than 1937, I would have no hesitation in declaring it to be the first choice among recorded "Normas," all the excellent work of those great ladies, Callas, Sutherland and Caballe notwithstanding. As it is, it is still a first-rate supplement to the later, more technologically advanced recordings.
This "Norma" is differentiated from the other famous recorded performances by being on the move from beginning to end. With Vittorio Gui in charge, it hustles. Elsewhere, "Normas" slow down to allow for pretty--even sugary--vocalizing. Under Bonynge's baton, for instance, "Norma" not only slows down, it downright gels. Now, it may certainly be argued that the speedy rendering is an artifact of three-and-a-half minute takes. On the other hand, Gui stands head and shoulders above all his rival conductors, with the single exception of Serafin. Whether the speed was forced upon him or not, the simple fact is that Gui makes it work. His "Norma" is an opera in the proper sense of a music drama and not just a collection of beautifully sung solos, duets and a few miscellaneous other musical forms. It not only sounds good, it makes musical and dramatic sense.
This recording comes to us from the High Verismo era. In some ways, it can be considered a verismo take on "Norma." Unlike most people currently using such terms, I most certainly do not regard that statement as an insult. I am becoming weary of contemporary singers who know every word and every note but haven't a clue about what they are singing. It depresses me that so talented a singer as Fleming, one who has all the tools of greatness, is only a fraction of the singer that she might be because, in the deepest sense, she refuses to engage with her roles.
Gina Cigna is engaged. She is no great actress, no pre-Callas, but she can convey truly regal power, enough to make a Roman proconsul shake in his two-timing sandals. She began as a mezzo and by dint of labor forced her way up to dramatic soprano. She carried a mezzo's vocal darkness and weight all the way up to the top of her voice. Some reviewers detect difficulties in her top notes. I hear a voice that could blow audiences right out of their seats, a voice to overwhelm recording equipment in exactly the same way that Flagstad did. Cigna had a huge voice, excellent sound, precise diction and formidable technique--certainly better vocal technique than Callas. Callas is the greater performer because of her ability to get inside her characters. But, oh, if Callas had had Cigna's voice or Cigna Callas' intensity!
Adelgisa is played here by the young Ebe Stignani. Twenty years later she would record the same role with Maria Callas. She is excellent with both but with Cigna her voice is fresher and she is a little more convincing as a youthful priestess. Stignani virtually defines the verismo style. There is nothing of the contemporary (bloodless) bel canto in her. Her duets with Cigna and Callas blaze away.
Oroveso is that formidable old pro, Tancredi Pasero. He is all one could hope for in the part. I cannot recall ever having heard a bass-baritone with such rapid vibrato. It gives him an impressive, if odd-sounding, tenor-like squillo.
The tenor is Giovanni Breviario, who apparently never quite made it to the big-time Italian opera circuit. He seems to have earned a wide range of opinion from awful to excellent. I apply two tests: Is he worse than Filepeschi or Alexander? No. Is he better than Renato Cioni? Yes. Having passed on both the up and the down sides, I regard Breviario as a satisfactory Pollione.
This is a fine and pleasing historical performance. Get it as a welcome relief from the arid modern style.
Vintage slice of toffee-cream bun.
darragh o'donoghue | 10/19/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"You can you usually gauge the intensity of an opera by the number of exclamation marks on the track listing. 'Norma' is splattered with them - some aria titles have as many marks as words. But then you would expect no more from Bellini, and his mad plot about religious fundamentalism, ethnic strife, illicit passion, illegitimate children, menages-a-trois, and planned abduction allows for the usual accumulation of faint-inducing arias and ensemble pile-ups.this is my third Bellini opera, and I'm still ambivalent. as a sucker for melodrama, I applaud his faith in heightened emotion and reluctance to compromise in any way with dull normality, although there are many slow patches here which you could argue are 'calms before the storm' and 'lulls tensing under the weight of expectation', or just plain dull. but the music rarely leaves my senses reeling like the most over-ripe Verdi or Puccini. the best bits are the lollipops, which is always a bad sign, but they are magnificent - the famous hymn 'Casta Diva', Norma's bounding soprano hushed by rapt chorus; the lovely, trusting duet 'Oh! rimembranza!' between Norma and Adalgisa; Norma's final, fatal aria 'Qual ortradisti'; and the ascending-to-the-pyre/heaven finale 'deh! non volesti vittime'. these exude Bellini's strengths, his rich, Italianite melodies, his long, flowing lines. But they all sound the same.this 1937 recording has more than curiosity value. it reminds us of a time when singers could sing with technique and passion without indulging in the affected histrionics of a Callas (oh, burn me!) or the pop debasements of today. discreetly remastered, Gina Cigna in the title role loves and loses and mourns and regrets and sacrifices and dies with us today in an opera that badly needs sympathetic singing. As always with these old recordings, the orchestra fares less well than the singers, and often sounds like a mere hum behind them, but Bellini's orchestration was usually perfunctory or subordinate, so that doesn't really matter."