Carlo Galeffi (1884-1961)
In his obituary tribute to Galeffi (Opera, December 1961) Giacomo Lauri-Volpi concluded: ''It is no exaggeration to say that Galeffi's voice was tonally the most beautiful, the most durable, the most homogeneous, of any heard on the operatic stage during the last half-century''. He goes as far as that, not even specifying that he is thinking specially of baritone voices. Listening to these records, one does not hasten to pour cold water. 'Homogeneous: yes, there is remarkable unity from the free, unforced high A in Il barbiere to the low A, still a good resonant note, in Ballo in maschera. 'Durable' Galeffi surely was, for we catch him here in mid-career, halfway between his debut in 1904 and his last appearance just 50 years later. The beauty of the voice lies in the coexistence of a pure, characteristic sound, firm and fully liberated from the throat, and a somewhat unexpected ability to vary the tone-colour, lightening or enriching as required. His faults are stylistic. Lauri-Volpi says that he sometimes overdid things, and in these excerpts there is an overdoing of 'tears in the voice': the sort of pathos which is really a kind of self-pity obtrudes in Valentine's aria in Faust and in Gerard's in Andrea Chenier, while in the Prologue to Pagliacci it is extended on behalf of all who suffer on the actor's side of the footlights. Sometimes his vocal gestures seem melodramatic rather than truly human, yet they are always vivid. His Rigoletto is vivid, and exciting too, especially in that phrase ''un vindice avrai'' leading into ''Si, vendetta'', which in his first Rigoletto was encored three times.
A splendid record, and splendidly transferred on this CD, is the 'Description of London' in Guglielmo Ratcliff (''sua superba interpretazione di Douglas nel Ratcliff'' was Mascagni's own tribute to him in 1909). Amonasro's solo in Aida is finely concentrated in tone and dramatic effect, and in the duet which follows, those phrases of denunciation which used to bring the house down ring out powerfully and without spread. Best of all, I think, is ''Il balen'', where he is virtually singing as a tenor, with elegance, meaning and a beauty of tone that leads back to Lauri-Volpi's claim, and the distinct possibility that it is indeed 'no exaggeration'.'