Mario Del Monaco – Great Tenor Arias
New Symphony Orchestra of London
Alberto Erede, conductor
Decca, 1959 (2004)
It is always amazing when recordings made many decades ago still preserve their freshness as if they have been recently released, but this is exactly the impression left by Mario Del Monaco’s Great Tenor Arias, an album conducted by Alberto Erede and recorded in 1959.
The main quality of Great Tenor Arias is the excellence of Del Monaco’s voice. This is not a very flexible voice – if with “flexible” you mean a voice that saves its strength and volume to create those breath-taking effects as mezzevoci and diminuendi – and a distracted listener may only notice its loud volume that rarely allows softer nuances, although there are many notable exceptions, as in Meyerbeer’s O Paradiso (from L’Africaine).
Del Monaco’s characters are not psychologically defined, but their charm lies in a voice, strong and firm as a monolith, of which this album is the perfect expression. There is little or no room at all for romanticism or courtesy in Del Monaco’s characters and therefore Don José (La fleur que tu m’avais jetée) and Edgardo (Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali) are inevitably closer to heroic tenors rather than to more or less desperate lovers, while the pain of De Grieux in Ah! Guai a chi la tocca (from Manon Lescaut) is hardly believable, but if they lack an important connotation, this does not compromise the outcome as they too, as the other roles, are entrusted to an intrepid, fearless tenor that moreover has a uniform voice with one of the most beautiful and purest timbres ever heard and that is virtually flawless from any point of view, with the exception of an approximate pronunciation of the French language, used only for Massenet’s Le Cid and Halévy’s La Juive.
As I said, the characters do not have deep characterization and actually only the vocalism differentiate Zandonai’s Romeo from Verdi’s Ernani or Puccini’s Cavaradossi, but Del Monaco’s merit is to sing a broad and varied repertoire which include Italian and French operas from Donizetti to Verismo without showing any difficulty and no one of the characters suffers from lack of technique and/or inspiration. Every time there is something new to listen to and that pleasantly surprises you, as the nobility of Calaf in Non piangere, Liù, the disconsolation of Cavaradossi in E lucevan le stele or the disarming invocation of Alvaro in La vita è inferno (from La forza del destino), just to make few examples.
There are really great tenor arias in this recording and there is a really great tenor to sing them all.