Giuseppe Di Stefano Opera Arias and Songs
Very moving it is to hear this voice again in its absolute prime. Consulting the original review (3/81) of the LP album, we find: “Mature achievement wins applause: youthful promise for some reason moistens the eye”. And this (thank heaven!) is still so. It is hardly possible to hear those Swiss recordings of 1944, with piano, and be untouched by the thought, as well as the sound, of this 22-year-old, singing his heart out, with so much voice and, already, with so much art. The “Una furtiva lagrima” is perhaps not the fully polished article, but what Forster called the Italian “instinct for beauty” is there, with lovely shading and phrasing. It is good to have the two Bixio songs (Se vuoi goder la vita and Mamma), previously unpublished, heartfelt, open-throated performances in the national tradition that used to get mocked and is now so missed. Indeed, thinking of that sequence of recordings, one could well wish this disc had given priority to reproducing them all: there is an amazingly good “Pourquoi me reveiller?”, for instance, and (till the end) a beautifully restrained Musica proibita.
Still, what we have here fulfils exactly the promise of the label’s name: it is a testament, and a testament of youth. The later operatic recordings, from 1955, find the tenor with some signs of wear and with a recklessly open way of taking his high As and B flats, but there is real passion, and imagination with it. In the latest recording, a commonplace song called Passione from 1956, one almost looks up at the speakers to see the face there: it seems so very clear and lifelike. Some of the sound (recording or transfer) strikes me as over-bright – the second Manon solo is a prime example – but it is always vivid and compelling. In the booklet-listing a translation of the song-titles would have been welcome (Cantu a timuni has been familiar to me since its issue on a 10” 78 and I still don’t know what it means). It would also have been useful if Peter Hutchinson’s notes had related the excerpts to Di Stefano’s career (did he for instance ever sing Dick Johnson, Rinuccio and Calaf on stage?). Mr Hutchinson is quite right, though, in the simple, irrefutable advice given towards the end: “Just try him”.'