March’s Singer of the Month: Beniamino Gigli (1890-1957)

b Recanati, 20 March 1890; d Rome, 30 Nov 1957). One of the most beautiful voices there ever was belonged to Italian tenor, Beniamino Gigli. In Rome, after lessons from Agnese Bonucci, he won a scholarship to the Liceo Musicale; his teachers were Cotogni and Rosati. In 1914 he won an international competition at Parma, and on 14 October that year made a successful début in La Gioconda at Rovigo. In 1915 his Faust in Boito’s Mefistofele was highly appreciated at Bologna under Serafin and at Naples under Mascagni. Spain was the scene of his first successes abroad, in 1917. The climax of his early career was his appearance in the memorial performance of Mefistofele at La Scala on 19 November 1918. On 26 November 1920 he made a brilliant début (again in Mefistofele) at the Metropolitan Opera, where he remained as principal tenor for 12 consecutive seasons, singing no fewer than 28 of his total of 60 roles.

In the lyrical and romantic repertory, Gigli was regarded as the legitimate heir of Caruso (Martinelli excelled in the more dramatic and heroic parts). The operas in which he was most often heard were La bohème, La Gioconda, L’Africaine, Andrea Chénier and Mefistofele. His Covent Garden début was in Andrea Chénier on 27 May 1930, with subsequent appearances in 1931, 1938 and 1946. In 1932 he left the Metropolitan, declining to accept a substantial reduction of the salary paid him before the Depression. Thereafter he pursued his career more actively in Italy, elsewhere in Europe, and in South America, returning to the Metropolitan, for five performances only, in 1939. A favourite of Mussolini, Gigli was at first under a cloud after the dictator’s fall, but returned to sing in Tosca at the Rome Opera in March 1945, and in November 1946 reappeared at Covent Garden with the S Carlo company in La bohème, with his daughter, Rina Gigli, as Mimì. He continued to appear in opera at Naples and at Rome as late as 1953, and in concerts almost until his death.

Smoothness, sweetness and fluency were the outstanding marks of Gigli’s singing. His style was essentially popular, both in its virtues and its limitations: natural, vital and spontaneous on the one hand, but always liable to faults of taste – to a sentimental style of portamento, for instance, or the breaking of the line by sobs, or ostentatious bids for stage applause ‘like a picturesque beggar appealing for alms’ (Ernest Newman). He missed refinement in Mozart, and was unequal to the technical demands of ‘Il mio tesoro’; in Verdi he was more at home, although notably happier when, as in the second scene of Un ballo in maschera or the last act of Rigoletto, his grandees had adopted popular disguise; best of all in Puccini and the melodramatic lyricism of Andrea Chénier and La Gioconda. His mellifluous cantilena in such pieces as Nadir’s romance in Les pêcheurs de perles was consummately beautiful. Gigli was something less than a great artist; but as a singer pure and simple he was among the greatest.

His many recordings offer a complete portrait of his long career; outstandingly successful are the arias from Mefistofele, Martha, L’elisir d’amore, La Gioconda and Faust, duets with De Luca from La forza del destino and Les pêcheurs de perles, and the complete recordings of Andrea Chénier and La Bohème. Gigli was also a seductively charming interpreter of Neapolitan and popular songs, and delighted 1930s cinema audiences with his portrayals of ingenuous and lovestruck tenors.

From the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians


In Remembrance of Philip Langridge

Philip Gordon Langridge CBE (16 December 1939 – 5 March 2010) was an English tenor, considered to be among the foremost exponents of English opera and oratorio. Langridge was born in Hawkhurst, Kent, educated at Maidstone Grammar School and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. He started his career as an orchestral violinist, which exposed him to a greater variety of music than professional singers ordinarily experience. Langridge was admired for his fine technique coupled with keen dramatic instincts. His repertoire was broad, ranging from the operas of Claudio Monteverdi and Mozart to more modern works by Ravel, Stravinsky, Janáček and Schoenberg. At the end of his life, he was adding some Wagner roles, including Loge from Das Rheingold. Langridge was also a fine concert singer and regularly performed the sacred music of Bach and Handel. He also won great acclaim for his assumption of the title role in Elgar’s oratorio, The Dream of Gerontius. For all his versatility, he was at his most distinguished performing the works of Benjamin Britten. Much of Britten’s vocal music was written specifically for his artistic and life partner, tenor Sir Peter Pears. Many regarded Langridge as Pears’ true successor because they shared similar vocal qualities and brought uncommon immediacy to the music they performed. He recorded many of his famous roles, including Peter Grimes and the Prologue / Quint in The Turn of the Screw, as well as all the orchestral song cycles for tenor voice.
Langridge’s association with Harrison Birtwistle began in 1986 when he created the role of Orpheus in his opera The Mask of Orpheus. He also sang The Lawyer in the world premiere recording of Punch and Judy (1989) and created the roles of Kong in The Second Mrs Kong (Glyndebourne, 1994) and Hiereus in The Minotaur (Royal Opera House, 2008). Birtwistle composed Vanitas (based on a poem by David Harsent) especially for Langridge’s 70th birthday concert at London’s Wigmore Hall in November 2009. Langridge was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to music in 1994. He was married to Irish mezzo-soprano Ann Murray until his death from bowel cancer. Langridge is survived by their son Jonathan Philip (born 1986, Greenwich, London), and his three adult children from his previous marriage: Anita, Jennifer, and opera director Stephen.

Philip Langridge in 2007

From the New York Times (Allan Kozinn)

From Nov. 2009. A recital at Wigmore Hall

From “The Guardian”

Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 5:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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Reviews on Verdi’s “Attila” at the Metropolitan Opera

Recent Reviews


Seen and Heard: International Opera Review (Bernard Jacobson)

Opera Review: Verdi’s “Attila” makes belated debut at New York’s Metropolitan Opera (Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News)

Anne Midgette Reviews Verdi’s “Attila” from the MET (Washington Post)

Verdi’s “Attila” (David Laviska, Musical Criticism.com)

A scene from the Met’s 2010 production of Verdi’s “Attila”

Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 4:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Reviews and articles on Shostakovich’s “The Nose” at the Metropolitan Opera

Gordon Gietz is “The Nose”

Some recent press about Shostakovich’s “The Nose” as it blows its way into the Metropolitan Opera

Reality takes it on the chin in “The Nose” at the Metropolitan Opera (Scott Cantrell, Dallas Morning News)

Picture this: A Nose on the Loose (Anthony Tommasini, NY Times)

Useful info on the Nose’s March 13th broadcast (from OPERA NEWS)

Laurel E. Fay’s well written article “Black Comedy Tonight” from OPERA NEWS

Gordon Gietz on his Metropolitan Opera Debut as a lifesize Nose (Rebecca Milzoff)

Met premieres Shostakovich’s absurdist  “The Nose” (Mike Silverman, Associated Press)